Tag: etymology

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 »
summertime

Summertime, and the words are too easy

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 […]

Read 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, […]

Read more »
The changing meaning of ‘socialist’

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 […]

Read more »
nicknames

Why do we love to give people and places nicknames?

What’s in a nickname? Corruption, initially. Which is not to say that there is anything inherently dishonest about nicknames; the history of the word stems from an error. Originally “an eke-name”, meaning an additional name, “a neke name” formed out of an incorrect word division that blended the noun with its indefinite article. By the […]

Read more »
The term swashbuckler is another word for pirate.

What is the origin of ‘swashbuckler’?

The traditional swashbuckler definition, as it appears by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is as ‘a swaggering bravo or ruffian; a noisy braggadocio’, was, indeed, someone who ‘swashed his buckle’. To ‘swash’, in the sixteenth century, was to dash or strike something violently, while a ‘buckler’ was a small round shield, carried by a handle at the back. So […]

Read more »
cocktail

The language of cocktails

People and places Biographical details of Colonel Joseph Kyle Rickey are sparse and difficult to track down, but those we have offer a fascinating sketch of an eclectically talented American. Born in 1842 and variously employed as a soldier, politician, and entrepreneur, Rickey’s name stands out in an age of pioneers and frontiers for one […]

Read more »

Tweets