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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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Monthly etymological gleanings for May 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
Language controlled by ruling powers?
Very much depends on whether the country has a language academy that decides what is correct and what is wrong. Even in the absence of such an organization, a committee consisting of respected scholars and politicians sometimes lays down the law. Spelling is a classic case of “ruling the language.”

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The five most common insults and slogans of medieval rebels

By Jan Dumolyn and Jelle Haemers
How subversive was the speech of Flemish rebels in the later Middle Ages? Violence remained the exception in urban rebellions, whereas subversive utterances, though always risky, must have been almost the rule of daily politics in the urban centres of late medieval Flanders and, clearly, in many other European towns and cities as well.

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Do we need the apostrophe?

By Simon Horobin
The recent decision by Devon County Council to drop the apostrophe from its road signs was met with dismay and anger by those concerned about the preservation of linguistic standards. Lucy Mangan, writing in The Guardian, branded it an ‘Apostrophe Catastrophe’ which ‘captures in microcosm the kind of thinking that pervades our government, our institutions, our times’, drawing parallels with the government’s handling of the banking crisis, binge-drinking and sexual assault. Similar prophecies of doom followed the decision by the bookseller Waterstones to drop the apostrophe from its shop names.

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Arrested Development: The English language in cut-offs

By Mark Peters
Arrested Development—the cult comedy set to rise from the dead on Netflix 26 May 2013—had its own distinctive language. It was a show of catchphrases: “I’ve made a huge mistake.” “No touching!” “I’m a monster!” “There’s always money in the Banana Stand.” “Steve Holt!” “Her?”

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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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Getting to the heart of poetry

OUP recently partnered with The Poetry Archive to support Poetry by Heart, a new national poetry competition in England. Here, competition winner Kaiti Soultana talks about her experience.

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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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H. P. Lovecraft and the Northern Gothic Tongue

By Roger Luckhurst
There is a very specific language of Gothic and horror literature that has its roots buried deep in the history of English: doom has been around since Old English; dread carries over from Middle English; eerie, that sense of vague superstitious uneasiness, enters Middle English through Scottish. The adjectives are harsh and guttural: moons are always gibbous, the trees eldritch.

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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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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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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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Does the lily grow in the valet? Is good ballet bally good?

By Anatoly Liberman
This post is an answer to a letter I received from our correspondent Jonathan Davis. Not too long ago, I mentioned the differences in the pronunciation of niche: in the speech of most Americans it rhymes with pitch, but the rhyme niche/leash can also be heard, and it seems to be prevalent in Britain. Mr. Davis is an Englishman living in Texas and, not unexpectedly, favors the vowel of ee and sh in niche, while those around him prefer short i and ch.

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