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

New York library

More tales from an OED researcher

More notes from the field, courtesy of your New York researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Tell people you work for the OED, and they seem to think that you have some mystical authority over the use (or misuse) of the language. (I especially like the random Twitter questions – adjudicating biographies, passing muster […]

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toilet

How we stopped wearing toilets and started using them

It’s a fascinating fact of linguistic history that some words hardly change their main meaning or develop new meanings, while other words swing Tarzan-like from one semantic treetop to another leaving their past completely behind. One such word is toilet. ‘A kind of Toilet on their Heads’ As you might expect of a word derived […]

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caesar

Beware the Ides of March! Get up to your elbows in the language of Julius Caesar

Tomorrow is the Ides of March, a day made infamous by the prophetic soothsayer from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. With a “Tongue shriller then all the Musicke,” he warns the skeptical emperor to “Beware the Ides of March” at the top of Act One.  Eight scenes later, the Ides arrives and (spoiler alert) Caesar is […]

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bestie-friends

OED quarterly update: March 2014

The latest update to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) saw our team of lexicographers continue their revision of the dictionary, which involves adding new words and phrases, as well as updating existing entries. If you’re interested in why we’re revising the OED and the work it entails, you can find out more here. This quarter’s […]

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tea

All the tea in China: English words of Chinese origin

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Chinese civilization stretches back at least to the 3rd millennium BC. It is the source of many of the world’s great inventions, including paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing, not to mention china (porcelain) itself. But maybe the greatest contribution that the country and its language have […]

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bees

Animal phobias, from apiphobia to musophobia

One of the most popular posts on OxfordWords is our list of phobias. It’s useful for several reasons – either to get the right name for a common phobia (acrophobia meaning a fear of heights, for example), to discover some unusual phobias (nephophobia for a fear of clouds, anyone?), or to check your spelling. One […]

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Norway

Norwegian English: a fusion language

English, we often hear, is the world’s first truly global language, spoken in more places by more people than any other language in history. Partly this is so, simply, because there are more people today than at any previous time and because more of the world is known than was in Antiquity. In the time […]

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book quiz

Book quiz: can you identify these classic novels by their working titles?

If someone were to ask you whether or not you’d read Trimalchio in West Egg, your first instinct might be to say ‘no’, and your second might be to marvel at the curious range of titles given to cookery books nowadays. Sorry to say, you’re possibly wrong on both counts – you might well have […]

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