Tag: etymology

More than just moccasins: American Indian words in English

More than just moccasins

A menagerie of words Most English speakers could easily identify words like tomahawk, moccasin, or tepee as having Amerindian origins (from Virginia Algonquian, Powhatan, and Sioux, respectively), but indigenous American languages have given English many other words which have now become so fully naturalized that their roots often go unrecognized. In fact, fully half of […]

Does being ostracized have anything to do with the behaviour of ostriches?

Ostrich

It’s a nice idea, but the two words are in fact quite separate. Ostrich comes from an Old French word ostruce, dating right back to the twelfth century. The Latin term for the bird was struthiocamelus, meaning a ‘sparrow camel’, a word coined after the first encounters with ostriches, probably because of the animal’s long […]

Five events that shaped the history of English: part two

History of English: part two

1066 and after The centuries after the Norman Conquest witnessed enormous changes in the English language. In the course of what is called the Middle English period, the fairly rich inflectional system of Old English broke down. It was replaced by what is broadly speaking, the same system English has today, which unlike Old English […]

Five events that shaped the history of English: part one

Anglo-Saxon alphabet

The Anglo-Saxon settlement It’s never easy to pinpoint exactly when a specific language began, but in the case of English we can at least say that there is little sense in speaking of the English language as a separate entity before the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain. Little is known of this period with any certainty, […]

Wonderful word origins

Seasick

Many of us are fascinated by the origins of the words we use. The genealogy of our vocabulary choices is not always obvious – even though English may be a relatively young language, many of its words have been around for over a thousand years, and a word can change its meaning dramatically in far […]

Sobriquets for scholars

Graduation

  Back to school As September begins, campus quads around the world once again teem with bewildered freshmen, a word first used of a university student at Cambridge over 500 years ago. In the half millennium since, the number of terms for university and college students has proliferated like a new student’s Facebook friends, and […]

Newspapers and briefcases: vestigial words in today’s English

Newspapers and briefcases

Read all about it… Recent events in the UK involving the News of the World Sunday newspaper have prompted a great deal of discussion and turmoil regarding what is and is not the proper role of a newspaper in society. In particular, allegations of phone hacking have drawn great scrutiny and, as a result of […]

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Blurring the lines between fiction and reality

Romeo and Juliet

Have you ever been caught in a Catch-22 situation? Do you get the eerie feeling that Big Brother is watching you as you spy yet another CCTV camera filming your every move? Or perhaps you’re grinning like a Cheshire cat having just won another game of hangman on Oxford Dictionaries Online? The English language is […]

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