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Going places

When one reads the obsolete phrase go to, go to, the meaning is still understood quite well. After to, one “hears” the word hell. However, directions vary, and the origin of the idioms beginning with go to is less trivial than it may seem.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

This year, the Chinese New Year begins today, February 5th, and people all around the world will be ringing in the year of the Pig.  Oxford Chinese Dictionary editor, Julie Kleeman, shares some insight into the traditions associated with the Chinese New Year celebrations.

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The last shot at “robin”

What else is there to say about robin? Should I mention the fact that “two Robin Redbreasts built their nest within a hollow tree” and raised a family there?

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A possible humble origin of “robin”

Some syllables seem to do more work than they should. For example, if you look up cob and its phonetic variants (cab ~ cub) in English dictionaries, you will find references to all kinds of big and stout things, round masses (lumps), and “head/top.”

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The robin and the wren

In Surrey (a county bordering London), and not only there, people used to say: “The robin and the wren are God’s cock and hen” (as though the wren were the female of the robin, but then the wren is indeed Jenny). In Wales, the wren is also considered sacred.

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On Robin and robin

“Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake scuffled down from the bank and said: ‘My young friend, if you do not now, immediately and instantly, pull as hard as ever you can, it is my opinion that your acquaintance in the large-pattern leather ulster’(and by this he meant the Crocodile) ‘will jerk you into yonder limpid stream before you can say Jack Robinson’.

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Feeling my oats for the last time this year

Having sown my wild oats (see the post for December 12, 2018), I can now afford the luxury of looking at the origin of the word oat. It would be unfair to introduce the holiday season by discussing a word of unknown etymology. A Christmas carol needs a happy end, and indeed I have something reassuring to say.

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Sowing one’s etymological oats

For many years I have been studying not only the derivation and history of words but also the origin of idioms. No Indo-European forms there, no incompatible vowels, not consonant shifts, but the problems are equally tough.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2018

I used to post my “gleanings” on the last Wednesday of every month, but it is perhaps more practical to do it on the first Wednesday of the month following, for, given this schedule, I can also answer the most recent questions. Plants and the home of the Indo-Europeans I used gorse in the previous […]

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Travels with “gorse” in search of its kin

In the long history of this blog, I have rarely touched on the origin of plant names, but there have been posts on mistletoe (December 20, 2006) and ivy (January 11, 2017). Some time ago, a letter came with a question about the etymology of gorse, and I expect to devote some space to this plant name and its two synonyms.

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Plant lore: gorse

In the long history of this blog, I have rarely touched on the origin of plant names, but there have been posts on mistletoe (December 20, 2006) and ivy (January 11, 2017). Some time ago, a letter came with a question about the etymology of gorse, and I expect to devote some space to this plant name and its two synonyms.

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Why We Fall for Toxic Leaders

The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression chosen to reflect the passing year in language. Every year, the Oxford Dictionaries team debates over a selection of candidates for Word of the Year, choosing the one that best captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year. The 2018 Oxford Word […]

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Attacking a loaf of bread

This post returns to loaf, noun, which, incidentally, has nothing to do with loaf, verb (but see the picture)! Since loaf, from hlaif-, appears to be a more ancient word for “bread” (as noted in the posts for October 17 and October 24), people must have coined bread, to designate the product that was different from the old one.

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Etymology gleanings for October 2018

I have received a letter with a query about whether kibosh might be a borrowing from Hebrew. Both the Hebrew and the Yiddish hypotheses on kibosh are discussed in detail in the book by Gerald Cohen, Stephen Goranson, and Matthew Little on this intractable word (Routledge, 2018).

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