cheese – fromage

    “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux-cent quarante-six variétés de fromage ?” (“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”) attributed to Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), French general and statesman, in Les mots du général de Gaulle (1962), by Ernest Mignon photograph: fémivin.com     […]

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nul points

  Seventies spectacle – Brotherhood of Man featured on Channel 4’s Top Ten – Eurovision There was once a time when it [= the Eurovision Song Contest], along with Miss World and the FA Cup Final, formed part of an annual must-see television triumvirate. The only people who did not watch it were social deviants — […]

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starboard – port

  image: nageur-sauveteur   MEANINGS   The noun starboard denotes the side of a ship or aircraft that is on the right when one is facing forward, while port denotes the opposing side.   ORIGINS   From the Germanic bases of the nouns steer and board, starboard, which appeared in Old English as steorbord, denotes literally the steer board, the steer side. This side of the ship […]

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Mayday

  Frederick Stanley Mockford’s gravestone at Selmeston, East Sussex, England – photograph: Geoffrey Gillon/Find A Grave     The word Mayday, which dates from 1923, is used as an international radio distress signal, especially by ships and aircraft. It was supposedly coined by Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897-1962), a senior radio officer at London’s Croydon Airport, but […]

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far from the madding crowd

  Thomas Gray (1747-48), by John Giles Eccardt image: National Portrait Gallery     The phrase far from the madding crowd is used in reference to a private or secluded place. It is an allusion to An Elegy wrote in a Country Church Yard (published in 1751), by the English poet Thomas Gray (1716-71). When he composed this poem, Thomas […]

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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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corduroy

  photograph: javi.velazquez       MEANING   a heavy cotton pile fabric with lengthways ribs   ORIGIN: UNKNOWN   The original form of this noun, in the late 18th century, was corderoy. The earliest use of the word that I could find is in The Manchester Mercury (Lancashire) of Tuesday 7th April 1772:       […]

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galaxy – lettuce

  photographs: Milky Way: Wikimedia Commons / Forest Wander lettuce: Wikimedia Commons     The noun galaxy is from post-classical Latin galaxias, denoting the Milky Way, from Hellenistic Greek γαλαξίας (= galaxias), short for γαλαξίας κύκλος (= galaxias kuklos), milky circle, from ancient Greek γάλα/γαλακτ- (= gala/galakt-), milk. Originally therefore, galaxy, often with the and capital […]

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flirt

  photograph: Famille Michaud, beekeepers since 1920     MAIN MEANINGS   – verb: to behave as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions – noun: a person who acts flirtatiously   ORIGIN   The verb flirt is probably onomatopoeic, the phonetic elements /fl-/ and /-əːt/ both suggesting sudden movement. […]

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tennis

  advertisements for sphairistike, or lawn tennis The Morning Post (London) – Tuesday 26th May 1874     The word tennis in its current sense is short for lawn tennis. The original form of tennis (known as real tennis to distinguish it from the later lawn tennis) was played with a solid ball on an […]

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