February word herd

Jackanapes — William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was a well-regarded commander during the Hundred Years’ War. It was during his dukedom (1448-1450) that England lost its possessions in northern France, and he was accused of treason and banished. His family’s coat of arms sported an image of a collar and chain commonly used for leashing pet monkeys, then known as “jackanapes” (a word whose precise origin is uncertain). Thus, people gave the Duke the nickname “Jack Napis,” and soon “jackanapes” took on a new life as a word for a cheeky or impudent person and, later, a misbehaving child.


La-La land — a euphoric, dreamlike, mental state detached from the harsher realities of life. It’s also used as a nickname for Los Angeles, California. The term began to be used in the 1900s. “Heather was in la-la land after drinking the LSD-spiked iced tea intended for Diana.” And don’t we all sing, “La, la, la, la,” in the shower?


Pettifogger — an archaic word meaning an inferior legal practitioner, especially one who deals with petty cases or employs underhanded or disreputable practices. A synonym is 

“shyster,” one given to quibbling over trifles. (Mid-1500s)


Lily-livered — cowardly. In medieval times, people believed that the liver created blood, which resulted in rosy cheeks and glowing good health. Therefore, an ailing liver caused mental or physical weakness. Anyone who was choleric, bilious or irritable was labelled “liverish.” The lily was synonymous with whiteness and a person might be called lily-cheeked. So, “lily-livered” meant having a pale and bloodless liver. And a person who had no blood in their liver would have no courage and would thus be a coward.


Make a beeline — go somewhere in the most direct route. This phrase arose from the knowledge that when bees are going back to their hive, they go by the most direct route. In fact, bees have an incredibly advanced method of navigation, including using the sun and adjusting for time of day and the curvature of the earth in calculating the angles of direction they should fly to find things. The phrase is American. The earliest use of it in print appears to from The Davenport Daily Leader, January 1808.


  One thought on “February word herd

  1. February 16, 2022 at 6:53 am

    Gosh – these were all delightful reminders of the richness of our language.

    Liked by 1 person

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