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

Category: Word origins

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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William_Hogarth_007

Eighteenth-century soldiers’ slang: “Hot Stuff” and the British Army

Britain’s soldiers were singing about hot stuff more than 200 years before Donna Summer released her hit song of the same name in 1979. The true origins of martial ballads are often difficult to ascertain, but a song entitled ‘Hot Stuff’ can be found in print by 1774. The 5 May edition of Rivington’s New York Gazetteer […]

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SOS

The origins of SOS and Mayday

S.O.S became the worldwide standard distress signal (particularly in maritime use) on 1 July 1908, having first been adopted by the German government three years earlier. It has since entered the awareness of those who are unlikely ever to summon help at sea – appearing in contexts as varied as the title of songs by […]

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Nautical terms

Sailing the seas of nautical language

I recently endured a weekend of mini-disasters (and it was supposed to be a relaxing Bank Holiday, too!). When I related the catalogue of catastrophettes to my father, his first response was ‘Well, worse things happen at sea!’. Though I was piqued, as he clearly didn’t think my weekend ranked high on the scale of […]

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ladybird

Ladybirds, ladybugs, and… cows?

When this article was in the brainstorming stage, it started with the simple intention of pointing out that a ladybird was neither a bird nor a lady (I don’t mean to impugn the ladybird’s reputation; I am speaking of the definition rather than the insect’s moral character). Along the way we thought we’d point out […]

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