‘royal we’: meaning and origin

UK, 1821—‘we’ used in place of ‘I’ by a monarch or other person in power, also (frequently humorously) by any individual—originated as a loan translation from French ‘nous royal’, as used of Napoléon Bonaparte by Madame de Staël in her memoirs published in 1821

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‘lead in one’s pencil’: meaning and origin

USA, 1927—denotes male vigour, especially sexual—with wordplay on ‘penis’—interestingly, via an alteration of the Latin diminutive ‘pēnĭcillus’, denoting literally a little tail, hence a painter’s brush or pencil, ‘pencil’ is derived from Latin ‘pēnis’, denoting literally a tail, hence the penis

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‘elbow grease’ | ‘huile de coude’

The humorous expression ‘elbow grease’ (1639) denotes vigorous physical labour, especially hard rubbing. The corresponding French expression is ‘huile de coude’ (1761), literally ‘elbow oil’.

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‘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

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‘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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history of ‘piece of work’ (unpleasant person)

literal meaning, 1473: something produced or manufactured—1534: an arduous task—1810: a commotion, a fuss—1623: ‘a filthy piece of work’ is applied to a person in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens

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‘pumpkinification’: meanings and origin

UK, 1849—transformation into a pumpkin; extravagant or absurdly uncritical glorification—coined after Hellenistic Greek ‘ἀποκολοκύντωσις’, the title of a travesty ascribed to Seneca, according to which the deceased Roman emperor Claudius, instead of being elevated to divine status, is changed into a pumpkin

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notes on the phrase ‘lorem ipsum’

a sample text beginning with ‘lorem ipsum’, based on jumbled elements from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum—‘lorem ipsum’: arbitrary clipping of the first syllable of ‘dolorem ipsum’ in Cicero’s text

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