Tag Archives: Shakespeare
blockhead

blockhead

  Erasmus – Paraphrases upon the New Testament (1551 edition) photograph: Humber Books       MEANING   a very stupid person     ORIGIN   A blockhead was originally a wooden block shaped like a head, used for making hats or wigs. The noun was used figuratively to denote a person’s head containing no more […]

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touchstone

touchstone

  goldsmith’s touchstone carved with initials HB and the date 1642 photograph: Finch & Cº – Antiques & Works of Art     Touche stone to prove golde with John Palsgrave – Lesclarcissement de la langue francoyse (1530)       MEANING   A touchstone is a standard or criterion by which something is judged […]

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valentine

valentine

  photograph: Hot Rocks       There are two Valentines, both Italian, one a priest and the other a bishop, who were martyred and used to be commemorated in the Roman Catholic calendar on 14th February.   However, they have no romantic associations and the modern customs linked with St Valentine’s Day arise from […]

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‘bird’

‘bird’

  Samuel Johnson, circa 1772, by Joshua Reynolds       The noun bird is from the masculine Old English brid (plural briddas), in Northumbrian, bird (plural birdas). There is no corresponding form in any other Germanic language, and the etymology is unknown. A connection with the nouns brood and breed is doubtful. The usual […]

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the world is one’s oyster

the world is one’s oyster

  Still-Life with Oysters (1630s) by Alexander Adriaenssen (1587-1661)       MEANING   Alluding to the possibility of finding a pearl in an oyster, this phrase means that one is in a position to profit from the opportunities that life, or a particular situation, may offer.     ORIGIN   It was coined by William […]

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sea change

sea change

  The Great Wave off Kanagawa (circa 1829-32) by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)     A sea change is a profound or notable transformation.   It was originally, in The Tempest (around 1611) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a change brought about by the action of the sea. In Act 1, scene 2, Ferdinand, the son to […]

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Twelfth cake

Twelfth cake

    Twelfth Day is the twelfth day after Christmas, 6th January, on which the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated. It was formerly observed as the closing day of the Christmas festivities. (The Epiphany, from Greek epiphainein meaning reveal, is the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.) Twelfth Night […]

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‘noon’

‘noon’

  High Noon 1952 American Western film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Gary Cooper       The noun noon, which appeared in Old English as non, is from the classical Latin nona, short for nona hora, ninth hour, a noun use of the feminine singular of nonus, ninth. The meanings of Latin nona […]

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‘gin’

‘gin’

  Gin Lane (1751) by William Hogarth     The Latin noun juniperus is the origin of the English juniper and of the Old French genevre (modern French genièvre), which was adopted in Middle Dutch as genever (modern Dutch jenever). In the early 17th century, this Dutch noun came to be used in the sense […]

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sherry

sherry

  Falstaff mit Handschuhen, Zinnkanne und Weinglas (Falstaff with gloves, pewter jug and wine glass – 1919) by Eduard von Grützner     The word sherry is an alteration of the obsolete sherris, also spelt sherries, which was mistaken for a plural. The original word was a rendering of Spanish (vino de) Xeres, (wine of) […]

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