Tag Archives: orthography
teetotum

teetotum

  L’Enfant au toton (1738), by Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)     The word teetotum, which dates back to the 18th century, denotes a small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the […]

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Miss & Ms

    The word miss, used as a title prefixed to the name of an unmarried woman or girl and as a form of address, was originally short for mistress. It first appeared as mis, perhaps a graphic abbreviation of the form mistris. (Similarly, Mr and Mrs are abbreviations of master and mistress.) The noun […]

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Mr & Mrs

    Mr and Mrs were originally the abbreviations of master and mistress, while mister and missus (also spelt missis) are the renderings of the altered pronunciation of master and mistress in Mr and Mrs. It must be noted however that, before being the rendering of the pronunciation of Mr, mister was a mere variant […]

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omelette

    MEANING   a dish of beaten eggs cooked in a frying pan and served plain or with a savoury or sweet topping or filling     ORIGIN   It is an early-17th-century borrowing from French omelette, which is attested in the mid-16th century and is an alteration of amelette. The change in the initial […]

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island – aisle

    The noun island is from Old English íegland, ígland, a pleonastic compound of íeg, íg, meaning isle, and land. The literal meaning of íeg is watered place. This word is related to Old English éa, water, river, and a compound frequent in Old English was éaland, literally water-land, river-land. Old English éa is related […]

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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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picnic

picnic

  Blowing up the PIC NIC’s:—or—Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomime (1802), by James Gillray (1756-1815) — image: The British Museum         MEANING   a meal eaten outdoors     ORIGIN   This word is from French pique-nique, probably formed with reduplication from the verb piquer, to pick. (Similarly, pêle-mêle, […]

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porridge

    MEANING   a dish consisting of oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk     ORIGIN   The noun porridge is an alteration of pottage and had originally the same meaning: a thick soup made by stewing vegetables, herbs or meat, often thickened with barley, pulses, etc. The change […]

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maudlin

maudlin

   Mary Magdalene kneeling within a Stabat Mater scene Kreuzigung (Crucifixion – 1868), by Gabriel Wüger (1829-92)       MEANING   foolishly tearful or sentimental     ORIGIN   In the Christian Church, the Magdalene designates Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus, who cured her of evil spirits. She witnessed the Crucifixion and Jesus […]

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‘wasp’

‘wasp’

  image from Le Corset à travers les âges (The Corset through the ages – 1893), written by Ernest Léoty and illustrated by Saint-Elme Gautier     MEANING   a social winged insect which has a narrow waist and a sting and is typically yellow with black stripes     ORIGIN   Of Germanic origin, the noun […]

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