‘Tabloid’ was originally a pharmaceutical trademark.

The pharmaceutical firm Burroughs, Wellcome & Company was founded in London in 1880 by the American-born entrepreneurs Silas Burroughs (1846-95) and Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). They registered the name Tabloid (with capital initial) on 14th March 1884, as a trademark for concentrated drugs and medicines in tablet form. (It remains a proprietary name to this day.) The firm applied the […]

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How Horace Walpole coined ‘serendipity’.

    The noun serendipity denotes the faculty of making by accident discoveries that are both fortunate and unexpected. (It has been borrowed into Spanish as serendipia, into Italian as serendipità, and into French as sérendipité.) It was coined by the English writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717-97). In a letter that he wrote to his friend Horace Mann […]

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How ‘magpiety’ was invented… and reinvented.

  Monument to Thomas Hood (designed by M. Noble) erected in Kensal Green Cemetery by Public Subscription illustration from Memorials of Thomas Hood (1860)     A blend of magpie and piety, the word magpiety was originally invented by the English poet and humorist Thomas Hood (1799-1845) to denote talkativeness, garrulity, especially on religious or moral topics and affected piety. This author first used […]

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the various uses of ‘human bean’ (human being)

  The term human bean is a humorous alteration or mispronunciation of human being, frequently used as part of an extended pun relating to beans. It is first recorded in Punch, or The London Charivari (1842): This little wretch is exciting the most intense interest, (Faugh!) and we have bribed the authorities in all directions to obtain information regarding him. […]

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‘Rhesus’ was originally an arbitrary name given to a macaque.

  Le Rhesus (Simia Rhesus) – illustration by Jean-Baptiste Audebert for his treatise, Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (1799) – image: Bibliothèque nationale de France / gallica.bnf.fr     This word is from French rhésus, formerly rhesus, and from its etymon, the scientific Latin (Simia) Rhesus. In Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (Natural […]

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origin of ‘pandemonium’ (place of uproar and chaos)

  Charles Macklin (circa 1792), by John Opie image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   a place or state of utter confusion and uproar   ORIGIN   In Paradise Lost (1667), the English poet John Milton (1608-74) invented Pandæmonium, with a capital P, as the name for the capital of Hell, containing the […]

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origin of ‘panjandrum’ (pompous self-important official)

  cover of The Great Panjandrum Himself (1885), a picture book based on the text attributed to Samuel Foote, by the English artist and illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-86) – photograph: Aleph-Bet Books     MEANING   a pompous self-important official or person of rank   ORIGIN The word is supposed to have been coined in […]

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