Everyone loves a new word. When Oxford announces its Word of the Year, I sometimes detect behind the buzz of expectation a pang of disappointment that the chosen ‘winner’ isn’t a brand new invention. The romantic allure of a mint-new coinage, the inspiration of a single moment in time, is hard to resist. The truth […]
April 15 marks the anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755), a work that’s today universally recognized as an astonishing feat of solo lexicography. The publication, in 1755, rightly attracted great attention; David Garrick wrote a poetic eulogy to mark the achievement in the Public Advertiser, describing Johnson as ‘like a hero […]
There has been a lot on British minds recently, with horsemeat and obesity coming high on the list of preoccupations. But amid the furore over such unpalatable subjects, it was a different headline altogether that caught my eye. ‘Diamond heist at Brussels airport nets gang up to £30m in gems’, was the Guardian’s version, while […]
Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and Cockney rhyming slang
In the phrase ‘under the auspices of ’, what are auspices? The root of auspices and the more familiar adjective auspicious are closely linked. If something is auspicious it bodes well, giving promise of a favourable outcome. In Roman times, people tried to predict future events by watching the behaviour of birds and animals. An […]
Why do good things ‘cut the mustard’? The word mustard has been used to mean something excellent or superlative for almost a hundred years—the phrase ‘keen as mustard’ draws on the same idea of added piquancy and zest. ‘Hot stuff’, in other words. In America, to say something was ‘the proper mustard’ in the early […]
I found myself looking up the origin of ‘curmudgeon’ last week. Defined as ‘bad-tempered, difficult, or cantankerous’, its components once meant, more or less, ‘a growling grimacer’. This last description sums up almost exactly my facial expression when I hear a language tic of the moment that has knocked ‘going forward’ off the top of […]
I can only give a very subjective answer, but I’ll start with a few nominations. Most of the words in everyday English have been in (and occasionally out of) circulation for centuries. A study of them in a historical dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary, which charts chronologically the story of a word […]
- Affect versus effect
- Grammar myths #2: please miss, can I start a sentence with a conjunction?
- Grammar myths #1: is it wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?
- Lie or lay? Laying down the law on some puzzling verbs
- Compliment or complement?
- OED birthday word generator: which words originated in your birth year?
- Principle or principal?
- Rein or reign? Hold your horses before applying pen to paper…
- The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 is…
- The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is… vape
- Video: acronyms and initialisms – what’s the difference?
- Feeling bright? 8 historical synonyms for ‘clever’
- Gallery: new quotations in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
- America’s war on language
- The peculiar history of cows in the OED
- What do you call a group of…
- 20 words that originated in the 1920s
- How do British and American attitudes to dictionaries differ?
- What the Romans did for us: English words of Latin origin
- Why did Tolkien use archaic language?
Alaafia to kapayapaan: words for 'peace' around the world oxford.ly/1DRsUJ2
ICYMI: Word of the Day: cumbersome - large or heavy and therefore difficult to carry… oxford.ly/1AlMdX8
The Oxford Dictionaries Community is asking about the format to use when writing foreign words. Can you help? oxford.ly/1zHmwjD
What a momentous day! We have reached 150,000 followers - many thanks to all of you out there!