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

Why do we love to give people and places nicknames?

Nicknames

What’s in a nickname? Corruption, initially. Which is not to say that there is anything inherently dishonest about nicknames; the history of the word stems from an error. Originally “an eke-name”, meaning an additional name, “a neke name” formed out of an incorrect word division that blended the noun with its indefinite article. By the […]

What is the origin of ‘swashbuckler’?

Jolly Roger

The traditional swashbuckler, described by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a swaggering bravo or ruffian; a noisy braggadocio’, was, indeed, someone who ‘swashed his buckle’. To ‘swash’, in the sixteenth century, was to dash or strike something violently, while a ‘buckler’ was a small round shield, carried by a handle at the back. So a […]

The language of cocktails

Gin Rickey

People and places Biographical details of Colonel Joseph Kyle Rickey are sparse and difficult to track down, but those we have offer a fascinating sketch of an eclectically talented American. Born in 1842 and variously employed as a soldier, politician, and entrepreneur, Rickey’s name stands out in an age of pioneers and frontiers for one […]

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What inspired the language of A Clockwork Orange?

Clockwork Orange

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. His dystopian novel, set sometime in the near-future, tells the story of teenage anti-hero Alex and his gang of friends, and their violent escapades. Tea-drinking and toast-munching Or put another way, it tells the story of Alex and his […]

Higher-cynths, lower-cynths, and Seeze Pyders: why Lear’s ‘nonsense’ language is more than just fun

Edward Lear

You’ve heard of a writer called Lear? His two hundredth birthday’s this year. They called him absurd But he wrote undeterred, That remarkable writer called Lear. If there were no other reason to remember Edward Lear with fondness (and there are, in fact, very many), his popularization of the limerick would be enough. Like so […]

What were your top dictionary lookups in April?

Search monitor

Have you ever wondered which words other people are looking up in the dictionary? Wonder no more… As part of our occasional search monitor series, we’ve taken a look at which words were looked up the most in our free online dictionary last month. We’re very happy (the 259th most looked-up word) here at Oxford […]

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The bizarre history of the Oxford Latin Dictionary

Oxford Latin Dictionary

When we are unsure of the meaning of a word, or want to know when it was first used, or what alternative spellings it has, we consult the dictionary. People often refer to “the dictionary,” as if there were only one, or as if it didn’t matter which one was consulted. But then most households […]

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A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!

A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!

The tendency to wax hyperbolic seems to be hard-wired into our brains. Electronic communications also encourage this leaning towards excessive emphasis. We really don’t want our online audience to be in any doubt *whatsoever* [see what I did there?] as to the meaning and tone of what we are writing, so we add emoticons, bung […]

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