Fiona McPherson

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

Articles by Fiona McPherson


What inspired the language of A Clockwork Orange?

Clockwork Orange

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. 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, it tells the story of Alex and his […]

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

Pi Day

Today 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 […]

Mondegreens: plywood heels and Bohemian sausages

Listening man

Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands, Oh where have you been? They have slain the Earl O’ Moray And layd him on the green Misheard earls 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 […]

Long to reign over us: the language of anniversaries

Diamond

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 […]

What is the origin of the word ‘posh’?

P.O.S.H

There have been many attempts to explain the etymology of posh, with some theories being more persuasive than others. 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’, following soon after. As the Oxford English Dictionary […]

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

Burns supper

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 expression ‘to mind your Ps and Qs’ come from?

etiquette

If you have you 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. […]

First feet, black buns, and hansels: the language of Scottish New Year’s traditions

First-footing

Get up, goodwife, and shake your feathers, And dinna think that we are beggars; For we are bairns come out to play, Get up and gie’s our hogmanay My grandma taught me this ditty longer ago than I care to remember, and it served as my first introduction to the word Hogmanay. Nowadays, many people […]

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