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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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Verily, this tomfoolery must be quashed!

By Catherine Soanes
‘Cripes! What bally tomfoolery are those diabolical cads in the media coming up with now?’ I asked my betrothed, when confronted with a spate of recent news reports. ‘Verily, I must quash this balderdash forthwith.’

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Rotten Row

By Anatoly Liberman
Some time ago, a colleague asked me what materials I have on the place name Rotten Row; she was going to write an article on this subject. But her plans changed, and the article did not appear. My folders contain a sizable batch of letters to Notes and Queries and essays from other popular sources dealing with Rotten Row. I am not a specialist in onomastics, and, if I am not mistaken, the question about the etymology of Rotten Row has never been answered to everybody’s satisfaction.

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Coffee or tea?

By Anatoly Liberman
It will be seen that the main question about tea is the same as about coffee, namely: How did the form tea conquer its numerous rivals?

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How to save an endangered language

By Dennis Baron
There are roughly 7,000 languages spoken around the globe today. Five hundred years ago there were twice as many, but the rate of language death is accelerating. With languages disappearing at the rate of one every two weeks, in ninety years half of today’s languages will be gone.

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Monthly Gleanings: November 2011

By Anatoly Liberman
It was good to hear from Masha Bell, an ally in the losing battle for reformed spelling.  Her remarks can be found at the end of the previous post (it was about su- in sure and sugar), and here I’ll comment briefly only on her questions. 

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Occupy Wall Street: Can the revolution be trademarked?

By Dennis Baron
Psst, wanna buy a hot slogan?

“Occupy Wall Street,” the protest that put “occupy” on track to become the 2011 word of the year, could be derailed by a Long Island couple seeking to trademark the movement’s name. The rapidly-spreading Occupy Wall Street protests target the huge gap between rich and poor in America and elsewhere, so on Oct. 18, Robert and Diane Maresca tried to erase their own personal income gap by filing trademark application 85449710 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office so they could start selling Occupy Wall St.™

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The phonetic taste of coffee

By Anatoly Liberman
All sources inform us about the Arabic-Turkish home of the word coffee, though in the European languages some forms were taken over directly from Arabic, so that the etymological part of the relevant entry in dictionaries and encyclopedias needs modification. There is a possibility of coffee being connected with the name of the kingdom of Kaffa, but this question need not bother us at the moment. The main puzzle is the development of the form coffee rather than its distant origin.

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Fake squid, psychiatric patients, and other Muppet meanings

By Mark Peters
With the arrival of the new Muppet movie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Beaker, and our other felt friends are everywhere. There’s no escaping Jim Henson’s creations, and few of us would want to (unless the movie happens to suck, which is doubtful, given the stewardship of Jason Segel, who showed major Muppet mojo in the heartbreaking and spit-taking Forgetting Sarah Marshall). It’s a good time to look at the history of the word Muppet, which has some meanings that would make the Swedish Chef bork with outrage.

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Our words remember them: the language of the First World War

By Charlotte Buxton
The First World War may be famed for poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Edmund Blunden (most of whom were officers), but the rank and file also made their own vigorous contribution to the English language. Remembrance, after all, isn’t just in the two minute silence. It’s in the talk that follows; the memories of those who gave their lives woven into the very words we use every day.

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