origin of ‘in a nutshell’

The phrase ‘in a nutshell’ originated in a story told by Pliny of a copy of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ supposedly small enough to be enclosed in the shell of a nut.

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to lick into shape

This phrase originated in the belief that bear cubs were born formless and had to be licked into shape by their mother.

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hair of the dog

  A Mad Dog in a Coffee House (London, 20th March 1809) by the English caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)     The term hair of the dog denotes an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover. It is a shortening of the phrase hair of the dog that bit you, first recorded in A dialogue […]

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Albion

The name Albion did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)   The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, theologian and historian St. Bede (circa 673-735):   […]

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halcyon

  kingfisher – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/JJ Harrison     The Latin noun halcyon, more properly alcyon, was derived from Greek ἀλκυών (= alkuon), incorrectly spelt ἁλκυών (= halkuon), meaning kingfisher. The ancients fabled that the halcyon bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed […]

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reseda

  Reseda lutea L. photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Udo Schmidt     MEANING   any plant of the European genus Reseda, including mignonette and dyer’s rocket, which has small spikes of greenish, yellowish or whitish flowers   ORIGIN   Through translations of Naturalis Historia (Natural History – 77), a vast encyclopaedia of the natural and human worlds […]

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pastiche – pastis

  pasticcio di carne – photograph: http://www.cucinafilm.it     The noun pastis designates an aniseed-flavoured aperitif, while pastiche, or pasticcio, denotes a work of art that imitates the style of another artist or period and a work of art that mixes styles, materials, etc. Unlikely as it may seem, these words are doublets, or etymological twins: […]

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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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lobster – locust

      The English nouns lobster and locust are doublets (as are turban and tulip). Doublets (or etymological twins) are words in one given language that go back to the same etymological source but differ in form and meaning.   The word lobster is from Old English forms such as loppestre, alterations of Latin locusta, which […]

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