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Walter W. Skeat and the Oxford English Dictionary

For many years, I have been trying to talk an old friend of mine into writing a popular book on Skeat. A book about such a colorful individual, I kept repeating, would sell like hotcakes. But he never wrote it. Neither will I (much to my regret), but there is no reason why I should not devote another short essay to Skeat. In 2016, Oxford University Press published Peter Gilliver’s book The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, a work of incredible erudition.

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Casting a last spell: After Skeat and Bradley

By Anatoly Liberman
I think some sort of closure is needed after we have heard the arguments for and against spelling reform by two outstanding scholars. Should we do something about English spelling, and, if the answer is yes, what should we do? Conversely, if no, why no? 

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Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman
Henry Bradley, while writing his paper (see the previous post), must have looked upon Skeat as his main opponent. This becomes immediately clear from the details. For instance, Skeat lamented the use of the letter c in scissors and Bradley defended it.

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Professor Wright and Professor Skeat

By Anatoly Liberman
From time to time I mention the unsung heroes of English etymology, but only once have I devoted a post to such a hero (Frank Chance), though I regularly sing praises to Charles P.G. Scott, the etymologist for The Century Dictionary. Today I would like to speak about Joseph Wright (1855-1930). He was not an etymologist in the strict sense of this term, but no article on the origin of English words can do without consulting The English Dialect Dictionary he edited.

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Walter W. Skeat Faces the World

By Anatoly Liberman
Last week I wrote that one day I would reproduce some memorable statements from Skeat’s letters to the editors. This day has arrived. I have several cartons full of paper clippings, the fruit of the loom that has been whirring incessantly for more than twenty years: hundreds of short and long articles about lexicographers, with Skeat occupying a place of honor. A self-educated man in everything that concerned the history of Germanic, he became the greatest expert in Old and Middle English and an incomparable etymologist. In England, only Murray, the editor of the OED, and Henry Sweet were his equals, and in Germany, only Eduard Sievers. Joseph Wright, another autodidact

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From rags to riches, or the multifaceted progress of lady

Every English dictionary with even minimal information on word origins, will tell us that lord and lady are so-called disguised compounds. Unlike skyline or doomsday (to give two random examples), lord and lady do not seem to consist of two parts. Yet a look at their oldest forms—namely, hlāf-weard and hlæf-dīge—dispels all doubts about their original status (the hyphens above are given only for convenience).

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Unscheduled gleanings and a few idioms

I receive questions about the origin of words and idioms with some regularity. If the subjects are trivial, I respond privately, but this week a correspondent asked me about the etymology of the verb loiter, and I thought it might be a good idea to devote some space to it and to its closest synonyms.

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Intractable words

In my correspondence with the journalist who was curious about the origin of caucus, I wrote that we might never discover where that word came from.

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The intractable word caucus

At the moment, the word caucus is in everybody’s mouth. This too shall pass, but for now, the same question is being asked again and again, namely: “What is the origin of the mysterious American coinage?”

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English spelling, rhyme, rime, and reason

The story of rhyme has been told more than once, but though both The OED and The Century Dictionary offer a detailed account of how the word acquired its meaning and form, it may be instructive to follow the discussion that occupied the intellectuals about a hundred and fifty years ago and some time later.

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Word Origins

In praise of sloth

The hero of today’s blog post is the adjective “slow.” No words look less inspiring, but few are more opaque.

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