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 […]

Read More

Ajax

  This word means a toilet, especially an outdoor one. The following is from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave: Retraict [modern French retrait]: masculine. An Aiax, Priuie, house of Office [= outdoor toilet]. It is a humorous respelling of a jakes, of same meaning, after Ajax, the name […]

Read More

donkey’s years

    Gipsy Girl – original illustration for In Gipsy Tents (1880), by Francis Hindes Groome     MEANING   a very long time   ORIGIN   This expression is inseparable from donkey’s ears. In fact, these two expressions were originally a single one, donkey’s years being simply a dialectal pronunciation of donkey’s ears—or the […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More