Tag Archives: Jonathan Swift

thick as thieves

    Among other figurative meanings, the adjective thick has the sense of close in confidence and association, intimate, familiar. In Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, published in 1812, John Nichols quoted Edmund Law (1703-87), Bishop of Carlisle: “Yes,” said he, “we begin now, though contrary to my expectation, and without my seeking, to be […]

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to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs

to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs

    Original illustration for Of the Swine in The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658), by Edward Topsell     The phrase to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs means to presume to advise a more experienced person. Raw eggs, with or without a little seasoning, used to be a popular food and were regarded as healthy. […]

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porter, stout & cooper

porter, stout & cooper

      Monsieur César de Saussure         Porter (short for porter’s ale or porter’s beer) is a kind of beer, of a dark brown colour and bitter taste, brewed from malt partly charred or browned by drying at a high temperature.   It is worth noting that, originally, porter was a […]

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ketchup

ketchup

              Originally, ketchup was a sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc., used as a condiment with meat or fish.   The word ketchup appears to be from Chinese (Amoy dialect) kōetsiap, brine of pickled fish or shellfish, from kōe, seafood, and tsiap, sauce.   It […]

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arrant

arrant

    Found only with nonsense and one or two other nouns expressive of contempt, the adjective arrant has a curious history.   It was originally a variant of errant, meaning wandering, vagrant, vagabond, as in knight errant, a medieval knight wandering in search of chivalrous adventures.   (This vowel change, e becoming a, also […]

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fit as a fiddle

fit as a fiddle

  Caricature of Gabriel Harvey from Haue with you to Saffron-walden. Or, Gabriell Harueys hunt is vp (1596), by Thomas Nashe. Entitled The picture of Gabriell Harvey as he is readie to let fly upon Ajax, this caricature depicts him rushing to the toilet at the thought of Nashe’s publication. Ajax was a pun on a jackes, slang for a toilet (in the […]

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budget

budget

  bulga – from Dictionnaire illustré latin-français (1934), by Félix Gaffiot       MEANING   The following definition of budget is from the New English Dictionary (i.e. Oxford English Dictionary – 1888 edition): A statement of the probable revenue and expenditure for the ensuing year, with financial proposals founded thereon, annually submitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on behalf of the Ministry, […]

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The veracious story of a worthy knight, called Sir Loin of Beef

The veracious story of a worthy knight, called Sir Loin of Beef

  At Astley Hall (Lancashire), you can still see this chair… … with the following explanation: Sirloin Chair – King James I reputedly knighted a loin of beef upon this chair at Hoghton Tower, Lancashire, in 1617. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. (Even if it is not true, it makes a good story.)     The […]

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