‘mare nostrum’: meanings and origin

classical Latin ‘mare nostrum’, literally ‘our sea’: one of the names given by the Romans to the Mediterranean Sea—USA, 1824: any sea or other stretch of water belonging to, or under the control of, a nation

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‘useful idiot’: meaning and origin

UK, 1864: a naive person who can be manipulated to advance a political agenda—USA, 1948 (1946 as ‘useful innocent’): with reference to a communist strategy designed to gain political power

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‘La Stupenda’: meaning and origin

the nickname that the Venetian opera audience gave to Joan Sutherland when she sang Handel’s Alcina at the Fenice Theatre on 21 February 1960—Italian ‘è stupenda’ translates as ‘she is stupendous’

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meanings and origin of ‘a far cry’

The phrase ‘a far cry’ means ‘something very different’. Its literal signification (first recorded in A Legend of Montrose (1819), by Walter Scott) is ‘a long way’, ‘a great distance’. Here, the noun ‘cry’ denotes ‘a calling distance’, as in ‘within cry of’, meaning ‘within calling distance of’.

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origin of ‘red tape’ (obstructive official rules)

The noun red tape, meaning excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities, refers to the use of woven red tape to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers; the literal meaning is first recorded in 1658, the figurative meaning in 1736.

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The literal meaning of ‘cappuccino’ is ‘Capuchin’.

USA, 1948—espresso coffee mixed with steamed milk—borrowed from Italian ‘cappuccino’, literally ‘Capuchin’, because the colour of this type of coffee resembles that of a Capuchin’s habit—cf. French ‘capucin’ (= ‘Capuchin’), a name for the hare, from the colour of the animal’s fur

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