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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Map

Borrowed words in English: tracing the changing patterns

In Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English I examine how words borrowed from different languages have influenced English throughout its history. The above feature summarizes some of the main data from the book, focussing on the fourteen sources that have given the most words to English, as reflected by the new and revised […]

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Must should ought large

Must, should, or ought?

A woman’s place is in the bosom of her family; her thoughts ought seldom to emerge from it. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 97, 1825 Those nineteenth-century moralists! Can you imagine what today’s world would have been like if women such as Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, or Harriet Beecher Stowe had confined their […]

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food coma cat

New words added to Oxford Dictionaries, from food coma to shvitz

Our latest quarterly update to Oxford Dictionaries Online has seen a selection of new words, definitions, and senses added to the dictionary. The words originate in a range of spheres from food (branzino, cranachan) and music (beat-match) to astronomy (protoplanet) and, unsurprisingly, technology (lock screen, headcam), and include a variety of different word forms, from […]

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planets

Christopher Marlowe in the OED, from planeting to quinquangle

The works of Christopher Marlowe (the playwright, poet, and alleged spy) not only had an influence on William Shakespeare’s early historical plays, but also on the English language itself, as is evident from the number of times his works are quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). His plays and poems are currently quoted a […]

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US Supreme Court

How do British and American attitudes to dictionaries differ?

For 20 years, 14 of those in England, I’ve been giving lectures about the social power afforded to dictionaries, exhorting my students to discard the belief that dictionaries are infallible authorities. The students laugh at my stories about nuns who told me that ain’t couldn’t be a word because it wasn’t in the (school) dictionary […]

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