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The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

Julia Cresswell



The idea behind write in the ancient Germanic languages was ‘to score or carve’—people in northern Europe would have written first by inscribing letters on wood. The original meaning in Old English was ‘to draw or outline the shape of something’. The first person to use the phrase nothing to write home about, meaning ‘be mediocre or unexceptional’, appears to have been the comic writer Ian Hay in 1914. Hay was also a soldier who served in the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross, and the expression was probably a military one (see also fun). If you say that a particular quality or feeling is written all over someone's face, you are echoing Shakespeare. In Measure for Measure Duke Vincentio says: ‘There is written in your brow, Provost, honesty, and constancy.’ See also wall

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