origin of ‘to cut a caper’

‘caper’: probably abbreviation of ‘cabriole’, from Italian ‘capriola’, literally ‘female roe deer’, from Latin ‘capreola’, ‘wild goat’, from ‘capra’, she-goat

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origin of ‘to sweat like a pig’

The pig probably symbolises the unpleasant fact of sweating profusely in the same way as it often represents greed, dirt, etc. in many other derogatory idioms.

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slave – Slav – robot – ciao

The word ‘slave’ is from Medieval Latin ‘Sclavus’, ‘Slav’, because the Slavic peoples were frequently reduced to a servile condition by the Germanic conquest.

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origin of ‘paparazzi’

The noun ‘paparazzo’ is from the name of a photographer in La Dolce Vita (1960) by Federico Fellini. The choice of this name has been variously explained.

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contredanse

  plate 19: La Trénis, Contredanse source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France from the 1931 reprint of the caricatures published under the title of Le Bon Genre (1827 edition), including Observations sur les modes et les usages de Paris; the following comment about La Trénis accompanies this plate: (Année 1805.) Cette danse porte le […]

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to play to the gallery

  the gods at the Comedy Theatre, London, 1949 source: Historic England – The Theatres Trust     Via Middle French galerie, the noun gallery, attested in the late 15th century, is from the medieval Latin of Italy galeria, an alteration of medieval Latin galilaea, designating a porch at the entrance of a monastery’s church—hence English […]

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Simon says

    Of American-English origin, Simon says denotes a children’s game in which players must obey the leader’s instructions only if they are prefaced with the words Simon says; it also denotes the command itself. The name Simon was probably chosen for alliterative effect (Simon says). The earliest instance that I have found is the […]

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valentine

photograph: Hot Rocks     There are two Valentines, both Italian, one a priest and the other a bishop, who were martyred and used to be commemorated in the Roman Catholic calendar on 14th February. However, they have no romantic associations and the modern customs linked with St Valentine’s Day arise from a tradition according to which it is the […]

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to get the bird

  detail from the frontispiece to The Life of an Actor (1825), by Pierce Egan     The phrase to get, or to give, the bird means to receive, or to show, derision, to be dismissed, or to dismiss. It originated in theatrical slang and referred to the ‘big bird’, that is, the goose, which hisses as people do when they make a sound of disapproval […]

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it’s Greek to me

    The noun Greek has long been used in the sense of unintelligible speech or language, gibberish, and the phrase it’s (all) Greek to me means I can’t understand it at all. This expression is well known from The Tragedie of Julius Cæsar (1599), by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616): (Folio […]

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