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

Category: Word origins

Holiday traditions: what’s so magical about mistletoe?

mistletoe

Mistletoe is special. Every culture that comes across the plant mythologizes it and no wonder. To see mistletoe in England at this time of year, a ball of perfect green life suspended in barren branches, it seems a mysterious, even an other-worldly presence: healthy in the teeth of winter, seemingly without roots or any contact […]

John Milton: living at this hour?

John Milton: living at this hour?

The freedom of the press is under threat. At Westminster, politicians are making decisions that could severely curtail the ability of writers and printers to publish what they like, when they like. While parliament has all the power to enact statutory regulation and control of the press, there is at least one man ready to […]

Mars: A lexicographer’s perspective

Mars: A lexicographer's perspective

The planet Mars might initially seem an odd choice for Place of the Year. It has hardly any atmosphere and is more or less geologically inactive, meaning that it has remained essentially unchanged for millions of years. 2012 isn’t much different from one million BC as far as Mars is concerned. However, here on Earth, […]

The Christmas table

The Christmas Table

Described by John Ayto as ‘steaming fragrant black cannonballs’ in his newly published The Diner’s Dictionary, it is not hard to see why Christmas pudding is a luxury afforded only once a year. The rich combination of suet, raisins, currants, spices, eggs, and brandy often leaves diners in a food-induced stupor at the end of […]

Cake

Let them eat cake! Twelve facts about cake

Cake, in one form or another, has been around for centuries. From its humble beginnings as a flattened, hardened bread, the concept of ‘cake’ has changed significantly to become an essential part of British culinary identity. Here at Oxford Dictionaries, we love a bit of etymology to go with our cake, and today we share […]

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Seven words that gained fame on TV shows

Seven words that gained fame on TV shows

Television shows have a huge influence on popular culture, and so it is not surprising that many words and phrases have come into common usage through the medium of television. Here are a few of our favourite words and phrases that were popularized through iconic TV shows. mind-meld In science fiction, this is a (supposed) technique for […]

That’s a wrap! The origins of filmic language

Cut, print, and that’s a wrap: The origins of filmic language

“Film is history.” I’m reminded in the above quote by Martin Scorsese (who, impressively, enters his 49th year as a feature film director in 2012) that film and history are inextricably linked. By its very nature, a film is a historical artifact—a record of some past action that preserves the moment for time to come. Film, […]

In a nutshell, cutting the mustard by the skin of your teeth: popular idioms explained

In a nutshell, cutting the mustard by the skin of your teeth: popular idioms explained

Why do good things ‘cut the mustard’? The word mustard has been used to mean something excellent or superlative for almost a hundred years—the phrase ‘keen as mustard’ draws on the same idea of added piquancy and zest. ‘Hot stuff’, in other words. In America, to say something was ‘the proper mustard’ in the early […]

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