origin of ‘quiz’

Originally students’ slang, ‘quiz’ is from Latin ‘quis’, meaning ‘who’, as used by the Roman poet Horace in “vir bonus est quis?”, “who is a good man?”

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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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not to give a tinker’s damn

  The phrase not to give, care or be worth a tinker¹’s curse, cuss² or damn (or elliptically a tinker’s) is an intensification of not to give, care or be worth a curse, cuss or damn, with reference to the bad language reputedly used by tinkers. The low repute in which tinkers were held is also […]

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Georgium Sidus

  Sir John Herschel The announcement last Friday of the death, at the age of 81, of the Rev. Sir John Herschel, Bart., which occurred at Observatory House, Slough, revives a host of memories of 18th century Bath. Sir John Herschel was the great-grandson of Sir William Herschel, the famous astronomer, who discovered from his scientific […]

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gossip

  MEANINGS   – a person who habitually talks about others, especially maliciously – a conversation involving malicious chatter or rumours about other people – casual and idle chat – light easy communication    ORIGIN   This word is from the Old English noun godsibb, composed of god and the adjective sib(b), meaning akin, related (cf. the noun sibling, which is composed of sib and […]

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imbecile

  Orphan Man with Cap and Walking Stick (1882), by Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) image: Van Gogh Gallery     The English adjective imbecile is, via French, from the Latin imbecillus, or imbecillis, meaning weak, feeble, in body or mind. In his etymological encyclopaedia Originum sive Etymologiarum (The Origins or Etymologies), the Spanish archbishop and Doctor of the Church St Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636) wrote […]

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the Cat-and-Mouse Act

  the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 – image: http://www.parliament.uk   The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 was rushed through Parliament by Herbert Henry Asquith’s Liberal government in order to deal with the problem of hunger-striking suffragettes, who were force-fed, which led to a public outcry. The Act allowed for the […]

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Disgusted

    The proper noun Disgusted (with initial capital D) was originally used as a self-designation by a member of the public writing anonymously to a newspaper in order to express outrage about a particular issue. The earliest instance of this noun that I have found is in the following letter, published in The Merthyr Telegraph, and General Advertiser […]

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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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French leave

  Sandra Dallas     MEANING   an unauthorised or unannounced absence or departure   ORIGIN   The earliest (and most curious) instance of the expression that I could find is in the anonymous novel Benedicta (1741). The heroine is about to get married: Mrs Butler, who on this extraordinary occasion, had taken French leave of her pillow, […]

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