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

Category: Word origins

Yiddish

English words of Yiddish origin: schmoozing, kvetching, and keeping schtum

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Yiddish, based on German dialect combined with words from Hebrew and Slavic languages, was spoken by Jews in central and eastern Europe before World War Two. It is still used in Israel and parts of Europe and the USA, especially New York, and has added an extra […]

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currencies

Origins of currencies: from jagged edges to flowers

A fistful of dollars The dollar is one of the most common currencies in the world used by the US, Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, and Singapore to name a few. The origin of the dollar, also the Slovenian tolar, is from a coin called the Joachimsthaler, shortened to Thaler (or daler in early Flemish […]

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champagne

A Melchizedek of champers: 9 word facts about champagne

It’s always difficult to say “Hello!” to January and “Good-bye…” to the holidays. Suddenly we find ourselves bogged down by the usual January blues—not to mention subjected to Blue Monday’s annual arrival — and burdened by certain debts after all that sweet and savory celebrating. Cookies, cakes, candy…butter cast haphazardly into every bubbling pot or […]

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kangaroo

Kangaroo: the international and regional word

26 January is Australia Day, a commemoration of the day in 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillip and his fleet of ships arrived in Australia, in the area that would become Sydney, in order to establish a convict colony. Governor Phillip had in his possession a list of Aboriginal words, provided to him by the botanist […]

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tartan

For auld lang syne: the origins of some Scottish words

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Scotland has given English many words—some from the Gaelic language, some from Scots, and others reflecting links to further shores. The Scots poet Robert Burns (1759–96) has also weighed in with memorable expressions. After a history marked by conflict, the Scottish and English nations were joined […]

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movie reel

Origin stories: fictional titles and their lasting impressions

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the language To avoid appearing like simple-minded vessels of superficial consumption, we often try not to let on the extent to which media has come to inform our lives. From the time we are young, we’re encouraged to value real-life experiences over the simulated kind found in […]

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Turkey dinner

From 1621 to 1863: giving thanks for new words of old

America’s “First Thanksgiving” is often attributed to the early 17th century (1621, in fact) when a small band of Pilgrims gathered with a small band of American Indians to partake together of a bountiful harvest at Plymouth Plantation. This celebration lasted a whopping three days—and it wasn’t called “Thanksgiving”. Only in 1863 was the annual […]

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Word of the Year 2013: blips on our radar

Detail of selected items from the previous graph

As OUP’s lexicographers go about our quiet work, occasionally a novel word, spied in a newspaper, a post, or a tweet, catches our fancy. “Possible WOTY?!!!” we might email to a colleague, anticipating the year’s end. When we go back through those old emails months later, it is sometimes difficult to remember what inspired such […]

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