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Bridges in the OED

Though many could describe New York City by its huge population (8 million), the stereotypical behaviors of its inhabitants (for whom efficient navigation of pedestrian traffic is an art), or even its pizza (thin crust, fold your slice in half), it is perhaps best known for its famous, globally-recognizable landmarks. But the Statue of Liberty […]

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Drinking through the ages: a timeline of synonyms for drunk

In the timeline above, explore how the English language has developed over time through the lens of a crucial social function: the consumption of alcohol. Taken from David Crystal’s book Words in Time and Place, which is based on research in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, the timeline covers over 35 synonyms […]

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S novym godom: enjoy a Russian happy new year!

Forget Christmas! In Russia – and in some other former Soviet countries – Novyi God (Новый Год, ‘New Year’) is arguably the most popular holiday of the year. Christmas was banned by the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Revolution and, although it is celebrated nowadays (more on that later), Russia’s biggest winter holiday remains a secular […]

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10 words that came to life 100 years ago

As 2014 draws to a close, we thought we’d take a look at some of the words celebrating their 100th birthday this year. While some of these may be antedated if older examples are found, the earliest evidence currently in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for each of the words below is 1914. So, join […]

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Twelve words of Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, as some celebrants are wont to say, as do many of the words special to the season. Like so many Christmas lights, let’s untangle some holiday word histories–twelve, fittingly enough–to see what they might illuminate. Rudolph A number of animals give us their season’s greetings during Christmastime. Perhaps the most famous is Rudolph the […]

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Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) is a Russian figure similar to Santa Claus.

Santa around the world: an interactive map of holiday gift givers

So who exactly do we mean by ‘Santa’ or ‘St. Nicholas’? Given his seeming ubiquity during the holiday season, from cameos in Black Friday advertisements to appearances in pop songs, it can feel as though Santa is a universal figure. However, the culture of Christmas-time gift giving turns out to be far more complicated. Rather […]

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From mistletoe to noisy birds: the origins of Christmas words

Mistletoe encounters can be very hit-or-miss. My own experiences usually involve kissing a definite non-target rather than the person I’d been lingering beneath the foliage for. It was therefore with some satisfaction that I discovered that the literal meaning of mistletoe is ‘dung-on-a-twig’, the inspiration of the Anglo-Saxons who realized that the plant is fertilized […]

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Jingle Bells in the Historical Thesaurus of the OED

To celebrate the festive season, we’ve taken the lyrics to the much-loved song ‘Jingle Bells’ and fed certain words through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, giving a version that has an identical meaning, but very different appearance and sound. The words that have been altered are (as you will no doubt realize) in […]

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