Category: Word origins

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, […]

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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 […]

Do you know all of these cake facts?

12 word 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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Seven words that gained fame on TV shows

Seven words that gained fame on TV shows

Television shows have a huge influence on popular culture, and so it is not surprising that many words and phrases have come into common usage through the medium of television. Here are a few of our favourite words and phrases that were popularized through iconic TV shows. mind-meld In science fiction, this is a (supposed) technique for […]

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film reel

That’s a wrap! The origins of filmic language

“Film is history.” I’m reminded in the above quote by Martin Scorsese (who, impressively, enters his 49th year as a feature film director in 2012) that film and history are inextricably linked. By its very nature, a film is a historical artifact—a record of some past action that preserves the moment for time to come. Film, […]

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Where do odd idioms like 'in a nutshell' and 'by the skin of your teeth' come from?

6 popular idioms explained

Let’s have a look at some of the curious idioms found in the English language. The explanations are often stranger than you might imagine! Where does the expression ‘by the skin of my teeth’ come from? After Shakespeare, a prolific coiner of new words, the King James translation of the Bible has been the biggest […]

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Winnie the Pooh language

The language of Winnie-the-Pooh

November 6, 2012 marks 88 years since the world was first introduced to one of the most famous characters in children’s literature, Winnie-the-Pooh. When We Were Very Young, A. A. Milne’s first collection of children’s poems was published on this day in 1924, and was written for his three-year-old son, Christopher Robin. When We Were […]

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