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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flirt

  photograph: Famille Michaud, beekeepers since 1920     MAIN MEANINGS   – verb: to behave as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions – noun: a person who acts flirtatiously   ORIGIN   The verb flirt is probably onomatopoeic, the phonetic elements /fl-/ and /-əːt/ both suggesting sudden movement. […]

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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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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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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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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 […]

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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 […]

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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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