The expressions listed here all sound contemporary - you’ll even hear the kids saying many of them. And to most they are, but linguists and people like you interested in etymology know that appearances are deceptive, and even some words that sound fresh may actually be centuries old. This is the case for all 10 of these words and sayings, and we have the Renaissance to thank for their appearance in the English language.
The Renaissance was a cultural explosion, a golden age for all arts that traveled across Europe from the 14th and the 17th centuries, bringing an end to the Middle Ages. In English literature, this time was also characterized by the formation of Modern English. A writer you may be familiar with - one William Shakespeare - significantly expanded the English vocabulary with many fun and quirky words and phrases. So expect to see the Great Bard’s name appear more than once in this list.
If you’re willing to love someone, warts and all, it means that you’re accepting of them in their entirety, including the features or qualities that are not particularly appealing or attractive. The authorship of the phrase belongs to Oliver Cromwell, the English general who temporarily overthrew the British monarchy and ruled the British Isles as Lord Protector in the 1650s. While Cromwell had his portrait made, he ordered the painter to depict him realistically, without flattery, i.e. warts and all.
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This expression sounds pretty contemporary, but it traces its beginnings back to the 16th century. Today, the phrase refers to deliberately arguing for a contentious opinion to provoke debate. But back in the 1500s, the devil’s advocate was an actual law profession.
Whenever a candidate was considered for sainthood within the Catholic Church, an attorney called advocatus diabolus was invited to participate. The lawyer’s part was to argue against the saint’s canonization by pointing out his or her flaws.
One would assume that this idiom must refer to Charles Dickens, the 19th-century writer. Surprisingly, this saying seems to be centuries older than the famous English author! Language historians have spotted this expression in Shakespeare’s works, so it dates back to at least the 16th century. But what does ‘dickens’ refer to? Researchers say it was likely a euphemism for the Devil.
It only makes sense that these wise words are uttered in a story where the main character is constantly confused about his role in life and everything going on around him - Shakespeare’s Hamlet. However, these words of advice appear in the play in a rather unexpected and ironic context.
In the play, it is Polonius, Ophelia’s father and by all considerations, the most tediously verbose character, who gives his son, Laertes, a long list of life advice as the youth departs for France. His final words are, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
You probably didn’t see this one coming, but the origins of this derogatory term take you back in time to one specific individual. The figure in question is the 13th-century Scottish Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus. In his lifetime, Scotus was a famous scientist honored with a papal accolade for his work in logic, grammar, theology, and metaphysics. After his departure, Scotus’ followers came to be known as Duns.
And you may be wondering by now, why did the followers of a famous scholar come to be a synonym for academic ineptitude? To be brief, you can blame the Renaissance. During the 16th century, most of Scotus’s ideas were proven wrong by other scholars, but the Duns clung to their ideas. As a result, they came to be mocked for their outdated ideas, and their name turned into profanity.
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