the authentic origin of ‘to buy a pig in a poke’

  In this expression, the noun poke denotes a bag, a small sack. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old Northern French forms such as poke and pouque, variants of the Old French forms poche and pouche — the last of which is the origin of English pouch. (Incidentally, English pocket is from Anglo-Norman poket, pokete, diminutive forms of poke.) The expression to buy a pig in a poke simply cautions against buying or accepting […]

Read More

meaning and origin of the phrase ‘as cold as charity’

The phrase (as) cold as charity refers to the perfunctory, unfeeling manner in which acts of charity are often done, and public charities administered. It originally alluded to the gospel of Matthew, 24:12, which is as follows in the Early Version (around 1382) of the Wycliffe Bible (wexe is the verb wax and means become, […]

Read More

origin of ‘black sheep’ as a derogatory appellation

MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it   ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth he desires to take leave of Laban. They reach […]

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘hail-fellow-well-met’

The obsolete adjective hail meant free from injury, infirmity or disease. It is from Old Norse heill, meaning whole, hale, sound. This Old Norse word is related to the English adjectives whole and hale, which are doublets, as they are both from Old English hāl. The current spelling of whole, which first appeared in the […]

Read More

etymological twins: ‘lobster’ – ‘locust’

      The English nouns lobster and locust are doublets. Doublets (or etymological twins) are words in one given language that go back to the same etymological source but differ in form and meaning—cf. also turban – tulip, clock – cloak, pastiche – pastis and fawn – fetus.   The word lobster is from Old English […]

Read More

origin of ‘helpmate’: ‘help meet’, i.e. help suitable

The word helpmate means a helpful companion or partner, especially one’s husband or wife. This noun was originally helpmeet, about which the New English Dictionary (i.e. the Oxford English Dictionary – 1901 edition) explained the following: A compound absurdly formed by taking the two words help meet in Genesis, ii, 18, 20 (‘an help meet […]

Read More

the apple of one’s eye – la prunelle de ses yeux

In early use, apple was a general term for all kinds of fruits other than berries, including even nuts. In fact, apple and berry are the only Anglo-Saxon fruit names, the rest being of Latin or ‘exotic’ origin. This is why apple was commonly used in describing foreign fruits, which explains for example the word […]

Read More