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Gray matter, part 3, or, going from dogs to cats and ghosts

By Anatoly Liberman
The shades of gray multiply (as promised in December 2013). Now that we know that greyhounds are not gray, we have to look at our other character, grimalkin. What bothers me is not so much the cat’s color or the witch’s disposition as the unsatisfactory state of etymology.

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Dialect and identity: Pittsburghese goes to the opera

By Barbara Johnstone
On a Sunday afternoon in November I am at the Benedum Center with hundreds of fellow Pittsburghers watching a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It’s the second act, and Papageno the bird-man has just found his true love. The English super-titles help us decipher what he is saying as he starts to exit the stage.

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Monthly gleanings for December 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
At the end of December people are overwhelmed by calendar feelings: one more year has merged with history, and its successor promises new joys and woes (but thinking of future woes is bad taste). I usually keep multifarious scraps and cuttings to dispose of on the last Wednesday of the year: insoluble questions come and never go away.

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Translation and subjectivity: the classical model

by Josephine Balmer
At a British Centre for Literary Translation Seminar held jointly with Northampton Library Services some years ago, one of the participating librarians recounted his first encounter with the vagaries of translation; having fallen in love with a black Penguin version of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot as a student, he had eagerly purchased a new version when it had recently been republished. But dipping in to the book, he quickly became perplexed.

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Gray matter, part 2, or, going to the dogs again

By Anatoly Liberman
I am returning to greyhound, a word whose origin has been discussed with rare dedication and relatively meager results. The component -hound is the generic word for “dog” everywhere in Germanic, except English. I am aware of only one attempt to identify -hound with hunter (so in in the 1688 dictionary by Rúnolfur Jónsson).

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Gray matter, or many more shades of grey/gray, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
One day the great god Thor was traveling and found himself in a remote kingdom whose ruler humiliated him and his companions in every possible way. Much to his surprise and irritation, Thor discovered that he was a poor drinker, a poor wrestler, and too weak to pick up a cat from the floor. To be sure, his host, a cunning illusionist, tricked him.

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From the infancy of etymology

By Anatoly Liberman
Someone who today seeks reliable information on the origin of English words will, naturally, consult some recent dictionary. However, not too rarely this information is insufficient and even wrong (rejected opinions may be presented there as reliable).

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Etymology gleanings for November 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
Brave and its aftermath.
During the month of November, the main event in the uneventful life of the Oxford Etymologist (in this roundabout way I refer to myself) has been the controversy around the origin of bravus, the etymon of bravo ~ brave.

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Seven selfies for the serious-minded

By Alice Northover
Self-portraits are as old as their medium, from stone carvings and oil paintings, to the first daguerrotypes and instant Polaroids. Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 – selfie – indicates the latest medium: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

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Buzzword shaming

By Mark Peters
I recently wrote about the proliferation of the lexical formula “X-shaming,” launched by slut-shaming and body-shaming and taken to preposterous extremes by words such as filter-shaming and fedora-shaming. Everywhere you look, someone is talking about shaming. The hyphen is optional, but the topic is increasingly mandatory.

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Is this a selfie which I see before me

By Alice Northover
A further celebration of Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year ‘selfie’ with a variation of MacBeth’s famous ‘dagger’ monologue. I’ve bolded the new words to make it easier to scan for the changes.

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Edwin Battistella’s Word of the Year Fantasy League

By Edwin Battistella
Oxford Dictionaries have been collecting lexicographic material and updating dictionaries for over a century now, though its Word of the Year award is still relatively recent. Only since 2004 Oxford Dictionaries have been selecting a word that captures the mood of the previous year. Thinking about the possible contenders for 2013 (twerk? fail? drone? shutdown? bitcoin?) got me to wondering about the past.

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The vanished printing houses

By Martyn Ould
Someone on even the most cursory visit to Oxford must surely see two fine buildings that once housed the University Press: the Sheldonian Theatre and the Clarendon Building, close to each other on today’s Broad Street. If they venture further afield, perhaps heading for the restaurants and bars along Walton Street, they also can’t fail to notice the neo-classical building that has been the Press’s current home since 1832. What they’ll never see however is the Press’s second home.

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“Stunning” success is still round the corner

By Anatoly Liberman
There are many ways to be surprised (confounded, dumbfounded, stupefied, flummoxed, and even flabbergasted). While recently discussing this topic, I half-promised to return to it, and, although the origin of astonish ~ astound ~ stun is less exciting than that of amaze, it is perhaps worthy of a brief note.

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