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

Category: Word origins

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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What the Romans did for us: English words of Latin origin

Latin

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins As well as education, wine, roads, under-floor heating, and the fresh water system, the Romans gave us words and phrases. Far from being a dead language, Latin is alive and well, and may be found in a sentence near you. English is full of words of […]

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Eponymous instrument makers: from Sax to Stradivari

Saxophone

Today is Saxophone Day, a.k.a. the birthday of Adolphe Sax, which has inspired us to think about other instruments that take their name in some way from their inventors (sidenote: for the correct use of eponymous see this informative diatribe in the New York Times). Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) Belgian inventor of the saxophone. Fun fact: […]

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Of Cabbages and Kings: five ways to talk about translation

King_Alfred

Translation has been a crucial part of Anglophone culture from its very beginnings. The earliest English writers knew that the state of learning in England, with knowledge of Latin far from universal, meant a need for translations. Everything necessary for a rounded education was written in Latin, and so King Alfred the Great introduced a […]

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baking

The winner bakes it all: the language of the Great British Bake Off

In 2010, when I started watching a BBC2 programme about baking sponge cakes, I assumed it would be one of the many things which marked me out as a social pariah, along with talking to cats and preferring books to people. Yet this evening the fourth series of the Great British Bake Off is coming […]

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