Category: Word origins

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 […]

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 […]

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