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

Category: Word origins

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

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 […]

The language of cooking: from ‘Forme of Cury’ to ‘Pukka Tucker’

The language of cooking: from 'Forme of Cury' to 'Pukka Tukka'

The earliest surviving English-language recipes came from the kitchens of kings and their great nobles. Richard II’s Master Cooks boasted that their Forme of Cury contained only the ‘best and royallest viand of all Christian Kings’, and, what’s more, had been approved by the king’s physicians and philosophers. Healthy eating issues and celebrity endorsements are […]

Jack and the Flagpole: what do you call the British national flag?

Bunting

Travelling around Britain, as I’ve been doing this week, I have been struck, as anyone would be, by the profusion of national flags. Not only are they to be found draped on cars and pinned in bedroom windows this year, the British flag is also being displayed on civic flagpoles, high-street lamp-posts, and pub-signs, and […]

Cavorting about

Cavorting about

As headlines today scream ‘Prince Harry cavorts naked in Vegas party photos’, we asked chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary John Simpson for an insight into the disputed origins of the word ‘cavort’. “This is something that has had lexicographers scratching their heads over the years. Not why people cavort about, but where the […]

From rockabilly to mathcore: exploring the cultural and linguistic blending of popular music genres

From rockability to mathcore: exploring the cultural and linguistic blending of popular music genres

The language of music has never been more nimble. With fusion genres like nu metal, trip hop, acid jazz, and synthpop having emerged over the last thirty years or so, it’s no surprise that our music vocabulary has expanded. And since we here at the OxfordWords blog love our portmanteaus, it only seems right to […]

Writing for grown-up people: George Eliot and the Oxford English Dictionary

Book Lover's Day: George Eliot

In celebration of Book Lover’s Day, we asked four of our dictionary editors to tell us about their favourite writers. Each of the writers featured is in the top 1000 cited sources in the Oxford English Dictionary. If you subscribe to the OED Online (many UK libraries offer free access if you provide your library […]

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, and the Oxford English Dictionary

Book Lover's Day: Virginia Woolf

In celebration of Book Lover’s Day, we asked four of our dictionary editors to tell us about their favourite writers. Each of the writers featured is in the top 1000 cited sources in the Oxford English Dictionary. If you subscribe to the OED Online (many UK libraries offer free access if you provide your library […]

Sir Thomas Browne and the Oxford English Dictionary

Book Lover's Day: Sir Thomas Browne

In celebration of Book Lover’s Day, we asked four of our dictionary editors to tell us about their favourite writers. Each of the writers featured is in the top 1000 cited sources in the Oxford English Dictionary. If you subscribe to the OED Online (many UK libraries offer free access if you provide your library […]

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