Beth Tovey

Beth Tovey works for the Oxford English Dictionary.

Articles by Beth Tovey


Of Cabbages and Kings: five ways to talk about translation

Translation has been a crucial part of Anglophone culture from its very beginnings. The earliest English writers knew that the state of learning in England, with knowledge of Latin far from universal, meant a need for translations. Everything necessary for a rounded education was written in Latin, and so King Alfred the Great introduced a […]


Puppets, peaches, and other womanly words

Last month, we took a tour around the world of the macho man, taking in some words in the grand tradition of beefcake on the way. We also discovered that the term beefcake, referring to muscular male physique, was formed on the model of cheesecake, a sexually alluring image of a woman. Sugar and spice […]

Notes on the anniversary of America’s anthem

Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: notes on the anniversary of America’s anthem

On September 13th, 1814, an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key dined as a guest on a British warship, where he had been sent to negotiate the release of American prisoners. The ship, the H.M.S. Tonnant, was moored in Chesapeake Bay, off Baltimore, which the British forces intended to attack later that day. Key was […]


Beefcakes and Barbarians: the language of the macho man

Today marks the birthday of Chris Pine, the actor who took on the role of Captain Kirk in the two most recent Star Trek films. Captain Kirk is the quintessential man’s man, whilst also being a bit of a ladies’ man. He is a rugged, handsome fighter who finds time to charm and seduce even […]

Famous pseudonyms have long been a boon to authors.

Literary pseudonyms quiz

As mentioned in our post about noms de plume, it was recently discovered that J. K. Rowling had written a crime novel under the pen name “Robert Galbraith”. Regretting the exposure of her alter-ego, Rowling said that she longed to relive the experience of beginning a writing career, without the media hype or expectations created by […]


A Study in Sherlock: Holmesian homages for Benedict’s birthday

It’s the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday today, so I’m told. Most recently seen on the big screen playing an iconic Star Trek baddie, Cumberbatch has enthralled viewers and theatre audiences as characters ranging from Vincent van Gogh and Stephen Hawking to Frankenstein’s monster and a Tolkienian dragon. But one of his most successful roles to […]

Roosting on your laurels: chickens, champions, and the Pulitzer Prize

Roosting on your laurels: chickens, champions, and the Pulitzer Prize

“In 1957, Eugene O’Neill won a Pullet Surprise”. I read this recently in a book of classroom howlers, a collection of humorous mistakes that students have made in their schoolwork. It’s easy to laugh, but perhaps it signifies that not everyone is familiar with Pulitzer Prizes. They were first awarded on 4 June 1917 – although […]

The Riot of Spring: music and madness in the beau monde

The Riot of Spring: music and madness in the beau monde

On 27 May 1913, fashionable Paris was scandalized by the premiere of a new ballet. Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring, as it is usually known in English), with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, depicted pagan ceremonies for the coming of spring, culminating in the sacrifice of a young […]