heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is the heartwood of the oak. The heartwood […]

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Maconochie

      Maconochie Brothers was a company set up in 1873 by Archibald (1854-1926) and James (1850-1895) Maconochie. (Maconochie is a surname derived from the Gaelic Macdonochie, the son of Duncan.) With food processing plants on the Isle of Dogs (London), in Lowestoft (Suffolk), in Fraserburgh (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) and other places, the company was a wholesale provision merchant and manufacturer of pickles, potted meat and […]

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nightcap

    A nightcap is a cap worn in bed to keep one’s head warm. The word is first recorded in the description and valuation, made in 1378, of the articles that were in the shop of Thomas Trewe, haberdasher of London: one dozen of white caps, called “nightcappes”, was worth 2s. 3d.. The figurative […]

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the Cat-and-Mouse Act

  the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 – image: http://www.parliament.uk   The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 was rushed through Parliament by Herbert Henry Asquith’s Liberal government in order to deal with the problem of hunger-striking suffragettes, who were force-fed, which led to a public outcry. The Act allowed for the […]

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every cloud has a silver lining

  Anna Maria Hall (1861), by Daniel John Pound – image: National Portrait Gallery     The proverb every cloud has a silver lining means that every difficult or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect, even though this may not be immediately apparent. In 1840, the Irish novelist known as Mrs S. […]

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posh

  One of the earliest instances of posh is from a cartoon in Punch, or The London Charivari of 25th September 1918. An RAF officer is talking to his mother: “Oh, yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there.” “Whatever do you mean by ‘posh,’ Gerald?” “Don’t you know? It’s slang for […]

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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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Aunt Sally

  Aunt Sally – from The Modern Playmate: A book of games, sports, and diversions for boys of all ages (new revised edition – 1875?), by John George Wood (1827-89)     The Oxford English Dictionary (first edition – 1885) thus defined Aunt Sally: a game much in vogue at fairs and races, in which […]

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A1

  MEANING   first-class, outstanding   ORIGIN   Lloyd’s Register, historically Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, is an independent society formed in 1760 by a group of merchants operating at Lloyd’s coffee house in London, which surveys ships to ensure compliance with standards of strength and maintenance. The name also denotes an annual publication giving details […]

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guy

  The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, by Heinrich Ulrich early 17th century – National Portrait Gallery Guy (“Guido”) Fawkes is third from the right     The proper name Guy is derived, via French, from the Old German Wido, either from wit, meaning wide, or from witu, wood. Wido has become Guy in French because in words of Germanic origin, when initial, the labio-velar approximant /w/ […]

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