Category: Word origins

Making a marque: Automotive etymologies

Making a marque: automotive etymologies

On a recent cloudy Sunday afternoon I found myself shepherding the truck-crazy young son of a friend of mine round the crowded arena of a retro and classic truck show at a motor museum in the English Midlands. There were hundreds of trucks of all ages and manufacturers neatly parked in rows and we walked […]

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

  I can only give a very subjective answer, but I’ll start with a few nominations. Most of the words in everyday English have been in (and occasionally out of) circulation for centuries. A study of them in a historical dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary, which charts chronologically the story of a word […]

Oktoberfest: mapping the beers of Europe

Oktoberfest: mapping the beers of Europe

How many styles of beer can you name? Or for those old enough to do so legally, how many have you tasted? According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, there are well over 100 styles from all over the world. With the start of Oktoberfest, the annual German festival with a tradition of celebrating all […]

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Pleb or snob?

Pleb or snob?

An altercation between a politician and some policemen featured heavily in the UK press this week and prompted thousands of extra hits on the Oxford Dictionaries definition of ‘pleb’: Plebeian first appeared in English in 1533 with reference to Roman history, meaning ‘a Roman commoner’, or ‘a member of the plebs’. The plebs were the […]

From sock puppets to astroturfing: the language of online deception

From sock puppets to astroturfing: the language of online deception

Who am I? It’s a question I often ask myself when waking up. This isn’t (to my knowledge) because I’m trapped in a high-concept thriller when my brain is wiped every night when I fall asleep. It’s more because I’m not really a morning person. Personal identity is not just a problem for me before […]

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chocolate

Ten facts about the word ‘chocolate’

On 13 September we celebrate the birthday of arguably one of the most famous producers of chocolate in history. Milton Hershey, who was born 155 years ago today, opened the doors of his US chocolate factory in 1900, and his chocolate bars and kisses came onto the market shortly thereafter. But where did chocolate, as […]

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Pride, prejudice, and an obsession with Colin Firth

Tenderly flirting

A look at Jane Austen’s life and how it influenced Pride and Prejudice, with a detour into the world of Bridget Jones, wet shirts, and Colin Firth. Austen’s early life: Birth and boarding school Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at the rectory in Steventon, near Basingstoke, Hampshire. She was baptized at Steventon […]

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The bee's knees

Why is something that is the very best known as ‘the bee’s knees’?

This curious expression is one of many similar sayings for something that is the acme of excellence. We are all familiar with the cat’s whiskers (or the cat’s pyjamas, the cat’s meow, and the cat’s nuts), which originated in the roaring 1920s and which might well have been the first of its kind—it is said […]

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