Tag Archives: Shakespeare
Albion

Albion

  The name Albion did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)       The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, theologian […]

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slipshod

slipshod

  Three Pairs of Shoes (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) image: Van Gogh Gallery       MEANING   characterised by a lack of care, thought, or organisation     ORIGIN   A slip-shoe was a loosely fitting shoe or slipper. The word is first recorded in The fardle of facions conteining the aunciente […]

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cockpit

cockpit

  THE BOREL HYDROPLANE. One of the first hydro-monoplanes adopted by the Government. Driven by an 80 h.p. Gnome engine mounted in front of the fuselage on double bearings. Floats sprung at the rear on rubber shock absorbers. Chassis built of streamlined steel tubes. Pilot and passenger in separate cockpits arranged tandem fashion. A small […]

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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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