old chestnut – marronnier

    photograph: Alba Trees     The term old chestnut denotes a joke, story or subject that has become tedious and uninteresting through constant repetition. Here, the adjective old is simply an intensifier of the noun. The figurative use of chestnut originated in American-English theatrical slang. Diary of a Daly Débutante: being passages from the […]

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blotto

  The adjective blotto, which has mainly been used to mean drunk, originated in World War One British military slang. It is first recorded in this sense in the chapter Slang in a War Hospital of Observations of an Orderly: Some Glimpses of Life and Work in an English War Hospital (London, July 1917), by Lance-Corporal Ward Muir: The words […]

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flea market

  Marché aux puces à Montreuil – Agence Meurisse – 1928 source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France     The term flea market is a calque of French marché aux puces. Both names denote a street market selling second-hand goods. In In Europe (Pusey Press, New York, 1922), the American author George Samuel Dougherty […]

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to play to the gallery

  the gods at the Comedy Theatre, London, 1949 source: Historic England – The Theatres Trust     Via Middle French galerie, the noun gallery, attested in the late 15th century, is from the medieval Latin of Italy galeria, an alteration of medieval Latin galilaea, designating a porch at the entrance of a monastery’s church—hence English […]

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cherchez la femme

  caricature of Alexandre Dumas by André Gill – La Lune, 2nd December 1866     The French phrase cherchez la femme, search for the woman, is used to indicate that the key to a problem or mystery is a woman, and that she need only be found for the matter to be solved. It first […]

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foie gras

  duck being force-fed corn in order to fatten its liver for foie gras production photograph: GAIA – Voice of the Voiceless     The French term foie gras, from foie, liver, and gras, fat, fatty, denotes the liver of a specially fattened goose or duck prepared as food. Short for pâté de foie gras, […]

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midinette

  Phonetically and semantically similar to milliner, the French word midinette was defined as “a milliner’s female assistant, especially in Paris” in the 1933 Supplement to the New English Dictionary (as the Oxford English Dictionary was known). However, while milliner literally means a Milanese, a native or inhabitant of Milan, midinette is a portmanteau word, […]

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gigolo

  advertisement in the Burnley Express (Lancashire) of Saturday 23rd July 1927 for Gigolo, a film adaptation of the story by Edna Ferber     MEANING   a young man paid or financially supported by a woman, typically an older woman, to be her escort or lover   ORIGIN   In English, gigolo originally denoted a […]

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