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

Category: Word origins

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 […]

Read more »

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 […]

Read more »

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 […]

Read more »

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: […]

Read more »

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 […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »

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 […]

Read more »

Tweets