Pollyanna

  May your Christmas be                                                             A Pollyanna Christmas A day of gladness and good cheer, and if you have in mind to send a gift […]

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tace is Latin for candle

  The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875), by the French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) – Musée d’Orsay, Paris The officiants have just excommunicated Robert by bell, book, and candle, and left the quenched candle behind. Robert II (972-1031), known as the Pious, the son of Hugues Capet, was excommunicated for incest by Pope Gregory […]

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mess of pottage

Hungry sheep on holiday need not complain too vigorously that they look up and are not fed. For instance, there is A Mess of Pottage, by Natala de la Fère. Conceive, if you can, the reactions of a highly respectable family of French peasants when, after having enjoyed a tin of soup sent to them […]

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to play to the gallery

  the gods at the Comedy Theatre, London, 1949 source: Historic England – The Theatres Trust     Via Middle French galerie, the noun gallery, attested in the late 15th century, is from the medieval Latin of Italy galeria, an alteration of medieval Latin galilaea, designating a porch at the entrance of a monastery’s church—hence English […]

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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 steal someone’s thunder

  photograph: pixabay     The phrase to steal someone’s thunder means: to use the ideas, policies, etc., devised by another person, political party, etc., for one’s own advantage or to anticipate their use by the originator. It is said to have originated in an exclamation by the English critic and ineffective playwright John Dennis […]

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cock-and-bull story

Democritus Junior (Robert Burton) from the frontispiece to the 1628 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy     The phrase cock-and-bull story denotes an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. The French expression sauter du coq à l’âne, literally to jump from the cock to the (male) ass, means to skip from one subject to another, the […]

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curate’s egg

  The phrase curate’s egg means something that has both good and bad characteristics or parts. It is an allusion to True Humility, a cartoon by George du Maurier*, published in Punch, or the London Charivari of 9th November 1895. This cartoon depicts a meek curate who, having been served a stale egg while breakfasting with his bishop, tries not to offend […]

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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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