Category: Word origins

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Why do we call hooligans yobs? Yob is a good example of ‘back-slang’—a form of slang in which words are spelt backwards as a code so that others (usually parents) are unable to understand them. ‘Yob’ is simply ‘boy’ spelt backwards; the ‘backward’ element seems appropriate in the definition of retrograde behaviour. Why do we […]

Tolkien's etymologies

Tolkien’s etymologies

I’m tremendously excited about the film version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that’s coming out in the UK this week. As a child, my favourite film was the 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi. When I say it was my favourite, I suppose I mean that it […]

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Christmas cookies!

From jumbles to gingersnaps: the origins of cookie names

It may be difficult to do so whilst piling them into one’s maw, but did you ever think about how Christmas cookies came to possess such deliciously eclectic names? Jumbles. Thumbprints. Snickerdoodles. Gingersnaps. Rugelach. Sand tarts. Macaroons. Kiffles. And these are only a few of the hundreds of types treasured in American households during the […]

mistletoe

Holiday traditions: what’s so magical about mistletoe?

Mistletoe is special. Every culture that comes across the plant mythologizes it and no wonder. To see mistletoe in England at this time of year, a ball of perfect green life suspended in barren branches, it seems a mysterious, even an other-worldly presence: healthy in the teeth of winter, seemingly without roots or any contact […]

John Milton: living at this hour?

John Milton: living at this hour?

The freedom of the press is under threat. At Westminster, politicians are making decisions that could severely curtail the ability of writers and printers to publish what they like, when they like. While parliament has all the power to enact statutory regulation and control of the press, there is at least one man ready to […]

Mars: A lexicographer's perspective

Mars: A lexicographer’s perspective

The planet Mars might initially seem an odd choice for Place of the Year. It has hardly any atmosphere and is more or less geologically inactive, meaning that it has remained essentially unchanged for millions of years. 2012 isn’t much different from one million BC as far as Mars is concerned. However, here on Earth, […]

The Christmas Table

The Christmas table

Described by John Ayto as ‘steaming fragrant black cannonballs’ in his newly published The Diner’s Dictionary, it is not hard to see why Christmas pudding is a luxury afforded only once a year. The rich combination of suet, raisins, currants, spices, eggs, and brandy often leaves diners in a food-induced stupor at the end of […]

Cake

Let them eat cake! Twelve facts about cake

Cake, in one form or another, has been around for centuries. From its humble beginnings as a flattened, hardened bread, the concept of ‘cake’ has changed significantly to become an essential part of British culinary identity. Here at Oxford Dictionaries, we love a bit of etymology to go with our cake, and today we share […]

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