‘boustrophedon’: meaning and origin

1762—(especially of an ancient style of writing): having alternate lines written from left to right and from right to left—from the Greek adverb ‘βουστροφηδόν’, meaning literally ‘as an ox turns (in ploughing)’, with allusion to the course of the plough in successive furrows

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 curious origin of the word ‘imbecile’

The English adjective imbecile is, via French, from the Latin imbecillus, or imbecillis, meaning weak, feeble, in body or mind. In his etymological encyclopaedia Originum sive Etymologiarum (The Origins or Etymologies), the Spanish archbishop and Doctor of the Church St Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636) wrote that the literal meaning of the Latin adjective is quasi sine baculo, as though (walking) without a supporting staff. The […]

Read More

origin of ‘the ring finger’ and of French ‘l’annulaire’

      In the Etymologies (Etymologiarum sive Originum libri viginti), compiled between around 615 and the early 630s in the form of an encyclopaedia arranged by subject matter, St Isidore (circa 560–636), bishop of Seville and Doctor of the Church, wrote the following about the names of the fingers (the original Latin words are […]

Read More