Tag: etymology

union jack

Jack and the Flagpole: what do you call the British national flag?

Travelling around Britain, as I’ve been doing this week, I have been struck, as anyone would be, by the profusion of national flags. Not only are they to be found draped on cars and pinned in bedroom windows this year, the British flag is also being displayed on civic flagpoles, high-street lamp-posts, and pub-signs, and […]

Read more »
Anyone for Quidditch?

Anyone for Quidditch?

Quidditch is a sport created by Rowling in the Harry Potter series of novels, which have now sold over 450 million copies and have been translated into 67 languages. The global popularity of the books has led to worldwide exposure for Quidditch, and even to this fictional sport being adapted for the Muggle (or non-wizard) […]

Read more »
How well can you do on our etymology quiz?

How well do you know your etymologies?

How much do you really know about where your vocabulary comes from? Do you know your Latin roots from your Greek ones? How about Japanese from Cantonese? Hebrew from Hawaiian? Test your knowledge in our interactive etymology quiz and find out if you are a student, an amateur or an expert etymologist. You can find […]

Read more »
Back pedaling or back peddling?

Pedal or peddle?

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

Read more »
Surprising word stories: Mr Punch, Dr Murray, and the first tonk

Surprising word stories: Mr Punch, Dr Murray, and the first tonk

Many sports fans will be familiar with the verb tonk, which is widely used to describe the action of giving a ball a good firm hit. Less familiar, but common enough, is the noun tonk describing the same action. Both are of course in the Oxford English Dictionary, with histories traced back to the early […]

Read more »
When the OED decided to include the interjections LOL and OMG as new words in 2011, it seemed as though the apocalypse had finally come.

From ‘gadzooks’ to ‘cowabunga’: some episodes in the life of the interjection

When the Oxford English Dictionary decided to include the interjections LOL and OMG as new words in 2011, it seemed as though the apocalypse had finally come. From the tone of so many newspaper commentaries and angry blogs reacting to the news, I might have expected to have seen a few senior editors brought up […]

Read more »
Tourists taking selfies at one of the bridges in Venice

Words on the radar: June 2012

Oxford Dictionaries adds dozens of new words each quarter  but we have a much longer watchlist of words that we are monitoring for possible inclusion in the future. The following are some words which have recently come to our attention, but don’t yet have enough currency for us to include them in our dictionaries. Some […]

Read more »
What is a contronym or Janus word?

What is a contronym?

Single words that have two contradictory meanings are known as contronyms. The number of contronyms in English is small, but they are significant. Contronym list dust: 1 to remove dust. 2 to cover with dust. hysterical: 1 frightened and out of control. 2 funny. nervy: 1 showing nerve or courage. 2 excitable and volatile. moot: […]

Read more »

Tweets