Tag Archives: Shakespeare
to paint the town red

to paint the town red

    Spree at Melton Mowbray. Larking at the Grantham Toll-Gate. Or Coming in for the Brush. A Society of Distinguished Painters, Who Hunt with Fox Hounds, Live Splendidly and only Paint at Night. date: unknown – by Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851)     The colloquial phrase to paint the town red means to enjoy oneself flamboyantly, to go on […]

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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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at one fell swoop

    The phrase at (or in) one fell swoop means all in one go. Here, the noun swoop, which denotes the act of swooping down, refers to the sudden pouncing of a bird of prey (a kite for example) from a height upon its quarry (of Germanic origin, the verb swoop is cognate with sweep). The adjective fell (related to felon) means of terrible evil or ferocity. The whole expression is from The Tragedie […]

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‘Ajax’

‘Ajax’

  This word means a toilet, especially an outdoor one. The following is from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave: Retraict [modern French retrait]: masculine. An Aiax, Priuie, house of Office [= outdoor toilet]. It is a humorous respelling of a jakes, of same meaning, after Ajax, the name of a hero in Greek mythology. […]

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small beer

small beer

        MEANING   person(s) or matter(s) of little or no importance     ORIGIN   Since the early 14th century, the adjective small has been used to mean of low alcoholic strength. For example, The Forme of Cury¹, a roll of English cookery, compiled around 1390 by the master cooks of Richard […]

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bully

    MEANING   a person who hurts, persecutes or intimidates weaker people     ORIGIN   One noun bully was a term of endearment and familiarity originally applied to either sex. It is first recorded in A comedy concernynge thre lawes, of nature Moses, & Christ, corrupted by the sodomytes. Pharysees and Papystes (1548?), […]

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‘pink’

    MEANING   – noun: a colour intermediate between red and white – adjective: of the colour pink     ORIGIN   The original sense of the noun pink, which is first recorded in 1566, is: any of various Old World plants of the caryophyllaceous genus Dianthus, such as Dianthus plumarius (garden pink), cultivated […]

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to sleep like a top

to sleep like a top

   whip and top – St Fagans National History Museum       MEANING   to sleep very soundly     ORIGIN   In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explains that, unlikely as it may seem, the top referred to here is the child’s toy which seems not to […]

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Mrs Grundy

    MEANING   an imaginary personage who is proverbially referred to as a personification of the tyranny of social opinion in matters of conventional propriety     ORIGIN   Mrs Grundy is an unseen character in Speed the Plough, a comedy first performed in 1798, written by the English playwright Thomas Morton (1764-1838). In […]

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costermonger

    MEANING   a person who sells goods, especially fruit and vegetables, from a barrow     ORIGIN   A costermonger was originally an apple-seller, a fruiterer. The word is composed of costard, meaning a kind of apple of large size, and monger, denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity. The noun […]

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