to eat humble pie

  A puzzle published in The Hibernian Magazine, or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge (Dublin, Ireland) in 1774 punned on the humble of humble pie, which may indicate that the latter term was already used figuratively at that time. The following is from the October issue:                     […]

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tabloid (2)

    TABLOID DRAMA. SHAKESPEARE “BOILED DOWN” FOR THE MUSIC HALLS. Mr. Cecil Raleigh is in favour of Shakespeare being “boiled down” for the music-hall stage. It was after Mr. George Fuller Golden’s lecture on the influence of theatres upon the music-halls, to the members of the O.P. Club at the Criterion Restaurant, last night, […]

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hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

  The phrase hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is a misquotation from The mourning bride, a tragedy by the English playwright and poet William Congreve (1670-1729), produced and published in 1697: Vile and ingrate! too late thou shalt repent The base Injustice thou hast done my Love. Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past […]

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valentine

photograph: Hot Rocks     There are two Valentines, both Italian, one a priest and the other a bishop, who were martyred and used to be commemorated in the Roman Catholic calendar on 14th February. However, they have no romantic associations and the modern customs linked with St Valentine’s Day arise from a tradition according to which it is the […]

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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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it’s Greek to me

    The noun Greek has long been used in the sense of unintelligible speech or language, gibberish, and the phrase it’s (all) Greek to me means I can’t understand it at all. This expression is well known from The Tragedie of Julius Cæsar (1599), by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616): (Folio […]

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cold comfort

  AUTHOR OF “COLD COMFORT FARM”: MISS STELLA GIBBONS. Miss Stella Gibbons’s novel has been most favourably reviewed. It is a well-sustained parody of the Loam-and-Love-child school of fiction. from The Sketch (London) of 21st September 1932     The expression cold comfort means inadequate consolation for a misfortune. The adjective cold has long been used to mean felt as cold […]

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grimalkin

    In The Tragedie of Macbeth (around 1603), by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Gray-Malkin is the name of a fiend in the shape of a grey she-cat, the cat being the form most generally assumed by the familiar spirits of witches according to a common superstition: (Folio 1, 1623)             […]

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moonshine

      MEANING   foolish or fanciful talk, ideas, plans, etc.   ORIGIN   It is a shortening of moonshine in the water, meaning appearance without substance, something unsubstantial or unreal. In this phrase, moonshine means moonlight. The 15th-century correspondence between members of the Paston family of Norfolk gentry, and with others connected with […]

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of that kidney

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     The word kidney, which is attested around 1325, is of unclear origin. The second element of the Middle-English form kidenei, plural kideneiren, is apparently ey, plural eyren, meaning egg (cf. German Eier, literally eggs, used to mean testicles). The first element remains uncertain; it […]

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