‘gavroche’: meaning and origin

USA, 1863—a street urchin, especially in Paris, France—from ‘Gavroche’, the name of a street urchin in Les Misérables (1862), a novel by Victor Hugo

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‘Briticism’: meaning and origin

USA, 1868—coined by U.S. critic Richard Grant White (1822-1885) to denote a word or expression whose original acceptation (preserved in U.S. English) was changed to one that he regarded as debased

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‘if my aunt had balls’ | ‘si ma tante en avait’

used to rebuke an unrealistic conditional—USA, 1808: ‘if my aunt had been my uncle, what would have been her gender?’—France, 1843: ‘si ma tante était un homme, ça serait mon oncle’ (‘if my aunt were a man, that would be my uncle’)

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meaning and origin of ‘j’accuse’

1899—public accusation in response to a perceived injustice—from the title of an open letter (1898) by Émile Zola, condemning the imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus

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the liturgical origin of ‘Quasimodo’

in full ‘Quasimodo Sunday’: the Sunday after Easter—from the opening words of the Latin introit for that day, ‘quasimodo geniti infantes’, ‘as newborn babies’

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘to push up daisies’

  photograph: Max Pixel       Several colloquial phrases associate daisies with being dead: under the daisies, which means dead and buried, to push up (the) daisies and to turn one’s toes up to the daisies, which mean to be in one’s grave, to be dead. The Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser (Ireland) of […]

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meaning and origin of the term ‘loose cannon’

Figuratively, a loose cannon is an unpredictable or uncontrolled person who is liable to cause unintentional damage. But in practice, it was one inadequately lashed in place on the deck of a ship, which caused havoc by rolling dangerously and unpredictably. The first known mention of a loose cannon being tossed about the deck of […]

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origin of ‘dandelion’ and of its French equivalent ‘pissenlit’

  the 1905 edition of Le Petit Larousse illustré, a French-language encyclopaedic dictionary published by the Éditions Larousse In 1890, Eugène Grasset (1845-1917) designed the image of la Semeuse (the Sower) blowing dandelion seeds, which accompanies the motto of the Éditions Larousse, Je sème à tout vent (I sow to the four winds).   The word […]

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