origin of ‘double Dutch’ and ‘High Dutch’ (‘gibberish’)

‘double Dutch’, 19th century—from ‘Dutch’ in the sense of a language that few people can speak, and ‘double’ as a mere intensifier—‘High Dutch’, 17th century—loan translation from French ‘haut allemand’ (= ‘High German’), used in the sense of gibberish

Read More

‘urbi et orbi’ (‘to the city (of Rome) and to the world’)

from classical Latin ‘urbī’, dative of ‘urbs’ (city), and ‘orbī’, dative of ‘orbis’ (orb, circle)—in classical Latin, ‘orbis terrarum’, ‘orbis terrae’, the orb, or circle, of the earth, meant by extension the world, since the ancients regarded the earth as a circular plane or disk

Read More

‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’

first recorded in a speech by Rev. George W. Bethune, transcribed in ‘Brief abstract of the fourth annual report of board of Managers of the New-York city Colonization Society’, published in ‘The American Christian Instructor’ of April 1836

Read More

‘preposterous’, or ‘having first what should be coming after’

16th century—from the Latin adjective ‘praeposterus’, composed of the adverb ‘prae’ (‘in front’, ‘before’) and the adjective ‘posterus’ (‘coming after’, ‘following’, ‘next’), so that its literal sense is ‘next (placed) first’, ‘having first what should be coming after’.

Read More

‘deliver a baby’: a consumerist approach to childbirth?

Originally, the mother was the object of ‘deliver’, the image was of delivering (freeing) her from the burden of pregnancy. Nowadays, the healthcare provider or the mother is the subject, the image is of delivering (handing over) the baby, as if it were a package.

Read More

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”)

Read More

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

Read More

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.

Read More