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Denim venom: future products in the style of jweats

By Mark Peters
Word blends are the bunnies of language: they breed like motherfathers. During the recent American Dialect Society meeting in Portland, plenty of blends were singled out. Assholocracy is an apt description of America, especially in an election year. Botoxionist refers to a doctor specializing in the forehead region of vain people. A brony is a bro who loves The Little Pony. That word was voted Least Likely to Succeed, but you can bet similar words will keep sprouting: particularly in the world of fashion.

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Odd man out, a militant Gepid, and other etymological oddities

By Anatoly Liberman
I usually try to discuss words whose origin is so uncertain that, when it comes to etymology, dictionaries refuse to commit themselves. But every now and then words occur whose history has been investigated most convincingly, and their history is worth recounting. Such is the word odd. Everything is odd about it, including the fact that its original form has not survived in English.

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The deep roots of gaiety

by Anatoly Liberman
The question about the origin of gay “homosexual” has been asked and answered many times (and always correctly), so that we needn’t expect sensational discoveries in this area. The adjective gay, first attested in Middle English, is of French descent; in the fourteenth century it meant both “joyous” and “bright; showy.” The OED gives no attestations of gay “immoral” before 1637.

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Monthly Gleanings: January 2012

In the post on the C-word, I made two mistakes, for both of which I am sorry, though neither was due to chance. In Middle High German, the word klotze “vagina” existed, and I was going to write that, given such a noun, the verb klotzen “copulate” can also be reconstructed.

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How to communicate like a Neandertal…

By Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge
Neandertal communication must have been different from modern language. Neandertals were not a stage of evolution that preceded modern humans. They were a distinct population that had a separate evolutionary history for several hundred thousand years.

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An Etymological Headache

To an etymologist ache is one of the most enigmatic words. Although it has been attested in Old English, its unquestionable cognates in other languages are few.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., Rhetorically Speaking

Each year on the third Monday of January, we’re reminded of the practice of civil disobedience, of overcoming (and sometimes succumbing to) overwhelming adversities over which we have but marginal control, and of the power that language has to effect change in the world.

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The infamous C-word

By Anatoly Liberman
Like all word columnists, I keep receiving the same questions again and again.  Approximately once a month someone asks me about the origin of the F-word, the C-word, and gay.  Well, the C-word has been investigated in great detail, and a few conjectures are not so bad.

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What is a caucus, anyway?

By Katherine Connor Martin
On January 3, America’s quadrennial race for the White House began in earnest with the Iowa caucuses. If you find yourself wondering precisely what a caucus is, you’re not alone. The Byzantine process by which the US political parties choose their presidential nominees has a jargon all its own.

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Beginning one way in the New Year

By Anatoly Liberman
As promised, the first of the fifty-two posts due to appear in 2012 will be devoted to the verb begin, whose siblings have been attested in all the West Germanic languages (English is one of them) and Gothic. Surprisingly, they did not turn up in Old Scandinavian, except for Danish (under the influence of German?). Old Icelandic for “begin” was byrja, and its cognates continued into Norwegian and Swedish, let alone Modern Icelandic and Faroese. The etymology of begin has not been explained to everybody’s satisfaction, but such is the history of most etymological flesh.

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The Oxford English Dictionary: “my favorite book ever”

By Michael P. Adams
As the year draws to a close, we’ve been reflecting on all the wonderful books we’ve read in 2011, and in doing so, we’ve also realized there are some classics worth revisiting. The authors and friends of Oxford University Press are proud to present this series of essays, which will appear regularly until the New Year, drawing our attention to books both new and old. Here, Michael Adams, author of From Elvish to Klingon, writes about the 1961 print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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Meditations in the process of Winter Gleanings

By Anatoly Liberman
Last Wednesday, in anticipation of the inevitable calendar leap, I discussed the origin of the word end. The end has come. This post happens to be the last in 2011 — not really a rite of passage, for a week from now another Wednesday will bring the world another post, dated January 4, 2012. As announced, it will be devoted to the verb begin. One should not take December or oneself too seriously, but I am pleased to say that this blog is read and quoted by many and that I continue to receive letters and comments from all over the world.

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No one Tebows after Bucknering

By Mark Peters
Tebow is one of the most successful words of 2011, referring mainly to the post-touchdown pose of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow: just as people plank, they Tebow too. However, the verbing of Tebow’s name is just one example of the popular sport of eponymization. Sports fans love turning athletes into eponyms: words derived from names, like boycott and shrapnel.

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All’s well that ends well

By Anatoly Liberman
The year 2011 is coming to an end. Strange that we say “come to an end,” even though a year, unlike a rope, a street, and even life, in which it is hard to make ends (or both ends) meet, can have only one end, but such are the caprices of usage. In any case, the end of the year is close at hand. Those interested in such tricks may recollect that year sometimes needs neither the definite nor the indefinite article when we speak about this time of year, and so it has been for centuries.

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