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Mortar-board

A college cap. A corruption of the French mortier, the cap worn by the ancient kings of France, and still used officially by the chief justice or president of the court of justice. As a college cap has a square board on the top, the mortier-boàrd was soon transformed into mortar-board.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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