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

Inverted meanings: sick, bad, and wicked

Skater

A common trick of slang is to invert meanings, so that seemingly negative words are used as terms of approval. Bad and wicked are two established examples, although it may surprise you to see just how far back their positive uses go. The OED records ‘bad’ and ‘wicked’ used in a positive sense as long […]

That’s so, like, totally random …

Random

In the 1990s teenagers called everything and everyone sad – but in the early 2000s this favourite word of disapproval was overtaken by random. In this second decade of the twenty-first century, even those well out of their teens can be heard using it. According to the OED, the ‘without method or conscious decision’ sense […]

It’s all meme, me me…

Lolcat

When Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he wanted a word like gene that conveyed the way in which ideas and behaviour spread within society by non-genetic means: The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which […]

The F-word: how often do people *really* look it up?

Graph

If you are a seasoned OxfordWords reader, you may be familiar with our periodic search monitor pieces. These are interactive tag clouds, each showing a month’s snapshot of the relative frequency with which you, the users of Oxford Dictionaries Online, access different words. The words and ranks you see are drawn from our web statistics […]

Japanese earthquake and tsunami search trends

Graph

The dictionary may well seem like a passive object – for hundreds of years it has been a sedentary repository of words, sitting idly on a shelf waiting to be picked up and used. But if you had the ability to make it an active object, one that could tell us what words people were […]

Word trends: viral

Computer virus

Viral now has more meanings than it used to. In the twentieth century, you would only have encountered this word in the physiological context of diseases: Rabies is an acute viral infection that is extremely rare in the UK. A quarter of the residents had high levels of viral hepatitis. In the twenty-first century, most […]

Are you calling me a geek? Why, *thank you*

Geek

Geek has seen an interesting transformation in meaning over the last couple of decades. The word used to be a cruel and critical label attached to clever, but socially awkward, people – such as computer or science geeks. The origin of this sense of the word can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, […]

Laptop wires

Are you a n00b or a netizen?

Do you think a cookie is just something in your kitchen (or your tummy)? Would it surprise you to hear that phishing is an illegal activity?  To you, is ‘browse history’ something you did during school when you were assigned more reading than you wanted to do? Volumes have been written on the effects of […]

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