the Shakespearean origin of ‘to flutter the dovecotes’

UK, 1831—to startle or upset a sedate or conventionally-minded community—most probably from the following lines in The Tragedy of Coriolanus (circa 1607), by William Shakespeare: “like an eagle in a dove-cote, I | Flutter’d your Volscians in Corioli”

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“the very pineapple of politeness” and other malapropisms

from the name of Mrs Malaprop, a character who confuses long words in The Rivals (1775), a comedy by the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan—character named after ‘malapropos’, from the French locution ‘mal à propos’, literally ‘ill to purpose’

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the cultural background to ‘the Swan of Avon’

an epithet for William Shakespeare, born at Stratford-upon-Avon, on the River Avon—first used by Ben Jonson in the earliest collected edition (1623) of Shakespeare’s plays—but this use of ‘swan’ for a bard, a poet, is rooted in a tradition going back to antiquity

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‘slipshod’: ‘wearing loose shoes or slippers’

‘slipshod’: ‘characterised by a lack of care, thought or organisation’—formed after the obsolete noun ‘slip-shoe’ (= ‘a loosely fitting shoe or slipper’); ‘shod’ (meaning ‘wearing shoes’) is the past participle of the verb ‘shoe’

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‘scruple’ (literally a small sharp stone in one’s shoe)

‘scruple’—from Latin ‘scrūpŭlus’, literally ‘a small sharp or pointed stone’—probably because such stones used to get into the open shoes of the Romans, ‘scrūpŭlus’ came to denote ‘a pricking, uneasy sensation’, hence ‘trouble’, ‘doubt’, ‘scruple’

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British and French Twelfth-Day traditions

Twelfth Day denotes the twelfth day after Christmas, i.e. 6th January, on which the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated, and which was formerly observed as the closing day of the Christmas festivities. (Epiphany denotes the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi; via Old-French and Anglo-Norman forms such as epyphane (Modern […]

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European precursors of the American ‘Indian summer’

The name ‘Indian summer’ (late 18th century) reflected the fact that to the Europeans living in the New World, this was a newly-discovered local phenomenon. But similar phenomena were already known in the Old World by various names.

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the Shakespearean origin of ‘sea change’

from ‘Full Fathom Five’, Ariel’s song to Ferdinand in ‘The Tempest’, by Shakespeare, where ‘sea change’ denotes a change brought about by the action of the sea

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