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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Word of the Year 2016 is… post-truth

Word of the Year 2016 is… post-truth. After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

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“Fog” and a story of unexpected encounters

“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river,… Fog down the river….” This is Dickens (1852). But in 1889 Oscar Wilde insisted that the fogs had appeared in London only when the Impressionists discovered them, that is, they may have been around for centuries, but only thanks to the Impressionists, London experienced a dramatic change in its climate.

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Betty Tompkins – Episode 40 – The Oxford Comment

Betty Tompkins came of age as a painter in the 1960s and 1970s. Though she has been a working artist for over 40 years, Tompkins has inspired renewed interest since the early 2000s, with a new generation of viewers responding to her unique voice and technical skill. As a woman and a feminist artist, Betty Tompkins is no stranger to the barriers against female voices, both in the art world, and in culture at large.

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Blessing and cursing, part 3: curse (conclusion)

The verb curse, as already noted, occurred in Old English, but it has no cognates in other Germanic languages and lacks an obvious etymon. The same, of course, holds for the noun curse. The OED keeps saying that the origin of curse is unknown.

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