Category: Word origins

tax

What is the origin of the term scot-free?

To ‘get off scot-free’ means ‘to get away with something without being punished’. Since the familiar English word Scot refers to a native or inhabitant of Scotland, it is tempting to assume that this is a reference to that country. Indeed, that association seems to have existed since at least the 1500s, when the alternative […]

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W. Tecumseh Sherman

8 words with American Civil War origins

Not only did the American Civil War have immense political ramifications, it also had a major impact on American culture, and even exerted some influence on the language. The following terms all either emerged directly from, or have senses which were directly influenced by, the conflict. 1. Deadline As much angst as the word deadline […]

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baseball jazz

Jazz: an unlikely, but true, American journey

Two very American institutions are celebrated this month. Besides being Jazz Appreciation Month, April also marks the start of the MLB baseball season, which begins this year on 6 April. While at first glance the only thing that jazz and baseball seem to have in common is that both have been the subjects of Ken Burns […]

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blanket

Did Charles Schulz coin the term ‘security blanket’?

Anyone familiar with Charles M. Schulz’s seminal comic strip Peanuts is probably also familiar with Linus Van Pelt and his blue blanket. But even those who have never encountered Linus, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang are probably acquainted with the concept of the ‘security blanket’: a ‘small blanket or other soft fabric […]

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symbols

Signs and symbols: the names of punctuation marks

Chances are that you use them every day – from ‘ to # and ? to . – but where did common punctuation marks get their names? Ampersand The ampersand is the sign &, used to mean ‘and’. The shape of the symbol originated as a ligature for the Latin et (‘and’) – that is, […]

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cocktails

9 drinks named after people

Not unlike certain kinds of food, sometimes people end up being strongly associated with certain drinks, especially cocktails. Usually, the famous are those who end up with their name attached, even if the drink was not their own invention. This is the case with several of the drinks below. However, it seems as though other […]

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sea

English is chock-a-block with invisible nautical terms

Ahoy, me hearties! When I plumbed the hidden depths of the nautical origins of common English words and phrases last year, I dredged up a treasure chest brimful of material, more than enough for the post I was writing at the time. With thoughts of summer holidays uppermost in many of our minds right now, […]

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Dalmatian

12 dog breed names and their origins

As their breed names often attest, dogs are a truly international bunch. Named for their places of origin and sometimes even their original breeders, breed names offer a fascinating look into how we relate to man’s best friend. Let’s take a look at 12 different breeds and the backstories that their names have to offer. […]

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