Category: Word origins

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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From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 2)

From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 2)

Following on from the first instalment about the word bear, today’s post looks at real bears, fictional bears, and (of course) teddy bears. A bear, or not a bear? That is the question. Most taxonomists agree that there are eight species of bear in five genera in the world today. However this does not include the koala, […]

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From teddy bears to beserkers – the language of bears (part 1)

From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 1)

There is a bear alongside me as I write this post. That bear is named Brutus and is famous for being the best man at naturalist Casey Anderson’s wedding – sadly though the bear in question is only on my desktop background (and not available as a best man in general; I checked). This internet […]

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drunk tank pink1

Drunk tank pink? International Klein blue? Charting the outer-reaches of the colour spectrum

As Katherine Shaw noted in a rather colourful article for this blog, the origins of the English primary colour names are ultimately either non-referential, in that they aren’t derived from the colour of some previously known entity, or have such long histories that their origins are simply unknown. This, she notes, is in contrast with […]

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Seinfeld

Sein-Language

Unarguably one of the most influential TV shows of all time, Seinfeld played a major role in shaping the social culture of the ‘90s. Famously self-defined as a “show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s insistent concern with the mundane often manifested itself as an obsession with the ultimate, universally-relatable everyday practice: language. Since the show had no […]

Little green men to the men in black: alien words in the OED

Little green men to the men in black: alien words in the OED

When responding to the argument that extraterrestrial life cannot exist because humans have not found it yet, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the well-known American astrophysicist—retorted: “That’s like going to the ocean, taking a cup of water, scooping it up, and saying, ‘There are no whales in the ocean.’” It is clear we earthlings have a complicated relationship […]

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Brides weren’t always female While the oldest recorded sense of bride is the familiar one referring to a woman, there is some evidence of the word being used in a gender-neutral manner (like spouse) from the 15th to the early 17th century:  “Sweet Daughter deer…Isis blesse thee and thy Bride, With golden Fruit” (Joshua Sylvester, […]

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