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

Category: Word origins

Welsh rabbit

The origin of Welsh rabbit

Now often known as Welsh rarebit, this dish of toasted cheese was originally known as Welsh rabbit… but why? There is no evidence that the Welsh actually originated Welsh rabbit, although they have always had a reputation for being passionately fond of it (a fourteenth-century text tells the tale that the Welsh people in heaven were being troublesome, […]

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William_Hogarth_007

Eighteenth-century soldiers’ slang: “Hot Stuff” and the British Army

Britain’s soldiers were singing about hot stuff more than 200 years before Donna Summer released her hit song of the same name in 1979. The true origins of martial ballads are often difficult to ascertain, but a song entitled ‘Hot Stuff’ can be found in print by 1774. The 5 May edition of Rivington’s New York Gazetteer […]

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SOS

The origins of SOS and Mayday

S.O.S became the worldwide standard distress signal (particularly in maritime use) on 1 July 1908, having first been adopted by the German government three years earlier. It has since entered the awareness of those who are unlikely ever to summon help at sea – appearing in contexts as varied as the title of songs by […]

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Nautical terms

Sailing the seas of nautical language

I recently endured a weekend of mini-disasters (and it was supposed to be a relaxing Bank Holiday, too!). When I related the catalogue of catastrophettes to my father, his first response was ‘Well, worse things happen at sea!’. Though I was piqued, as he clearly didn’t think my weekend ranked high on the scale of […]

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ladybird

Ladybirds, ladybugs, and… cows?

When this article was in the brainstorming stage, it started with the simple intention of pointing out that a ladybird was neither a bird nor a lady (I don’t mean to impugn the ladybird’s reputation; I am speaking of the definition rather than the insect’s moral character). Along the way we thought we’d point out […]

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Beech

When is a book a tree?

The obvious answer to ‘when is a book a tree?’ is ‘before it’s been made into a book’ – it doesn’t take a scientist to know that (most) paper comes from trees – but things get more complex when we turn our attention to etymology. The word book itself has changed very little over the […]

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peterpan

Peter Pan collars and other literary eponyms

Any avid reader has their favourite characters, whether they be from classic fiction, much-loved children’s literature, or contemporary novels. Quite a few characters have given their names to words relating to their traits or appearance – Eeyoreish, for instance, appears in our dictionaries as an adjective meaning pessimistic or gloomy, based on Eeyore from A.A. […]

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railway track

Word histories: conscious uncoupling

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin (better known as an Oscar-winning actress and the Grammy-winning lead singer of Coldplay respectively) recently announced that they would be separating. While the news of any separation is sad, we can’t deny that the report also carried some linguistic interest. In the announcement, on Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop, the pair […]

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