tabloid (1)

  The pharmaceutical firm Burroughs, Wellcome & Company was founded in London in 1880 by the American-born entrepreneurs Silas Burroughs (1846-95) and Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). They registered the name Tabloid (with capital initial) on 14th March 1884, as a trademark for concentrated drugs and medicines in tablet form. (It remains a proprietary name to this day.) The firm applied […]

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smoke and mirrors

  Politicians usually work with blue smoke and mirrors. What appears to be real is mostly an illusion, and what is unlikely turns out to be real. But sometimes, the blue smoke and mirrors don’t work. When you can’t produce a budget, you can’t call a news conference and pretend you did. from The News […]

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fifth column

    The term fifth column, which translates Spanish quinta columna, denotes the enemy’s supporters in one’s own country, or a body of one’s supporters in an attacked or occupied foreign country, hence, more generally, any group of hostile or subversive infiltrators, any enemy in one’s midst. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was the conflict […]

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Simon says

    Of American-English origin, Simon says denotes a children’s game in which players must obey the leader’s instructions only if they are prefaced with the words Simon says; it also denotes the command itself. The name Simon was probably chosen for alliterative effect (Simon says). The earliest instance that I have found is the […]

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serendipity

    The noun serendipity denotes the faculty of making by accident discoveries that are both fortunate and unexpected. (It has been borrowed into Spanish as serendipia, into Italian as serendipità, and into French as sérendipité.) It was coined by the English writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717-97). In a letter that he wrote to his friend Horace Mann […]

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doolally

Four’s a Crowd.—A merry, irresponsible farce that dips frequently into pure crazy comedy. For this they have chosen to give Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland a “break” from their usual story book hero and heroine types. These two lovely young people do very well, but I cannot think that crazy comedy suits them best. […]

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sæva indignatio

  Jonathan Swift’s grave, marked by a simple brass plaque on the floor at the west end of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is adjacent to that of his great friend in life, Stella (Esther Johnson – 1681-1728): plaques marking the graves of Jonathan Swift and Esther Johnson     Latin sæva indignatio, meaning savage indignation, expresses a […]

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to toe the line

    The phrase to toe the line means to accept the authority, policies or principles of a particular group, especially unwillingly. Its literal sense is to stand or crouch with the toes touching the line, especially at the start of a race or fight. The current meaning is an extension of a figurative usage, […]

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not to give a tinker’s damn

  The phrase not to give, care or be worth a tinker¹’s curse, cuss² or damn (or elliptically a tinker’s) is an intensification of not to give, care or be worth a curse, cuss or damn, with reference to the bad language reputedly used by tinkers. The low repute in which tinkers were held is also […]

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Hogs Norton

Light Programme 12.0, Family Favourites; 1.30, Mr. Gillie Potter, Sage of Hogsnorton from B.B.C. Sunday – The Derry Journal (Ireland) – 28th March 1952     The name Hogs Norton, also Hog’s Norton and Hogsnorton, denotes a fictional town renowned for its uncultured and boorish inhabitants. It has often been used in depreciative phrases suggesting that […]

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