‘scruple’ (literally a small sharp stone in one’s shoe)

‘scruple’—from Latin ‘scrūpŭlus’, literally ‘a small sharp or pointed stone’—probably because such stones used to get into the open shoes of the Romans, ‘scrūpŭlus’ came to denote ‘a pricking, uneasy sensation’, hence ‘trouble’, ‘doubt’, ‘scruple’

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‘ultracrepidarian’, coined to denigrate a specific person

UK, 1819—specifically invented to qualify the English poet and critic William Gifford with reference to the fact that he had been a shoemaker’s apprentice—alludes to the proverb ‘let the cobbler stick to his last’ from Pliny’s Natural History (AD 77)

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‘pupil’: one’s own reflection in somebody’s eye

A diminutive of ‘pūpa’ (‘a girl’, in transferred use also ‘a doll’), the Latin feminine noun ‘pūpilla’ came to also denote ‘the pupil of the eye’ on account of one’s own reflection seen when looking into somebody’s eye—the same metaphor underlies ‘to look babies in somebody’s eyes’.

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How ‘magazine’ came to denote a periodical publication.

‘Magazine’ (= ‘storehouse’) came to denote a book providing information on a specified subject (17th c.). This gave rise to the sense ‘periodical magazine (= ‘repository’) of the most interesting pieces of information published in the newspapers’ (18th c.).

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The literal meaning of ‘easel’ is ‘ass’ (beast of burden).

The noun ‘easel’ was borrowed from Dutch ‘ezel’; this sense of ‘ezel’ is a metaphorical extension of its literal meaning, ‘ass’, from the fact that, like a beast of burden, an easel is used to carry things. Likewise, the literal meaning of the synonymous French word ‘chevalet’ is ‘little horse’.

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‘Atlantic’ originally referred to Mount Atlas in North Africa.

‘Atlantic’ originally referred to Mount Atlas in North Africa, on which the heavens were fabled to rest; it was hence applied to the sea near the western shore of Africa, and afterwards extended to the whole ocean lying between Europe and Africa on the east and America on the west.

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‘Glamour’ was originally a Scottish alteration of ‘grammar’.

‘Glamour’ was originally a Scottish alteration of ‘grammar’: this article explains how it came to denote an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing.   GLAMOUR BABY Jackie Watson, “Glamour Baby” of Alfred Esdaile’s new autumn revues, “Folies de Minuit” and “Revue d’Elegance,” at the London Casino, for which Gordon Courtney […]

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British and French Twelfth-Day traditions

Twelfth Day denotes the twelfth day after Christmas, i.e. 6th January, on which the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated, and which was formerly observed as the closing day of the Christmas festivities. (Epiphany denotes the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi; via Old-French and Anglo-Norman forms such as epyphane (Modern […]

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from the trenches of WWI: ‘cootie’ (‘body louse’)

from army use on the Western Front during World War One: ‘cootie’, ‘body louse’, ‘cooty’, ‘infested with lice’, ‘coot’, ‘louse’, probably ultimately refer to the aquatic bird called ‘coot’, reputed to be lice-infested

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the disputed origin of ‘tantrum’

18th century—origin unknown—perhaps originally imitative and comparable to, or derived from, ‘tantara’, denoting the sound of a trumpet, hence an uproar—or from obsolete French ‘trantran’, synonym of ‘tantara’

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