pigs might fly

The original form of this phrase was ‘pigs fly with their tails forward’. Also: the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish equivalent expressions.

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sot-l’y-laisse

The French word for the oyster-shaped piece of meat in the hollow of the pelvic bone of a fowl is ‘sot-l’y-laisse’, literally ‘(the) fool leaves it there’.

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(as) mad as a March hare

‘(As) mad as a March hare’ refers to the fact that, in the breeding season, the hare is characterised by much leaping, boxing and chasing in circles.

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origin of ‘poulet’ (love letter)

Of French origin, the word ‘poulet’, literally ‘chicken’, denotes a love letter. It probably refers to the fact that when folding these messages, one would make two tips resembling chicken wings.

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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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flea market

  Marché aux puces à Montreuil – Agence Meurisse – 1928 source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France     The term flea market is a calque of French marché aux puces. Both names denote a street market selling second-hand goods. In In Europe (Pusey Press, New York, 1922), the American author George Samuel Dougherty […]

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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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toad-in-the-hole – pigeon à la crapaudine

    In a letter that she wrote to her sister in December 1797, the English novelist, diarist and playwright Madame d’Arblay (née Frances Burney – 1752-1840) gave an account of a conversation with Princess Augusta, daughter of King George III (Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), one of the greatest English tragediennes, had bought Sadler’s Wells, a London […]

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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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