origin of ‘quiz’ (“Vir bonus est quis?”)?

Originally meaning ‘person of ridiculous appearance’, ‘quiz’ (students’ slang, late 18th century) was jocularly derived from the Latin interrogative pronoun ‘quis’ in “Vir bonus est quis?” (“Who is a good man?”)—a good, ingenuous, harmless man being likely to become an object of ridicule or even of harassment.

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the nonsensical origin of ‘Kilkenny cats’

‘To fight like Kilkenny cats’ means ‘to engage in a mutually destructive struggle’.—from the tale of two cats fighting until only their tails remained (early 19th century), which was originally meant to be nothing but amusing nonsense.

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the authentic origin of ‘a pretty kettle of fish’

The phrase ‘a pretty kettle of fish’ originally referred to a net full of fish, which, when drawn up with its contents, is suggestive of confusion, flurry and disorder—‘kettle’ being a form of ‘kiddle’, a noun denoting a dam or other barrier in a river, with an opening fitted with nets to catch fish.

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the authentic origin of ‘to rain cats and dogs’

First recorded circa 1629 as ‘to rain dogs and cats’, this phrase is based on a cat-and-dog fight as a metaphor for a storm or hard rain; the theory that Jonathan Swift coined the phrase is ludicrous.

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19th-century nicknames for London newspapers

The Times: nicknamed Thunderer—the Morning Advertiser: Gin-and-Gospel Gazette, Tap-tub—The Morning Post: Jeames—The Morning Herald and The Standard: respectively Mrs Harris and Mrs Gamp

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‘svengali’: meaning and early occurrences

1894—(depreciative) someone who has a controlling influence over another—from the name of the hypnotist under whose spell Trilby falls in ‘Trilby’ (1894), by George Du Maurier

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notes on the phrase ‘social distancing’

21st century: the practice of maintaining a certain distance between oneself and other people in order to prevent infection with a disease—20th century: the practice of maintaining a degree of remoteness or emotional separation from another person or social group

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