"fantastic series or medley of illusive or terrifying figures or images," 1802, the name of a magic lantern exhibition brought to London in 1802 by Parisian showman Paul de Philipstal. The name is an alteration of French phantasmagorie, which is said to have been coined 1801 by French dramatist Louis-Sébastien Mercier as though to mean "crowd of phantoms," from Greek phantasma "image, phantom, apparition" (from PIE root *bha- (1) "to shine").
The second element appears to be a French form of Greek agora "assembly. "But the inventor of the word prob. only wanted a mouth-filling and startling term, and may have fixed on -agoria without any reference to the Greek lexicon" [OED]. The transferred meaning "shifting scene of many elements" is attested from 1822. Related: Phantasmagorical.
In Philipstal's 'phantasmagoria' the figures were made rapidly to increase and decrease in size, to advance and retreat, dissolve, vanish, and pass into each other, in a manner then considered marvellous. [OED]
"on the last line of defense," 1909, from an image attested by 1715, from a quote attributed to William of Orange (1650-1702), who is said to have uttered it defiantly during the French invasion of 1672; if so, originally in a Netherlands context.
We have no space to enter into the detail of the heroic struggle maintained by the young stadtholder and his faithful Dutchmen; how they laid their country under water, and successfully kept the powerful invader at bay. Once the contest seemed utterly hopeless. William was advised to compromise the matter, and yield up Holland as the conquest of Louis XIV. "No," replied he; "I mean to die in the last ditch." A speech alone sufficient to render his memory immortal. [Agnes Strickland, "Lives of the Queens of England," London, 1847]
1610s, "loose outer garment" (worn by men in Eastern countries or in ancient times), from French veste "a vest, jacket" (17c.), from Italian vesta, veste "robe, gown," from Latin vestis "clothing," from vestire "to clothe" (from PIE *wes- (2) "to clothe," extended form of root *eu- "to dress"). The sleeveless garment worn by men beneath the coat was introduced by Charles II in a bid to rein in men's attire at court, which had grown extravagant and decadent in the French mode.
The King hath yesterday, in Council, declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes .... It will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift. [Pepys, diary, Oct. 8, 1666]
Louis XIV of France is said to have mocked the effort by putting his footmen in such vests.
"type of thin, transparent fabric," c. 1600; earlier a common name for the festival of the Epiphany (early 14c.; in Anglo-French from late 13c.), from Old French Tifinie, Tiphanie "Epiphany" (c. 1200), from Late Latin Theophania "Theophany," another name for the Epiphany, from Greek theophania "the manifestation of a god" (see theophany).
Also popular in Old French and Middle English as a name given to girls born on Epiphany Day. The fabric sense is found only in English and is of obscure origin and uncertain relation to the other meanings, unless "holiday silk" or as a fanciful or playful allusion to "manifestation:"
The invention of that fine silke, Tiffanie, Sarcenet, and Cypres, which instead of apparell to cover and hide, shew women naked through them. [Holland's "Pliny," 1601]
The fashionable N.Y. jewelry firm Tiffany & Co. (1895) is named for its founder, goldsmith Charles L. Tiffany (1812-1902) and his son, Louis C. Tiffany (1848-1933), who was the art nouveau decorator noted for his glassware. The surname is attested in English from 1206.
small city in Illinois, U.S., originally the name of a subdivision of the Miami/Illinois people (1673), from native /peewaareewa/. Their own name is said to mean "carriers." The place name also is found in Oklahoma and Iowa, but it is the Illinois city that has been proverbially regarded as the typical measure of U.S. cultural and intellectual standards at least since Ambrose Bierce (c. 1890). Also the butt of baseball player jokes (c. 1920-40, when a team there was part of the St. Louis Cardinals farm system) and popularized in the catchphrase It'll play in Peoria (often negative), meaning "the average American will approve," which was popular in the Nixon White House (1969-74) but seems to have had a vaudeville origin. Personification in little old lady in Peoria is said to be from Harold Ross of the New Yorker. Peoria's rivals as embodiment of U.S. small city values and standards include Dubuque, Iowa; Hoboken and Hackensack, N.J.; Oakland (Gertrude Stein: "When you get there, there isn't any there there") and Burbank, Calif., and the entire state of North Dakota.
"absolute ruler," 1560s, in Italian form dispotto (1580s as despot); from Medieval Latin despota, from Greek despotēs "master of a household, lord, absolute ruler," from PIE *dems-pota- "house-master," from the genitive of the root *dem- "house, household" + second element from PIE root *poti- "powerful; lord." The compound might be prehistoric; compare Sanskrit dampati- "lord."
Originally in English in reference to Byzantine rulers or Christian rulers in Ottoman provinces and often neutral. But it had been faintly pejorative in Greek (ruler of an un-free people), and it was used in various languages for Roman emperors. It became fully negative with the French Revolution, where it was applied to Louis XVI. In English the sense of "one who governs according to his own will, under a recognized right but uncontrolled by constitutional restrictions or the wishes of his subjects" is by 1610s; by c. 1800 it was used generally for "a tyrant, an oppressor."
The Greek female equivalent was despoina "lady, queen, mistress," source of the fem. proper name Despina.
The meaning "an instrument that produces sounds from recordings" (talking phonograph, invented by Thomas A. Edison) is attested from 1877, with -graph more in the sense of "instrument for recording." "In Britain the word is retained only for early cylinder machines, but in N. Amer. it has become synonymous with record player, record deck, etc., corresponding to British gramophone" [OED].
The recording made from it at first was called a phonogram (1879). An earlier instrument for registering the vibrations of a sounding body was the phonautograph (1859, from French phonautographe, 1855).
You see that Edison's machine is more than a phonograph, or sound writer ; it is really a reproducer or regenerator of sound, for which a proper name would be “Palingenophone.” This is the name by which it should become known. Hitherto it has simply been called a phonograph. [Louis Elsberg, “The Throat and Its Functions,” New York: 1880]
coined 1958 by San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen during the heyday of -nik suffixes in the wake of Sputnik. From Beat generation (1952), associated with beat (n.) in its meaning "rhythm (especially in jazz)" as well as beat (adj.) "worn out, exhausted," and Century Dictionary (1902) has slang beat (n.) "a worthless, dishonest, shiftless fellow." Originator Jack Kerouac in 1958 connected it with beatitude.
The origins of the word beat are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans. More than the feeling of weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of the mind. [New York Times Magazine, Oct. 2, 1952]
"Beat" is old carny slang. According to Beat Movement legend (and it is a movement with a deep inventory of legend), Ginsberg and Kerouac picked it up from a character named Herbert Huncke, a gay street hustler and drug addict from Chicago who began hanging around Times Square in 1939 (and who introduced William Burroughs to heroin, an important cultural moment). The term has nothing to do with music; it names the condition of being beaten down, poor, exhausted, at the bottom of the world. [Louis Menand, New Yorker, Oct. 1, 2007]
"bus which carries passengers for a fare," 1915, short for jitney bus (1906), American English, from gitney, jetney (n.), said in a 1903 newspaper article to be a St. Louis slang for any small coin, especially "a nickel," (the buses' fare typically was a nickel), the coin name attested or suggested by 1898, probably via New Orleans from French jeton "coin-sized metal disk, slug, counter" (see jetton).
"I'll give a nickel for a kiss,"
Said Cholly to a pretty miss.
"Skiddo," she cried, "you stingy cuss,"
"You're looking for a jitney buss."
["Jitney Jingle," 1915]
The origin and signification of the word was much discussed when the buses first appeared. Some reports say the slang word for "nickel" comes from the bus; most say the reverse, however there does not seem to be much record of jitney in a coin sense before the buses came along (a writer in "The Hub," August 1915, claims to have heard and used it as a small boy in San Francisco, and reported hearsay that "It has been in use there since the days of '49"). Most sources credit it to the U.S. West, especially California, though others trace it to "southern negroes, especially in Memphis" ["The Pacific," Feb. 7, 1915].
mid-14c. (implied in Tartary, "the land of the Tartars"), from Medieval Latin Tartarus, from Persian Tatar, first used 13c. in reference to the hordes of Ghengis Khan (1202-1227), said to be ultimately from Tata, a name of the Mongols for themselves. Form in European languages probably influenced by Latin Tartarus "hell" (e.g. letter of St. Louis of France, 1270: "In the present danger of the Tartars either we shall push them back into the Tartarus whence they are come, or they will bring us all into heaven").
The historical word for what now are called in ethnological works Tatars. A Turkic people, their native region was east of the Caspian Sea. Ghengis' horde was a mix of Tatars, Mongols, Turks, etc. Used figuratively for "savage, rough, irascible person" (1660s). To catch a Tartar "get hold of what cannot be controlled" is recorded from 1660s; original sense not preserved, but probably from some military story similar to the old battlefield joke:
Irish soldier (shouting from within the brush): I've captured one of the enemy.
Captain: Excellent! Bring him here.
Soldier: He won't come.
Captain: Well, then, you come here.
Soldier: I would, but he won't let me.
Among the adjectival forms that have been used are Tartarian (16c.), Tartarous (Ben Jonson), Tartarean (17c.); Byron's Tartarly (1821) is a nonce-word (but a good one). Tartar sauce is attested by 1855, from French sauce tartare.