Brewer's: Poke

A bag, pouch, or sack.


A lazy person, a loafer, a dawdler.


To thrust or push against; to thrust or butt with the horns. Also to busy oneself without any definite object.

“Poking about where we had no business.” —Kingsley: Two Years Ago

To poke fun at one is to make one a laughing-stock.

“At-table he was hospitable and jecose, always poking good-natured fun at Luke.” —E. Lynn Lynton: Lizzie Lorton of Greyrigg, chap. xii.

Poke Bonnet

A long, straight, projecting bonnet, formerly commonly worn by women.


A poker set leaning against the upper bars of a fire to draw it up. This is to make a cross to keep off Lob, the house spirit, who loves to lie before the fire, and, like Puck and Robin Good-fellow, dearly loves mischief and practical jokes.

Poker Pictures

Drawings executed by the point of a hot poker or “heater” of an Italian iron. By charring different parts more or less, various tints are obtained.

Poker Talk

Gossip, fireside chitahat.

“Gaston rattled forth this specimen or poker talk lightly.” —Mrs. Edwardes: 4 Girton Girl, ch. ii.


The 'squire Bedels who carry a silver mace or poker before the Vice-Chancellor are so called at Cambridge.


Cramped, narrow, confined; as, a poky corner. Also poor and shabby.

“The ladies were in their pokiest old headgear.” —Thackeray: The Newcomes, chap. lvii.


An inhabitant of Poland. (French, Polaque.)

So frowned be once, when, in angry parlc, He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.

Shakespeare: Hamlet, i. I.

Polarisation of Light

is the absorption of those rays which are at right angles to the rays preserved: Thus A B is one ray in which A is reflected to B and B to A; C D is a ray, in which C is reflected to D and D to C. In E G F H, if the light is polarised, either E F or G H is absorbed. A B and C D are the poles of light, or the directions in which the rays are reflected.


(2 syl.). The labouring class of India.

Poleas the labouring lower clans are named, By the proud Nayres the noble rank is claimed.

Under bare poles. Said of a ship when all her sails are furled.


Le secret de ... (See Secret.)


(in Orlando Furioso). Duke of Albany, who falsely accused Geneura of incontinency, and was slain in single combat by Ariodantes.

Polish off

To finish out of hand. In allusion to articles polished.

I'll polish him off in no time
means I'll set him down, I'll give him a drubbing. To polish off a meal is to eat it quickly, and not keep anyone waiting.
Political Economy

This term was invented by Francois Quesnay, the French physician. (1694-1774.)


(3 syl.). The name assumed by Madelon in Molière's Précicuses Ridicules.


(4 syl.), King of Bohemia, being invited to Sicily by King Leontes, excites unwittingly the jealousy of his friend, because he prolongs his stay at the entreaty of Queen Hermione. Leontes orders Camillo to poison the royal guest, but, instead of doing so, Camillo flees with him to Bohemia. In time Florizel, the son and heir of Polixenes, falls in love with Perdita, the lost daughter of Leontes. Polixenes forbids the match, and the young lovers, under the charge of Camillo, flee to Sicily. Polixenes follows the fugitives, the mystery of Perdita is cleared up, the lovers are married, and the two kings resume their friendship. (shakespeare: Winter's Tale.)


To go out in the poll. To take an ordinary degree- a degree without university “honours.” (Greek, hoi polloi, the many.)

Poll Degree

(See above.)

Poll Men

Those of the “hoi polloi,” the many, not the honour-men.


The puissant Saracen, father of Munera. He took his station on “Bridge Perilous,” and attacked everyone who crossed it, bestowing the spoil upon his daughter. Sir Artegal slew the monster. Pollente is meant for Charles IX. of France, sadly notorious for the slaughter of Protestants on St. Bartholomew's Eve. (Spenser: Faërie Queene, book v. 2.)


to whom Virgil addresses his Fourth Eclogue, and to whom he ascribes the remarkable advent of the “golden age,” was the founder of the first public library of Rome. (B.C. 76 A.D. 4.)


The horses of Castor and Pollux. Cyllaros and Harpagos. Seneca and Claudian give Cyllaros to Castor, but Virgil (Georgic iii.) to Pollux. The two brothers mount it alternatively on their return from the infernal regions. Harpagos, the horse from Harpagium in Phrygia, was common to both brothers.


Mary. The change of M for P in pet names is by no means rare; e.g.

Maggie or Meggy, becomes Peggie, and Pegg or Peg. Martha. Matty becomes Patty.

Molly becomes Polly or Poll.

Here we see another change by no means unusual- that of r into l or ll. Similarly, Sarah becomes Sally; Dorothea, Dora, becomes Dolly; Harry, Hal.


An old courtier, garrulous, conceited, and politic. He was father of Ophelia, and lord chamberlain to the king of Denmark. (Shakespeare: Hamlet.)


A vulgar corruption of Bologna sausage.


A club-foot. Ben Jonson calls Vulcan, who was lame, the “polt-footed philosopher.” (Swedish, bult, a club; bulta, to beat; our bolt.)


A bird of prey, with the talons of the hind toes cut off to prevent its flying at game. (Latin, pollicetruncato, deprived of its toe or thumb.)


A coward. Menage derives it from the Italian poltro, a bed, because cowards feign themselves sick a-bed in times of war. Saumaise says it means “maimed of the thumb,” because in times of conscription those who had no stomach for the field disqualified themselves by cutting off their right thumb. More probably a poltroon is a hawk that will not or cannot fly at game. (See above.)


(4 syl.). One of the giants who fought against the gods. The sea-god pursued him to the island of Cos, and, tearing away part of the island, throw it on him and buried him beneath the mass. (Greek fable.)

(See Giants.)


A statuary of Sicyon, who deduced a canon of the proportions of the several parts of the human body, and made a statue of a Persian body-guard, which was admitted by all to be a model of the human form, and was called “The Rule” (the standard).


(4 syl.), Tyrant of Samos, was so fortunate in all things that Amasis, King of Egypt, advised him to chequer his pleasures by relinquishing something he greatly prized. Whereupon Polycrates threw into the sea a beautiful seal, the most valuable of his jewels. A few days afterwards a fine fish was sent him as a present, and in its belly was found the jewel. Amasis, alarmed at this good fortune, broke off his alliance, declaring that sooner or later this good fortune would fail; and not long afterwards Polycrates was shamefully put to death by Oroetes, who had invited him to his court.

“Richard [Mutimer], in surveying his guests, ... had feelings not unlike those which lulled King Polycrates of old.” —G.Gissing: Demos, chap. xii.

Polycrates' Ring

(See above.)


in eight books, by John of Salisbury. This is his chief work, and is an exposé of the frivolities of courtiers and philosophers. It is learned, judicious, and very satirical. (He died 1182.)


A Grecian athlete of immense size and strength. He killed a fierce lion without any weapon, stopped a chariot in full career, lifted a mad bull. and died at last in attempting to stop a falling rock. (See Milo.)


(3 syl.). The name assumed by Guiderius, in Shakespeare's Cymbeline.


(3 syl.). One of the Cyclops, who lived in Sicily. He was an enormous giant, with only one eye, and that in the middle of his forehead. When Ulysses landed on the island, this monster made him and twelve of his crew captives; six of them he ate, and then Ulysses contrived to blind him, and make good his escape with the rest of the crew. Polypheme was most passionately in love with Galate'a, a sea-nymph, but Galate'a had set her heart on the shepherd Acis, whom Polypheme, in a fit of jealousy, crushed beneath a rock.

In the gallery of the Farnese palace is a superb painting of Polyphemus, in three parts; (1) playing a flute to Galatea; (2) burling a rock at Acis; and (3) pursuing the ships of Ulysses. Poussin has also introduced, in one of his landscapes. Polyphemus sitting on a rock and playing a flute.

Poma Alcinoo Dare

(2 syl.). (See Alcinoo.)


So called because it was originally made by macerating over-ripe apples in grease. (Dr. John Quiney: Lexicon Physico-Medicum, 1723.)


(French). Beer. This is a pun on the word pomme. The Normans called cider pommé; whence pomat, a sort of beer.

“Ils tiennent leure chaloupes ... bien pourvues ou garnies de pain, de vin, de pomat, cidre, outre d'autre boisson. ...” —Cleirac: Les Us et Coutumes de la Mer, p. 127.


The pommel of a saddle is the apple of it, called by the French pommeau. The Spaniards use the expression pomo de espada (the pommel of a sword). To “pommel a person” is to beat him with the pommel of your sword. The ball used as an ornament on pointed roofs is termed a pomel. (Latin, pomum, an apple.)


Fruit; goddess of fruits and fruit-trees-one of the Roman divinities. (Latin, pomum.)

Bade the wide fabric unimpaired sustain Pomona's store, and cheese, and golden grain.

Bloomfield: Farmer's Boy.


as a colour, is claret purple. The 56th Foot is called the Pompadours, from the claret facings of their regimental uniforms. There is an old song supposed to be an elegy on John Broadwood, a Quaker, which introduces the word:

Sometimes he wore an old brown coat, Sometimes a pompadore. Sometimes 't was buttoned up behind. And sometimes down before.

A generic name for a black footman, as Abigail used to be of a lady's maid. Moll or Molly is a cook; Betty, a housemaid; Sambo, a black “buttons;” etc. One of Hood's jokes for a list of library books was, Pompeii; or, Memoirs of a Black Footman, by Sir W. Gill. (Sir W. Gell wrote a book on Pompeii.) Pompey is also a common name for a dog.

Pompey's Pillar

in Alexandria. A pillar erected by Publius, Prefect of Egypt, in honour of the Emperor Diocletian, to record the conquest of Alexandria in 296. It has about as much right to be called Pompey's pillar as the obelisk of Heliopolis, re-erected by Rameses II. at Alexandria, has to be called Cleopatra's Needle, or Gibraltar Rock to be called a Pillar of Hercules.

Pompey's pillar is a Corinthian column nearly 100 feet high, the shaft being of red granite.


The bride of Count Guido Franceschini, who is brutally treated by him, but makes her escape under the protection of a young priest, named Caponsacchi. She subsequently gives birth to a son, but is stabbed to death by her husband. (RobertBrowning: The Ring and the Book.) (See Ring.)


The terrible monster of Sicily. A cross between a “land-tiger and sea-shark.” He devoured five hundred Sicilians, and left the island for twenty miles round without inhabitant. This amphibious monster was slain by the three sons of St. George. (The Seven Champions of Christendom, iii. 2.) A loose name for African anthropoid apes.


(4 syl.). Gargantua's tutor, in the romance of Pantagruel' and Gargantua, by Rabelais.

Pons Asinorum

The fifth proposition, book i., of Euclid- the first difficult theorem, which dunces rarely get over for the first time without stumbling. It is anything but a “bridge;” it is really pedica asinorum, the “dolt's stumbling-block.”

Pontefract Cakes

Liquorice lozenges impressed with a castle; so called from being made at Pontefract. “Pontefract” pronounce “Pomfret.”


means one who has charge of the bridges. According to Varro, the highest class of the Roman priesthood had to superintend the construction of the bridges (ponies). (See Ramsay: Roman Antiquities, p. 51.)

Well has the name of Pontifex been given Unto the church's head, as the chief builder And architect of the invisible bridge That leads from earth to heaven.

Longfellow: Golden Legend, v.

Here Longfellow follows the general notion that “pontiff” is from pons-facio, and refers to the tradition that a Roman priest threw over the Tiber, in the time of Numa, a sublician, or wooden bridge.

means made of timber or piles. There were subsequently eight stone bridges, and Æmilius converted the sublician bridge into a stone one. There were fifteen pontiffs in the time of Sylla.
Pontius Pilate's Body-Guard

The 1st Foot Regiment, now called the Royal Scots, the oldest regiment in the service. When called Le Regiment de Douglas, and in the French service, they had a dispute with the Picardy regiment about the antiquity of their respective corps. The Picardy officers declared they were on duty on the night of the Crucifixion, when the colonel of the 1st Foot replied, “If we had been on guard, we should not have slept at our posts.”


(A). Twenty-five pounds. A sporting term; a translation crib = to carry one over a difficulty.

Pony in vingt-et-un.
The person on the right-hand of the dealer, whose duty it is to collect the cards for the dealer; so called from the Latin ponc, “behind,” being behind the dealer.

A sovereign. Lingua Franca for pound.


Poor as Job. The allusion is to Job, who was by Satan deprived of everything he possessed.

Poor as Lazarus.
This is the beggar Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at the rich man's gate, and desired to be fed from the crumbs that fell from Dive' table (Luke xvi. 13-31).

Poor as a church mouse.
In a church there is no cupboard or pantry, where mice most do congregate. There are none poor but those whom God hates. This does not mean that poverty is a punishment, but that the only poverty worthy of the name is poverty of God's grace. In this sense Dive may be the poor man, and Lazarus the beggar abounding in that “blessing of the Lord which maketh rich.”
Poor Jack

or John (A). Dried hake. We have “john-dory,” a “jack” (pike), a “jack shark,” and a “jack of Dover.” Probably the word Jack is a mere play on the word “Hake,” and John a substitute for Jack.

“ 'Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been poor-john.” —Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, i. 1. We have a similar perversion in the school-boy proof that a pigeon-pie is a fish-pie. A pigeon-pie is a pie-john, and a pie-john is a jack-pie, and a jack-pie is a fish-pie.

Poor Man

The blade-bone of a shoulder of mutton, so called in Scotland. In some parts of England it is termed a “poor knight of Windsor,” because it holds the same relation to Sir Loin as a Windsor knight does to a baronet. Sir Walter Scott tells of a Scotch laird who, being asked by an English landlord what he would have for dinner, produced the utmost consternation by saying, “I think I could relish a morsel of a poor man.” (See Bride of Lammermoor, chap. xix.)

Poor Richard

The assumed name of Benjamin Franklin in a series of almanacks from 1732 to 1757. These almanacks contain maxims and precepts on temperance, economy, cleanliness, chastity, and other homely virtues; and to several of the maxims are added the words, “as poor Richard says.” Nearly a century before Robert Herrick had brought out a series of almanacks under the name of Poor Robin's Almanack.

Poor Tassel

(A). A poor hand, a bad workman, no great shakes. The tassel or tiercel was a male goshawk, restricted to princes, and called a “tassel gentle.”

“Venturing this opinion to the brick-maker, he laughingly replied, `Come, then, and try your hand at a brick.' The trial, however, proved me a `poor tassel,' amidst the jeers and laughter of the men.” —C.Thomson: Autobiography, p. 52.

Poorer than Irus

(“Iro pauperior”). Irus was the beggar employed by the suitors of Penelope to carry to her their tokens of love. When Ulysses returned home, Irus attempted to prevent his entering the gates, but Ulysses felled him to the ground, and threw the dead body into the road.

Pop the Question

(To). To propose or make an offer of marriage. As this important demand is supposed to be unexpected, the question is said to be popped.


lived at Twickenham. (1688-1744.)

For though not sweeter his own Homer sings, Yet is his life the more endearing song.

Thomson: Summer.


(1 syl.), in Latin popa (plur. popoe). A priest who knocked on the head the ox offered in sacrifice, and cut it up, a very small part being burnt, and all the rest distributed to those concerned in the sacrifice. Wine was poured between the horns, but the priest first sipped it, and all those who assisted him. After the beast had been stunned it was stabbed, and the blood was caught in a vessel used for the purpose, for the shedding of blood was indispensable in every sacrifice. It was the duty of the pope to see that the victim to be sacrificed was without spot or blemish, and to ascertain that it had never been yoked to the plough. The head was crowned with a fillet, and the horns gift. Apparently the Roman soldiers of Pontius Pilate made a mockery imitation of these Roman and Greek sacrifices.


The Pope changing his name. According to Platina, Sergius II. was the first pope who changed his name on ascending the papal chair. His proper name was Hogsmouth. Chambers says his name was “Peter di Porca,” and it was the name Peter he changed, out of deference to St. Peter, thinking it arrogant to style himself Peter II. (844-847).

I know no more about it than the Pope of Rome
—than a man living as far off as the Cham of Tartary or Pope of Rome.

Drunk like a pope.
Benedict XII. was an enormous eater and such a wine-drinker that he gave rise to the bacchanalian expression, bibamus papaliter (See Drunk.)

Titles assumed by the popes.

Universal Bishop. Prior to Gregory the Great. Serrus Servorum. Assumed by Gregory the Great in 591. The Lamb of God which taketh away the Sins of the World. Martin IV. in 1281. Divine Majesty; Husband of the Church; Prince of the Apostles; Key of the whole Universe; the Pastor and Physician possessed of all Power both in Heaven and Earth. Leo X. in 1513.

Monarch of Christendom; Vice-God; Lord God the Pope.
Paul V. in 1635. Masier of the World; the Universal Father; Viceregent of the Most High. Subsequent to Paul V. (See Brady: Clavis Calendaria, 247.)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

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