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

Category: Word origins

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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Aviation

Winged words: the language of aviation

Ever since we first gazed up to the skies and envied the glorious freedom of birds, many of us have yearned to join them (appropriately, aviation derives from avis, which means ‘bird’ in Latin). Some of mankind’s earliest myths (including that of the Greek craftsman Daedalus and his son Icarus) are testament to our deep-rooted […]

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Stock market report with bull and bear

Bulls, bears, and the other business animals of Wall Street

The finance world famously has almost a language all of its own, ranging from complex financial jargon to the playful slang of the stock market. What that means is that within the thicket of terms like VaR, backwardation, contango, tranche, and junk bond, we find some familiar animal friends — although often in some strange […]

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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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