Category: Word origins

Beech

When is a book a tree?

The obvious answer to ‘when is a book a tree?’ is ‘before it’s been made into a book’ – it doesn’t take a scientist to know that (most) paper comes from trees – but things get more complex when we turn our attention to etymology. The word book itself has changed very little over the […]

Read more »
peterpan

Peter Pan collars and other literary eponyms

Any avid reader has their favourite characters, whether they be from classic fiction, much-loved children’s literature, or contemporary novels. Quite a few characters have given their names to words relating to their traits or appearance – Eeyoreish, for instance, appears in our dictionaries as an adjective meaning pessimistic or gloomy, based on Eeyore from A.A. […]

Read more »
railway track

Word histories: conscious uncoupling

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin (better known as an Oscar-winning actress and the Grammy-winning lead singer of Coldplay respectively) recently announced that they would be separating. While the news of any separation is sad, we can’t deny that the report also carried some linguistic interest. In the announcement, on Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop, the pair […]

Read more »
caesar

Beware the Ides of March! Get up to your elbows in the language of Julius Caesar

Tomorrow is the Ides of March, a day made infamous by the prophetic soothsayer from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. With a “Tongue shriller then all the Musicke,” he warns the skeptical emperor to “Beware the Ides of March” at the top of Act One.  Eight scenes later, the Ides arrives and (spoiler alert) Caesar is […]

Read more »
tea

All the tea in China: English words of Chinese origin

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Chinese civilization stretches back at least to the 3rd millennium BC. It is the source of many of the world’s great inventions, including paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing, not to mention china (porcelain) itself. But maybe the greatest contribution that the country and its language have […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »

Tweets