Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Language /
  • Dictionaries & Lexicography

9780199283620

10 things you may not know about the making of the OED (Part 2)

In the first part of this article you may have learned various unexpected pieces of information about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary, such as the fact that it came close to being the Cambridge English Dictionary, or that one of the first lexicographers to work on it ended up being sacked for industrial espionage. Read on for more interesting episodes in the extraordinary history of this great project.

Read More
9780199283620

10 things you may not know about the making of the OED (Part 1)

The Oxford English Dictionary is recognized the world over, but much of its history isn’t so widely known: as with a respected professor or an admired parent, it’s all too easy simply to make use of its wisdom and authority without giving much thought to how it was acquired. Read on for some interesting nuggets of information about the history of this extraordinary project that you may not have encountered elsewhere.

Read More
9780195387070

Tom, Dick, Harry, and other memorable heroes

Why Tom, Dick, and Harry? Generic names? If so, why just those? From Suffolk to Yorkshire people speak about some Laurence and some Lumley, whose fame rests only on the fact that both have alliterating lazy dogs (as lazy as L.’s dog, as laid him down to bark). Other farmers had worse luck.

Read More
9780195387070

The eternal Cheshire cat

Unlike Alice, who was advised to begin at the beginning and stop only when she came to an end, I’d rather begin at the end. The English-speaking world is interested in the Cheshire cat only because Lewis Carroll mentioned it. The origin of the proverbial grin has never been explained, so that, if you hope to receive an enlightening answer from this post, you can very well stop here.

Read More
9780195387070

Face to face with brash: part 2

James Murray showed great caution in his discussion of the Modern English words spelled and pronounced as brash (see Part I of this essay). It remains unclear how many of them are related. One of the homonyms seems to go back to French, but even that word is of Germanic origin.

Read More
9780195387070

Looming, looming, looming: Part 2

The New Year is looming! I can write a most edifying post about 2017, or rather about what happened a hundred years ago, in 1917, but this is an etymological blog, so I, a hard-working cobbler, will stick to my last.

Read More
oxford-reference

British and Irish family names [infographic]

As the population of Britain and Ireland grows, some surnames are becoming even more common and widespread, alongside a steady continuation of uncommon surnames; but how many of us know anything about our family names’ origins – where it comes from, what it means today, and exactly how long it has actually been around for? Names derive from the diverse language and cultural movement of people who have settled in Britain and Ireland over history

Read More
9780191726675

2016’s most popular baby names and their meanings

Every year, there is much speculation as to which names are rising or falling in popularity. Figures published by the BBC for the most popular baby names of 2015 had Oliver and Amelia as the two favourites. So far, 2016 has thrown up some surprise results with Isla currently top for girls (up four places from last year), and Alfie (a new entry) making it to the boys’ top spot.

Read More
oxford-reference

The history behind selected family names in Britain and Ireland [map]

We all have a surname, but how many of us know anything about its roots – origin, history, and what it means today? Family names are evidence of the diverse language and cultural movement of people who have settled in Britain and Ireland over history. Surnames can be varied, but not uncommon – for example there a large amount of occupational names like Smith and Baker.

Read More
oxford-dictionaries

The origin of Black Friday and other black days

Across the United States, those who are not too replete with their Thanksgiving feast will be braving the crowds in order to secure themselves one of the bargains associated with Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving which is often regarded as the first day of Christmas shopping in the United States. Even on the […]

Read More
9780198717058

Reflections on ‘chatbot’

A chatbot, or chatterbot, is computer program designed to engage in conversation through written or spoken text. It was one of the words on the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 shortlist. The idea of a chatbot originates with Alan Turing’s mid twentieth century aspiration to build a thinking computer. Turing proposed a test to determine what might count as success in this venture.

Read More
9780199300914

Adulting comes of age

The child in me was excited to see ‘adulting’ as one of the shortlisted words for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016. Adulting is on the minds–and tongues–of many of my millennial-generation college students. They explain that it is about assuming adult responsibilities like managing money, showing up at a job, buying food and paying rent, getting health care, and more.

Read More
9780199669042_450

Word of the Year 2016: a ‘post-truth’, ‘alt-right’, ‘Brexiteer’ing’ explanation of political chaos

The lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries have been at it again with their choice of Word of the Year 2016 – ‘post-truth’. Now call me a pedant but I’d have thought ‘post-truth’ is two words, or at the very least a phrase, (‘Pedant!’ I hear you all shout) but I’m assured that the insertion of a hyphen creates a compound word that is not to be sniffed at. How then do words such as ‘post-truth’, ‘alt-right’, and ‘Brexiteer’ combine to explain the current situation of global political chaos?

Read More
9780195387070

Coming out of the fog

This is a postscript to last week’s post on fog. To get my point across, as they say, let me begin with a few short remarks on word origins, according to the picture emerging from our best dictionaries.

Read More