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

Category: Word origins

chess

The language of chess

Although the game itself may be viewed as the domain of grandmasters, child geniuses, and computer boffins, the language of chess has infiltrated everyday parlance in a number of ways. Any game or debate that ends in a draw may be said to have resulted in a stalemate, while check can refer to any form of […]

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tightrope

Tightrope walking and ambulances: what do they share in common?

In the early hours of 7 August 1974, after six years of planning and months of subterfuge, Philippe Petit stepped out onto a high wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. A crowd of thousands gathered to watch the breathtaking 45 minute display, as Petit walked, danced, and even […]

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record player

James Brown in the OED

With the recent release of the James Brown biopic Get On Up, directed by Tate Taylor and starring Chadwick Boseman, I thought it might be worth reflecting on the legacy of Mr Dynamite. It goes without saying that James Brown contributed in enduring ways to the history of pop music; there’s good reason for his […]

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origin of banana

What is the origin of ‘banana’?

Banana appears to be a tropical African word, but its lexical origins represent only a single stage in the fruit’s worldwide wanderings before it reached British shores. Asian origins? It probably first grew in Southeast Asia, and did not make a big impact elsewhere until the early Islamic period when it was brought from India […]

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90s language

Achy-breaky words: the language of the nineties

Though they’re well over a decade past, the nineties occupy an unusual place in the cultural zeitgeist. A whole new decade has come and gone since, and yet popular culture still has yet to decide what precisely the nineties were “about”. For better or for worse, many of the decades preceding the nineties have their […]

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hotdog

Hot diggety dog: the language of hotdogs

In my local supermarket there is a section of shelving devoted to sausages in tins and jars. American-style hot dogs whose label reveals them to be made in England from mechanically recovered turkey, frankfurters made from slightly more identifiable meats, Bockwurst from Germany, and jars of Polish kiełbasa. European harmony expressed through the medium of […]

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Teddy Bear picnic

How did the teddy bear get its name?

Have you ever asked yourself why of all the ferocious animals in the world, humans chose bears to accompany their sleeping children to bed? The teddy bear has certainly made bears seem more cuddly and approachable than they were formerly regarded. But where did the name teddy come from? To celebrate Teddy Bear Picnic Day, […]

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Welsh rabbit

The origin of Welsh rabbit

Now often known as Welsh rarebit, this dish of toasted cheese was originally known as Welsh rabbit… but why? There is no evidence that the Welsh actually originated Welsh rabbit, although they have always had a reputation for being passionately fond of it (a fourteenth-century text tells the tale that the Welsh people in heaven were being troublesome, […]

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