Tag Archives: orthography

contredanse

    MEANING   a courtly French version of the English country dance, originating in the 18th century and similar to the quadrille     ORIGIN   The English noun contredanse, or contredance, was borrowed from French contredanse, itself an alteration of English country dance. The English country dance was introduced into France during the […]

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cockroach

    MEANING   A beetle-like scavenging insect with long antennae and legs. Several tropical kinds have become established worldwide as household pests.     ORIGIN   This noun first appeared in the form cacarootch in The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), by John Smith (1580-1631), soldier and colonial governor. […]

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sparrowgrass

    MEANING   asparagus     ORIGIN   The Latin noun asparagus is a borrowing from Greek ἀσπάραγος (= asparagos). The Medieval Latin form was often sparagus, whence English sperage (also sparage, after smallage, wild celery), which was the common name in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Meanwhile, the influence of herbalists and […]

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caterpillar

    MEANING   the larva of a butterfly or moth     ORIGIN   First attested in the mid-15th century, the noun caterpillar is probably from catepeluse and variants, which were the Anglo-Norman forms of the Old French feminine noun chatepelose and variants, meaning literally hairy she-cat. In his textbook Lesclarcissement de la langue […]

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Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.

    MEANING   Don’t risk the failure of a large project by trying to economise on trivial things.     ORIGIN   Ship is a dialectal pronunciation of sheep, and this proverb was originally to lose the sheep (often the hog) for a halfpennyworth of tar, that is to say, for want of spending […]

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to buttonhole

    MEANING   The verb to buttonhole not only means to make buttonholes in a garment, but also to attract the attention of someone and detain them in conversation against their will.     ORIGIN   This verb appears to be an altered form of to button-hold, meaning to take hold of someone by […]

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paramour

    MEANING   a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person     ORIGIN   Derived from Old French par amour, par amur, meaning by, or through, love, the English adverb par amour, later written as one word, appeared around 1250 in Floris and Blancheflour in the phrase to love par amour, […]

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to take the mickey

    MEANING   British (informal): to take the mickey (also micky, mick, mike) out of someone: to tease or ridicule someone     PROBABLE ORIGIN   Rhyming slang is a type of slang that replaces words with rhyming words or phrases, typically with the rhyming element omitted. For example apples, short for apples and pears, […]

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one’s pigeon

  The development of trading contacts between Britain and China led to the emergence in 19th-century China of a trading language consisting of basic English and some Chinese grammatical forms. In this hybrid language, pidgin was derived from, and originally meant, business. (The phonetic development was perhaps via an intermediate form /pidginiss/ (with replacement of […]

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alligator

alligator

  Bobby Charles – See You Later, Alligator (1955) photograph: Rebound Records     MEANING   a large semiaquatic reptile similar to a crocodile but with a broader and shorter head, native to the Americas and China     ORIGIN   This noun is from Spanish el lagarto, el meaning the and lagarto lizard, from […]

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