‘gavroche’: meaning and origin

USA, 1863—a street urchin, especially in Paris, France—from ‘Gavroche’, the name of a street urchin in Les Misérables (1862), a novel by Victor Hugo

Read More

‘to have two left feet’ and synonymous phrases

‘to have two left feet’: to be clumsy or awkward—postdates synonymous ‘to have two left hands’ (1815), loan translation of French ‘avoir deux mains gauches’—‘left’ has long been associated with inferior performance, awkwardness and insincerity

Read More

‘croque-monsieur’: meaning and origin

France, 1891; UK, 1908—a sandwich filled with ham and cheese, and toasted or grilled—from ‘croque’, conjugated form of the verb ‘croquer’, to bite, to crunch, and the noun ‘monsieur’ (the reason that this noun was chosen is unknown)

Read More

‘if my aunt had balls’ | ‘si ma tante en avait’

used to rebuke an unrealistic conditional—USA, 1808: ‘if my aunt had been my uncle, what would have been her gender?’—France, 1843: ‘si ma tante était un homme, ça serait mon oncle’ (‘if my aunt were a man, that would be my uncle’)

Read More

‘calligram’: meaning, origin and early occurrences

a word or piece of text in which the design and layout of the letters creates a visual image related to the meaning of the words themselves—from French ‘calligramme’, coined in 1918 by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire—from ‘calligraphie’ and ‘idéogramme’

Read More