origin of the word ‘immolate’

The verb ‘immolate’ is from Latin ‘immolare’, meaning, literally, ‘to sprinkle (a victim) with sacrificial meal’, from ‘mola salsa’, ‘salted spelt-meal’.

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history of the words ‘clew’ and ‘clue’

    photograph: pixabay     The noun clue appeared as a variant spelling of clew, of same pronunciation. Not frequent until the 17th century, clue has become the prevailing form of the word in the sense of a fact or idea that serves to reveal something or solve a problem. The word is from Old English cliwen, cleowen, meaning a ball formed by winding yarn, […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to leave no stone unturned’

  photograph: pixabay     The phrase to leave no stone unturned means to try every possible course of action in order to achieve something. (The equivalent French phrase has a cosmic dimension since it is remuer ciel et terre, literally, to move heaven and earth.) The image of turning every stone was already proverbial […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to steal someone’s thunder’

The phrase to steal someone’s thunder means: to use the ideas, policies, etc., devised by another person, political party, etc., for one’s own advantage or to anticipate their use by the originator. It is said to have originated in an exclamation by the English critic and ineffective playwright John Dennis (1658-1734). After the early demise […]

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The name ‘Albion’ did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover.

  The white cliffs of Dover— to which the name Albion did not originally refer [cf. note]. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)   The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, […]

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origin of ‘philtrum’ (the indentation above the upper lip)

photograph: Google+ Communities     The noun philtrum denotes the vertical groove between the base of the nose and the border of the upper lip. The literal and obsolete signification of this word, which appeared in the early 17th century, is love potion, from classical Latin philtrum, of same meaning. In post-classical Latin, philtrum came to also denote the dimple in the upper lip. It […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘not a cat in hell’s chance’

The phrase not a cat in hell’s chance means no chance at all—synonyms: a snowball’s chance (in hell) and a Chinaman’s chance. It is a shortening of the more explicit no more chance than a cat in hell without claws.  The earliest instance of this phrase that I have found is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 29th September 1753: Poor […]

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