‘in clover’: meaning and origin of this phrase

UK, 1710—in ease and luxury—refers to the use of clover as fodder, as explained by Samuel Johnson in A Dictionary of the English Language (1755): “To live in Clover, is to live luxuriously; clover being extremely delicious and fattening to cattle.”

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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

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origin of ‘quiz’ (“Vir bonus est quis?”)?

Originally meaning ‘person of ridiculous appearance’, ‘quiz’ (students’ slang, late 18th century) was jocularly derived from the Latin interrogative pronoun ‘quis’ in “Vir bonus est quis?” (“Who is a good man?”)—a good, ingenuous, harmless man being likely to become an object of ridicule or even of harassment.

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origin of ‘one swallow does not make a summer’

MEANING   a single fortunate event doesn’t mean that what follows will also be good   ORIGIN   The annual migration of swallows to Europe from southern climes at the end of winter was the subject of a proverb in Ancient Greece: μία χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, in which ἔαρ means spring; it is found […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to beggar belief’

MEANING   The phrase to beggar belief (or description) means to be too extraordinary to be believed (or described).   ORIGIN   The literal meaning of the verb to beggar is to make a beggar of, exhaust the means of, reduce to beggary. It came to be used figuratively to mean to exhaust the resources […]

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