‘maelstrom’ (a whirlpool off the west coast of Norway)

late 16th century—from early modern Dutch ‘maelstrom’ (now ‘maalstroom’)—originally a proper name designating a powerful whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean, off the west coast of Norway, which was formerly supposed to suck in and destroy all vessels within a wide radius

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‘urbi et orbi’ (‘to the city (of Rome) and to the world’)

from classical Latin ‘urbī’, dative of ‘urbs’ (city), and ‘orbī’, dative of ‘orbis’ (orb, circle)—in classical Latin, ‘orbis terrarum’, ‘orbis terrae’, the orb, or circle, of the earth, meant by extension the world, since the ancients regarded the earth as a circular plane or disk

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origin of ‘coward’ and of ‘cowardy, cowardy custard’

‘coward’—from Old-French ‘cuard’, probably referring to a frightened animal with its tail between its legs—from ‘cüe’ (Modern French ‘queue’), ‘tail’, and pejorative suffix ‘-ard’ (cf. ‘bastard’)—‘cowardy, cowardy custard’, alliterative nonsensical children’s phrase (19th century)

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How Thomas Jefferson was berated for coining ‘belittle’.

coined by Thomas Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia, first published in Paris in 1785—literal meaning: ‘to make little’ (composed of the prefix ‘be-’ and the adjective ‘little’)—criticised in The European Magazine, and London Review of August 1787 when the book was published in London

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‘irregardless’: a hyperbolic form of ‘regardless’

USA, 1795—Probably a blend of ‘irrespective’ and ‘regardless’, ‘irregardless’ means the same as ‘regardless’. It is regarded as incorrect in standard English, because the negative prefix ‘ir-’ merely duplicates the suffix ‘-less’, and is therefore unnecessary.

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How ‘mouse’, ‘muscle’ and ‘mussel’ are interrelated.

Classical Latin ‘muscŭlus’, literally ‘a little mouse’, also denoted ‘a muscle of the body’, especially of the upper arm, from the resemblance of a flexing muscle to the movements made by a mouse; ‘muscŭlus’ was also used in the sense of ‘mussel’.

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‘handbag’: how Thatcher enriched the English language

‘handbag’: to bully or coerce by subjecting to a forthright verbal assault or criticism—originally used with reference to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Economist (7 August 1982)—from literal meaning ‘to batter or assault with a handbag’

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‘preposterous’, or ‘having first what should be coming after’

16th century—from the Latin adjective ‘praeposterus’, composed of the adverb ‘prae’ (‘in front’, ‘before’) and the adjective ‘posterus’ (‘coming after’, ‘following’, ‘next’), so that its literal sense is ‘next (placed) first’, ‘having first what should be coming after’.

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“wedding vowels”, “tongue and cheek” and other eggcorns

‘eggcorn’: alteration of a word or phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements as a similar-sounding word—coined in 2003 on the website Language Log with reference to a misinterpretation of ‘acorn’ as ‘eggcorn’

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