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Ten variations of ‘omnishambles’

By Alice Northover
Part of the strength of new words is their flexibility — that they can grow, change, and adapt. This elasticity helps cement their place in our language, rather than a brief life in slang. So to present omnishambles’s impact more fully, I’ve rounded up five variations upon it and proposed five additions of my own.

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Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year 2012: ‘omnishambles’

By Fiona McPherson
A common misconception about the work of a lexicographer is that we sit around in the manner of a cabal each week and argue about what words to include or reject. The fantasy is that we each suggest a word or two and then, after a heated debate, vote, with the result that some words emerge victorious and begin the journey to the dictionary page, while those that are blackballed are consigned to lexical oblivion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year 2012: ‘to GIF’

By Katherine Martin
The GIF, a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations, turned 25 this year, but like so many other relics of the 80s, it has never been trendier. GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.

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Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday, falling on 11th November in 2012 and traditionally observed on the Sunday closest to this date, marks the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the First World War. It serves as a day to reflect upon those who have given their lives for the sake of peace and freedom. We have selected a number of memorable, meaningful and moving quotes to commemorate the fallen.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for October, part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
Fowl, fox, and pooch. My cautious reservations about a tie between the etymon of fowl and the verb fly were dismissed in one of the comments. Therefore, a few additional notes on that word may be in order. The origin of fowl is uncertain, that is, controversial, not quite unknown.

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Curly-murly, flippy-floppy boom-booms

By Mark Peters
There are many words I love. Some of my favorites are abyss and buttmunch. I also love many categories of words, such as euphemisms and variations of the f-word. One of my favorite types of word makes my heart go thump-thump and pit-a-pat: reduplicative words. Reduplicative words are far more than a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, though they’re often a load of gaga.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for October, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
I have received many questions and comments and will respond to them pell-mell.
Any more ~ anymore in positive statements. A correspondent from Pennsylvania wondered why those around him use anymore as meaning “these days, nowadays” (for example, Anymore, I just see people wearing skinny jeans with flip flops) and whether this usage owes anything to Pennsylvania Dutch. I am almost sure it does not.

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When a language dies

By Nancy C. Dorian
When he died recently, Bobby Hogg took the Cromarty fisherfolk dialect out of existence with him, at least as a fluently spoken mother tongue, and the media took notice. The BBC reported on his death, celebrating the unique nature of his native dialect. In an Associated Press report originating in London, his dialect was spoken of as “a little fragment of the English linguistic mosaic.” A knowledgeable University of Aberdeen linguist spoke of this as “the first time that an actual Scots dialect has so dramatically died with the passing of the last native speaker.”

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An etymologist among the gods

By Anatoly Liberman
Etymology, a subject rarely studied on our campuses, enjoys the respect of many people, even though they persist in calling it entomology. Human beings always want to know the origin of things, but sometimes etymology is made to carry double, like the horse in O. Henry’s story “The Roads We Take.” For instance, it is sometimes said that etymology helps us to use words correctly. Alas, it very seldom does so. If someone asks us about the meaning of the adjective debonair and is not only informed that a debonair man is genial, suave, and so forth but also that the adjective goes back to the French phrase de bon aire “of good disposition (nature),” this may help.

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The birth of disco

By Denny Hilton
On this day in 1959, a nightclub opened its doors in the quiet city of Aachen, West Germany, and a small revolution in music took place. The Scotch-Club was similar to many restaurant-cum-dancehalls of the time, with one exception: rather than hire a live band to provide the entertainment, its owner decided instead to install a record player…

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‘Awning’ and ‘tarpaulin’

By Anatoly Liberman
The title of this post sounds like an introduction of two standup comedians, but my purpose is to narrate a story of two nautical words. The origin of one seems to be lost, the other looks deceptively transparent; but there may be hope. Both turned up in the seventeenth century: in 1624 (awning) and 1607 (tarpaulin) respectively.

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Slang is good for you

By Michael Adams

Slang is good for you. Some people say that it isn’t. They think it’s vulgar, sloppy, repetitive. They think it’s casual speech out of place in semi-formal discourse, Chuck Taylors with a jacket and tie.

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Glissandos and glissandon’ts

As a musician, I found this absolutely shocking — here I thought I’d been hearing the glissando (the effect created when, for example, a pianist runs his finger up or down the keyboard), all my life, and suddenly it turned out that the very legitimacy of the word had been dismissed by Blom, a prominent music-writer linguist, more than 30 years before I was even born.

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A global ingle-neuk, or, the size of our vocabulary

By Anatoly Liberman
The size of our passive vocabulary depends on the volume of our reading.  Those who grew up in the seventies of the twentieth century read little in their childhood and youth, and had minimal exposure to classical literature even in their own language. Their children are, naturally, still more ignorant. I have often heard the slogan: “Don’t generalize!” and I am not. I am speaking about a mass phenomenon, not about exceptional cases.

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The history of the OED Appeals

The efforts of members of the public have been at the heart of the Oxford English Dictionary for over 150 years. The Dictionary couldn’t have been written without these contributions. We are calling on language lovers everywhere to help us trace the history of words whose origins are shrouded in mystery, with a brand new Appeals area of OED.com. The OED’s record of appealing to the public for assistance stretches back to its very beginnings—to a time when the project not only had nothing to do with Oxford, but wasn’t even a dictionary.

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