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Gray matter, part 3, or, going from dogs to cats and ghosts

By Anatoly Liberman
The shades of gray multiply (as promised in December 2013). Now that we know that greyhounds are not gray, we have to look at our other character, grimalkin. What bothers me is not so much the cat’s color or the witch’s disposition as the unsatisfactory state of etymology.

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Gray matter, part 2, or, going to the dogs again

By Anatoly Liberman
I am returning to greyhound, a word whose origin has been discussed with rare dedication and relatively meager results. The component -hound is the generic word for “dog” everywhere in Germanic, except English. I am aware of only one attempt to identify -hound with hunter (so in in the 1688 dictionary by Rúnolfur Jónsson).

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Gray matter, or many more shades of grey/gray, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
One day the great god Thor was traveling and found himself in a remote kingdom whose ruler humiliated him and his companions in every possible way. Much to his surprise and irritation, Thor discovered that he was a poor drinker, a poor wrestler, and too weak to pick up a cat from the floor. To be sure, his host, a cunning illusionist, tricked him.

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From the infancy of etymology

By Anatoly Liberman
Someone who today seeks reliable information on the origin of English words will, naturally, consult some recent dictionary. However, not too rarely this information is insufficient and even wrong (rejected opinions may be presented there as reliable).

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Edwin Battistella’s Word of the Year Fantasy League

By Edwin Battistella
Oxford Dictionaries have been collecting lexicographic material and updating dictionaries for over a century now, though its Word of the Year award is still relatively recent. Only since 2004 Oxford Dictionaries have been selecting a word that captures the mood of the previous year. Thinking about the possible contenders for 2013 (twerk? fail? drone? shutdown? bitcoin?) got me to wondering about the past.

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“Stunning” success is still round the corner

By Anatoly Liberman
There are many ways to be surprised (confounded, dumbfounded, stupefied, flummoxed, and even flabbergasted). While recently discussing this topic, I half-promised to return to it, and, although the origin of astonish ~ astound ~ stun is less exciting than that of amaze, it is perhaps worthy of a brief note.

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The year in words: 2013

By Katherine Connor Martin
Oxford’s lexicographers use the Oxford English Corpus (OEC), a 2-billion-word corpus of contemporary English usage gathered since 2000, to provide accurate descriptions of how English is used around the world in real life. A corpus is simply a collection of texts that are richly tagged so that they can be analyzed using software (we use the Sketch Engine).

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The “brave” old etymology

By Anatoly Liberman
One of the minor questions addressed in my latest “gleanings” concerned the origin of the adjective brave. My comment brought forward a counter-comment by Peter Maher and resulted in an exchange of many letters between us, so that this post owes its appearance to him. Today I am returning to brave, a better-informed and more cautious man.

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Amazing!

By Anatoly Liberman
Words, as I have noted more than once, live up to their sense. For instance, in searching for the origin of amaze, one encounters numerous truly amazing reefs. This is the story. Old English had the verb amasian “confuse, surprise.”

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“Deuce,” “doozy,” and “floozy.” Part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
It is hard to hide something (anything) from Stephen Goranson (see his comment to Part 1), who will find a needle in a haystack, and The Canterville Ghost is a rather visible needle. Yet Oscar Wilde is no longer as popular as one could wish for.

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“Deuce,” “doozy,” and “floozy.” Part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
Don’t hold your breath: all three words, especially the second and the third, came in from the cold and will return there. Nor do we know whether anything connects them. Deuce is by far the oldest of the three. Our attestations of it go back to the middle of the seventeenth century.

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Ostentatious breeches, gods’ braggadocio, and ars poetica

By Anatoly Liberman
As promised, I am returning to the English verb brag and the Old Scandinavian god Bragi (see the previous post). If compared with boast, brag would seem to be more suggestive of bluster and hot air. Yet both may have been specimens of Middle English slang or expressive formations.

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No simplistic etymology of “simpleton”

By Anatoly Liberman
Simpleton is an irritating word. At first sight, its origin contains no secrets: simple + ton. And that may be all there is to it despite the obscurity of -ton. We find this explanation in the OED and in the dictionaries dependent on it.

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Looking “askance”

By Anatoly Liberman
I have been meaning to tell the story of askance for quite some time—as a parable or an exemplum. Popular books and blogs prefer to deal with so-called interesting words. Dude, snob, and haberdasher always arouse a measure of enthusiasm, along with the whole nine yards, dated and recent slang, and the outwardly undecipherable family names.

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