to push up daisies

  photograph: Max Pixel       Several colloquial phrases associate daisies with being dead: under the daisies, which means dead and buried, to push up (the) daisies and to turn one’s toes up to the daisies, which mean to be in one’s grave, to be dead. I have found an early instance of the […]

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as poor as a church mouse

  woodwork in Easingwold Parish Church – Diocese of York Robert Thompson, the Kilburn craftsman, invariably carved a little mouse on his work. photograph: Visit Easingwold     The phrase as poor as a church mouse means extremely poor. It is first recorded in The royalist a comedy (1682), by the English author Thomas D’Urfey (1653-1723): ’Gad […]

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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 a tradition according to which it is the […]

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stirrup cup – one for the road

    Huntsmen still use stirrup cup to designate an alcoholic drink offered to riders either as they are about to depart or when they return. Mr. Barry Puilan, Master of the East Antrim Hounds, hands a stirrup cup to huntsman Jack Taylor during the meet at Trench Hill, Ballyeaston, yesterday. from The Northern Whig […]

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gossip

  MEANINGS   – a person who habitually talks about others, especially maliciously – a conversation involving malicious chatter or rumours about other people – casual and idle chat – light easy communication    ORIGIN   This word is from the Old English noun godsibb, composed of god and the adjective sib(b), meaning akin, related (cf. the noun sibling, which is composed of sib and […]

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to make (both) ends meet

    To make (both) ends meet means to earn just enough money to live on. It is first recorded in The History of the Worthies of England (1662), by the Church of England clergyman Thomas Fuller (1607/8-61). The author wrote the following about the English Protestant leader Edmund Grindal (1519-83) – in the original […]

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imbecile

  Orphan Man with Cap and Walking Stick (1882), by Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) image: Van Gogh Gallery     The English adjective imbecile is, via French, from the Latin imbecillus, or imbecillis, meaning weak, feeble, in body or mind. In his etymological encyclopaedia Originum sive Etymologiarum (The Origins or Etymologies), the Spanish archbishop and Doctor of the Church St Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636) wrote […]

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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 and historian St. Bede (circa 673-735):   […]

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French pig idioms

  A violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what […]

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cheese – fromage

    “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux-cent quarante-six variétés de fromage ?” (“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”) attributed to Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), French general and statesman, in Les mots du général de Gaulle (1962), by Ernest Mignon photograph: fémivin.com     […]

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