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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_large

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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Winter scene

Walking in a winter wonderland . . . of words

Where I live in New York State, about two hours north of the Pennsylvania border, the transition from one season to the next is rarely (if ever) coincidental with the astronomical designation applied to it. Of the four annual calendar dates of seasonal shift, none is more laughable to us in the Leatherstocking Region than […]

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Infographic: words for peace around the world

Amidst all the holiday shopping frenzy, it can be easy to forget the true values of Christmas: joy, love, and, perhaps most importantly, peace. Now, Christmas might not be celebrated in every culture, but peace is a concept that’s understood all around the world. It is therefore no surprise that every language also has a word for […]

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Putin - oligarch

WordWatch roundup: redaction, siege, and tiki-taka

The reason for the rise in lookups of oligarch is probably the struggling Russian economy. The value of the ruble, the currency of Russia, has taken a steep dive, falling about 45% against the dollar so far this year, pushing the country deeper into a financial crisis.

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Ethel Franklin Betts Annie illustration

Orphants to foster kids: a century of Annie

One of the best-known musicals of the 20th century is Annie, which tells the story of a plucky orphan girl who warms the hearts of all around her, and eventually finds a loving family of her own. The tale will be carried into the 21st century when the newest film adaptation (produced by Jay-Z and […]

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What’s in a name? Bob’s your uncle and other curious expressions

If you’ve ever said Bob’s your uncle or called someone a smart Alec, you might have asked yourself: why do certain names appear in common English expressions? While several (such as Champagne Charlie, Billy-No-Mates, and Nosey Parker) began life as fictional characters in popular culture, others apparently refer to real individuals. We explore some of […]

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Embiggening English: The Simpsons and changing language

The first episode of The Simpsons aired twenty-five years ago, on 17 December, 1989, and since then, English has never been the same. Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and their friends in Springfield, Wherever-it-is, have given us fancy words of pure invention, worthy of Lewis Carroll, like cromulent ‘legitimate, but not really’, and words built from […]

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