Category: Word origins

From teddy bears to beserkers – the language of bears (part 1)

From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 1)

There is a bear alongside me as I write this post. That bear is named Brutus and is famous for being the best man at naturalist Casey Anderson’s wedding – sadly though the bear in question is only on my desktop background (and not available as a best man in general; I checked). This internet […]

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drunk tank pink1

Drunk tank pink? International Klein blue? Charting the outer-reaches of the colour spectrum

As Katherine Shaw noted in a rather colourful article for this blog, the origins of the English primary colour names are ultimately either non-referential, in that they aren’t derived from the colour of some previously known entity, or have such long histories that their origins are simply unknown. This, she notes, is in contrast with […]

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Seinfeld

Sein-Language

Unarguably one of the most influential TV shows of all time, Seinfeld played a major role in shaping the social culture of the ‘90s. Famously self-defined as a “show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s insistent concern with the mundane often manifested itself as an obsession with the ultimate, universally-relatable everyday practice: language. Since the show had no […]

Little green men to the men in black: alien words in the OED

Little green men to the men in black: alien words in the OED

When responding to the argument that extraterrestrial life cannot exist because humans have not found it yet, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the well-known American astrophysicist—retorted: “That’s like going to the ocean, taking a cup of water, scooping it up, and saying, ‘There are no whales in the ocean.’” It is clear we earthlings have a complicated relationship […]

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Brides weren’t always female While the oldest recorded sense of bride is the familiar one referring to a woman, there is some evidence of the word being used in a gender-neutral manner (like spouse) from the 15th to the early 17th century:  “Sweet Daughter deer…Isis blesse thee and thy Bride, With golden Fruit” (Joshua Sylvester, […]

Habla usted Spanglish?

Habla usted Spanglish?

One of the things I love about growing up in New York City is the fact that I live among a variety of cultures and languages. In a multicultural city, it’s not uncommon to hear various languages merge and blend into a hybrid language befitting its mixed environment. One noticeable example of this is Spanglish. […]

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Pennsylvania German

Die wunnerbaare Sprooch: Pennsylvania German

As a native eastern Pennsylvanian, I tend to get a little misty-eyed when dreaming of shoo-fly pie or spotting a hex sign – such as the ones on the barn in the picture above. However, shoo-fly pie and hex signs are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the culture and tradition […]

surfing

Surf’s up at the OED

As International Surfing Day takes place on 20 June this year, it is a good time to put on a favourite ‘Hawaiian shirt’ (currently first recorded in 1955) and take a look at some of the surfing terms in the Oxford English Dictionary. Early surf reports The vocabulary of surfing in the English language has […]

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