Category: Word origins

Video: why do we call unwanted email ‘spam’?

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Bowdlerize (or bowdlerise) means ‘remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), especially with the result that the text becomes weaker or less effective’.

What did Bowdler bowdlerize?

Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) was a doctor, chess player, and devotee of prison reform – but his legacy lies in his editing of Shakespeare. Bowdlerize (or bowdlerise) means ‘remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), especially with the result that the text becomes weaker or less effective’. Effectively, it refers […]

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portmanteaus

11 words you perhaps didn’t know were portmanteaus

For the uninitiated, portmanteaus (or ‘portmanteaux’) are words which combine the sounds and meanings of two words. For example, motel (a combination of motor and hotel) or brunch (a combination of breakfast and lunch). Whilst browsing a list of different portmanteaus and blends, I noticed a number of words that I use fairly regularly, and […]

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Archaic and unusual names for relatives

Archaic and unusual names for relatives

We all know that there are quite a few different ways to say ‘father’ in English, from dad and daddy to father, pater, and the old man. Taking a look into the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary reveals some unusual or archaic variants – and the same is true for almost any relative […]

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Nothing is really known about the ultimate origin of the word elephant.

13 animal names and their meanings

Let’s take a look behind the meanings of some common animal names… Ostrich The bird’s name comes from a combination of the classical Latin avis, ‘bird’, and post-classical Latin struthio, strucio. The latter is derived from ancient Greek στρουθός (strouthos), which also means ‘sparrow’. The Greeks sometimes called the Ostrich στρουθοκάμηλος (strouthokamelos), literally ‘sparrow-camel’. Chameleon […]

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The origin of quid

What’s up with ‘quid’?

Bread, bones, clams, dough, and moolah: we have a lot of slang terms for money in the English language, to name just a few, er, noteworthy examples. Specific currencies have their own nicknames, too, of course. The Australian and American dollar, for example, often go by ‘buck’, which probably calls back the use of buckskins […]

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Country name origins

An A-Z of country name origins

We’ve taken on an ambitious task today: we’re looking at the origin stories behind the names (in English) of every single country in the world – using the list of countries as determined by the UN and information from the Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, discover surprising and intriguing language […]

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A large number of birds received their names through the imitation of their cries.

5 surprising origins of common bird names

A large number of birds received their names through the imitation of their cries. The cuckoo is an obvious example of such an onomatopoeic naming, and so are the owl, the cockatiel, and many more. Some bird names, however, have a more intriguing linguistic history. Here we take a look at a few examples. Magpie […]

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