Category: Word origins

legal

Background checks: everyday words with legal records

Absolute privilege, ad hoc, aforementioned, affidavit, arraignment, arbitrage: the language of law can be dense, demanding, and downright intimidating, and these are just a few of the words and phrases that begin with the letter a. For all the difficulties of legalese, a great number of common words have a surprisingly legal record, so to speak. Mayhem Dating back […]

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Cyber origin is a tricky concept

Where is the origin of cyber?

Does cyber sound dated to you? Like the phrases Information Superhighway and surfing the Web, something about the word calls one back to the early era of the Internet, not unlike when you ask a person for a URL and they start to read off, ‘H-t-t-p, colon, forward slash…’ But for every use of the […]

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The 'Do re mi' tune reaches back nearly 1,000 years

The history of do re mi

Nestled amid the familiar Rodgers and Hammerstein melodies of The Sound of Music is a tune with a history that reaches back nearly a thousand years, as long as those famous hills have been singing their songs: ‘Do-re-mi’, the most ‘meta’ of all the numbers in a musical about music. This post will focus on the […]

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Photo via Flickr/Jason Persse

Dr. Dre and the language of gangsta rap

The hip hop world knows Dr. Dre as one of its most skilled producers and as a significant mentor to other prominent rappers – including Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent – but not as one of the genre’s most significant wordsmiths. However, Dre’s influence on the vocabulary of English is enormous even despite his […]

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The origin of culprit is more complicated than you might think.

The curious case of culprit

Amnesia, disguises, and mistaken identities? No, these are not the plot twists of a blockbuster thriller or bestselling page-turner. They are the story of the word culprit.   At first glance, the origin of culprit looks simple enough. Mea culpa, culpable, exculpate, and the more obscure inculpate: these words come from the Latin culpa, “fault” or “blame.” One would suspect that culprit is the same, yet we should never be […]

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petri dish_large

10 inventions named after people

Inventors’ Day is celebrated on different days in many countries to recognize the contributions of inventors. In the US, the event falls on 11 February – the anniversary of Thomas Edison’s birth. We would like to take this occasion to explore the linguistic contributions of inventors to the English language. Browse our list below to […]

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Groundhog

Groundhog etymology: from whistle pigs to woodchucks

On 2 February, we celebrate the Pennsylvania German custom of groundhog divination, which dates back to the 18th century and the European weather lore of Candlemas. According to folklore, on a sunny day, the groundhog will see its shadow and head back in its burrow, signaling six more weeks of more winter. If the weather […]

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pencil

Lord Byron in the OED

Lord Byron, one of Britain’s greatest poets, was born on this day in 1788, so we thought this might be a good opportunity to trace his influence on the English language. We have consulted the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and discovered more about Byron’s innovative use of language. While all the words listed below existed […]

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