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

Category: Word origins

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of The Beatles

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of the Beatles

The Beatles are regarded by many – including me – as the greatest band of all time, and few would doubt the significance of their impact on popular music. Their impact on the lexicon is less clear, though, since using the word ‘na’ 217 times in the lyrics of Hey Jude really doesn’t count. (Incidentally, […]

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H. P. Lovecraft and the Northern Gothic Tongue

H. P. Lovecraft

There is a very specific language of Gothic and horror literature that has its roots buried deep in the history of English: doom has been around since Old English; dread carries over from Middle English; eerie, that sense of vague superstitious uneasiness, enters Middle English through Scottish. The adjectives are harsh and guttural: moons are […]

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Woman – or Suffragette?

Woman - or Suffragette?

In 1903, the motto ‘Deeds not Words’ was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst as the slogan of the new Women’s Social and Political Union. This aimed above all to secure women the vote, but it marked a deliberate departure in the methods to be used. Over fifty years of peaceful campaigning had brought no change to […]

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A little bit of pixie dust: five of Disney’s contributions to the English language

A little bit of pixie dust: five of Disney’s contributions to the English language

When we ruminate on the enormous effect all things Disney have had on popular culture from the early 20th century onwards (think ‘Steamboat Willie’ to the upcoming Star Wars films), we might call to mind hundreds of animated movies, several enormous theme parks, thousands of toys, and dozens of familiar characters—not to mention one ubiquitous […]

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Labouring language: the changing vocabulary of childbirth

Stork and bundle

Expectant parents don’t generally have a lot of spare time for idly perusing the dictionary, but if they did, they would find that the vocabulary of the event they joyfully anticipate has undergone significant changes over the centuries. Consider, for instance, the verb to deliver. In contemporary use, the mother is often the subject of […]

Play ball!

Play ball!

In spring, as the saying goes, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love.” Who first penned that immortal mush, anyway? You well-read literary types probably know it was Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem “Locksley Hall,” and I suppose that was romantic of him, but the way I see it, when love becomes a […]

Vampires say the funniest things! A quiz of quotations from famous bloodsuckers

Vampires say the funniest things! A quiz of quotations from famous bloodsuckers

Like those of the creature itself, the origins of the word vampire are somewhat mysterious. The word comes to English from the Hungarian, perhaps having its roots in a Turkish word for a witch. It was introduced into English around the early 1700s in fascinating accounts of European legends. A little later in the same […]

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Volcanoes in the OED

Volcanoes in the OED

Within the dictionary offices, we refer to the Oxford English Dictionary‘s recently revised and updated batch of words as the blue batch, as blue is the leading headword. Colour words are often big entries, involving many different subject areas. Here, we have natural history (bluebell, blueberry, and blue heron, to name but three), country music (bluegrass), fashion (or not) (blue jeans, blue […]

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