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From teaspoons to tea-sots: the language of tea

Tea was first imported into Britain early in the seventeenth century, becoming very popular by the 1650s. The London diarist Samuel Pepys drank his first cup in 1660, as recorded in his famous diary: “I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before.”

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It’s not a crime, it’s a blunder

The author of the pronouncement in the title above is a matter of dispute, and we’ll leave his name in limbo, where I believe it belongs. The Internet will supply those interested in the attribution with all the information they need. The paradoxical dictum (although the original is in French, even Murray’s OED gave its English version in the entry blunder) is ostensibly brilliant but rather silly.

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OUP’s NYC office hosts a spelling bee

This past summer, several employees at the New York City office of Oxford University Press took part in a rite that most of haven’t experienced since elementary school: a spelling bee. In the age of autocorrect and spellchecker, the skill of spelling has undoubtedly lost some of its luster.

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Blunted purpose: The origin of blunt, Part 2

In their search for the origin of blunt, etymologists roamed long and ineffectually among similar-sounding words and occasionally came close to the sought-for source, though more often look-alikes led them astray. One of such decoys was Old Engl. blinn. Blinn and blinnan meant “cessation” and “to cease” respectively, but how can “cease” and “devoid of sharpness; obtuse” be related?

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To whet your almost blunted purpose… Part 1

Yes, you understood the title and identified its source correctly: this pseudo-Shakespearean post is meant to keep you interested in the blog “The Oxford Etymologist” and to offer some new ideas on the origin of the highlighted adjective.

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How to write a letter of recommendation

It’s that time of the year again. Seniors are thinking ahead about their impending futures (a job, grad school, the Peace Corps). Former students are advancing in their careers. Colleagues and co-workers are engaging in year-end reflection and considering new positions.

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Season’s greetings – Episode 29 – The Oxford Comment

Say goodbye to endless stuffing: it’s time to welcome our most beloved season of wreaths, wrapping paper…and confusion. The questions, as we began delving, were endless. Should we say happy holidays or season’s greetings?

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You’ll be a man, my son. Part 3

Obviously, I would not have embarked on such a long manhunt if I did not have my idea on the origin of the troublesome word. It will probably end up in the dustbin (also known as ash heap) of etymology, but there it will come to rest in good company.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Analysing what Shakespeare has to say about gender

Humans are very good at reading from start to finish and collecting lots of information to understand the aggregated story a text tells, but they are very bad at keeping track of the details of language in use across many texts.

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What a load of BS: Q&A with Mark Peters

Terms for bullshit in the English language have grown so vast it has now become a lexicon itself. We talked to Mark Peters, author of Bullshit: A Lexicon, about where the next set of new terms will come from, why most of the words are farm related, and bullshit in politics.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2015

It is true that the etymology of homo confirms the biblical story of the creation of man, but I am not aware of any other word for “man” that is akin to the word for “earth.” Latin mas (long vowel, genitive maris; masculinus ends in two suffixes), whose traces we have in Engl. masculine and marital and whose reflex, via French, is Engl. male, referred to “male,” not to “man.”

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Holy horsecrap, Batman! The equine BS vocabulary

When horses were a common means of transportation, horseshit was as common as potholes are today. While actual horse feces is rare nowadays, horseshit is as common as ever in our vocabulary.The list of synonyms and euphemisms—such as horsefeathers, horse hockey, horse hooey, horse pucky, and horse apples—is huge, taking up many pages in the Dictionary of American Regional English, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, and the Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

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You’ll be a man, my son. Part 2

This is the continuation of the story about the origin of the Germanic word for man. Last week I left off after expressing great doubts about the protoform that connected man and guma and tried to defend the Indo-European girl from an unpronounceable name. As could be expected, in their attempts to discover the origin of man etymologists cast a wide net for words containing m and n.

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The meaning of “terrorism”

Anyone who saw the terror on the faces of the people fleeing the attacks in Paris last week will agree that terrorism is the right word to describe the barbaric suicide bombings and the shooting of civilians that awful Friday night. The term terrorism, though once rare, has become tragically common in the twenty-first century.

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Historical “emojis”

Emojis originated as a way to guide the interpretation of digital texts, to replace some of the clues we get in ordinary speech or writing that help us understand what someone is trying to communicate. In person or over the telephone, facial expression and voice modulation help us get our meaning across; in most forms of writing — blog posts, stories, even emails — we have the luxury of expressing ourselves at some length, which hopefully leads to clarity.

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