Words: flame, n.

D. J. TAYLOR'S new life of Thackeray does not mention Elvis Presley, but could reasonably do so. This is neither to reveal that the King had a passion for Vanity Fair nor to urge a biographical method akin to the wilder shores of Peter Ackroyd or of Edmund Morris's Ronald Reagan.

In 1831 Thackeray lamented, "I was in love with two young ladies - but the day dream hath passed away, & I am left without a flame." In fact, Elvis's "(Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame" goes back to the 14th century when flame meant passion itself before - with Cowley - becoming the object of passion. The OED's last citation is a later, 1840 one by Thackeray, and calls our use of it jocular - but Otto Harbach's lyric for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is far from it.