The veracious story of a worthy knight, called Sir Loin of Beef

  At Astley Hall (Lancashire), you can still see this chair… … with the following explanation: Sirloin Chair – King James I reputedly knighted a loin of beef upon this chair at Hoghton Tower, Lancashire, in 1617. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. (Even if it is not true, it makes a good story.)   […]

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picnic

  Blowing up the PIC NIC’s:—or—Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomime (1802), by James Gillray (1756-1815) — image: The British Museum     MEANING   a meal eaten outdoors   ORIGIN   This word is from French pique-nique, probably formed with reduplication from the verb piquer, to pick. (Similarly, pêle-mêle, the origin […]

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tennis

  advertisements for sphairistike, or lawn tennis The Morning Post (London) – Tuesday 26th May 1874     The word tennis in its current sense is short for lawn tennis. The original form of tennis (known as real tennis to distinguish it from the later lawn tennis) was played with a solid ball on an […]

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helpmate

  the creation of Eve and the verse 2:18 of the Book of Genesis in the Coverdale Bible (1535)     The word helpmate means a helpful companion or partner, especially one’s husband or wife. This noun was originally helpmeet, about which the New English Dictionary (i.e. the Oxford English Dictionary – 1901 edition) explained […]

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a pretty kettle of fish

  Oxford English Dictionary (1st edition – 1901): kettle net under the headword kettle kettle net under the headword kiddle   MEANING   The phrase a pretty (or fine) kettle of fish means an awkward state of affairs.   ORIGIN   There is an obvious error in the Oxford English Dictionary (1st edition – 1901): under the […]

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teetotum

L’Enfant au toton (1738), by Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)     The word teetotum, which dates back to the 18th century, denotes a small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the fingers […]

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