cut and dried

  It is a circumstance rather remarkable, that the answer to Sir George Rodney’s summons of surrender, given by the respective Dutch Governours of the Islands of St. Eustatius and St. Martin’s, should be couched exactly in the same form of words without the smallest variation; from this we are either to suppose, that the […]

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tace is Latin for candle

  The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875), by the French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) – Musée d’Orsay, Paris The officiants have just excommunicated Robert by bell, book, and candle, and left the quenched candle behind. Robert II (972-1031), known as the Pious, the son of Hugues Capet, was excommunicated for incest by Pope Gregory […]

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sæva indignatio

  Jonathan Swift’s grave, marked by a simple brass plaque on the floor at the west end of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is adjacent to that of his great friend in life, Stella (Esther Johnson – 1681-1728): plaques marking the graves of Jonathan Swift and Esther Johnson     Latin sæva indignatio, meaning savage indignation, expresses a […]

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of that kidney

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     The word kidney, which is attested around 1325, is of unclear origin. The second element of the Middle-English form kidenei, plural kideneiren, is apparently ey, plural eyren, meaning egg (cf. German Eier, literally eggs, used to mean testicles). The first element remains uncertain; it […]

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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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thick as thieves

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     Among other figurative meanings, the adjective thick has the sense of close in confidence and association, intimate, familiar. In Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, published in 1812, John Nichols quoted Edmund Law (1703-87), Bishop of Carlisle: “Yes,” said he, “we begin now, though contrary to my expectation, and without my […]

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budget

  bulga – from Dictionnaire illustré latin-français (1934), by Félix Gaffiot     MEANING   The following definition of budget is from the New English Dictionary (i.e. Oxford English Dictionary – 1888 edition): A statement of the probable revenue and expenditure for the ensuing year, with financial proposals founded thereon, annually submitted by the Chancellor of […]

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The veracious story of a worthy knight, called Sir Loin of Beef

  At Astley Hall (Lancashire), you can still see this chair… … with the following explanation: Sirloin Chair – King James I reputedly knighted a loin of beef upon this chair at Hoghton Tower, Lancashire, in 1617. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. (Even if it is not true, it makes a good story.)   […]

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to rain cats and dogs (1)

giving the true origin of the phrase “it is raining cats and dogs” and debunking its false etymologies

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