Archive for the Category: Etymology

Taking the fly

I discovered an interesting French idiom today – prendre la mouche – which means literally ‘to take the fly’ and is the equivalent of ‘to go off in a huff’. Huff refers to ‘a passing mood of anger or pique’ A French equivalent of ‘to be in a huff’ is être vexé. Are there similar […]

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Also posted in English, French, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 4 Comments

Do you cahoot?

When looking through one of my dictionaries today I came across the word cahoot, which I’ve only seen before in the form cahoots, as in the expression ‘in cahoots with’, i.e. to be in partnership or in league with. The dictionary entry has the s in bracketts – cahoot(s) – so it seems this words […]

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Knowledge and seeing

I discovered today that there is a connection between the Gaelic word for knowledge, information, news – fios in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, fys in Manx – and the English words video and wit. Their roots can all be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root woid-/wid- (to see/to know), which, according to the OED, is […]

Also posted in English, Greek, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases 7 Comments

La gueule enfarinée

I discovered an interesting French expression yesterday while ferreting around in the dictionary – la gueule enfarinée, which literally means ‘the floured mouth’, but actually refers to someone who is ‘wet behind the ears’, i.e. new, untrained, inexperienced, immature, innocent, callow or naive (synonyms from The Chambers Thesaurus). The word gueule usually refers to the […]

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Docent

I came across an unfamiliar word today in a book I’m reading – docent. From the context I guessed it referred to someone who leads guided tours, but according to my English dictionary it means ‘(in the U.S.) a lecturer in some colleges and universities’, and it comes from the German word Dozent (associate professor, […]

Also posted in English, German, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 11 Comments

Water lilies, nymphs and blue lotuses

There was talk of ponds and water lilies last night at the French conversation group and I discovered that one French word for water lily is nymphéa [nɛ̃.fe.a], which comes from nymphaea the Latin name for this genus of plants. The Latin word comes from the Ancient Greek word νύμφη (nymphe), which means girl, and […]

Also posted in Arabic, English, French, Greek, Language, Sanskrit, Words and phrases 6 Comments

Orientating oneself

When visiting an unfamiliar place in order to find you way around it helps if you work out where you are in relation to particular landmarks and in which direction you’re facing. In order to use a map you need to know where north is so that you can hold the map the right way […]

Also posted in English, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 9 Comments

Le Grand-Bi

I discovered today the French term for a penny-farthing bicycle (pictured right) is le grand-bi. It is also known as a bicycle, and that was what they were usually called in English when they were popular in the 1880s. The name penny-farthing only came to be used in around 1891. The penny-farthing, which is also […]

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It’s very sticky

I discovered (via Inky Fool) an alternative word for tennis today – sphairistike [sfɛəˈrɪstɪkɪ], which sounds a bit like the phrase ‘it’s very sticky’. This was the name coined by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (pictured right), who invented (lawn) tennis in 1873, and it comes from the Greek σϕαιριστική (sfairistiké), or ‘(skill) in playing at […]

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Apocope

I learned a new word today – apocope [əˈpɒkəpiː], which is the loss of phonemes from the ends of words, particularly unstressed vowels. It comes from the Greek word ἀποκόπτω (apokoptein), which means ‘cutting off’ and comes from ἀπό (apo-), ‘away’ and κόπτω (koptein), ‘to cut’. Apocope is a mechanism which erodes some inflections and […]

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