origin of ‘Stepford’ (robotically conformist or obedient)

robotically conformist or obedient—from The Stepford Wives (1972 novel by Ira Levin and 1975 film adaptation by Bryan Forbes), in which Stepford is the name of a superficially idyllic suburb where the men have replaced their wives with obedient robots

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‘maelstrom’ (a whirlpool off the west coast of Norway)

late 16th century—from early modern Dutch ‘maelstrom’ (now ‘maalstroom’)—originally a proper name designating a powerful whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean, off the west coast of Norway, which was formerly supposed to suck in and destroy all vessels within a wide radius

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the shadowy history of the word ‘silhouette’

1763 in French, 1798 in English—from the name of Étienne de Silhouette (1709-67), Controller-General of Finances in 1759—perhaps because he might have invented the portrait in profile obtained by tracing the outline of a head or figure by means of its shadow

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the history of ‘burnsides’, ‘sideburns’ and ‘sideboards’

After Ambrose Burnside, Union general in the U.S. Civil War, ‘burnsides’ (1866) denotes thick side whiskers worn with a moustache and clean-shaven chin; on the pattern of ‘side whiskers’, it was altered to ‘sideburns’ (1875), itself altered to ‘sideboards’ (1882).

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origin of ‘bobby’ and ‘peeler’ (‘police officer’)

UK, 1844—‘bobby’: a policeman—from ‘Bobby’, pet form of ‘Robert’, in allusion to Robert Peel, who, as Home Secretary, established the Metropolitan Police in 1829—cf. ‘peeler’ (1816), originally a member of the Peace Preservation Force in Ireland established in 1814 by Robert Peel

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How a life jacket came to be named after Mae West.

From the name of the American film actress Mae West, renowned for her generous bust, the informal noun ‘Mae West’, attested in 1940, denotes an inflatable life jacket, originally as issued to Royal Air Force aviators during World War II.

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“the very pineapple of politeness” and other malapropisms

from the name of Mrs Malaprop, a character who confuses long words in The Rivals (1775), a comedy by the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan—character named after ‘malapropos’, from the French locution ‘mal à propos’, literally ‘ill to purpose’

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‘Atlantic’ originally referred to Mount Atlas in North Africa.

‘Atlantic’ originally referred to Mount Atlas in North Africa, on which the heavens were fabled to rest; it was hence applied to the sea near the western shore of Africa, and afterwards extended to the whole ocean lying between Europe and Africa on the east and America on the west.

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British origin of Gotham, nickname for New York City

Many centuries before becoming a nickname for New York City and the name of a fictional city associated with the Batman stories, Gotham was used in Britain as the name of a (probably fictional) village proverbial for the folly of its inhabitants.

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