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

Tag: etymology

Going Dutch: English words of Dutch origin

going_dutch

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Is your boss a bit gruff? Maybe he is given to snooping–you probably wish he would go for a cruise on his yacht, maybe to the Netherlands, where all of these words come from. The English and Dutch languages are closely related, and despite three 17th-century […]

Read more »

Talk Like A Pirate Day: pirate phrases and their origins

Jolly_roger

Be it from the pages of Treasure Island, the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow on the silver screen, or the Guybrush Threepwood’s adventures on Monkey Island, the fictional pirate has long held a fascination for landlubbers everywhere. On this International Talk Like A Pirate Day, we take a look at a few of the words […]

Read more »

‘Intelligence’, the CIA’s expanded definition

CIA

The launching of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on 18 September 1947 signaled an American addition to the customary use of the word ‘intelligence’. In the past, as well as referring to mental capacity, the word had carried one of two principal meanings. The first, by 1947 archaic, simply indicated news. The second meaning covered […]

Read more »

A day in the life of an OED researcher

library

As the New York researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary, I’ve been hailed as a hero (hipster poets love me), gotten the rock star reception (by research librarians), and been dismissed with derision, thought possibly to be deranged – this by college classmates at a recent reunion: rock-ribbed Wall Street sorts, who haven’t yet heeded […]

Fearfully great creeping reptiles: the naming of dinosaurs

dinosaur

The names of dinosaurs seem to resonate, almost magically, with youngsters. Once they have seen a skeleton in a museum, or a vivid reconstruction of one of these animals in a book, even a three year old rapidly learns to identify each one pretty reliably (much to their parents or grandparents amazement and occasional befuddlement). […]

Relational logic: removing the confusion from the naming of cousins

family tree

It would always throw people when we told them. The four of us – my sister and I, and the two boys – spent all our school holidays together, and we all had dark hair. So when people asked if my “brothers” wanted an ice cream too, I’d have to take a deep breath and […]

Read more »

On a wild goose chase for the origin of wayzgoose

Wayzgoose notice

Here in the UK we have been enjoying the hottest summer since 2006. For many, this has meant getting together with friends for day trips and outings in the sunshine. For employees at Oxford University Press there have been a variety of organized events for staff to enjoy, from sports evenings to open-air Shakespeare. But […]

Read more »

Mae West’s linguistic legacy

MaeWest

Maritime safety and early-Hollywood sex symbols may not seem to have much in common, but the etymology of the Mae West life jacket manages to connect these two very different worlds. 17 August is the birthday of Mae West, the American actress whose controversy and fame help to explain the many ways in which she […]

Read more »

Tweets