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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helpmate

  the creation of Eve and the verse 2:18 of the Book of Genesis in the Coverdale Bible (1535)     The word helpmate means a helpful companion or partner, especially one’s husband or wife. This noun was originally helpmeet, about which the New English Dictionary (i.e. the Oxford English Dictionary – 1901 edition) explained […]

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gigolo

  advertisement in the Burnley Express (Lancashire) of Saturday 23rd July 1927 for Gigolo, a film adaptation of the story by Edna Ferber     MEANING   a young man paid or financially supported by a woman, typically an older woman, to be her escort or lover   ORIGIN   In English, gigolo originally denoted a […]

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