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

Tag: word origins

cows in the oed

The peculiar history of cows in the OED

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has hundreds of words that relate to cows. For most English speakers, the idea that anyone would need so many words for one specific animal probably seems absurd. Especially cows. Perhaps it’s their mysterious ubiquity throughout children’s books and TV shows or just the dull empty look in their eyes, […]

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Thackeray word cloud2

Snobs and brain cracks: Thackeray in the OED

William Makepeace Thackeray was born on 18 July 1811, and before his death just over fifty years later he had written over thirty-five works. These include Catherine (1839-40), Pendennis (1848-50), and The Book of Snobs (1848) – the last of which popularized (and is currently the earliest known evidence for) the sense of snob as ‘a person who admires […]

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SOS

The origins of SOS and Mayday

S.O.S became the worldwide standard distress signal (particularly in maritime use) on 1 July 1908, having first been adopted by the German government three years earlier. It has since entered the awareness of those who are unlikely ever to summon help at sea – appearing in contexts as varied as the title of songs by […]

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flowers

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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shutterstock_169796804

Oxford Dictionaries update May 2014

The latest quarterly update to Oxford Dictionaries sees a wide range of words, definitions, and senses added to the dictionary. The words originate in spheres as different as cycling (bikeable) and finance (cryptocurrency), from food (white pizza) to online slang (a very new type of ship). Here is a selection of some of the new […]

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sausages

Alles Wurst? German ‘sausage’ idioms

Bierwurst, Blutwurst, Bockwurst, Bratwurst, Currywurst, Feuerwurst, Fleischwurst, Knackwurst, Leberwurst, Mettwurst, Paprikawurst, Rindswurst, Rostbratwurst, Schinkenwurst, Weißwurst, Wienerwurst … Germans are all about diversity when it comes to their beloved ‘Wurst’. Sounds amusing, but it really is a rather serious topic. First, let me tell you a thing or two about the Germans’ famous national treasure. The […]

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peterpan

Peter Pan collars and other literary eponyms

Any avid reader has their favourite characters, whether they be from classic fiction, much-loved children’s literature, or contemporary novels. Quite a few characters have given their names to words relating to their traits or appearance – Eeyoreish, for instance, appears in our dictionaries as an adjective meaning pessimistic or gloomy, based on Eeyore from A.A. […]

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awesome

18 awesome ways to say awesome

As we recently asked our followers on Twitter: are you tired of the word awesome? Do you want a different way to express the same idea? Well, we’ve delved around in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, and come up with eighteen synonyms for awesome (in the sense meaning ‘excellent’, rather than its original […]

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