Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Language /
  • Dictionaries & Lexicography

9780195387070

Etymology gleanings for December 2015

I often refer to the English etymological dictionary by Hensleigh Wedgwood, and one of our correspondents became seriously interested in this work. He wonders why the third edition is not available online. I don’t know, but I doubt that it is protected by copyright. It is even harder for me to answer the question about the changes between the second and the third edition.

Read More
9780195387070

It’s not a crime, it’s a blunder

The author of the pronouncement in the title above is a matter of dispute, and we’ll leave his name in limbo, where I believe it belongs. The Internet will supply those interested in the attribution with all the information they need. The paradoxical dictum (although the original is in French, even Murray’s OED gave its English version in the entry blunder) is ostensibly brilliant but rather silly.

Read More
9780191785689_tif (1)

OUP’s NYC office hosts a spelling bee

This past summer, several employees at the New York City office of Oxford University Press took part in a rite that most of haven’t experienced since elementary school: a spelling bee. In the age of autocorrect and spellchecker, the skill of spelling has undoubtedly lost some of its luster.

Read More
9780195387070

Blunted purpose: The origin of blunt, Part 2

In their search for the origin of blunt, etymologists roamed long and ineffectually among similar-sounding words and occasionally came close to the sought-for source, though more often look-alikes led them astray. One of such decoys was Old Engl. blinn. Blinn and blinnan meant “cessation” and “to cease” respectively, but how can “cease” and “devoid of sharpness; obtuse” be related?

Read More
9780195387070

To whet your almost blunted purpose… Part 1

Yes, you understood the title and identified its source correctly: this pseudo-Shakespearean post is meant to keep you interested in the blog “The Oxford Etymologist” and to offer some new ideas on the origin of the highlighted adjective.

Read More
podcastlogov1

Season’s greetings – Episode 29 – The Oxford Comment

Say goodbye to endless stuffing: it’s time to welcome our most beloved season of wreaths, wrapping paper…and confusion. The questions, as we began delving, were endless. Should we say happy holidays or season’s greetings?

Read More
9780195387070

You’ll be a man, my son. Part 3

Obviously, I would not have embarked on such a long manhunt if I did not have my idea on the origin of the troublesome word. It will probably end up in the dustbin (also known as ash heap) of etymology, but there it will come to rest in good company.

Read More
9780195387070

You’ll be a man, my son. Part 2

This is the continuation of the story about the origin of the Germanic word for man. Last week I left off after expressing great doubts about the protoform that connected man and guma and tried to defend the Indo-European girl from an unpronounceable name. As could be expected, in their attempts to discover the origin of man etymologists cast a wide net for words containing m and n.

Read More
9780190215286

The meaning of “terrorism”

Anyone who saw the terror on the faces of the people fleeing the attacks in Paris last week will agree that terrorism is the right word to describe the barbaric suicide bombings and the shooting of civilians that awful Friday night. The term terrorism, though once rare, has become tragically common in the twenty-first century.

Read More
9780199742677

Historical “emojis”

Emojis originated as a way to guide the interpretation of digital texts, to replace some of the clues we get in ordinary speech or writing that help us understand what someone is trying to communicate. In person or over the telephone, facial expression and voice modulation help us get our meaning across; in most forms of writing — blog posts, stories, even emails — we have the luxury of expressing ourselves at some length, which hopefully leads to clarity.

Read More
9780191785689_tif (1)

Scholarly reflections on ’emoji’

Smiling face? Grimacing face? Speak-No-Evil Monkey? With the announcement of emoji as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, we asked a number of scholars for their thoughts on this new word and emerging linguistic phenomenon.

Read More
9780191785689_tif (1)

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is… an emoji

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and see which words have been significant throughout the past twelve months, and to announce the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. Without further ado, we can reveal that the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 is…

Read More
Oxford Dictionaries

The AUTO- age

How readily someone may be understood when using a new word will depend on several factors: the intuitable transparency of meaning, its clarity in context, the receptiveness of the audience, and so on.

Read More
9780195387070

You’ll be a man, my son. Part 1

The title will probably be recognized at once: it is part of the last line of Kipling’s poem “If.” Unfortunately, Kipling’s only son John never became a man; he was killed in 1918 at the age of eighteen, a casualty of his father’s overblown patriotism. Our chances to reach consensus on the origin of the word man are not particularly high either.

Read More
9780195387070

Pathfinders

For a long time I have been dealing with the words bad, bed, bud, body, bodkin, butt, bottom, and their likes. The readers who have followed the discussion will probably guess from today’s title that now the time of path has come round.

Read More
9780195387070

Monthly etymology gleanings for October 2015

I keep receiving comments and questions about idioms. One of our correspondents enjoys the phrase drunk as Cooter Brown. This is a well-known simile, current mostly or exclusively in the American south. I can add nothing to the poor stock of legends connected with Mr. Brown. Those who claim that they know where such characters came from should be treated with healthy distrust.

Read More