‘calligram’: meaning, origin and early occurrences

a word or piece of text in which the design and layout of the letters creates a visual image related to the meaning of the words themselves—from French ‘calligramme’, coined in 1918 by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire—from ‘calligraphie’ and ‘idéogramme’

Read More

origin and appearance of ‘ailurophile’ (cat lover)

USA, 1914—‘ailurophile’: a cat lover—‘ailurophobe’: opposite sense—based on ancient Greek ‘aílouros’, ‘cat’, perhaps from ‘aiόlos’, ‘swift’, and ‘ourá’, ‘tail’, the cat being perhaps so called on account of the swift movement to and fro of its tail

Read More

origin of ‘double Dutch’ and ‘High Dutch’ (‘gibberish’)

‘double Dutch’, 19th century—from ‘Dutch’ in the sense of a language that few people can speak, and ‘double’ as a mere intensifier—‘High Dutch’, 17th century—loan translation from French ‘haut allemand’ (= ‘High German’), used in the sense of gibberish

Read More

‘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

Read More

How ‘mouse’, ‘muscle’ and ‘mussel’ are interrelated.

Classical Latin ‘muscŭlus’, literally ‘a little mouse’, also denoted ‘a muscle of the body’, especially of the upper arm, from the resemblance of a flexing muscle to the movements made by a mouse; ‘muscŭlus’ was also used in the sense of ‘mussel’.

Read More

‘marmalade’: from Latin ‘mēlŏmĕli’ and ‘mĕlĭmēla’

first recorded in 1480—from Portuguese ‘marmelada’ (quince marmalade), from ‘marmelo’ (quince), itself from Latin ‘malomellum’ (quince, sweet pome), a blend of Latin ‘mēlŏmĕli’ (syrup of preserved quinces) and ‘mĕlĭmēla’ (a variety of sweet pome)

Read More

the cultural background to ‘the Swan of Avon’

an epithet for William Shakespeare, born at Stratford-upon-Avon, on the River Avon—first used by Ben Jonson in the earliest collected edition (1623) of Shakespeare’s plays—but this use of ‘swan’ for a bard, a poet, is rooted in a tradition going back to antiquity

Read More