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Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year 2012: ‘omnishambles’

By Fiona McPherson
A common misconception about the work of a lexicographer is that we sit around in the manner of a cabal each week and argue about what words to include or reject. The fantasy is that we each suggest a word or two and then, after a heated debate, vote, with the result that some words emerge victorious and begin the journey to the dictionary page, while those that are blackballed are consigned to lexical oblivion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year 2012: ‘to GIF’

By Katherine Martin
The GIF, a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations, turned 25 this year, but like so many other relics of the 80s, it has never been trendier. GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for October, part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
Fowl, fox, and pooch. My cautious reservations about a tie between the etymon of fowl and the verb fly were dismissed in one of the comments. Therefore, a few additional notes on that word may be in order. The origin of fowl is uncertain, that is, controversial, not quite unknown.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for October, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
I have received many questions and comments and will respond to them pell-mell.
Any more ~ anymore in positive statements. A correspondent from Pennsylvania wondered why those around him use anymore as meaning “these days, nowadays” (for example, Anymore, I just see people wearing skinny jeans with flip flops) and whether this usage owes anything to Pennsylvania Dutch. I am almost sure it does not.

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An etymologist among the gods

By Anatoly Liberman
Etymology, a subject rarely studied on our campuses, enjoys the respect of many people, even though they persist in calling it entomology. Human beings always want to know the origin of things, but sometimes etymology is made to carry double, like the horse in O. Henry’s story “The Roads We Take.” For instance, it is sometimes said that etymology helps us to use words correctly. Alas, it very seldom does so. If someone asks us about the meaning of the adjective debonair and is not only informed that a debonair man is genial, suave, and so forth but also that the adjective goes back to the French phrase de bon aire “of good disposition (nature),” this may help.

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The birth of disco

By Denny Hilton
On this day in 1959, a nightclub opened its doors in the quiet city of Aachen, West Germany, and a small revolution in music took place. The Scotch-Club was similar to many restaurant-cum-dancehalls of the time, with one exception: rather than hire a live band to provide the entertainment, its owner decided instead to install a record player…

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‘Awning’ and ‘tarpaulin’

By Anatoly Liberman
The title of this post sounds like an introduction of two standup comedians, but my purpose is to narrate a story of two nautical words. The origin of one seems to be lost, the other looks deceptively transparent; but there may be hope. Both turned up in the seventeenth century: in 1624 (awning) and 1607 (tarpaulin) respectively.

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Glissandos and glissandon’ts

As a musician, I found this absolutely shocking — here I thought I’d been hearing the glissando (the effect created when, for example, a pianist runs his finger up or down the keyboard), all my life, and suddenly it turned out that the very legitimacy of the word had been dismissed by Blom, a prominent music-writer linguist, more than 30 years before I was even born.

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A global ingle-neuk, or, the size of our vocabulary

By Anatoly Liberman
The size of our passive vocabulary depends on the volume of our reading.  Those who grew up in the seventies of the twentieth century read little in their childhood and youth, and had minimal exposure to classical literature even in their own language. Their children are, naturally, still more ignorant. I have often heard the slogan: “Don’t generalize!” and I am not. I am speaking about a mass phenomenon, not about exceptional cases.

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The history of the OED Appeals

The efforts of members of the public have been at the heart of the Oxford English Dictionary for over 150 years. The Dictionary couldn’t have been written without these contributions. We are calling on language lovers everywhere to help us trace the history of words whose origins are shrouded in mystery, with a brand new Appeals area of OED.com. The OED’s record of appealing to the public for assistance stretches back to its very beginnings—to a time when the project not only had nothing to do with Oxford, but wasn’t even a dictionary.

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The OED needs you! Announcing the new OED Appeals

Today the Oxford English Dictionary announces the launch of OED Appeals, a dedicated community space on the OED website where OED editors solicit help in unearthing new information about the history and usage of English. The website will enable the public to post evidence in direct response to editors, fostering a collective effort to record the English language and find the true roots of our vocabulary.

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Monthly etymology gleanings, part 2, September 2012

By Anatoly Liberman
Last week’s “gleanings” were devoted to spelling and ended with the promise to address the other questions in the next installment. But, since the previous part inspired some comments, I will briefly return to Spelling Reform. One of the questions was: “Who needs the reform?” Everybody does. At present, children spend hours learning “hieroglyphs” like chair, choir, character, ache, douche, weird, pierce, any and many versus Annie and manly, live (verb) versus live (adjective), and hundreds of others.

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Monthly etymology gleanings, part 1, September

By Anatoly Liberman
First and foremost, many thanks to those who have sent questions and comments and corrected my mistakes. A good deal has been written about the nature of mistakes, and wise dicta along the errare humanum est lines have been formulated. Yes, to err is human, but it is the stupidity and “injustice” of some mistakes that are particularly vexing.

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Do birds and fowls fly?

By Anatoly Liberman
An etymologist is constantly on the lookout for so-called motivation. Why is a cat called cat, and why do English speakers say tree if the Romans called the same object arbor? As everybody knows, the “ultimate truth” usually escapes us. Once upon a time (about five thousand or even more years ago?) in a hotly debated locality there lived the early Indo-Europeans, and we still use words going back to their partly unpronounceable sound complexes.

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The oddest English spellings, part 21: Phony from top to bottom

By Anatoly Liberman
I have written more than once that the only hope to reform English spelling would be by doing it piecemeal, that is, by nibbling away at a comfortable pace. Unfortunately, reformers used to attack words like have and give and presented hav and giv to the irate public. This was too radical a measure; bushes exist for beating about them. Several chunks of orthographic fat are crying to be cut off.

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A brief history of western music defined

Many of you may have seen the cdza video “An Abridged History of Western Music in 16 Genres | cdza Opus No. 7″ (below) that went viral this summer. (cdza, founded by Joe Sabia, Michael Thurber, and Matt McCorkle, create musical video experiments.) To complement this lively celebration of the history of western music, from ragtime to reggae and baroque to bluegrass, we thought about how we can put this music into words. Here’s a quick list of definitions, drawn from the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Music, to help lead you through each genre.

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