How the French Revolution invented the terrorist.

1794—from French ‘terroriste’ (1794): during the French Revolution, adherent or supporter of Robespierre’s faction, who advocated and practised the Terror (methods of partisan repression and bloodshed in the propagation of the principles of democracy and equality)

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Werewolves were originally in the service of Satan.

Old English ‘werewulf’ (first element identified with Old English ‘wer’, ‘man’) first used for ‘wolf’ to denote a person serving Satan (cf. Gospel of Matthew “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves”)

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the Page-Three girl of the British tabloid The Sun

British English—‘Page Three’, or ‘Page 3’: a feature which appeared daily on page three of the British tabloid The Sun (London), and included a pin-up picture of a topless or nude young woman; this feature first appeared on 17 November 1970.

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‘scruple’ (literally a small sharp stone in one’s shoe)

‘scruple’—from Latin ‘scrūpŭlus’, literally ‘a small sharp or pointed stone’—probably because such stones used to get into the open shoes of the Romans, ‘scrūpŭlus’ came to denote ‘a pricking, uneasy sensation’, hence ‘trouble’, ‘doubt’, ‘scruple’

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‘ultracrepidarian’, coined to denigrate a specific person

UK, 1819—specifically invented to qualify the English poet and critic William Gifford with reference to the fact that he had been a shoemaker’s apprentice—alludes to the proverb ‘let the cobbler stick to his last’ from Pliny’s Natural History (AD 77)

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origin of ‘Wasp’ (‘white Anglo-Saxon Protestant’)

USA, 1956—acronym from ‘white Anglo-Saxon Protestant’—‘Wasp’, or ‘WASP’: a person who belongs to, or is thought of, as being part of a white, upper middle-class, northern European, Protestant group that dominates economic, political and cultural activity in the USA

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‘pupil’: one’s own reflection in somebody’s eye

A diminutive of ‘pūpa’ (‘a girl’, in transferred use also ‘a doll’), the Latin feminine noun ‘pūpilla’ came to also denote ‘the pupil of the eye’ on account of one’s own reflection seen when looking into somebody’s eye—the same metaphor underlies ‘to look babies in somebody’s eyes’.

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a U.S. political term of the 1920s: ‘backroom boys’

The phrase ‘boys in the backroom’, or ‘backroom boys’, appeared in the 1920s as a U.S. political term denoting persons exercising a surreptitious influence. The Oxford English Dictionary is therefore mistaken in saying that it originally denoted, in 1941, persons engaged in research.

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‘pennies from heaven’ and its predecessor

Bing Crosby popularised ‘pennies from heaven’ in the 1936 film and song of the same name, but the phrase already existed; and Abraham Burstein, rabbi and author, had used ‘pennies falling from heaven’ in The Ghetto Messenger in 1928.

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