mayonnaise

  photograph: Farm Shop     The noun mayonnaise denotes a thick, creamy sauce consisting of egg yolks emulsified with oil and seasoned, used as a cold dressing or accompaniment for salad, eggs, fish, etc., or as the base for other sauces. It is used in two French phrases: la mayonnaise prend, literally, the mayonnaise […]

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thinking cap

  The term thinking cap denotes an imaginary cap humorously said to be worn in order to facilitate thinking. The earliest instance that I have found is from the Western Carolinian (Salisbury, North Carolina) of 16th October 1821: We advise the editor to put his thinking-cap on, before he hazards another such assertion. The term also […]

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cock-and-bull story

Democritus Junior (Robert Burton) from the frontispiece to the 1628 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy     The phrase cock-and-bull story denotes an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. The French expression sauter du coq à l’âne, literally to jump from the cock to the (male) ass, means to skip from one subject to another, the […]

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stirrup cup – one for the road

    Huntsmen still use stirrup cup to designate an alcoholic drink offered to riders either as they are about to depart or when they return. Mr. Barry Puilan, Master of the East Antrim Hounds, hands a stirrup cup to huntsman Jack Taylor during the meet at Trench Hill, Ballyeaston, yesterday. from The Northern Whig […]

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blarney

  As a noun, blarney means amusing and harmless nonsense and talk which aims to charm, flatter or persuade; as a verb, it means to influence or persuade (someone) using charm and pleasant flattery. This word is from Blarney, the name of a village near Cork in Ireland; in the castle there, is an inscribed stone, in a position difficult of access, said to […]

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Albion

The name Albion did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)   The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, theologian and historian St. Bede (circa 673-735):   […]

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teetotal

  tombstone of Richard ‘Dicky’ Turner at Preston “Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Richard Turner, author of the word teetotal as applied to abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, who departed this life on the 27th day of October 1846, aged 56 years.” photograph: Paul D. Swarbrick     The adjective teetotal in […]

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Kilkenny cats

    Kilkenny cats denotes two cats fabled to have fought until only their tails remained, hence combatants who fight until they annihilate each other, and to fight like Kilkenny cats means to engage in a mutually destructive struggle. (The name Kilkenny denotes both a county in south-eastern Ireland and its chief town.) The earliest […]

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to kick the bucket

    MEANING   to die   ORIGIN   What is nowadays considered a folk etymology may well be the true origin: to kick the bucket quite possibly refers to suicide by hanging after standing on an upturned bucket. For example, the following was published in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 27th September 1788: Last Week John Marshfield, a labouring Man, hanged […]

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to buy a pig in a poke

    In this expression, the noun poke denotes a bag, a small sack. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old Northern French forms such as poke and pouque, variants of the Old French forms poche and pouche — the last of which is the origin of English pouch. (Incidentally, English pocket is from Anglo-Norman poket, pokete, diminutive forms of poke.) The expression to buy a pig in a poke simply cautions against buying or […]

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