Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Katherine Connor Martin

Katherine Connor Martin

Katherine Connor Martin is Head of US Dictionaries at Oxford University Press

Articles by Katherine Connor Martin


Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Brides weren’t always female While the oldest recorded sense of bride is the familiar one referring to a woman, there is some evidence of the word being used in a gender-neutral manner (like spouse) from the 15th to the early 17th century:  “Sweet Daughter deer…Isis blesse thee and thy Bride, With golden Fruit” (Joshua Sylvester, […]

Labouring language: the changing vocabulary of childbirth

Stork and bundle

Expectant parents don’t generally have a lot of spare time for idly perusing the dictionary, but if they did, they would find that the vocabulary of the event they joyfully anticipate has undergone significant changes over the centuries. Consider, for instance, the verb to deliver. In contemporary use, the mother is often the subject of […]

Unpresidential presidential quotations in the OED

shutterstock_69693964

The Oxford English Dictionary is founded upon millions of quotations, which trace the history of each word starting with its earliest recorded use. America’s presidents are well represented among the authors of those quotations; after all, they are influential speakers and writers whose words are painstakingly recorded and preserved. Presidential quotations often turn up in […]

If Obama had been Lincoln: 10 lines from Obama’s Second Inaugural Address that wouldn’t have been used in 1865

Abraham Lincoln

When writing his screenplay for the film Lincoln, playwright Tony Kushner used his copy of the Oxford English Dictionary to check for possible anachronisms, seeking to impart the flavor of 19th-century English to the script. How much has the vocabulary of English changed since Abraham Lincoln’s presidency? About 25% of the OED’s entries are for words […]

Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year 2012 is ‘to GIF’

wordoftheyear-2012-GIF-final (1)

Today, OUP announced their Oxford Dictionaries US Word of the Year for 2012. Katherine Martin was one of the lexicographers on the judging panel, and here are her reflections on the shortlist. GIF verb to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event): he GIFed the highlights of the […]

The fiscal cliff

The fiscal cliff

On Wednesday morning, after months of focusing on the electoral horserace, Americans awoke to find themselves in a perilous position; we had been sleeping at the edge of the fiscal cliff. But how did we get here? The metaphor of a fiscal cliff – meaning an anticipated event which will have dire economic consequences unless an […]

British, American, and both: a history of Halloween words

British, American, and both: a history of Halloween words

The holiday of Halloween has its roots in the British Isles; the word itself (short for All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day on November 1), originated in Scotland. Nonetheless, it was in North America that disparate regional customs were amalgamated into the celebration we recognize today. The vocabulary of the holiday reflects […]

Tweets