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From ‘carbonation’ to ‘navy blue': which words came to life 200 years ago?

If the dawning of the New Year invariably brings you to brood upon the inexorable march of time, you find yourself in good company. Here at the Oxford English Dictionary, we are very aware of how what society does—and even how society thinks—is much informed by the movement from past to present, and onward into […]

Loose or lose?

Loose or lose?

Help! I am loosing the will to live with my smartphone! Aargh! I almost lost the will to live when I spotted the above mistake, but simultaneously wished that my Inner Spellchecker would give it a rest, so that I could simply appreciate the content of what I read rather than be distracted by spelling […]

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The challenges of learning a language as an adult

Ah, my teenage years! Spandex-clad 1980s rockers on 7-inch vinyl records, Senna and Mansell winning Formula One races, learning to code on a Sinclair Spectrum, and watching The A-Team, Dempsey and Makepeace, or Cagney and Lacey on the TV. Imagine, only four channels! And school. I can’t say I liked school a lot, being a […]

A profusion of words

A profusion of words

Please note: several of the following links to dictionary content require subscriber access to the OED Online. The early modern period was an era of great change for the English language. According to the OED’s record, the number of words ‘available’ to speakers of English more than doubled between 1500 and 1650. Many of the new words […]

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A comic quotation quiz

A comic quotation quiz

Moliere wrote in La critique de l’école des femmes (1663) that ‘it’s an odd job, making decent people laugh.’ In the hopes that 2013 will be filled with delightful oddity and humor, we present this quiz, drawn from the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. Edited by the late Ned Sherrin, the dictionary compiles words of […]

Automotive nostalgia

Automotive nostalgia

A few weeks ago, when a character on TV mentioned his DeSoto, my daughter asked, “What’s a DeSoto?” “A car,” I answered, choking on my realization that there was no reason for a 25-year-old to have heard of a DeSoto. But I had actually ridden in a DeSoto—and not in an antique car parade. The […]

Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and cockney rhyming slang

Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and Cockney rhyming slang

In the phrase ‘under the auspices of ’, what are auspices? The root of auspices and the more familiar adjective auspicious are closely linked. If something is auspicious it bodes well, giving promise of a favourable outcome. In Roman times, people tried to predict future events by watching the behaviour of birds and animals. An […]

Bathtub gin, blind tigers, and bootleggers: the language of the speakeasy

Bathtub gin, blind tigers, and bootleggers: the language of the speakeasy

We’ve a lot invested in the idea of Prohibition as an era of wild drunkenness, all-night parties and lawlessness. And such language! Back in the day – in this case from early 1920 to late 1933 – it became increasingly fashionable in urban areas for celebrities and the upper-middle classes to get dolled up in […]

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