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

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Why do we call hooligans yobs? Yob is a good example of ‘back-slang’—a form of slang in which words are spelt backwards as a code so that others (usually parents) are unable to understand them. ‘Yob’ is simply ‘boy’ spelt backwards; the ‘backward’ element seems appropriate in the definition of retrograde behaviour. Why do we […]

Chaucer in the House of Fame

Chaucer in the House of Fame

By the time Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400, he had been living for almost a year in obscurity in a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, and on his death he was buried in a modest grave in the church’s south transept. The poet’s last few months had not been his happiest. At the […]

What do you call the man in the red suit?

What do you call the man in the red suit?

  Last year on the OxfordWords blog, we posted a picture of a rather rotund gentleman, with a white beard and moustache, and some fetching white faux-fur trimmings on his red suit and hat. We asked ‘Who is this?’ and gave you a choice of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Santa, Saint Nick, Santy, Kris Kringle, […]

Silver houses and marmalade castles: interpreting The Nutcracker

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In 1892 the curtains rose at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg for the premiere of a new ballet. With a score by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Marius Petipa, the ballet was set to be a hit. After all, the pair had produced The Sleeping Beauty, which was hugely successful, just two years earlier. But […]

From jumbles to gingersnaps: the origins of cookie names

Christmas cookies!

It may be difficult to do so whilst piling them into one’s maw, but did you ever think about how Christmas cookies came to possess such deliciously eclectic names? Jumbles. Thumbprints. Snickerdoodles. Gingersnaps. Rugelach. Sand tarts. Macaroons. Kiffles. And these are only a few of the hundreds of types treasured in American households during the […]

Jewish holiday traditions: Chanukah

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My boyfriend insists that his basketball team can perform miracles. Yes, yes I know what you’re thinking (and, quite frankly, what I’m thinking, too) that when it comes to men and sports, you should just nod and agree to anything said. Over the years I have been in Israel however, I have come to realize […]

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Holiday traditions: what’s so magical about mistletoe?

mistletoe

Mistletoe is special. Every culture that comes across the plant mythologizes it and no wonder. To see mistletoe in England at this time of year, a ball of perfect green life suspended in barren branches, it seems a mysterious, even an other-worldly presence: healthy in the teeth of winter, seemingly without roots or any contact […]

Dewey unbound

Dewey unbound

Melvil Dewey, born to thrifty, parsimonious parents in upstate New York on December 8, 1851, could almost be said to have been destined to devise the classification system used by 200,000 libraries around the world today. He was a man devoted to efficiency, and was an enemy of waste. At sixteen, having taught himself bookkeeping, […]

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