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Word Origins And How We Know Them

On barrels from East to West

The post two weeks ago was devoted to the origin and history of bar. In English, all words with the root bar- ~ barr- are from French. They usually have related forms in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, but their source in the Romance-speaking world remains a matter of unending debate.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

An embarrassment of riches

A priest can be defrocked, and a lawyer disbarred. I wonder what happens to a historical linguist who cannot find an answer in his books. Is such an individual outsourced? A listener from Quebec (Québec) asked me about the origin of the noun bar. He wrote: “…we still say in French barrer la porte as they still do (though less and less) on the Atlantic side of France.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for March 2015, Part 2

Many thanks for comments, questions, and reprimands, even though sometimes I am accused of the sins I have not committed. If I were a journalist, I would say that my remarks tend to be taken out of context. Of course I know what precession of the equinoxes is and italicized e, to point out that it is indeed the right form (precession, not procession).

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for March 2015

One should not be too enthusiastic about anything. Wholly overwhelmed by the thought that winter is behind, I forgot to consult the calendar and did not realize that 25 March was the last Wednesday of the month and celebrated the spring equinox instead of providing our readership with the traditional monthly gleanings.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Where does the word cyber come from?

Does the word cyber sound dated to you? Like the phrases Information Superhighway and surfing the Web, something about the word calls one back to the early era of the Internet, not unlike when you ask a person for a URL and they start to read off, ‘H-t-t-p, colon, forward slash…’

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

While dancing around a bonfire, beware of analogy

This is the week of the spring equinox, but I decided not to wait until June and write a post about the solstice. For a change, bonfire is “a word of (fairly well-)known origin,” so don’t expect revelations. However, it is always instructive to observe people beating about the bush long after it has burned up. The image of beating about the bush suggested the title of this post.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Ossing is bossing

If you know the saying ossing comes to bossing, rest assured that it does not mean the same as ossing is bossing. But you may never have heard either of those phrases, though the verb oss “to try, dare” is one of the favorites of English dialectology.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Shooting one’s bolt from North to South

I was twelve years old when I first read Jack London’s novel Martin Eden, and it remained my favorite book for years. Few people I know have heard about it, which is a pity. Jack London was a superb story teller, but his novels belong to what is called politely the history of literature—all or almost all except Martin Eden.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Keys and bolts

I received a question whether I was going to write about the word key in the series on our habitat. I didn’t have such an intention, but, since someone is interested in this matter, I’ll gladly change my plans and satisfy the curiosity of our friend.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for February 2015

One month is unlike another. Sometimes I receive many letters and many comments; then lean months may follow. February produced a good harvest (“February fill the dyke,” as they used to say), and I can glean a bagful. Perhaps I should choose a special title for my gleanings: “I Am All Ears” or something like it.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Crossing the threshold: Why “thresh ~ thrash”?

The previous post dealt with the uneasy history of the word threshold, and throughout the text I wrote thresh~ thrash, as though those were two variants of the same word. Yet today they are two different words, and their relation poses a few questions. Old English had the strong verb þerscan (þ = th in Engl. thresh), with cognates everywhere in Germanic.

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9780199679393

Education, metaphorically speaking

What do we think education means? What do we believe are teaching’s purpose, status, and function in society? A useful way to reflect on our pre-conceptions and assumptions about anything is to step back and consider the metaphors we automatically apply when thinking or speaking of it. This is a particularly useful exercise for the trainee teacher, who, for obvious reasons, is likely to frame teaching primarily in terms of a performance – one that is observed, analysed, graded and, if all goes well, given the pedagogic equivalent of a five star review.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: threshold

One does not have to be a specialist to suggest that threshold is either a disguised compound or that it contains a root and some impenetrable suffix. Disguised compounds are words like bridal (originally, bride + ale but now not even a noun as in the past, because -al was taken for the suffix of an adjective) or barn, a blend of the words for “barley,” of which only b is extant, and Old Engl. earn “house.”

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: one more etymology brought “home”

When it comes to origins, we know as little about the word home as about the word house. Distinguished American linguist Winfred P. Lehmann noted that no Indo-European terminology for even small settlements has been preserved in Germanic. And here an important distinction should be made.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly gleanings for January 2015

I am pleased to report that A Happy New Year is moving along its warlike path at the predicted speed of one day in twenty-four hours and that it is already the end of January. Spring will come before you can say Jack Robinson, as Kipling’s bicolored python would put it, and soon there will be snowdrops to glean. Etymology and spelling are the topics today. Some other questions will be answered in February.

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