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

Category: Dictionaries and lexicography

What the Nobel laureates did for us

What the Nobel laureates did for us

19 February isn’t a great day, should you happen to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chances are, you might meet your maker – Nobel laureates André Gide and Knut Hamsun both died on 19 February, in 1951 and 1952 respectively. And that’s before we widen the net to other Nobel Prizes (step forward […]

A Minor case: OED contributions from a prison cell

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17 February will mark a significant date in the annals of the Oxford English Dictionary. 17 February 1872 was the date on which a Dr. William Chester Minor, American army surgeon, shot and killed George Merrett in the early hours of the morning on a gloomy Lambeth street. Not an auspicious date, granted, but Minor […]

When does ‘wrong’ become ‘right’?

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People can go a bit funny when I tell them I edit dictionaries for a living. They get nervous and hesitant, as if they’re expecting me to leap on them at any moment, mock their use of grammar, laugh cruelly at their mispronunciations, and pour scorn on their woefully limited vocabulary. But nothing could be […]

Murray family

‘Dr. Murray, Oxford’: a remarkable Editor

Dictionaries never simply spring into being, but represent the work and research of many. Only a select few of the people who have helped create the Oxford English Dictionary, however, can lay claim to the coveted title ‘Editor’. In the first of an occasional series on the Editors of the OED, Peter Gilliver introduces the […]

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Word stories: ‘rum’

Word stories: 'rum'

The word rum is first recorded in 1654 in the Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, where it is mentioned along with another of its names kill-devil: Berbados Liquors, commonly called Rum, Kill Deuill, or the like. The word itself is of obscure origin, being somehow related to rumbullion and rumbustion, words whose origins […]

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From ‘carbonation’ to ‘navy blue’: which words came to life 200 years ago?

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If the dawning of the New Year invariably brings you to brood upon the inexorable march of time, you find yourself in good company. Here at the Oxford English Dictionary, we are very aware of how what society does—and even how society thinks—is much informed by the movement from past to present, and onward into […]

A profusion of words

A profusion of words

Please note: several of the following links to dictionary content require subscriber access to the OED Online. The early modern period was an era of great change for the English language. According to the OED’s record, the number of words ‘available’ to speakers of English more than doubled between 1500 and 1650. Many of the new words […]

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Automotive nostalgia

Automotive nostalgia

A few weeks ago, when a character on TV mentioned his DeSoto, my daughter asked, “What’s a DeSoto?” “A car,” I answered, choking on my realization that there was no reason for a 25-year-old to have heard of a DeSoto. But I had actually ridden in a DeSoto—and not in an antique car parade. The […]

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