Category: Word origins

spices large

Salaries, dragons, and musk: rooting around in the spice rack

As the Bard said, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold” a pumpkin-spice latte–or beer, bubble gum, even burgers, such is the market. While we may have reached so-called “peak pumpkin” this year, the autumn season is indeed one of seasonings, of herbs and spices with the special power to evoke that cozy sense of home. From trade […]

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Reuben sandwich

5 tasty sandwich etymologies

You may well be familiar with the origin of the sandwich. The story opens in mid-18th-century England with John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, and a particularly distracting run at the gaming table. In fact, the distraction proved so great that Montagu forewent formal meals and refreshments, and instead requested the simple snack of […]

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crying

Skrike, lachryme, and water-cart: the language of crying

Crying is one of the first things that any of us do in our lives. It tends to happen again at the most important moments in life – whether as a sign of happiness or sadness – and some of us find it’s an involuntary reaction to anything from pieces of music to absorbing stories. […]

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Superman shirt

The super-language of Superman

17 October marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Jerry Siegel (d. 1996), who, along with artist Joe Shuster, created Superman, one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. The mark left by Superman on today’s pop culture landscape is incalculable; not only has he been featured in comic strips […]

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A.A. Milne

Not just heffalumps and woozles: the words of A.A. Milne

If you’ve heard of A.A. Milne, there is almost certainly one reason for that – and that reason is a Bear of Very Little Brain, otherwise known as Winnie-the-Pooh. It was on 14 October 1926 that his eponymous story collection was first published (although he had already made an appearance in the poetry book When […]

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Chicken or egg

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

There are two famous riddles about chickens. One investigates the reasoning behind the chicken’s desire to cross the road (“to get to the other side”), while the other poses the ontological quandary: “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” We shan’t attempt to answer the question in a philosophical or biological manner, but we […]

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Sheet Music

Foreign words and musical notes

Anyone who’s ever had to learn to read sheet music will know what I mean when I say that it can sometimes literally be like learning another language. Besides parsing those tricky lines, dots, tails, and bars, there are also the snatches of foreign languages – mostly Italian, along with the occasional word of French, […]

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All told

Telling all about ‘all told’

What is it we tell when things are all told? It’s a common enough expression.  A newspaper observes of a political candidate that “All told, [she] has taken some $19,650 in campaign contributions.” Of a moment in a Miley Cyrus concert a magazine writes, “All told, it was one of the most arresting moments of […]

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