to eat humble pie

  A puzzle published in The Hibernian Magazine, or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge (Dublin, Ireland) in 1774 punned on the humble of humble pie, which may indicate that the latter term was already used figuratively at that time. The following is from the October issue:                     […]

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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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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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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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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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How goes the enemy?

  “Tell me, man, how goes the enemy?” cartoon published in the Sunday Pictorial (London) of 23rd August 1942     The colloquial phrase How goes the enemy? means What is the time?. Its origin was explained in the text where it is first recorded, published in the Brighton Gazette, and Lewes Observer (Sussex) of 26th October 1826: THE VAMPIRE. N° LVIII. My dear […]

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rift in the lute

  L’astucieuse Viviane était étendue aux pieds de Merlin, by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) from Les Idylles du roi (Paris – 1868), translation of Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson     The phrase rift in the lute means sign of disharmony between persons, especially the first evidence of a quarrel that may become worse. A rift is a crack in an object, […]

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philtrum

photograph: Google+ Communities     The noun philtrum denotes the vertical groove between the base of the nose and the border of the upper lip. The literal and obsolete signification of this word, which appeared in the early 17th century, is love potion, from classical Latin philtrum, of same meaning. In post-classical Latin, philtrum came to also denote the dimple in the upper lip. It […]

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Xmas

  Chi-Rho – catacombs of San Callisto, Rome photograph: Dnalor 01/Wikimedia Commons     It is often said that the abbreviated form Xmas “takes the Christ out of Christmas”, but this is not the case. For example, a certain Reverend Thomas Eyre wrote to a Doctor Poynter on 25th January 1807: My Lord,—Your much esteemed favour of the 5th of December I […]

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the ring finger – l’annulaire

      In the Etymologies (Etymologiarum sive Originum libri viginti), compiled between around 615 and the early 630s in the form of an encyclopaedia arranged by subject matter, St Isidore (circa 560–636), bishop of Seville and Doctor of the Church, wrote the following about the names of the fingers (the original Latin words are […]

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