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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to play gooseberry

PLAYING “GOOSEBERRY.” Incredible though the statement may sound in these days, there still exist shy and diffident lovers of both sexes to whom, before they are quite, quite sure of themselves or each other, the presence of a “gooseberry” acts at once as support and fillip. Naturally the sensible girl will select as gooseberry a […]

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to lose one’s marbles

    The noun marble, denoting a hard crystalline metamorphic rock resulting from the recrystallization of a limestone, is from Anglo-Norman forms such as marbre and marbelle, and from Old-French forms such as marbre, maubre and mabre, from classical Latin marmor. This Latin noun is from ancient Greek μάρμαρος (= mármaros), shining stone, marble, of […]

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smoke and mirrors

  Politicians usually work with blue smoke and mirrors. What appears to be real is mostly an illusion, and what is unlikely turns out to be real. But sometimes, the blue smoke and mirrors don’t work. When you can’t produce a budget, you can’t call a news conference and pretend you did. from The News […]

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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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hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

  The phrase hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is a misquotation from The mourning bride, a tragedy by the English playwright and poet William Congreve (1670-1729), produced and published in 1697: Vile and ingrate! too late thou shalt repent The base Injustice thou hast done my Love. Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past […]

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Georgium Sidus

  Sir John Herschel The announcement last Friday of the death, at the age of 81, of the Rev. Sir John Herschel, Bart., which occurred at Observatory House, Slough, revives a host of memories of 18th century Bath. Sir John Herschel was the great-grandson of Sir William Herschel, the famous astronomer, who discovered from his scientific […]

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gossip

  MEANINGS   – a person who habitually talks about others, especially maliciously – a conversation involving malicious chatter or rumours about other people – casual and idle chat – light easy communication    ORIGIN   This word is from the Old English noun godsibb, composed of god and the adjective sib(b), meaning akin, related (cf. the noun sibling, which is composed of sib and […]

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imbecile

  Orphan Man with Cap and Walking Stick (1882), by Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) image: Van Gogh Gallery     The English adjective imbecile is, via French, from the Latin imbecillus, or imbecillis, meaning weak, feeble, in body or mind. In his etymological encyclopaedia Originum sive Etymologiarum (The Origins or Etymologies), the Spanish archbishop and Doctor of the Church St Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636) wrote […]

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to amputate one’s mahogany

  cut one’s stick, to be off quickly, i.e., be in readiness for a journey, further elaborated into amputate your mahogany from A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words (2nd edition – 1860), by the English publisher and author John Camden Hotten (1832-73)     The expression to amputate one’s mahogany is a […]

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