Tag: etymology


The curious case of culprit

Amnesia, disguises, and mistaken identities? No, these are not the plot twists of a blockbuster thriller or bestselling page-turner. They are the story of the word culprit.   At first glance, the origin of culprit looks simple enough. Mea culpa, culpable, exculpate, and the more obscure inculpate: these words come from the Latin culpa, “fault” or “blame.” One would suspect that culprit is the same, yet we should never be […]

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Winter scene

Walking in a winter wonderland . . . of words

Where I live in New York State, about two hours north of the Pennsylvania border, the transition from one season to the next is rarely (if ever) coincidental with the astronomical designation applied to it. Of the four annual calendar dates of seasonal shift, none is more laughable to us in the Leatherstocking Region than […]

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9 interesting word facts you didn’t know

The English language has a varied and ever changing vocabulary, which makes it an ideal candidate for etymological studies. In this list below, we take a look at the interesting histories of some common English words. For more interesting word facts and origins, browse the ‘Explore’ section on OxfordDictionaries.com, or follow @OxfordWords and @OED on […]

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Which everyday English words came from Arabic?

To celebrate the launch of our new Oxford Arabic Dictionary, we’re taking a look at English words of Arabic origin. Using the infographic below, find out which everyday English words came from Arabic, and track how they occur in other languages… Oxford Dictionaries | Arabic is a groundbreaking new online dictionary of Modern Standard Arabic and English based […]

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Ladybirds, ladybugs, and… cows?

When this article was in the brainstorming stage, it started with the simple intention of pointing out that a ladybird was neither a bird nor a lady (I don’t mean to impugn the ladybird’s reputation; I am speaking of the definition rather than the insect’s moral character). Along the way we thought we’d point out […]

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When is a book a tree?

The obvious answer to ‘when is a book a tree?’ is ‘before it’s been made into a book’ – it doesn’t take a scientist to know that (most) paper comes from trees – but things get more complex when we turn our attention to etymology. The word book itself has changed very little over the […]

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In an English country garden

What could be nicer on a sunny Sunday afternoon in spring, than a spot of gardening? Though the language of horticulture proper can seem somewhat bewildering and full of complicated Latin names, growing plants is an activity that people have undertaken for thousands of years– whether for pleasure, or simply for food – and so it […]

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New York library

More tales from an OED researcher

More notes from the field, courtesy of your New York researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Tell people you work for the OED, and they seem to think that you have some mystical authority over the use (or misuse) of the language. (I especially like the random Twitter questions – adjudicating biographies, passing muster […]

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