thick as thieves

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     Among other figurative meanings, the adjective thick has the sense of close in confidence and association, intimate, familiar. In Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, published in 1812, John Nichols quoted Edmund Law (1703-87), Bishop of Carlisle: “Yes,” said he, “we begin now, though contrary to my expectation, and without my […]

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beyond the pale

  MEANING   outside the limits of social convention   ORIGIN   The primary meanings of the noun pale are a wooden stake or post used with others to form a fence and a wooden fence made of stakes driven into the ground. This word appeared in the late 14th century and is from Anglo-Norman and Middle French pal, meaning a stake, a palisade, a […]

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dandy

   Dandy Dinmonts by the Haining Loch (1888), by the Scottish artist Robert Smellie     MEANING   a man unduly concerned with looking stylish and fashionable   ORIGIN   As it was originally in use on the Scottish Border at the end of the 18th century, dandy represents perhaps the name Andrew. (From Dandie […]

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The language of domination

  Sir Walter Scott (1829), replica by John Graham Gilbert – image: National Portrait Gallery     The Anglo-Saxons were the Germanic inhabitants of England before the Conquest, i.e. the invasion and assumption of control by William of Normandy in 1066. Known as William the Conqueror, William I (circa 1027-87) defeated Harold II at 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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