history and meanings of the word ‘ordeal’

  L’épreuve du feu (l’inquisition) by Devritz (painter) and Leroy (engraver) – date unknown source: BIU Santé     The original meaning of the noun ordeal, from Old English ordāl, ordēl, is: an ancient test of guilt or innocence by subjection of the accused to severe pain, survival of which was taken as divine proof […]

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history of the words ‘clew’ and ‘clue’

    photograph: pixabay     The noun clue appeared as a variant spelling of clew, of same pronunciation. Not frequent until the 17th century, clue has become the prevailing form of the word in the sense of a fact or idea that serves to reveal something or solve a problem. The word is from Old English cliwen, cleowen, meaning a ball formed by winding yarn, […]

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meaning and origin of ‘milquetoast’

  NO USE DENYING IT – I’M A FLAT FAILURE. EVERYTHING I’VE TRIED HAS FAILED! I OUGHT TO BLOW MY BRAINS OUT POOR OL’ BOY! I FEEL SORRY FOR ’IM YEP, I GUESS HE’S THROUGH THAT NIGHT TELEGRAPH OFFICE? I WANT TO SEND A WIRE TO STATION B-L-A-H, 164 BLANK ST. – YOUR CONCERT COMING […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘fresh as a daisy’

    The word daisy is from Old English dæges éage, meaning day’s eye. This name alludes to the fact that the flower of this plant opens in the morning and closes at night, as the human eye does. Perhaps its petals, which close over its bright centre at the end of the day, were also thought to resemble human […]

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the long history of ‘valentine’ (sweetheart)

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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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘cold comfort’

  AUTHOR OF “COLD COMFORT FARM”: MISS STELLA GIBBONS. Miss Stella Gibbons’s novel has been most favourably reviewed. It is a well-sustained parody of the Loam-and-Love-child school of fiction. from The Sketch (London) of 21st September 1932     The expression cold comfort means inadequate consolation for a misfortune. The adjective cold has long been used to mean felt as cold […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘at sixes and sevens’

  Gilbert and Sullivan: All at Sixes and Sevens – image: Thimothy Knapman     The phrase at sixes and sevens means in a state of total confusion or disarray. Based on the language of dicing, the phrase was originally to set (all) on six and seven. It denoted the hazard of one’s whole fortune, or carelessness as to the consequences of one’s actions. From this […]

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the surprising etymological connection between ‘galaxy’ and ‘lettuce’

  photographs: Milky Way: Wikimedia Commons / Forest Wander lettuce: Wikimedia Commons     The noun galaxy is from post-classical Latin galaxias, denoting the Milky Way, from Hellenistic Greek γαλαξίας (= galaxias), short for γαλαξίας κύκλος (= galaxias kuklos), milky circle, from ancient Greek γάλα/γαλακτ- (= gala/galakt-), milk. Originally therefore, galaxy, often with the and capital […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘piping hot’

  Piping Hot – Glasgow International Piping Festival. (The name has changed to Piping Live.) It is a pun, as, here, piping means playing (a tune) on bagpipes.     The adjective piping hot is used to refer to very hot food or liquid, usually when served. It referred originally to the hissing of viands in […]

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origin and history of the word ‘sport’

  the world’s oldest football, late 15th or early 16th century, found in Stirling Castle, Scotland – made of stitched leather, with a pig’s bladder inside; half the size of a modern football – photograph: SWNS     The noun sport is a shortening of disport, which was borrowed in the early 14th century from Anglo-Norman and Old […]

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