Tag Archives: mythology
philtrum

philtrum

  photograph: Google+ Communities     The noun philtrum denotes the vertical groove between the base of the nose and the border of the upper lip. The literal and obsolete signification of this word, which appeared in the early 17th century, is love potion, from classical Latin philtrum, of same meaning. In post-classical Latin, philtrum […]

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not a cat in hell’s chance

not a cat in hell’s chance

  Jackson’s Oxford Journal – 29th September 1753       The phrase not a cat in hell’s chance, which means no chance at all, is puzzling. It is a shortening of the more explicit no more chance than a cat in hell without claws. The earliest instance of this phrase that I could find is from Jackson’s […]

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halcyon

halcyon

  kingfisher – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/JJ Harrison     The Latin noun halcyon, more properly alcyon, was derived from Greek ἀλκυών (= alkuon), incorrectly spelt ἁλκυών (= halkuon), meaning kingfisher. The ancients fabled that the halcyon bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed the […]

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myrmidon

myrmidon

  statue of Ovid in Constanţa (ancient Tomis, the city where he was exiled), Romania – 1887, by the Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Kurt Wichmann     The noun myrmidon denotes a follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly. This word first appeared in the […]

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rhesus

rhesus

  Le Rhesus (Simia Rhesus) – illustration by Jean-Baptiste Audebert for his treatise, Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (1799) – image: Bibliothèque nationale de France / gallica.bnf.fr     This word is from French rhésus, formerly rhesus, and from its etymon, the scientific Latin (Simia) Rhesus. In Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (Natural History of the Monkeys and Lemurs – 1799), the […]

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beyond the pale

beyond the pale

    MEANING   outside the limits of social convention     ORIGIN   The primary meanings of the noun pale are a wooden stake or post used with others to form a fence and a wooden fence made of stakes driven into the ground. This word appeared in the late 14th century and is […]

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long (or strong) arm

    MEANING   far-reaching power or influence     ORIGIN   The earlier expression long hands was originally after classical Latin an nescis longas regibus esse manus?, used by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – circa 17 AD) in the epistolary poems Epistulæ Heroidum, (Letters of Heroines). While her husband, King Menelaus, is away, Helen […]

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Atlantic

    The adjective Atlantic originally referred to Mount Atlas*, on which the heavens were fabled to rest. It was hence applied to the sea near the western shore of Africa, and afterwards extended to the whole ocean lying between Europe and Africa on the east and America on the west. * The Atlas Mountains […]

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this mortal coil

    MEANING   the troubles and activities of this mortal life     ORIGIN   In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined the noun coil: Tumult; turmoil; bustle; stir; hurry; confusion. This obsolete noun is probably from Old French acueil (Modern French accueil), meaning reception, encounter. […]

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to rain cats and dogs (1)

to rain cats and dogs (1)

    MEANING   to rain very hard     ORIGIN   Although B. A. Phythian made an interesting hypothesis as to the origin of this phrase in A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), to rain cats and dogs is probably based on a cat-and-dog fight as a metaphor for a storm or […]

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