who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother?

  crossword in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury of 23rd January 1950 30 across: The cat’s mother? (3).     The phrase who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother? and variants are said to a person, especially a child, who uses the feminine third person singular pronoun impolitely or with inadequate reference. The earliest use of the phrase that I found is from The White […]

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fed up

  Sunderland Day By Day HE SMASHED WINDOW— Because He Was “Fed Up” “I AM ‘fed up’; I have been out of work six years and I want to be locked up,” said John Scott (61), of Hood Street, Monkwearmouth, who appeared in the dock at Sunderland Police Court to-day accused of breaking a plate glass window, […]

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lupus

  illustration from The British Wolf-Hunters. A Tale of England in the Olden Time (1859), by Thomas Miller     The Latin noun lupus/-pi meant wolf. It is kindred with ancient Greek λύκος (= lukos) – cf. lycanthrope, which originally designated a person who believes that he or she is a wolf, and which, via modern Latin lycanthrōpus, is from Greek λυκάνθρωπος (= lukanthropos), literally wolf-man, from λύκος and ἄνθρωπος (= anthropos), man. The Latin lupus has sometimes […]

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posh

  One of the earliest instances of posh is from a cartoon in Punch, or The London Charivari of 25th September 1918. An RAF officer is talking to his mother: “Oh, yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there.” “Whatever do you mean by ‘posh,’ Gerald?” “Don’t you know? It’s slang for […]

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starboard – port

  image: nageur-sauveteur   MEANINGS   The noun starboard denotes the side of a ship or aircraft that is on the right when one is facing forward, while port denotes the opposing side.   ORIGINS   From the Germanic bases of the nouns steer and board, starboard, which appeared in Old English as steorbord, denotes literally the steer board, the steer side. This side of the ship […]

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French leave

  Sandra Dallas     MEANING   an unauthorised or unannounced absence or departure   ORIGIN   The earliest (and most curious) instance of the expression that I could find is in the anonymous novel Benedicta (1741). The heroine is about to get married: Mrs Butler, who on this extraordinary occasion, had taken French leave of her pillow, […]

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black sheep

  photograph: Hill Farm, Abermule     MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it   ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth he desires to […]

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A1

  MEANING   first-class, outstanding   ORIGIN   Lloyd’s Register, historically Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, is an independent society formed in 1760 by a group of merchants operating at Lloyd’s coffee house in London, which surveys ships to ensure compliance with standards of strength and maintenance. The name also denotes an annual publication giving details […]

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guy

  The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, by Heinrich Ulrich early 17th century – National Portrait Gallery Guy (“Guido”) Fawkes is third from the right     The proper name Guy is derived, via French, from the Old German Wido, either from wit, meaning wide, or from witu, wood. Wido has become Guy in French because in words of Germanic origin, when initial, the labio-velar approximant /w/ […]

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admirable Crichton

  biography of, and eulogy to, James Crichton of Clunie in Heroes ex omni historia Scotica lectissimi (1603)     James Crichton of Clunie (circa 1560-1582) was a Scottish prodigy of intellectual and knightly accomplishments, and the epithet admirable became traditionally applied to him. The Scottish scholar John Johnston (circa 1565-1611) used the Latin adjective […]

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