fawn – fetus

  photograph: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources     Unexpectedly, the words fawn, meaning a young deer in its first year, and fetus (or foetus), meaning an unborn or unhatched offspring of a mammal, are doublets: they go back to the same etymological source but differ in form and meaning. While fetus has remained identical to this source, the form fawn is the result […]

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hail-fellow-well-met

  Well met, drawing by Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-93)     The obsolete adjective hail meant free from injury, infirmity or disease. It is from Old Norse heill, meaning whole, hale, sound. This Old Norse word is related to the English adjectives whole and hale, which are doublets, as they are both from Old English […]

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window

  oeil-de-boeuf (literally eye-of-steer) window photograph: Lynne Furrer/Shutterstock.com     The noun window is from Middle English windoȝe, a borrowing from Old Norse vindauga, literally wind’s eye, from vindr, wind, and auga, eye. The Scandinavian word replaced and finally superseded Old English éagþyrel, i.e. eyethirl, composed of the nouns eye and thirl. The noun thirl denoted a hole, an aperture, and was derived from Old English þurh, thorough. It was long used […]

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Richard Snary

   John Taylor (1578-1653), by Edward Harding image: National Portrait Gallery         The term Richard Snary is an alteration, with humorous substitution of Richard for the pet-form Dick, of Dick Snary, itself a humorous remodelling of dictionary. These terms are first recorded in Apollo shrouing composed for the schollars of the free-schoole of Hadleigh in Suffolke. And acted by them […]

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Rotten Row

  the Rotten-row in Glasgow, circa 1570 image: The Glasgow Story     The street name Rotten Row occurs in many different towns. For example, The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) of 10th December 1728 published the following advertisement: There is just come to Leith, a Parcel of fine Figs both in Casks and Frails [= baskets], […]

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pedigree

  Whooping Crane (Grus americana) from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1904)     The word pedigree appeared in the early 15th century in the Latin form pedicru and in English forms such as pe-de-grew and pedegru, from Anglo-Norman French pé de grue and variants (pied de grue in Modern French), meaning literally foot of crane. The Anglo-Norman French word is first recorded during the […]

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corduroy

  photograph: javi.velazquez       MEANING   a heavy cotton pile fabric with lengthways ribs   ORIGIN: UNKNOWN   The original form of this noun, in the late 18th century, was corderoy. The earliest use of the word that I could find is in The Manchester Mercury (Lancashire) of Tuesday 7th April 1772:       […]

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bonfire

  a Fifth of November bonfire in Hastings – photograph: VisitEngland     In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined bonfire: [from bon, good, French, and fire.] A fire made for some publick cause of triumph or exultation. In support of this etymology, bonfire in several languages is, literally, fire of joy. For […]

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galaxy – lettuce

  photographs: Milky Way: Wikimedia Commons / Forest Wander lettuce: Wikimedia Commons     The noun galaxy is from post-classical Latin galaxias, denoting the Milky Way, from Hellenistic Greek γαλαξίας (= galaxias), short for γαλαξίας κύκλος (= galaxias kuklos), milky circle, from ancient Greek γάλα/γαλακτ- (= gala/galakt-), milk. Originally therefore, galaxy, often with the and capital […]

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Wales – Cymru

  Briton settlements in the 6th century – settlements of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain, circa 600     In the following, Briton will refer to the Celtic Brittonic-speaking peoples who inhabited Britain south of the Firth of Forth, and who, following the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, gradually retreated until the […]

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