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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a cat may look at a king

  Executioner argues with King about cutting off Cheshire Cat’s head – illustration by John Tenniel (1820-1914) for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from.     The phrase a cat may look at a king means even a person of low […]

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gianduja

  Gianduja e Giandujotto (1986), by the Italian artist Walther Jervolino (1944-2012)     The Italian noun gianduia (improperly gianduja) appeared in the 19th century to denote a soft confection made with chocolate and ground hazelnuts, first produced in Turin, the capital of Piedmont, a region in north-western Italy, in the foothills of the Alps. […]

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to pay through the nose

  photograph: la vida cotidiana       MEANING   to pay excessively, to be charged exorbitantly   PROBABLE ORIGIN   The expression to pay through the nose is first recorded in Piazza universale di proverbi Italiani, or, A common place of Italian proverbs and proverbial phrases digested in alphabetical order (1666), by Giovanni Torriano (floruit 1640): Oft-times Rich […]

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excuse my French

  advertisement from The Mid-Sussex Times of 27th March 1923: THE PICTURE THEATRE, HAYWARDS HEATH. “PARDON MY FRENCH” AND “A CERTAIN RICH MAN.” Do you enjoy a good laugh? If you do go and see “Pardon my French” at the Heath Theatre to-night or on Wednesday. It is a pert pot-pourri of pep and romance. [&c.]     […]

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gazette

  Venetian gazeta     In A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), Randle Cotgrave gave the following definition of the French word gazette: A certaine Venetian coyne scarce worth our farthing; also, a Bill of Newes; or, a short Relation of the generall occurrences of the Time, forged most commonly at Venice, and thence dispersed, euery month, […]

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trumpery

  Donald Trump Lookups for trumpery have been spiking periodically since the end of 2015, as a result of the burgeoning political fortunes of Donald Trump. Recently, people have begun posting trumpery definitions to various social media sites. This fairly obscure word has a decidedly negative set of meanings which have delighted the real estate […]

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to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs

  Original illustration for Of the Swine in The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658), by Edward Topsell     The phrase to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs means to presume to advise a more experienced person. Raw eggs, with or without a little seasoning, used to be a popular food and were regarded as healthy. Grandmothers obviously needed no […]

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hail-fellow-well-met

  Well met, drawing by Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-93)     The obsolete adjective hail meant free from injury, infirmity or disease. It is from Old Norse heill, meaning whole, hale, sound. This Old Norse word is related to the English adjectives whole and hale, which are doublets, as they are both from Old English […]

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pastiche – pastis

  pasticcio di carne – photograph: http://www.cucinafilm.it     The noun pastis designates an aniseed-flavoured aperitif, while pastiche, or pasticcio, denotes a work of art that imitates the style of another artist or period and a work of art that mixes styles, materials, etc. Unlikely as it may seem, these words are doublets, or etymological twins: […]

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