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The “brave” old etymology

By Anatoly Liberman
One of the minor questions addressed in my latest “gleanings” concerned the origin of the adjective brave. My comment brought forward a counter-comment by Peter Maher and resulted in an exchange of many letters between us, so that this post owes its appearance to him. Today I am returning to brave, a better-informed and more cautious man.

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Amazing!

By Anatoly Liberman
Words, as I have noted more than once, live up to their sense. For instance, in searching for the origin of amaze, one encounters numerous truly amazing reefs. This is the story. Old English had the verb amasian “confuse, surprise.”

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Etymological gleanings for October 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
Touch and go. I asked our correspondents whether anyone could confirm or disprove the nautical origin of the idiom touch and go. This is the answer I received from Mr. Jonathan H. Saunders: “As a Merchant Mariner I have used and heard this term for over thirty years.

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“Deuce,” “doozy,” and “floozy.” Part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
It is hard to hide something (anything) from Stephen Goranson (see his comment to Part 1), who will find a needle in a haystack, and The Canterville Ghost is a rather visible needle. Yet Oscar Wilde is no longer as popular as one could wish for.

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“Deuce,” “doozy,” and “floozy.” Part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
Don’t hold your breath: all three words, especially the second and the third, came in from the cold and will return there. Nor do we know whether anything connects them. Deuce is by far the oldest of the three. Our attestations of it go back to the middle of the seventeenth century.

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An interlude

By Anatoly Liberman
Every word journalist is on the lookout for interesting pieces of information about language. H. W. Fowler, the author of the great and incomparable book Modern English Usage, confessed that his main reading was newspapers. Naturally: where else could he find so much garbled English?

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Ostentatious breeches, gods’ braggadocio, and ars poetica

By Anatoly Liberman
As promised, I am returning to the English verb brag and the Old Scandinavian god Bragi (see the previous post). If compared with boast, brag would seem to be more suggestive of bluster and hot air. Yet both may have been specimens of Middle English slang or expressive formations.

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Sagan and the modern scientist-prophets

By Lynda Walsh
Nobody questions Carl Sagan’s charisma. He was television’s first science rock star. He made appearances on the Tonight Show; he drove a Porsche with a vanity plate that read “PHOBOS,” one of Mars’s moons; journalists enthused over his “velour” voice.

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How to be an English language tourist?

By David Crystal
Hilary and I asked ourselves this question repeatedly when we were planning the tour that we eventually wrote up as Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain. Where can you find out about the places that influenced the character and study of the English language in Britain? How do you get there? And what do you find when you get there?

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Etymology gleanings for September 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
I begin almost every set of gleanings with abject apologies. To err is human. So it is not the mistakes I have made in the past and will make in the future that irritate me but the avoidable and therefore unforgivable slips.

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No simplistic etymology of “simpleton”

By Anatoly Liberman
Simpleton is an irritating word. At first sight, its origin contains no secrets: simple + ton. And that may be all there is to it despite the obscurity of -ton. We find this explanation in the OED and in the dictionaries dependent on it.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for August 2013, part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
My apologies for the mistakes, and thanks to those who found them. With regard to the word painter “rope,” I was misled by some dictionary, and while writing about gobble-de-gook, I was thinking of galumph. Whatever harm has been done, it has now been undone and even erased.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for August 2013, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
I have received many comments on the posts published in August and many questions. Rather than making these gleanings inordinately long, I have broken them into two parts. Today I’ll begin by asking rather than answering questions, because to some queries I am unable to give quotable (or any) answers.

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