The dictionary may well seem like a passive object – for hundreds of years it has been a sedentary repository of words, sitting idly on a shelf waiting to be picked up and used. But if you had the ability to make it an active object, one that could tell us what words people were […]
There have been a good number of comments tweeted and posted online over the past few weeks about the possibility of turning Mubarak, the name of the recently resigned Egyptian leader, into a verb. Some of the suggestions as to what it might mean are ‘to stick to something like glue’, ‘to refuse to leave’, […]
The English language is swarming with animal words. It seems that almost every common animal in our midst has attached its name to some verb or noun. One can be dogged in the pursuit of something, and pig out when one has got it. You can snake through to get somewhere, and horse around when […]
There is very little that thrills the heart of a lexicographer quite so much as the smell of new words. Fresh, piquant, and uncluttered by the barnacle-like clichés that attach themselves to so many words which have been around for hundreds of years, these recent additions to the language breathe fresh life into it, and […]
Many of the words that have been in the English language for more than a few hundred years have shifted their meaning somewhat. The first meaning of the word secretary was exactly what it looks like it should be – someone who keeps secrets. And similarly, principal meant ‘of or belonging to a prince’ well before it […]
The etymology of the English language is awash in body parts. We have hundreds of words that have been formed, Frankenstein-like, by taking bits and pieces of the human body. For instance, we have numerous words containing hands in them – chiropractic comes to English from the Greek root kheir (meaning hand), and the Latin word for […]
Shades of rhetoric: a hot-button word Much of the content and information found in Oxford dictionaries is provided by the Oxford English Corpus, a database of current English usage that has over two and a half billion words and is fully searchable, allowing shifts in meaning to be observed far more rapidly than they were […]
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