Fiona McPherson

Fiona McPherson is a Senior Editor with the Oxford English Dictionary.

Articles by Fiona McPherson


doughnut

Don’t get honey-fuggled, you doughnut! And other inventive uses of food in English

A few Fridays ago, it was National Doughnut Day. Did you celebrate or did it completely pass you by in the way that most of these days probably do? At least with this particular festivity, there would appear to be an appropriate way to celebrate. The same might not be said for, say, National Stapler […]

Clockwork Orange

What inspired the language of A Clockwork Orange?

In 1962, along came a shocking novel called A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, famously turned into a disturbing 1971 film directed by Stanley Kubrick. His dystopian novel, set sometime in the near-future, tells the story of teenage anti-hero Alex and his gang of friends, and their violent escapades. Tea-drinking and toast-munching Or put another way, […]

pi

Pi Day: or the world of homonyms, homographs, and homophones

14 March is Pi Day, a day, presumably, when all things 3.14159 are celebrated. Unless I have made a typo in the first sentence, it should be obvious that you should not be expecting lots of “Who ate all the pies” chants as we honour the humble pastry case with filling. Similarly, the numismatists among you […]

What is a mondegreen? There are plent of examples in popular music that you already know.

What is a mondegreen?

Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands, Oh where have you been? They have slain the Earl O’ Moray And layd him on the green Lady Mondegreen? So goes the first verse of The Bonnie Earl of Murray, a 17th century Scottish ballad. Now unless you are an aficionado of such things, you might not be familiar […]

diamonds

Long to reign over us: the language of anniversaries

On 6 February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II began her reign as monarch of the United Kingdom. Although she would not be ceremonially crowned until 2 June 1953 (the same day that news reached London of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful ascent of Mount Everest), she was proclaimed queen of the Commonwealth upon the […]

Is the set-up of a steamship really the origin of posh? The posh acronym (Port Out Starboard Home) is a popular explanation for the origin and definition of posh.

What is the origin of the word ‘posh’?

There have been many attempts to explain the origin of posh, with some theories being more persuasive than others. Is the famed posh acronym theory true? Let’s investigate! Stylish dandies and cash Posh, meaning ‘smart, stylish, splendid, luxurious’ is first recorded in 1914, with the chiefly British strand of meaning, ‘typical of the upper classes; snooty’, […]

Haggis

Burns suppers: neeps, tatties, and A Toast to the Lassies

January 25th is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, when Burns suppers are held in commemoration of the Scottish poet and lyricist. Despite being the national bard of Scotland, his influence spreads much further than those national borders, and his works have been translated into many languages including Russian and Czech. There are […]

Where does the phrase 'mind your Ps and Qs' come from?

Where does ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ come from?

If you have ever been told to mind your Ps and Qs, it might have struck you as a rather odd thing to do. The concept seems reasonable enough– behaving well and not giving offence – but quite what the letters P and Q have to do with this is a little more mysterious. Why […]

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