Some of the most common words appeared in English late. Yet their origin is obscure. Of course, while dealing with old words, we also encounter unexpected solutions.
Recently I have reread August Pott’s essay on the word “elephant” and decided to write something about this word. I have nothing original to say about it and depend on two works: an excellent book in Italian and a detailed essay in English. Not everybody may have read them; hence my inroad on this convoluted problem.
Strange as it may seem, the origin of the verb buy remains a matter of uninspiring debate, at least partly because we don’t know what this verb meant before it acquired the modern sense.
A few years ago, a student dropped a linguistics course I was teaching because the textbook used contractions. The student had done some editorial work and felt that contractions did not belong in a college textbook, much less one he was paying 50 dollars for. It was probably all for the best. If he didn’t like contractions, he probably would’ve hated the course.
This week, the Oxford Etymologist answers readers questions in his latest etymology gleanings.
My today’s word is bonfire, which turned up in texts at the end of the fifteenth century. Seven years ago, I devoted a post to it but today I know more about this tricky compound and can write the story in a different way.
This is the second and last part of the series on the origin of the word “soul.” The perennial interest in the etymology of this word should not surprise us. It is our inability to find a convincing solution that causes astonishment and disappointment.
If we expect someone to save our souls, this person won’t be an etymologist, because no language historian knows the origin of the word soul, and without a convincing etymology, how can anyone save the intangible substance it denotes? Yet nothing prevents us from looking at the main attempts to decipher the mysterious word.
In this week’s blog post, the Oxford Etymologist dives deeper into the competing origin theories for the verb “bless”—with “curse” as an added bonus.
I was reading a column in a chess magazine when I came across the description of a game’s finish as a bygone conclusion. “That’s really weird,” I thought, “It should have said foregone conclusion.”
From God (or rather, god) to bless. But before turning to the history of the word “bless”, I would like to respond to the questions asked in connection with the “good”/”God” dilemma.
Listen to season three of The VSI Podcast for concise and original introductions to a selection of our VSI titles from the authors themselves.
In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist details the etymology of the adjective “good”. If it is not related to “god”, then what is its origin?
A few days ago, I received a letter from a well-educated reader, who asked me whether the English words “god” and “good” are related.
“Understand” is a teaser: each of the two elements of this compound is clear, but why does it mean what it does?
English verbs show tremendous variety. Some have a lot of semantic content and serve as the main predicate of a sentence—as transitive or intransitive or linking verbs.