Category: English in use

Abraham Lincoln

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

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 […]

Tackling the language of Super Bowl Sunday

Tackling the language of Super Bowl Sunday

Imagine with me for a moment. It is February 3, 2013. A Sunday. But not just any Sunday, oh no. It is Super Bowl Sunday. And this year, the party’s at your place—with all the excitement, stress, and post-game cleaning-up that hosting these parties entails. So here you are, at home, ensconced by family and […]

Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and cockney rhyming slang

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 […]

Appointment with Words: where does Agatha Christie feature in the OED?

Appointment with Words: where does Agatha Christie feature in the OED?

Tomorrow sees the anniversary of the death of Agatha Christie, a doyenne of the whodunnit, or as the celebrated humourist Ogden Nash put it, a murdermongress. In a career spanning 50 years, she wrote over 60 detective novels, as well as collections of short stories and plays. In addition, she indulged her romantic side by […]

An underground railway by any other name: seven subway monikers explained

An underground railway by any other name: seven subway monikers explained

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the world’s very first underground railway, in London. As this revolutionary mode of transport caught on across the globe, locals dubbed their underground railways with unique titles.From the Tube in London, to the clockwork orange in Glasgow, find out more about the reasons behind these […]

Who cares about English? Part 2

Who cares about English? Part 1

We at the Oxford English Dictionary recently partnered with the British Council to host a panel discussion entitled ‘Who cares about English?’ The panel was chaired by John Knagg, Head of English Research at the British Council, and consisted of: John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED Romesh Gunesekera, Booker prize shortlisted novelist Henry Hitchings, […]

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A definition of ‘hobbit’ for the OED

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. . . What’s a hobbit and how did J.R.R. Tolkien come by this word? Was it invented, adapted, or stolen? To celebrate the release of The Hobbit film and renewed interest in J.R.R Tolkien‘s work, we’ve excerpted this passage from The Ring of Words: Tolkien […]

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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 […]

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