conundrum

The word ‘conundrum’, attested in 1596, originally meant ‘whimsy’, ‘oddity’. It perhaps originated as a parody of some Latin scholastic phrase.

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no room to swing a cat

  Q. Once hairy scenter did transgress,      Whose dame, both powerful and fierce,      Tho’ hairy scenter took delight      To do the thing both fair and right,      Upon a Sabbath day. A. An old Woman whipping her Cat for Catching Mice on a Sunday. from The True Trial […]

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gazette

  Venetian gazeta     In A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), Randle Cotgrave gave the following definition of the French word gazette: A certaine Venetian coyne scarce worth our farthing; also, a Bill of Newes; or, a short Relation of the generall occurrences of the Time, forged most commonly at Venice, and thence dispersed, euery month, […]

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no love lost

  illustration for Children in the Wood: or, The Norfolk Gentleman’s last Will and Testament (1818)     The phrase there’s no, or little, or not much, love lost between means there is mutual dislike between. This expression is ambiguous, and has also been used to mean there is mutual affection between. Both senses are found in Clarissa; or, The history of a young […]

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Ajax

  This word means a toilet, especially an outdoor one. The following is from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave: Retraict [modern French retrait]: masculine. An Aiax, Priuie, house of Office [= outdoor toilet]. It is a humorous respelling of a jakes, of same meaning, after Ajax, the name […]

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