Tag: word origins

origin of banana

What is the origin of ‘banana’?

Banana appears to be a tropical African word, but its lexical origins represent only a single stage in the fruit’s worldwide wanderings before it reached British shores. Asian origins? It probably first grew in Southeast Asia, and did not make a big impact elsewhere until the early Islamic period when it was brought from India […]

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90s language

Achy-breaky words: the language of the nineties

Though they’re well over a decade past, the nineties occupy an unusual place in the cultural zeitgeist. A whole new decade has come and gone since, and yet popular culture still has yet to decide what precisely the nineties were “about”. For better or for worse, many of the decades preceding the nineties have their […]

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fashion words

Fedoras to mullets: decades of fashion words

It can be pretty difficult to keep track of current fashion trends; it seems as soon as you finally become accustomed to one (and have incorporated it into your own wardrobe), another style invariably comes along to replace it. However, even decades after the trends themselves are no longer to be found behind storefront windows […]

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hotdog

Hot diggety dog: the language of hotdogs

In my local supermarket there is a section of shelving devoted to sausages in tins and jars. American-style hot dogs whose label reveals them to be made in England from mechanically recovered turkey, frankfurters made from slightly more identifiable meats, Bockwurst from Germany, and jars of Polish kiełbasa. European harmony expressed through the medium of […]

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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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