Category: Word origins

dino

Fearfully great creeping reptiles: the naming of dinosaurs

The names of dinosaurs seem to resonate, almost magically, with youngsters. Once they have seen a skeleton in a museum, or a vivid reconstruction of one of these animals in a book, even a three year old rapidly learns to identify each one pretty reliably (much to their parents or grandparents amazement and occasional befuddlement). […]

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Virtual reality: can a PDF be a hard copy?

Computer code

Recently I was asked to “send a hard copy” of a document to a colleague in New York. I am in Oxford, and knew they didn’t want me to send it by Airmail, but instead just wanted the PDF forwarding. This, however, struck me as strange—a hard copy is usually specifically a paper version of […]

twerk

What is the origin of ‘twerk’?

Well, if you hadn’t heard of the word twerk before this week, chances are you are now well and truly aware of its existence, thanks to Miley Cyrus’s well documented performance at MTV’s VMAs. If you’re unsure of its meaning, you’re in luck, as we added the word to Oxford Dictionaries Online in our recent […]

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On a wild goose chase for the origin of wayzgoose

Wayzgoose notice

Here in the UK we have been enjoying the hottest summer since 2006. For many, this has meant getting together with friends for day trips and outings in the sunshine. For employees at Oxford University Press there have been a variety of organized events for staff to enjoy, from sports evenings to open-air Shakespeare. But […]

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Mae West’s linguistic legacy

MaeWest

Maritime safety and early-Hollywood sex symbols may not seem to have much in common, but the etymology of the Mae West life jacket manages to connect these two very different worlds. 17 August is the birthday of Mae West, the American actress whose controversy and fame help to explain the many ways in which she […]

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Everyday expressions and their poetic origins

albatross

Our impression of “poetic” language as distinct from “everyday” language is unsurprising. At first glance, the flourishes of ornate, pre-1900 verse seem incompatible with common speech, either by virtue of their conspicuously high diction or the maudlin matters they seemingly address. One might hesitate, for instance, to liken a romantic interest to a lovely and […]

Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Magic book

Spellbinding: the classical roots of magical spells in Harry Potter

It is no secret that the Harry Potter series is heavily influenced by the classics. JK Rowling studied Latin as a subsidiary subject at the University of Exeter, and often draws upon classical myth, rhetoric, and nomenclature in her writing. In particular, Rowling usually draws her magical words from classical Latin, and many of the […]

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