a phrase based on prejudice: ‘Dutch courage’

UK, 1797—strength or confidence gained from drinking alcohol—alludes to the drinking habits ascribed to the Dutch—one of the phrases in which ‘Dutch’ is used derogatorily, largely because of the enmity between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries

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origin of the word ‘paraphernalia’

from Medieval Latin ‘paraphernalia’, short for ‘paraphernalia bona’, ‘married woman’s property’, i.e. the goods which a bride brings over and above her dowry

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the mysterious origin of ‘tace is Latin for candle’

  The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875), by the French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) – Musée d’Orsay, Paris The officiants have just excommunicated Robert by bell, book, and candle, and left the quenched candle behind. Robert II (972-1031), known as the Pious, the son of Hugues Capet, was excommunicated for incest by Pope Gregory […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘the toast of the town’

  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Kats – illustration from Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places (1873), by Walter Thornbury (The Kit-Cat, or Kit-Kat, Club in London was a club of Whig politicians and men of letters founded in the reign (1685-8) of James II; its […]

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meaning and origin of ‘the fourth estate’

  MEANING   the fourth estate: the press; the profession of journalism   ORIGIN   The first known user of the expression, designating the ordinary people, was the English author and magistrate Henry Fielding (1707-54) writing, under the pseudonym of Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain, in The Covent-Garden Journal of Saturday 13th […]

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the authentic origin of ‘a pretty kettle of fish’

The phrase ‘a pretty kettle of fish’ originally referred to a net full of fish, which, when drawn up with its contents, is suggestive of confusion, flurry and disorder—‘kettle’ being a form of ‘kiddle’, a noun denoting a dam or other barrier in a river, with an opening fitted with nets to catch fish.

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