Category: Word origins

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Twelve words of Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, as some celebrants are wont to say, as do many of the words special to the season. Like so many Christmas lights, let’s untangle some holiday word histories–twelve, fittingly enough–to see what they might illuminate. Rudolph A number of animals give us their season’s greetings during Christmastime. Perhaps the most famous is Rudolph the […]

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From mistletoe to noisy birds: the origins of Christmas words

Mistletoe encounters can be very hit-or-miss. My own experiences usually involve kissing a definite non-target rather than the person I’d been lingering beneath the foliage for. It was therefore with some satisfaction that I discovered that the literal meaning of mistletoe is ‘dung-on-a-twig’, the inspiration of the Anglo-Saxons who realized that the plant is fertilized […]

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Orphants to foster kids: a century of Annie

One of the best-known musicals of the 20th century is Annie, which tells the story of a plucky orphan girl who warms the hearts of all around her, and eventually finds a loving family of her own. The tale will be carried into the 21st century when the newest film adaptation (produced by Jay-Z and […]

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Gone with the Wind‘s “damn” and other vulgar language

Liz: You can’t just take away all these words we’ve been using for the past six years. Kenneth: Oh, that reminds me. You can’t say “using” on TV. It implies drug use. —30 Rock Season 6, Episode 11 On 15 December, 1939, Gone with the Wind premiered at Loew’s Grand Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. […]

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What are the origins of lord and lady?

Old English might have English right there in the name, but that doesn’t mean that it’s familiar to speakers of English today. The original spellings of some words bear so little resemblance to how they are spelt today that they are all but impossible to recognize. And in transforming their spellings, the origins and the […]

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Give thanks… for Native American loanwords!

Since I’ve only been in the US a year and a half, so far I’ve only experienced one Thanksgiving – but I must say that given it’s a holiday seemingly mainly devoted to eating delicious food and enjoying spending time with family and friends, it’s one I especially enjoy. The atmosphere in the days before the […]

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Video: what is the origin of ‘posh’?

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Salaries, dragons, and musk: rooting around in the spice rack

As the Bard said, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold” a pumpkin-spice latte–or beer, bubble gum, even burgers, such is the market. While we may have reached so-called “peak pumpkin” this year, the autumn season is indeed one of seasonings, of herbs and spices with the special power to evoke that cozy sense of home. From trade […]

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