Category: Word origins

Towering achievements: everyday objects named after French people (Part 1)

Towering achievements: everyday objects named after French people (part 1)

On March 31 this year, Gustave Eiffel’s tower – arguably the most iconic symbol of France – celebrated its 124th birthday. Incidentally, the world’s most visited paid-for tourist attraction is the same age as other famous French creations such as the Moulin Rouge and Herminie Cadolle’s first modern bra… – anyway, with all things français […]

A-tremble and dimplement: Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the OED

A-tremble and dimplement: Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the OED

Did you know that Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the fifth most quoted woman in the OED’s illustrative quotations? I was tipped off to this rather surprising fact a few days ago, and thought I’d take a look at where she pops up. Amazingly, she is currently quoted no fewer than 1,530 times, starting, alphabetically, with […]

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Unpresidential presidential quotations in the OED

The Oxford English Dictionary is founded upon millions of quotations, which trace the history of each word starting with its earliest recorded use. America’s presidents are well represented among the authors of those quotations; after all, they are influential speakers and writers whose words are painstakingly recorded and preserved. Presidential quotations often turn up in […]

Tackling the language of Super Bowl Sunday

Tackling the language of Super Bowl Sunday

Imagine with me for a moment. It is February 3, 2013. A Sunday. But not just any Sunday, oh no. It is Super Bowl Sunday. And this year, the party’s at your place—with all the excitement, stress, and post-game cleaning-up that hosting these parties entails. So here you are, at home, ensconced by family and […]

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From lamingtons to sandwiches: looking at eponymous foods

For some, Anna Pavlova is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers in history. For others, her legacy lives on in the form of the dessert she inspired. We celebrate her birthday on 31 January (by the Old Style of dating; her actual birthday according to the Gregorian calendar would be 12 February), and in […]

Word stories: 'rum'

Word stories: ‘rum’

The word rum is first recorded in 1654 in the Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, where it is mentioned along with another of its names kill-devil: Berbados Liquors, commonly called Rum, Kill Deuill, or the like. The word itself is of obscure origin, being somehow related to rumbullion and rumbustion, words whose origins […]

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Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and cockney rhyming slang

Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and Cockney rhyming slang

In the phrase ‘under the auspices of ’, what are auspices? The root of auspices and the more familiar adjective auspicious are closely linked. If something is auspicious it bodes well, giving promise of a favourable outcome. In Roman times, people tried to predict future events by watching the behaviour of birds and animals. An […]

Bathtub gin, blind tigers, and bootleggers: the language of the speakeasy

Bathtub gin, blind tigers, and bootleggers: the language of the speakeasy

We’ve a lot invested in the idea of Prohibition as an era of wild drunkenness, all-night parties and lawlessness. And such language! Back in the day – in this case from early 1920 to late 1933 – it became increasingly fashionable in urban areas for celebrities and the upper-middle classes to get dolled up in […]

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