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

And the Oscar goes to …

Oscars

The 2011 Academy Awards® take place this Sunday, 27 February, the culmination of months of speculation about who will wear what, who will have the hardest time with the TelePrompTer, and, of course, who will win. But regardless of who goes home with an Oscar—whether it’s Natalie Portman for playing a tormented ballerina or Annette […]

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Wake up and smell ODO’s latest additions!

Babycino

There is very little that thrills the heart of a lexicographer quite so much as the smell of new words. Fresh, piquant, and uncluttered by the barnacle-like clichés that attach themselves to so many words which have been around for hundreds of years, these recent additions to the language breathe fresh life into it, and […]

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Shifted meanings: nice and egregious

Nice and egregious wordle

Many of the words that have been in the English language for more than a few hundred years have shifted their meaning somewhat. The first meaning of the word secretary was exactly what it looks like it should be – someone who keeps secrets. And similarly, principal meant ‘of or belonging to a prince’ well before it […]

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How to write a slang dictionary

Green's Dictionary of Slang

1.      Cancel your appointments ‘Have you ever thought of writing a slang dictionary,’ an editor asked in 1993 and although I had, a decade earlier, and published it, I said only, ‘Yes.’ And had a publisher. The problem, in these globalizing days, is keeping them. There would be four before the book finally appeared. I […]

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Ancient roots—from acre to Zeus

Sanskrit

What, a language quiz might ask, links acre as a name for a measure of land (recorded in Old English, and coming from Germanic) with the name of the Greek god Zeus? Or candy (with its Arabic ancestry) with pepper (coming to Europe via Greek)? The answer—all have related forms in Sanskrit—opens up a fascinating […]

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Word trends – FAIL

Dart arrows missing target

Since its inception, the internet has been a rich source of new words (such as blogroll, chatterbot, cyberslacker, phishing, and tweetup) and meanings (such as browse, mouse, spider, cookie, and thread). Fail is a perfect example of an Internet-created word craze. It’s used in our everyday speech as a verb, and it has been used […]

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Body parts

Skeleton

The etymology of the English language is awash in body parts. We have hundreds of words that have been formed, Frankenstein-like, by taking bits and pieces of the human body. For instance, we have numerous words containing hands in them – chiropractic comes to English from the Greek root kheir (meaning hand), and the Latin word for […]

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Search monitor: what were your top ODO lookups in January?

Top lookups Jan 2010

As part of our occasional search monitor series, here’s a clickable word cloud displaying about 350 of your most-viewed words in Oxford Dictionaries Online during January 2011. It brightened up our day no end (in fact, we were even a little discombobulated) to see that vomitorium had emerged at the top of the pile for […]

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