[Ads-l] words connected to a single provenance

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Mon Aug 27 20:47:41 EDT 2018

On Sun, 26 Aug 2018 02:20:07 Zone-0700 GEOFFREY NUNBERG <nunbergg at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

I’ve been trying to come up with words in more-or-less general use that 
are associated with a single prominent historical or literary provenance 
— not hapax legomena, but items like “infamy,” which for most people who 
know it brings FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech to mind but which is used in 
other contexts as well. </quote>

both single words and phrases:

from Julius Caesar:  Cross the Rubicon, the die is cast, Et tu Brute
and from Brutus: Sic Semper Tyrannus

Pyrrhic victory

from Russia: Potemkin village

from the French Revolution: Liberte Egalite et Fraternite, Reign of Terror, let them eat cake

from the Peninsular War: guerilla

Waterloo (as a metaphor, e.g. "met his Waterloo")

a recent article on Manafort/Cohen reads "Birnam Wood has now come to Dunsinane"

from the Spanish Civil War: Fifth Column

from World War II: quisling, ground zero, Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor (metaphor for a sneak attack), I shall return

from the Alamo: line in the sand

from Poe: For the love of God, Montresor, purloined letter (gold bug is sometimes used as a technical term for a monalphabetic cypher)

Benedict Arnold (= traitor).  I believe in France the equivalent is "Ragusa" after the Duke of Ragusa

Ravachol (in French meaning a damn fool or butcher)

Trojan horse

from Mark Twain: Connecticut Yankee and perhaps "whitewashing a fence"

tilting at windmills

scarlet letter

Walden Pond

of the people, by the people, and for the people

two that come to mind from the Old Testament: shibboleth, David-and-Goliath as a metaphor

Headless Horseman

Beam me up, Scotty (sometimes followed by "there's no intelligent life down her")

munchkin, I don't believe we're in Kansas any more, and hasn't "Dorothy" acquired a meaning in the LGBT community?

in hoc signo vinces (which somehow appeared on Pall Mall cigarette packages)

aside to Laurence Horn: "cowabunga" is from the Howdy Doody TV show; how Bart Simpson picked it up I don't know.  Surprisingly, despite many possibilities, the only other enduring word from Howdy Doody is the name "Chief Thunderthud"---in the Viewnam War the F-105 Thunderchief became known as the "Thud")

- Jim Landau

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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