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Word Origins

On mattocks and maggots, their behavior and origin

The mattock, a simple tool, has a name troublesome to etymologists even though it has been known since the Old English period. In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist explores a new hypothesis for the origins of “mattock”.

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Word Origins

Etymology gleanings for August 2022

The history of “cheek by jowl” and especially the pronunciation of “jowl” could serve as the foundation of a dramatic plot, says the Oxford Etymologist in this week’s blog post.

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Word Origins

Cheek by jowl

The history of “cheek by jowl” and especially the pronunciation of “jowl” could serve as the foundation of a dramatic plot, says the Oxford Etymologist in this week’s blog post.

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The not-so-great caramel debate

I’m intrigued by the not-so-great debate over the pronunciation of caramel, which is instructive both socially and linguistically. Is the word pronounced with that second a, as caramel or without it, as carmel?

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Word Origins

Pulling the whole length of one’s leg

Today, most English speakers will recognize the idiom: to pull one’s leg means “to deceive playfully, to tease.” Its origin has not been discovered. I usually stay away from guesswork, but in a blog, vague conjectures may not do anyone any harm.

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Word Origins

Long-delayed gleanings

No one doubts that “bachelor” came to Middle English at the end of the thirteenth century from Old French and meant “a young knight.” Most conjectures about the etymology of this mysterious word were offered long ago.

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Bachelors and bachelorettes

No one doubts that “bachelor” came to Middle English at the end of the thirteenth century from Old French and meant “a young knight.” Most conjectures about the etymology of this mysterious word were offered long ago.

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A “neat” etymology

Where do you find the origin and, if necessary, the meaning of never say die, never mind, and other phrases of this type? Should you look them up under never, say, die, or mind? Will they be there?

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Off with their prefixes

I was teaching the history of the English Language and had just mentioned that, following the English Civil War, Charles I had been convicted of treason and beheaded.

A question came from the back of the classroom: “Why do we say beheaded and decapitated, not the other way around?”

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