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Chaucer in the House of Fame

By Jonathan Dent
By the time Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400, he had been living for almost a year in obscurity in a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, and on his death he was buried in a modest grave in the church’s south transept. The poet’s last few months had not been his happiest. At the close of a decade in which he had gradually retired from the various administrative offices he had occupied under Edward III and Richard II, Richard’s deposition by Henry Bolingbroke in September 1399 had turned Chaucer’s world upside down.

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Drinking vessels: ‘goblet’

By Anatoly Liberman
One more drinking vessel, and I’ll stop. Strangely, here we have another synonym for bumper, and it is again an old word of unknown origin. In English, goblet turned up in the fourteenth century, but its uninterrupted recorded history began about a hundred years later. Many names of vials, mugs, and beverages probably originated in the language of drinkers, pub owners, and glass manufacturers. They were slang, and we have little chance of guessing who and in what circumstances coined them.

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Words of 2012 round-up

By Alice Northover
While most people are getting excited for the start of awards season on Sunday with the Golden Globes, the season has just ended for word nerds. From November through January, the Word(s) of the Year announcements are made. I’ll let you decide who is the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, SAGs, National Film Critics Circle, etc. of the lexicography community. Just remember YOLO — because it appeared on every list.

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A definition of ‘hobbit’ for the OED

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit… What’s a hobbit and how did J.R.R. Tolkien come by this word? Was it invented, adapted, or stolen? To celebrate the release of The Hobbit film and renewed interest in J.R.R Tolkien’s work, we’ve excerpted this passage from The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner.

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Drinking vessels: ‘tankard’

By Anatoly Liberman
One drinks to the coming New Year, and one drinks while remembering the old one. Besides, some do it according to the Gregorian calendar, while others prefer the Julian one. As could be expected, the end of the world has been delayed and life continues. I was touched by the kind words from our regular correspondents; over time they have become my good friends.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for December 2012

By Anatoly Liberman
A Happy New Year to our readers and correspondents! Questions, comments, and friendly corrections have been a source of inspiration to this blog throughout 2012, as they have been since its inception. Quite a few posts appeared in response to the questions I received through OUP and privately (by email). As before, the most exciting themes have been smut and spelling.

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Words like lumps of coal

It’s the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, except the writer throwing her manuscript across the room. What words will Santa give her? Gifts of ‘stillicide’ or ‘ectoplasm’ for her National Book Award — or lumps of coal for failing NaNoWriMo. We’d like to share a few reflections on terrible words from writers such as David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, and Michael Dirda in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus below.

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Why don’t ‘gain’ and ‘again’ rhyme?

By Anatoly Liberman
This is a story of again; gain will be added as an afterthought. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, dictionaries informed their users that again is pronounced with a diphthong, that is, with the same vowel as in the name of the letter A.

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The Naming of Hobbits

By Michael Adams
It will be interesting to see how much of J. R. R. Tolkien’s several invented languages will appear in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. In a letter to his American publisher, dated 30 June 1955, Tolkien suspected there were limits to how much invented language readers would ‘stomach’, to use his term. There are certainly limits to how much can be included in a film. American audiences, anyway, are subtitle averse.

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Don’t bank on it

By Beverley Hunt
With just over a week to go until Christmas, many of us are no doubt looking forward to the holidays and a few days off work. For those working on the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, however, writing the history of the language sometimes took precedence over a Christmas break.

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Drinking vessels: ‘bumper’

By Anatoly Liberman
Some time ago, I devoted three posts to alcoholic beverages: ale, beer, and mead. It has occurred to me that, since I have served drinks, I should also take care of wine glasses. Bumper is an ideal choice for the beginning of this series because of its reference to a large glass full to overflowing. It is a late word, as words go: no citation in the OED predates 1677. If I am not mistaken, the first lexicographer to include it in his dictionary was Samuel Johnson (1755). For a long time bumper may have been little or not at all known in polite society.

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Oh, what lark!

By Anatoly Liberman
For some time I have fought a trench war, trying to prove that fowl and fly are not connected. The pictures of an emu and an ostrich appended to the original post were expected to clinch the argument, but nothing worked. A few days ago, I saw a rafter of turkeys strutting leisurely along a busy street. Passersby were looking on with amused glee while drivers honked. The birds (clearly, “fowl”) crossed the road without showing the slightest signs of excitement.

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Mars: A lexicographer’s perspective

By Richard Holden
The planet Mars might initially seem an odd choice for Place of the Year. It has hardly any atmosphere and is more or less geologically inactive, meaning that it has remained essentially unchanged for millions of years. 2012 isn’t much different from one million BC as far as Mars is concerned. However, here on Earth, 2012 has been a notable year for the Red Planet.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for November 2012

By Anatoly Liberman
It has been a tempestuous month in the world but a quiet one in the department of English etymology. Both the comments and the questions I received dealt with separate words, and there have been not too many of them.
Lollygag. In July 2007 I already wrote what I thought about this word. Although most people, at least in America, say lollygag, its doublet lallygag is well-known. The variation is typical.

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Words we’re thankful for

Here on the OxfordWords blog we’re constantly awed and impressed by the breadth and depth of the English language. As this is a great week to be appreciative, we’ve asked some fellow language-lovers which word they’re most thankful for. From quark to quotidian, ych a fi to robot, here’s what they said:

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Shakespearean passions around ‘bullyragging’

By Anatoly Liberman
After writing a post on bully, I decided to turn my attention to bullyrag, noun and verb, both branded as obscure. The verb has been attested in several forms, but only ballarag is of some interest. Ballywrag is a fanciful spelling of ballarag, while bullrag contains the familiar two elements without a connecting vowel.

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