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Ask a lexicographer: part 2

Every now and again, we like to share a few of the very interesting questions sent to us by users of Oxford Dictionaries. Read on to learn more about the peculiarities of the English alphabet and dictionary history. The dictionary speaks Answer: One could argue that dictionaries are called as such because they tell the […]

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Who cares about English? Part 2

Who cares about English? Part 1

We at the Oxford English Dictionary recently partnered with the British Council to host a panel discussion entitled ‘Who cares about English?’ The panel was chaired by John Knagg, Head of English Research at the British Council, and consisted of: John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED Romesh Gunesekera, Booker prize shortlisted novelist Henry Hitchings, […]

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A definition of ‘hobbit’ for the OED

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. . . What’s a hobbit and how did J.R.R. Tolkien come by this word? Was it invented, adapted, or stolen? To celebrate the release of The Hobbit film and renewed interest in J.R.R Tolkien‘s work, we’ve excerpted this passage from The Ring of Words: Tolkien […]

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Fore or for? (And not forgetting four. . .)

Consider the following sentences, all real examples taken from the Oxford English Corpus (OEC). Are the words in bold spelled correctly? ?  According to the weather forcast it wasn’t supposed to snow in Birmingham today. ?  I’ll never foreget any of you. ?  His two sons are twenty-two and forteen years old. Pat yourself on the […]

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Why do we call hooligans yobs? Yob is a good example of ‘back-slang’—a form of slang in which words are spelt backwards as a code so that others (usually parents) are unable to understand them. ‘Yob’ is simply ‘boy’ spelt backwards; the ‘backward’ element seems appropriate in the definition of retrograde behaviour. Why do we […]

Chaucer in the House of Fame

Chaucer in the House of Fame

By the time Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400, he had been living for almost a year in obscurity in a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, and on his death he was buried in a modest grave in the church’s south transept. The poet’s last few months had not been his happiest. At the […]

What do you call the man in the red suit?

What do you call the man in the red suit?

  Last year on the OxfordWords blog, we posted a picture of a rather rotund gentleman, with a white beard and moustache, and some fetching white faux-fur trimmings on his red suit and hat. We asked ‘Who is this?’ and gave you a choice of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Santa, Saint Nick, Santy, Kris Kringle, […]

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Ye Gods! Praise the Days

In this last week of December 2012, I am gazing at the calendar above my desk and wondering how it is possible that in a few days I will have to hang up a new calendar for a new year (as my past gets longer, are the years getting shorter??). My mind wanders as I […]

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