to pay through the nose

  photograph: la vida cotidiana       MEANING   to pay excessively, to be charged exorbitantly   PROBABLE ORIGIN   The expression to pay through the nose is first recorded in Piazza universale di proverbi Italiani, or, A common place of Italian proverbs and proverbial phrases digested in alphabetical order (1666), by Giovanni Torriano (floruit 1640): Oft-times Rich […]

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magpiety

  Monument to Thomas Hood (designed by M. Noble) erected in Kensal Green Cemetery by Public Subscription illustration from Memorials of Thomas Hood (1860)     A blend of magpie and piety, the word magpiety was originally invented by the English poet and humorist Thomas Hood (1799-1845) to denote talkativeness, garrulity, especially on religious or moral topics and affected piety. This author first used […]

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lupus

  illustration from The British Wolf-Hunters. A Tale of England in the Olden Time (1859), by Thomas Miller     The Latin noun lupus/-pi meant wolf. It is kindred with ancient Greek λύκος (= lukos) – cf. lycanthrope, which originally designated a person who believes that he or she is a wolf, and which, via modern Latin lycanthrōpus, is from Greek λυκάνθρωπος (= lukanthropos), literally wolf-man, from λύκος and ἄνθρωπος (= anthropos), man. The Latin lupus has sometimes […]

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black sheep

  photograph: Hill Farm, Abermule     MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it   ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth he desires to […]

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guy

  The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, by Heinrich Ulrich early 17th century – National Portrait Gallery Guy (“Guido”) Fawkes is third from the right     The proper name Guy is derived, via French, from the Old German Wido, either from wit, meaning wide, or from witu, wood. Wido has become Guy in French because in words of Germanic origin, when initial, the labio-velar approximant /w/ […]

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trick or treat

  London Weekend Television logo     Originally North American, the phrase trick or treat is a traditional formula used at Hallowe’en by children who call on houses threatening to play a trick unless given a treat or present. It is recent, since it is first recorded in The Lethbridge Herald (Alberta, Canada) of 4th November 1927: “TRICK OR TREAT” […]

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Boche

first published in 1914 in Le Radical de Marseille (75 refers to the French 75-mm field gun.)     From 1914 to 1916, Joseph Joffre (1852-1931) was the commander in chief of the French armies on the Western Front. The following parody of the Lord’s Prayer is to be replaced in its historical context. The First World […]

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trumpery

  Donald Trump Lookups for trumpery have been spiking periodically since the end of 2015, as a result of the burgeoning political fortunes of Donald Trump. Recently, people have begun posting trumpery definitions to various social media sites. This fairly obscure word has a decidedly negative set of meanings which have delighted the real estate […]

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heart of hearts

  Sir William Davenant (1672), by William Faithorne, after John Greenhill image: National Portrait Gallery     MEANING   the depths of one’s conscience or emotions   ORIGIN   This anatomically curious but firmly established expression is a variant of the older and more comprehensible heart of heart, meaning very centre of the heart, which […]

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halcyon

  kingfisher – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/JJ Harrison     The Latin noun halcyon, more properly alcyon, was derived from Greek ἀλκυών (= alkuon), incorrectly spelt ἁλκυών (= halkuon), meaning kingfisher. The ancients fabled that the halcyon bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed […]

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