‘to shoot the cat’: meaning (and origin?)

to vomit, especially from drunkenness—slang, obsolete—UK, 1785—perhaps alludes to the fact that cats are prone to vomit—cf. also the obsolete French verb ‘renarder’, to vomit, from the noun ‘renard’, denoting a fox

Read More

‘panier de crabes’: meaning and origin

1942—an arena of fierce or ruthless rivalry—borrowed from French: literally ‘basket of crabs’—the image is of crabs fighting, if not devouring one another, when kept in a basket

Read More

The meaning of ‘temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer

[Preliminary note: All the biblical quotations in English are from the New International Version (2011).] Le Notre-Père, the French version of the Lord’s Prayer, was revised in La Bible : Traduction officielle liturgique (Paris: Éditions Mame, 2013), the official liturgical translation of the Bible. French-speaking Catholics used to say: Et ne nous soumets pas à la […]

Read More

notes on the noun ‘Goddam’

designates an Englishman—originated among the French, from the fact that they regarded the exclamation ‘God damn’ as characteristic of the English—the Middle-French synonym ‘godon’ may be etymologically unrelated

Read More

‘all roads lead to Rome’: meaning and origin

1793—probably ultimately after post-classical Latin ‘mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam…’ (‘a thousand roads lead for ever to Rome the men…’)—the metaphor occurred in A Treatise on the Astrolabe (ca 1391), by Geoffrey Chaucer

Read More

‘royal we’: meaning and origin

UK, 1821—‘we’ used in place of ‘I’ by a monarch or other person in power, also (frequently humorously) by any individual—originated as a loan translation from French ‘nous royal’, as used of Napoléon Bonaparte by Madame de Staël in her memoirs published in 1821

Read More

‘Johnny Crapaud’: meanings and origin

UK, 1805—personifies France or the French people, or designates a typical Frenchman—composed of ‘Johnny’, a pet form of ‘John’ used, with modifying word, to designate a person of the type, group, etc., specified, and of French ‘crapaud’ (a toad)—coined by British sailors during the Napoleonic Wars

Read More

‘elbow grease’ | ‘huile de coude’

The humorous expression ‘elbow grease’ (1639) denotes vigorous physical labour, especially hard rubbing. The corresponding French expression is ‘huile de coude’ (1761), literally ‘elbow oil’.

Read More

‘churchyard cough’: meaning and origin

UK, 1677—a bad cough indicative of impending death—with allusion to the churchyard as the site of burial, ‘churchyard’ has been used attributively of something indicative of, or associated with, (impending) death

Read More