The origin of this mysterious phrase, “nine of diamonds,” has been discussed for over two hundred years. Nor are surveys wanting. I cannot say anything on this subject the world does not know, and I have no serious preferences for any of the relatively promising hypotheses.
I have never heard anyone use the idiom to go woolgathering, but it occurs in older books with some regularity, and that’s why I know it. To go woolgathering means “to indulge in aimless thought, day dreaming, or fruitless pursuit.” Sometimes only absent-mindedness is implied.
There is a good word aftermath. Aftercrop is also fine, though rare, but, to my regret, afterglean does not exist (in aftermath, math- is related to mow, and -th is a suffix, as in length, breadth, and warmth). Anyway, I sometimes receive letters bypassing OUP’s official address. They deal with etymology and usage.
Singular versus plural. What feel(s) like failed relationships…. The dilemma is as old as the hills: English speakers have always felt uncertain about the number after what. An exemplary treatment of this problem will be found in the old editions of H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the entry what 2).
I keep returning to my sheep and rams because the subject is so rich in linguistic wool. Last time (see the post for 11 October 2017), I looked at the numerous etymological attacks on sheep and came to rather uninspiring results.
This is a sequel to the previous post of 4 October 2017. Last time I mentioned an embarrassment of riches in dealing with the origin of the word sheep, and I thought it might not be improper to share those riches with the public.
Animal names are so many and so various that thick books have been written about their origins, and yet some of the main riddles have never been solved.
Cognates and borrowing once again It has been known for a long time that the only difference between borrowing and genetic relation is one of chronology. Engl. town once meant “enclosure,” as German Zaun still does. Russian tyn also means “fence.” There is a consensus that the Russian word is a borrowing from Germanic because […]
While working on my previous post (“What do we call our children?”), which, among several other words, featured imp, I realized how often I had discussed various unclean spirits in this blog. There was once an entire series titled “Etymological Devilry.” Over the years, I have dealt with Old Nick, grimalkin, gremlin, bogey, goblin, and […]
In the Indo-European languages, most words for “mother,” “father,” “son,” and “daughter” are very old—most (rather than all), because some have been replaced by their rivals. Thus, Latin filia “daughter” is the feminine of filius “son,” and filius has nothing to do with son, which is indeed ancient.
Etymology gleanings for August 2017: “Getting on one’s wick” and other “nu-kelar” problems of etymology
Dark. I am sorry for the unavoidable pun, but the origin of most adjectives for “dark” is obscure. This is what etymological dictionaries of German tell us about dunkel and finster.
I do not know the etymology of fake, and no one knows, but, since the phrase fake news is in everybody’s mouth, I am constantly asked where the word fake came from. I’ll now say what I can about this subject, in order to be able to refer to this post in the future and from now on live in peace.
For decades the English-speaking world has been wondering where the word nerd came from. The Internet is full of excellent essays: the documentation is complete, and all the known hypotheses have been considered, refuted, or cautiously endorsed. I believe one of the proposed etymologies to be convincing (go on reading!), but first let me say something about nut.
The post of 21 June 2017 on the “dwarfs of our vocabulary” was received so well that I decided to return to them in the hope that the continuation will not disappoint our readers. Those dwarfs have a long history and have been the object of several tall tales.
First of all, I would like to thank our readers for their good wishes in connection with the 600th issue of The Oxford Etymologist, for their comments, and suggestions. In more than ten years, I must have gone a-gleaning about 120 times.
Like the history of some other words denoting numbers, the history of hundred is full of sticks and stones. To begin with, we notice that hundred, like dozen, thousand, million, and billion, is a noun rather than a numeral and requires an article (compare six people versus a hundred people); it also has a regular plural (a numeral, to have the plural form, has to be turned into a noun, or substantivized, as in twos and threes, at sixes and sevens, on all fours, and the like).