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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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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short shrift

  The Murder of the Princes in the Tower – illustration from The National and Domestic History of England (1870?-80?), by William Hickman Smith Aubrey (1848?-1916)     The expression short shrift means brief and unsympathetic treatment, and to make short shrift of means to dispose of quickly and unsympathetically. A short shrift was originally […]

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Witham

  Witham (Essex) – town sign photograph: East Anglian Daily Times     Witham is the name of several villages in Lincolnshire and Essex. With a pun on wit, the expression little, or small, Witham was used proverbially for a place of which the inhabitants were remarkable for stupidity. For example, the following, from A fourth […]

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hail-fellow-well-met

  Well met, drawing by Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-93)     The obsolete adjective hail meant free from injury, infirmity or disease. It is from Old Norse heill, meaning whole, hale, sound. This Old Norse word is related to the English adjectives whole and hale, which are doublets, as they are both from Old English […]

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the forbidden fruit

  Eve offering the apple to Adam in the Garden of Eden, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (circa 1472-1553)     According to the post-biblical Christian tradition, the apple is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in defiance of God’s commandment. However, in the Book of […]

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window

  oeil-de-boeuf (literally eye-of-steer) window photograph: Lynne Furrer/Shutterstock.com     The noun window is from Middle English windoȝe, a borrowing from Old Norse vindauga, literally wind’s eye, from vindr, wind, and auga, eye. The Scandinavian word replaced and finally superseded Old English éagþyrel, i.e. eyethirl, composed of the nouns eye and thirl. The noun thirl denoted a hole, an aperture, and was derived from Old English þurh, thorough. It was long used […]

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forlorn hope

  MEANING   a persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled, a faint hope, a ‘hope against hope’   ORIGIN   On the face of it, this is a curious expression, because the adjective forlorn does not normally mean faint but miserable, lonely, forsaken or sad. The current sense of forlorn hope […]

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at one fell swoop

  osprey – photograph: Raptor Politics     The phrase at (or in) one fell swoop means all in one go. Here, the noun swoop, which denotes the act of swooping down, refers to the sudden pouncing of a bird of prey (a kite for example) from a height upon its quarry (of Germanic origin, […]

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Wales – Cymru

  Briton settlements in the 6th century – settlements of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain, circa 600     In the following, Briton will refer to the Celtic Brittonic-speaking peoples who inhabited Britain south of the Firth of Forth, and who, following the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, gradually retreated until the […]

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