Tag: etymology

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 […]

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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 […]

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

OMG

OMG, LOL! 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 […]

Words on the radar: June 2012

Selfie

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 […]

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: […]

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Summertime, and the words are too easy

Sunflowers

Memorial Day has come and gone, bringing with it the unofficial beginning of the summer in the northern hemisphere. These days, summer evokes such plebeian terms as barbecue, vacation (or, even worse, staycation), or timeshare. Yet if we scratch even the surface of English vocabulary, we quickly find that there is a wealth of more […]

boomerang

Boomerang vocabulary: words that return to their origins

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” may have been good advice for Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it isn’t practical for a language. English is both an avid borrower (ballet, schmooze, wok) and a generous lender: consider German das Baby, French le week-end, and Japanese aisu kuriimu (‘ice cream’—try saying it out loud). Occasionally, […]

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Socialism

The changing meaning of ‘socialist’

You might hear socialist used a lot in political discussions, both positively and negatively. It’s a word that on occasion apparently confuses a large number of Americans, as many use it in a manner that is perhaps inconsistent with its intended meaning. Hence, a short primer on the word socialist. Socialist is first recorded in the […]

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