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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the authentic 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’

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Thermos     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 […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to beggar belief’

   original illustration for Scribbleomania; Or, The Printer’s Devil’s Polichronicon (1815) by William Henry Ireland (Amabilis insania et mentis gratissimus error means A delightful insanity and a most pleasing error of the mind)     MEANING   The phrase to beggar belief (or description) means to be too extraordinary to be believed (or described).   […]

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