Ebenezer Cobham Brewer.

Dictionary of phrase and fable giving the derivation, source, or origin of common phrases, allusions, and words that have a tale to tell .. online

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Online LibraryEbenezer Cobham BrewerDictionary of phrase and fable giving the derivation, source, or origin of common phrases, allusions, and words that have a tale to tell .. → online text (page 1 of 246)
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I'hoto : G. D. Esam, New UUerlon.


Author of " The Dictionary of Phrase and Fahle."








London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne





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A. This letter is modified from the
Hebrew M {ak})h — an ox), which was
meant to indicate the outline of an ox's

A among the Egyptians is denoted by
the hieroglyphic which represents the
ibis. Among the Greeks it was the
symbol of a bad augury in the sacrifices.

A in logic is the symbol of a imiversal
affirmative. A asserts, E denies. Thus,
syllogisms in bk.rbA.rA. contain three imi-
versal affirmative propositions.

Al means first-rate — the very best.
In Lloyd's Kegister of British and Foreign
Shipping, the character of the ship's hull
is designated by letters, and that of the
anchoi-s, cables, and stores by figures.
Al means hull first-rate, and also an-
chors, cables, and stores ; A2, hull
first-rate, but furniture second-rate.
Vessels of an inferior character are clas-
sified under the letters M, E, and i.

" She is a prime girl, she is ; she is Al."— Sam

A.B. {See AsLR.)

A.B.C. = Aerated Bread Company.

ABC Book. A primer, a book in
which articles are set in alphabetical
order, as the ABC Railway Guide.
The old Primers contained the Cate-
chism, as is evident from the lines : —
" That is question now ;
And then comes answer like an Absey book."
iHuike^peare : King John, i. 1.

A.B.C. Process {The) of making
artificial manure. An acrostic of Alum,
Blood, Clay, the three chief ingredients.

A. E. I. O. U.

by Frederick V.

The device adopted
Archduke of Auetria

(the Emperor Frederick III. — 1440-


Austria Est Imiierare Orbi Universo.

Alles Erdreich 1st Oesterreich Unterthan.

Austria's Empire Is OAerall Universal.

To which wags added after the war of


Austria's Emperor Is Ousted Utterly.

Frederick II. of Prussia is said to have

translated the motto thus : —

•Austria Erit In Orbe Ultima" iAustria will
mie day be lowest in the world).

A.U.C. Anno urbis condUce (Latin).
" from the foundation of the city "—i.e.,

Aaron. An Aaroti's serpent. Some-
thing so powerful as to swallow up minor
powers. — Exodus vii. 10-12.

Ab. Abovo. From the very beginning.
Stasinos, in the epic poem called the
Little Iliad, does not rush in medias
res, but begins with the eggs of Leda,
from one of which Helen was bom. If
Leda had not laid this egg, Helen would
never have been bom. If Helen had not
been bom, Paris could not have eloped
with her. If Paris had not eloped with
Helen, there would have been no Trojan
War, etc.

Ab ovo usque ad mala. From the first
dish to the last. A Roman coena (dinner^
consisted of three parts. The first course
was the appetiser, and consisted chiefly
of eggs, with stimulants ; the second was
the "dinner proper ; " and the third the
dessert, at which indla {i.e., all sorts of
apples, pears, quinces, pomegranates, and
so on) formed the most conspicuous part.
—Hor. Sat. I. iii. 5.




— oo oooooooo-

— oooo oooooo-

— ooooooooo-

— ooooooo-


Aback'. I ivm taken aback — I was
greatly astonished— takeu by surprise—
startled. It is a sea term. A ship is
"taken aback" when the sails are sud-
denly carried by the wind 'back against
the mast, instantly staying the ship's
progress— very daugerous in a strong

Ab'acus. A small frame with wires
stretched across it. Each wire contains
ten movable V^^Hs,
which can be shifted
backwards or for-
wards, so as to vary
ad libitum the num-
ber in two or more
blocks. It is used to
teach children addi-
tion and subtraction.
The ancient Greeks and Romans em-
ployed it for calculations, and so do the
Chinese. The word is derived from the
Phoen. abak (dust) ; the Orientals used
tables covered with dust for ciphering
and diagrams. In Turkish schools this
method is still used for teaching writing.
The multiplication table invented by
Pythagoras is called Ab'acus Pi/thagof'i-
cus. (Latin, abacus ; Greek, a^a^.)

Abaddon. The angel of the bottom-
less pit (Rev. ix. 11). The Hebrew abad
means " he perished."

"Tbc aiiKell of the bottomlesse pytt, wuose
name in the hebrew tonge is X\rAAo\x. —Tindale.

Abam'bou. The evil spirit of the
Camma tribes in Africa. A fire is kept
always burning in his house. He is
supposed to have the power of causing
sicKness and death.

Abandon means put at anyone's
orders; hence, to give up. (Latin, ad,
to; bann-um, late Latin for "a decree.")

Abandon fait larron. As oppor-
tunity makes the thief, the person who
neglects to take proper care of his goods,
leads into temptation, hence the proverb,
"Neglect leads to theft."

Ab'arls. The dart of Abaris. Abaris,
the Scythian, was a priest of Apollo ;
and the god gave him a golden arrow
on which to ride through the air. This
dart rendered him invisible ; it also
cured diseases, and gave oracles. Abaxis
gave it to Pythagoras. ,

"Tbe dart of Abaria carried the philosopher
wheresoever he desired H,:'—Wdlmott.

Abate (2 syl.) means properly to knock
down. (French, abattre, whence a battue^
i.e.3 wnolesale destruction of game;
O.E. a-bedtan^

Abate, in horsemanship, is to per-
form well the downward motion. A
horse is said to abate when, working
upon curvets, he puts or beats down both
his hind legs to the ground at once, and
keeps exact time.

Abatement, in heraldry, is a mark
of dishonour annexed to coat armour,
whei'eby the honour of it is abated.

Ab'aton. (Greek a, not ; paipto, I go.)
As inaccessible as Abdton. Artemisia, to
commemorate her conquest of Rhodes,
erected two statues in the island, one
representing herself, and the other em-
blematical of Rhodes. When the
Rhodians recovered their liberty they
looked upon this monument as a kind of
palladium, and to prevent its destruction
surrounded, it with a fortified enclosure
which they called Abaton, or the inac-
cessible place. (Lucan speaks of an
island difficult of access, in the feus of
Memphis, called AbSton.)

Abb'assides (3 syl.). A dynasty of
caliphs who reigned from loO-Vlh?>.
The name is derived from Abbas, uncle
of Mahomet. The most celebrated of
them was Haromi-al-Raschid (bom 765,
reigned 786-808).

Abbey Laird {An). An insolvent
debtor sheltered by the precincts of
Holy rood Abbey.

" As diligence cannot be proceeded with on
Sunday, the Abbey Lairds (as they were jocularly
called) were enabled to come forth on that day
to mingle in our society."— fi. Chamhers.

Abbey-lubber (An). An idle, well-
fed dependent or loafer.

" It came into a common proverbe to call him
an Abbav-lubber, that was idle, wel fed, a long,
lewd, litner loiterer, that might workeand would
not."— The Buniynge of Paules Church, 1563.

It is used also of religious in con-
tempt ; see Dryden's Spanish Friar.

Abbot of Misrule, or Lord of Misrule.
A person who used to superintend the
Christmas diversions. In France the
"Abbot of Misrule" was called Vabbe
de Liesse (jollity). In Scotland the
master of revels was called the " Master
of Unreason."

Abbotsford. A name given by Sir
Walter Scott to Clarty Hole, on the
south bank of the Tweed, after it be-
came his residence. Sir Walter devised
the name from a fancy he loved to in-
dulge in, that the abbots of Melrose
Abbey, in ancient times, passed over the
fords of the Tweed.

Abd in Arabic = slave or servant, as
Abd- Allah {servant of God), Abd-el-
Kader iservant of the Mighty One), Abd-



ul-Latif (servant of the Gracious One),

Abdael (2 syl,). George Monk, tliird
Duke of Albemarle.

" Bravf! Abdael o'er the prophets' school was

lilaced ;
Abdael, with all his father's virtues graced, . .
Without one Hebrew's blood, restored the crown."
Dryden and Tail : Absalom amlAchitophel, Part ii.

V Tate's blunder for Abdiel (i-V.).

Abdall'ah, the father of Mahomet,
wiis so beautiful, that when he married
Ami'na, 200 virgins broke their hearts
from disappointed love. — Washington
Inking : Life of Mahomet.

Abdall'ah. Brother and predecessor
of Giaffir, pacha of Aby'dos. He was
murdered by Giaffir (2 syl.). — Byron:
Bride ofAbydos.

Ab'dals. Persian fanatics, who think
it a merit to kill anyone of a different
religion ; and if slain in the attempt, are
accounted martyrs.

Abde'ra. A maritime town of Thrace,
said in fable to have been founded by
Abdera, sister of Diomede. It was so
overrim with rats that it was abandoned,
and the Abderitans migrated to Mace-

Abderi'tan. A native of Abdera, a
maritime city of Thi-ace. The Abderi-
tans were proverbial for stupidity, hence
the phrase, "You have no more mind
than an Abderite." Yet the city gave
birth to some of the wisest men of
Greece : as Democrltos (the laughing
philosopher), Protagoras (the great so-
phist), Anaxarchos (the philosopher and
friend of Alexander), Hecataeos (the
historian), etc.

Abderitan Laughter. Scoffing
laughter, incessant laughter. So called
from Abdera, the birthplace of Democ-
ritos, the laughing philosopher.

Ab'derite (3 syl.). A scoffer, so called
from Democ'ritos.

Abde'rus. One of Herakles's friends,
devoured by the horses of Diomede.
Diomede gave him his horses to hold,
and they devoui'ed him.

Ab'dieL The faithful seraph who
withstood ^ Satan when he urged the
angels to revolt. (See ^aradise Lost,
Bk. v., lines 896, etc.)

" [He] adheres, with the faith of Abdiel, to the
ancient form of adoration."— Sir W. Scott.

Abeceda'rian. One who teaches or
is learning his ABC.

Abecedarian hymns. Hymns which
b^gan with the letter A, and ea,ch verse

or clause following took up the letters
of the aljjhabet in regular succession.
{Sec Acrostic Poetry.)

Abel and Cain. The Mahometan
tradition of the death of Abel is this :
Cain was born with a twin sister who
was named Aclima, and Abel with a
twin sister named Jumelhi. Adam
wished Cain to xanxry Abel's twin sister,
and Abel to marry Cain's. Cain would
not consent to this arrangement, and
Adam proposed to refer the question to
God by means of a sacrifice. God re-
jected Cain's sacrifice to signify his dis-
approval of his marriage with Aclima,
his twin sister, and Cain slew his brother
in a fit of jealousy.

Abel Keene. A village schoolmaster,
afterwards a merchant's clerk. He was
led astray, lost his place, and hanged
himself. - Crabbe : Borough, Letter xxi.

A'belites (3 syl.), Abel'ians, or Abe-
lo'nians. A Christian sect of the fourth
century, chiefly found in Hippo (N.
Airica). They married, but lived in
continence, as they affirm Abel did.
The sect was maintained by adopting
the children of others. No children of
Abel being mentioned in Scripture, the
Abelites assume that he bad none.

Abes'sa. The impersonation of
Abbeys and Convents, represented by
Spenser as a damsel. When Una asked
if she had seen the Red Cross Knight,
Abessa, frightened at the lion, ran to the
cottage of blind Supei'stition, and shut
the door. Una arrived, and the liou
burst the door open. The meaning is,
that at the Reformation, when Trutn
came, the abbeys and convents got
alarmed, and would not let Truth enter,
but England (the lion) broke down the
dooT.— Faerie Queen, i. 3.

Abesta. A book said to have been
written by Abraham as a commentary
on the Zend and the Pazend. It is
furthermore said that Abraham read
these three books in the midst of the
furnace into which he was cast by
Nimrod.— P<3rsmw Mythology.

Abeyance really means something
gaped after (French, bayer, to gape).
The allusion is to men standing with
their mouths open, in expectation oi
some sight about to appear.

Abhigit. The propitiatory sacrifice
made by an Indian rajah who has slain
a priest without premeditation.

Abhor' (Latin, ab, away from, and
horreo, to shrink ; originally, to shudder,



have the hair on end). To abhor is to
have a natural antipathy, and to show it
by shuddering with disgust.

Abiala. Wife of Makambi ; African
deities. She holds a pistol in her hand,
and is greatly feared. Her aid is im-
plored in sickness.

Abida. A god of the Kalmucks, who
receives the souls of the dead at the
moment of decease, and gives them
permission to enter a new body, either
human or not, and have another spell
of life on earth. If the spirit is spotless
it may, if it likes, rise and live in the

Abidhar'ma. The book of meta-
physics in the Tripit'aka (q.v.).

Ab'igaiL A lady's maid, or lady-
maid. Abigail, wife of Nabal, who
introduced herself to David and after-
wards married him, is a well-known
Scripture heroine (1 Sam. xxv. 3). Abi-
gail was a popular middle class Christian
name in the seventeenth century. Beau-
mont and Fletcher, in T/ie Scornful
Lady, call the "waiting gentlewoman"
Abigail, a name employed by Swift,
Fielding, and others, in their novels.
Probably "Abigail Hill," the original
name of Mrs. Masham, waiting-woman
. to Queen Anne, popularised the name.

Abixn'eleob is no proper name, but
a regal title of the Philistines, meaning
Father -king.

Able. An able seaman is a skilled
seaman. Such a man is termed an A.B.
(Abie-Bodied) ; unskilled seamen are
called " boys " without regard to age.

Able-bodied Seaman. A sailor of
the first class. A crew is divided into
three classes:— (1) able seamen, or
skilled sailors, termed A.B. ; (2) ordin-
ary seamen ; and (3) boys, which in-
clude green - hands, or inexperienced
men, without regard to age or size.

Aboard. He fell aboard of me— met
me ; abused me. A ship is said to fall
aboard another when, being in motion,
it runs against the other.

To go aboard is to embark, to go on
the board or deck.

Aboard main tack is to dn.w one of
the lower comers of the main-sail down
to the chess-tree. Figuratively, it means
" to keep to the point."

Aboll'a. An ancient military garment
worn by the Greeks and Romans, opposed
to the toga or robe of peace. The abolla
beiag worn by the lower orders, waa

affected by philosophers in the vanity of

Abom'inate {ahominor, I pray that
the omen may be averted ; used on men-
tioning anything unlucky). As ill-omened
things are disliked, so, by a pimple figure
of speech, what we dislike we consider

Abomination of Desolation ( The) .
The Roman standard is so called (Matt.
xxiv. 15). As it was set up in the holy
temple, it was an abomination ; and,
as it brought destruction, it was the
"abomination of desolation."

Abon Hassan. A rich merchant,
transferred during sleep to the bed and
palace of the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid.
Next morning he was treated as the
caliph, and every effort was made to
make him forget his identity. Arabian
Nights ("The Sleeper Awakened").
The same trick was played on Christo-
pher Sly, in the Induction of Shake-
speare's comedy of Taming of the Shrew ;
and, according to Burton {Anatomy of
Melancholy, ii. 2, 4), by Philippe the
Good, Duke of Burgundy, on his mar-
riage with Eleono'ra.

" Were I caliph for a day, as honest Abon
Hassan, I would scourge me these jugglers out
of the Commonwealth. —Sir Walter Scott.

Abonde {Dame). The French Santa
Claus, the good fairy who comes at
night to bring toys to cliildren while
they sleep, especially on New Year's

Abortive Flowers are those which
have stamens but no pistils.

Abon ebn Sina, commonly called
Avicenna. A great Persian physician,
bom at Shiraz, whose canons of medi-
cine were those adopted by Hippoc'rates
and Aristotle. Died 1037.

Abou-Bekr, called Father of the
Virgin, i.e., Mahomet's favourite wife.
He was the first caliph, and was founder
of the sect called the Sunnites. (571-

Abou Jahi'a. The angel of death
in Mohammedan mythology. Called
Azrael by the Arabs, and Mordad by
the Persians.

Aboulomri {in Mohammedan inytho-
logy). A fabulous bird of the vulture
sort which lives 1,000 years. Called by
the Persians Kerkes, and by the Turks
Ak - Baba. — Herbelot .

Above properly applies only to matter
on the same page, buthasi been extended


Abraham it es

to any previous part of the book, as See
above, p. *.

Above-board. In a straightforward
manner. Conjurers place tlieir liauds
KHiier the table when they are preparing
their tricks, but above when they show
them. "Let all be above-board"
means "let there be no under-'haLvA
work, but let us see everything."

Above par. A commercial term mean-
ing that the article referred to is more
than its nominal value. Thus, if you
must give more than £100 for a £100
share in a bank company, a railway
share, or other stock, we say the stock
is " above par."

If, on the other hand, a nominal
£100 worth can be bought for less than
£100, we say the stock is " below par."

Figuratively, a person in low spirits
or ill health says he is " below par."

Above your hook— i.^., beyond your
comprehension ; beyond your mark. The
allusion is to hat-pegs placed in rows ;
the higher rows are above the reach of
small statures.

Abracada'bra. A charm. It is said
that Abracadabra was the supreme deity
of the Assyrians. Q. Severus Sammon'-
icus recommended the use of the word
as a powerful antidote against ague,
flux, and toothache. The word was to
be written on parchment, and suspended
round the neck by a linen thread, in the
foiTu given below : —












Abrac'ax, also written Abrax'as or
dhras'ax, in Persian mythology denotes
the Supreme Being. In Greek notation
it stands for 365. In Persian mythology
Abracax presides over 365 impersonated
virtues, one of which is supposed to pre-
vail on each day of the year. In the
second century the word was employed
by the Basilid'ians for the deity ; it was
also the principle of the Gnostic hier-
archy, and that from which sprang their
numerous ^ons. {See Abeaxas Stones.)


Mis parents. According to Moham-
naedau mythology, the parents of Abra-

ham were Prince Azar and his wife,

His infancy. As King Nimrod had
been told that one shortly to be bom
would dethrone him, he commanded the
death of all such ; so Adna retired to a
cave where Abraham was born. He
was nourished by sucking two of her
fingers, one of which supplied milk and
the other honey.

His boyhood. At the age of fifteen
months he was equal in size to a lad of
fifteen, and very wise ; so his father
introduced him to the court of King
Nimrod. — Herbelot : Bibliotheqiie Orien-

His offering. According to Moham-
medan tradition, the mountain on
which Abraham offered up his son was
Arf aday ; but is more generally thought
to have been Morlah.

His death. The Ghebers say that
Abraham was thrown into the fire by
Nimrod' s order, but the flame turned
into a bed of roses, on which the child
Abraham went to sleep. — Tavernier.

" Sweet and welcome as the bed
For their own infant prophet spread,
When pitying Heaven to roses turned
The death-flames that beneath him burned."
T. Moore : tire Worshippers.

To Sham Abraham. To pretend illness
or distress, in order to get off work.
(See Abeam-Man.)

" I have heard peopJe say Sham Abi-am you may.
But must not sham Abraham Newland."

T. Dibdin or Uptmi.

Abraham Newland was cashier of the
Bank of England, and signed the notes.

Abraham's Bosom. The repose of
the happy in death (Luke xvi. 22). The
figure is taken from the ancient custom
of allowing a dear friend to recline at
dinner on your bosom. Thus the beloved
John reclined on the bosom of Jesus.

There is no leaping from I)eli'lah''s lap
into Abraham''s bosom — i.e., those who
live and die in notorious sin must not
expect to go to heaven at death. — Bos-
ton : Crook in the Lot.

Abraham Newland {An). A bank-
note. So called because, in the early part
of the nineteenth century, none were
genuine but those signed by this name.

Abraham ic Covenant. The cove-
nant made by God with Abraham, that
Messiah should spring from his seed.
This promise was given to Abraham,
because hp left his country and father's
house to live in a strange land, as God
told him.

Abrahamites (4 syl.). Certain Bo-
hemian deists, so called because they



Erof eased to believe what Abraham be-
eved before he was circumcised. The
sect was forbidden by the Emperor
Joseph n. iu 1783.

Abram - colour. Probably a cor-
ruption of Abron, meaning auburn.
Halliwell quotes the following from
Coriolanus, ii. 3 : " Our heads are some
brown, some black, some Abram, some
bald." And again, "Where is the
eldest son of Priam, the Abram -coloured
Trojan?" "A goodly, long, thick
Abram- coloured beard." — Blurt, Master

Hall, in his Satires, iii. 5, uses abr»n for au)»iirn.
" A lusty courtier . . . with abron locks was
fairly furnished."

Abram-Man, or Abraham Cove. A
Tom o' Bedlam ; a naked vagabond ; a
begging impostor.

The Abraham Ward, in Bedlam, had
for its inmates begging lunatics, who
used to array themselves " with party-
coloured ribbons, tape in their hats, a
fox-tail hanging down, a long stick with
streamers," and beg alms; but "for all
their seeming madness, they had wit
enough to steal as they went along."
— Canting Acadeimj.

See Kinff Lear, ii. 3.

In Beaumont and Fletcher we have
several synonyms : —
"And these, what name or title e'er they bear,

Jackman or Pafrico, Cranke or Clapper-ditdyeon,

Fraier or Abram-man, I speak to all."

Beggar's Bush, ii. 1.

Abrax'as Stones. Stones Avith the
word Abi-axas engi'aved on them, and
used as talismans.' They were cut into
symbolic forms combining a fowl's head,
a serpent's body, and human limbs. (See

Abreast. Side by side, the breasts
being all in a line.

The ships were all abreast — i.e., their
heads were all equally advanced, as
soldiers marching abreast.

Abridge is not formed from the
word bridge ; but comes from the Latin
abbrevidre, to shoi-ten, from ^ brevis
(short), through the French abreger (to

Abroach. To set mischief abroach is
to set it afoot. The figure is from a
cask of liquor, which is broached that
the liquor may be drawn from it. (Fr.,
brocher, to prick, abrochcr.)

Abroad. You are all abroad. Wide
of the mark ; not at home with the sub-
ject. Abroad ; in all diiections.

" Aa elm Uisplayii her duHky arms abroad."

Ab'rogate. When the Eoman senate
wanted a law to be passed, they asked
tlie people to give their votes in its fa-
vour. The Latin for this is rogdre legem
(to solicit or propose a law). If they
wanted a law repealed, they asked the
people to vote against it ; this was ab-
rogdre legem (to solicit against the law).

Absalom. James, Duke of Mon-
mouth, the handsome but rebellious son
of Charles II. in Dry den's Absalom
and Achitophel (1649-1685).

Absalom and Achitopbei. A poli-
tical satire by Dryden (1649-1685).
David is meant for Charles II. ; Absalom
for his natural son James, Duke of Mon-

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