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9780195387070

Three recent theories of “kibosh”

By Anatoly Liberman
The phrase put the kibosh on surfaced in texts in the early thirties of the nineteenth century. For a long time etymologists have been trying to discover what kibosh means and where it came from. Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Gaelic Irish, and French have been explored for that purpose.

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9780195387070

How courteous are you at court?

By Anatoly Liberman
“Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to look at the Queen,/ Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you there?/ I frightened a little mouse under the chair.” Evidently, our power of observation depends on our background and current interests.

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9780195387070

Flutes and flatterers

By Anatoly Liberman
The names of musical instruments constitute one of the most intriguing chapters in the science and pseudoscience of etymology. Many such names travel from land to land, and we are surprised when a word with romantic overtones reveals a prosaic origin. For example, lute is from Arabic (al’ud: the definite article followed by a word for “wood, timber”).

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9780195387070

When it rains, it does not necessarily pour

By Anatoly Liberman
Contrary to some people’s expectation, July has arrived, and it rains incessantly, that is, in the parts of the world not suffering from drought. I often feel guilty on account of my avoiding the burning questions of our time.

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The highest dictionary in the land?

By Dennis Baron
Perhaps the highest-profile cases to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this term are the two involving the definition of marriage. U.S. v. Windsor challenges the federal definition of marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman” (Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA], 1 USC § 7), and Hollingsworth v. Perry seeks a ruling on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage which reads, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

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9780195387070

Multifarious Devils, part 4. Goblin

By Anatoly Liberman
Petty devils are all around us. Products of so-called low mythology, they often have impenetrable names. (Higher mythology deals with gods, yet their names are often equally opaque!) Some such evil creatures have appeared, figuratively speaking, the day before yesterday, but that does not prevent them from hiding their origin with envious dexterity (after all, they are imps). A famous evader is gremlin.

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9780195387070

Multifarious Devils, part 2. Old Nick and the Crocodile

By Anatoly Liberman
In our enlightened age, we are beginning to forget how thickly the world of our ancestors was populated by imps and devils. Shakespeare still felt at home among them, would have recognized Grimalkin, and, as noted in a recent post, knew the charm aroint thee, which scared away witches. Flibbertigibbet (a member of a sizable family in King Lear), the wily Rumpelstilzchen, and their kin have names that are sometimes hard to decipher, a fact of which Rumpelstilzchen was fully aware.

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9780195387070

Multifarious devils, part 1: “bogey”

By Anatoly Liberman
As has often happened in the recent past, this essay is an answer to a letter, but I will not only address the question of our correspondent but also develop the topic and write about Old Nick, his crew, and the goblin. The question was about the origin of the words bogey and boggle. I have dealt with both in my dictionary and in passing probably in the blog.

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9780195387070

The oddest English spellings, part 20: The letter “y”

By Anatoly Liberman
I could have spent a hundred years bemoaning English spelling, but since no one is paying attention, this would have been a wasted life. Not every language can boast of useless letters; fortunately, English is one of them. However, it is in good company, especially if viewed from a historical perspective. Such was Russian, which once overflowed with redundant letters.

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9780195387070

Panning for etymological gold: “aloof”

By Anatoly Liberman
It may not be too widely known how hard it is to discover the origin of even “easy” words. Most people realize that the beginning of language is lost and that, although we can sometimes reconstruct an earlier stage of a word, we usually stop when it comes to explaining why a given combination of sounds is endowed with the meaning known to us.

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9780195387070

Gleanings from Dickens

By Anatoly Liberman
Some time ago I read Sidney P. Moss’s 1984 book Charles Dickens’ Quarrel with America. Those who remember Martin Cuzzlewit and the last chapter of American Notes must have a good idea of the “quarrel.” However, this post is, naturally, not on the book or on Dickens’s nice statement: “I have to go to America—on my way to the Devil” (this statement is used as an epigraph to Moss’s work).

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9780195387070

Monthly etymological gleanings for April 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
Thief again. One comment on thief referred to an apparently admissible Lithuanian cognate. It seems that if we were dealing with an Indo-European word of respectable antiquity, more than a single Baltic verb for “cower” or “seize” would have survived in this group. I also mentioned the possibility of borrowing, and another correspondent wondered from whom the Goths could learn such a word.

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Obrigado por participar da Semana da Biblioteca Nacional

Obrigado a todos que participaram no período de acesso gratuito à Oxford Reference e ao OED pela Semana da Biblioteca Nacional. Tanto o OED quanto a Oxford Reference oferecem algum conteúdo gratuito adicional para o público e ambas estão disponíveis para teste gratuito por um período de 30 dias.

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Gracias por participar en la Semana Nacional de Bibliotecas

Gracias a todos los que participaron en el periodo de acceso gratuito a Oxford Reference y al OED para la Semana Nacional de Bibliotecas. El OED y Oxford Reference ofrecen periodos de prueba gratuitos adicionales y ambos se encuentran disponibles por 30 días. (Las bibliotecas pueden escribir sus solicitudes para periodos de prueba gratuitos a library[dot]marketing[at]oup[dot]com).

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Thank you for participating in National Library Week

Thank you to everyone who participated in the free access period to Oxford Reference and the OED for National Library Week. Both the OED and Oxford Reference offer some additional free content for the public and are both available for 30 day free trials for libraries (Libraries can email free trial requests to library[dot]marketing[at]oup[dot]com).

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