Tag Archives: Romance languages
butterfly

butterfly

  photograph: Steve Ogden - Wildlife Insight     This noun, which appeared around the year 1000 as buttorfleoge, is simply a compound of butter and fly, and not – as sometimes poetically suggested – an alteration of flutter by. The reason for this name is unknown. Dutch had botervlieg and German Butterfliege, which, like the […]

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ladybird

ladybird

  ladybird on strawberry leaf – photograph: nutmeg66       A coccinellid is a beetle of the family Coccinellidae. The genus name Coccinella is from Latin coccineus, scarlet (cochineal, a scarlet dye, has the same origin). This family includes the ladybirds (ladybugs in American English).The scientific name of the common European seven-spot ladybird is […]

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pansy

pansy

      The name pansy was originally applied to the heartsease (Viola tricolor, family Violaceae), now wild pansy, which has given rise to hybrids from which most garden pansies were developed (genus Viola, family Violaceae). This name is a borrowing from Middle French pensée, a transferred use of pensée, thought, the flower being considered […]

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cretin

cretin

  photograph: Culture, Histoire et Patrimoine de Passy       The noun cretin was first used in English by the historian William Coxe (1748-1828). In An Account of the Vallais, and of the Goitres and Idiots of that Country, published in The Annual Register of 1779, he wrote: The species of idiots I have mentioned […]

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manatee

manatee

  a manatee     A sirenian, commonly called sea cow, is a large aquatic plant-eating mammal of the order Sirenia, which includes the manatees and dugong. They live chiefly in tropical coastal waters and are distinguished by paddle-like forelimbs and a tail flipper replacing hindlimbs.   The generic name of the manatees, Trichechus, comes […]

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mermaid

mermaid

  Mélusine en son bain, épiée par son époux Roman de Mélusine – Jean d’Arras illuminated manuscript – 15th century – Bibliothèque nationale de France     A mermaid is an imaginary, partly human sea creature with the head and trunk of a woman and the tail of a fish or cetacean. Originally, the mermaid […]

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tuna – tunny

tuna – tunny

  bluefin tuna (in French thon rouge, literally red tuna)     The name tuna denotes a large and active predatory schooling fish of warm seas, extensively fished commercially and popular as a game fish (scientific name: Thunnus and other genera, family Scombridae). The name tunny denotes a tuna, especially the bluefin, which is the […]

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to take the biscuit

to take the biscuit

    MEANING   To take the biscuit (or, chiefly in American English, the cake), often used ironically or as an expression of surprise, means to rank first.     ORIGIN   The phrase originally alluded to biscuit or cake in the sense of a dainty, a delicacy.   To take the cake is first […]

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disaster

disaster

  A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave     The noun disaster, via French désastre, is from Italian disastro. This Italian word was thus defined by John Florio in his Italian-English dictionary A Worlde of Wordes (1598): disastre, mischance, ill luck. And the definition of French astre given by Randle […]

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quince

quince

  Cydonia oblonga in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887), published by Franz Eugen Köhler     The word quince was originally a plural. The singular forms were coyn, quoyne and quyne, from Old French forms such as coin and cuyn (in modern French coing, the g is mute). It is probably via its use as a collective singular that quince has become a countable […]

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