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

Category: Word origins

The language of Prohibition-era gangsters: knowing your goons from your gumshoes

model t

Although this blog has already covered a number of the interesting words and phrases associated with the speakeasies of 1920’s and early 1930’s America, the period still has a number of gems. As today marks the anniversary of the conviction of notorious Chicago-based gangster Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, what better reason to revisit some of the […]

Going Dutch: English words of Dutch origin

going_dutch

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Is your boss a bit gruff? Maybe he is given to snooping–you probably wish he would go for a cruise on his yacht, maybe to the Netherlands, where all of these words come from. The English and Dutch languages are closely related, and despite three 17th-century […]

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Puppets, peaches, and other womanly words

Peach

Last month, we took a tour around the world of the macho man, taking in some words in the grand tradition of beefcake on the way. We also discovered that the term beefcake, referring to muscular male physique, was formed on the model of cheesecake, a sexually alluring image of a woman. Sugar and spice […]

Talk Like A Pirate Day: pirate phrases and their origins

Jolly_roger

Be it from the pages of Treasure Island, the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow on the silver screen, or the Guybrush Threepwood’s adventures on Monkey Island, the fictional pirate has long held a fascination for landlubbers everywhere. On this International Talk Like A Pirate Day, we take a look at a few of the words […]

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Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: notes on the anniversary of America’s anthem

American flag

On September 13th, 1814, an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key dined as a guest on a British warship, where he had been sent to negotiate the release of American prisoners. The ship, the H.M.S. Tonnant, was moored in Chesapeake Bay, off Baltimore, which the British forces intended to attack later that day. Key was […]

Fearfully great creeping reptiles: the naming of dinosaurs

dinosaur

The names of dinosaurs seem to resonate, almost magically, with youngsters. Once they have seen a skeleton in a museum, or a vivid reconstruction of one of these animals in a book, even a three year old rapidly learns to identify each one pretty reliably (much to their parents or grandparents amazement and occasional befuddlement). […]

Virtual reality: can a PDF be a hard copy?

Computer code

Recently I was asked to “send a hard copy” of a document to a colleague in New York. I am in Oxford, and knew they didn’t want me to send it by Airmail, but instead just wanted the PDF forwarding. This, however, struck me as strange—a hard copy is usually specifically a paper version of […]

twerk

What is the origin of ‘twerk’?

Well, if you hadn’t heard of the word twerk before this week, chances are you are now well and truly aware of its existence, thanks to Miley Cyrus’s well documented performance at MTV’s VMAs. If you’re unsure of its meaning, you’re in luck, as we added the word to Oxford Dictionaries Online in our recent […]

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