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Guns, herbs, and sores: inside the dragon’s etymological lair

23 April marks St. George’s Day. While St. George is widely venerated throughout Christian communities, England especially honors him, its patron saint, on this day. Indeed, his cross, red on a white field, flies as England’s flag. St. George, of course, is legendary for the dragon he slew, yet St. George bested the beast in legend alone. From Beowulf to The Game of Thrones, this creature continues to breathe life (and fire) into our stories, art, and language; even the very word dragon hoards its own gold. Let’s brave our way into its etymological lair to see what treasures we might find.

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9780199300914

‘Buyer beware': how the Federal Trade Commission redefined the word ‘free’

Last month marked the hundredth anniversary of the Federal Trade Commission, the regulatory agency that looks after consumer interests by enforcing truth in advertising laws. Established by the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC opened its doors in March 16 of 2015, taking the place of the older Bureau of Corporations.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Shakespeare’s false friends

False friends (‘faux amis’) are words in one language which look the same as words in another. We therefore think that their meanings are the same and get a shock when we find they are not. Generations of French students have believed that demander means ‘demand’ (whereas it means ‘ask’) or librairie means ‘library’ (instead of ‘bookshop’). It is a sign of a mature understanding of a language when you can cope with the false friends, which can be some of its most frequently used words.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Putting two and two together

As somebody who loves words and English literature, I have often been assumed to be a natural enemy of the mathematical mind. If we’re being honest, my days of calculus and the hypotenuse are behind me, but with those qualifications under my belt, I did learn that the worlds of words and numbers are not necessarily as separate as they seem. Quite a few expressions use numbers (sixes and sevens, six of one and half a dozen of the other, one of a kind, etc.) but a few are more closely related to mathematics than you’d expect.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Clarity about ‘the gay thing’

Sometimes, we say what we don’t really mean. ‘You look really tired’, for example, when we mean to be caring rather than disparaging of appearance. ‘I thought you were older than that!’ when we mean to applaud maturity rather than further disparage appearance. And so it is with the gay thing. The accidental difference between what people are saying or writing, and their intended meaning, is becoming perplexingly polarized.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for February 2015

One month is unlike another. Sometimes I receive many letters and many comments; then lean months may follow. February produced a good harvest (“February fill the dyke,” as they used to say), and I can glean a bagful. Perhaps I should choose a special title for my gleanings: “I Am All Ears” or something like it.

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9780198709268

Celebrating linguistic diversity on International Mother Language Day

It’s Thursday evening in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. I am late for an appointment to see my friend Shimanto (lit. boundary [Sanskrit]). On the street I shout ‘ei mama jaben?’ (Hey uncle, will you go? [Bangla]) to catch an auto-rickshaw (auto [English] man-powered-wheeler [Japanese]). After striking the deal, I sit inside the three-wheeler. As the young driver speeds up almost hitting passers-by and curses ‘jyam khub kharap!’ (Traffic jam [English] is very bad! [Persian]), I recollect the writing at the back of the car: ‘allāḥ sarvaśaktimān’ (God [Arabic] almighty [Sanskrit]).

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9780199315765

Reading on-screen versus on paper

If over the holidays you received a book, was it digital or printed on paper? E-books (and devices on which to read them) are multiplying like rabbits, as are the numbers of eReading devotees. It’s easy to assume, particularly in the United States, with the highest level of eBook sales worldwide, that the only way this trend can go is up. Yes, there was triple-digit eBook growth in 2009, 2010, and 2011, though by 2014 those figures had settled down into the single digits.

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Exploring the best of Portland, Oregon during LSA 2015 Conference

The Linguistics Society of America’s Annual Conference takes place from Thursday, January 8th – Sunday, January 11th at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower in Portland, Oregon. This meeting will bring together linguists from all over the world for a weekend filled with presentations, films, mini-courses, panels, and more.

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9780199300914

What do we love about new words?

The lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries keep watch on our collective neology and select a word—or words–of the year: a word that is both forward-looking and reflects the culture of the current year. From 2004 we’ve had chav, podcast, carbon-neutral, locavore, unfriend, refudiate, squeezed middle, the verb GIF, and selfie.

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9780199742677

How did we get from snuff to vaping?

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year 2014, so we asked several experts to comment on language and the words that defined this past year. Vaping is having an interesting cultural moment. Use of the word is increasing rapidly, as the Oxford Dictionaries editors note, although many people are still unfamiliar with […]

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Oxford Dictionaries

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is… vape

As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and see which words have been significant throughout the past twelve months, and to announce the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. Without further ado, we can exclusively reveal that the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2014 is…vape.

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Umbrellas and yellow ribbons: The language of the 2014 Hong Kong protests

Late September and October 2014 saw Hong Kong experience its most significant political protests since itThis ongoing event shows the inherent creativity of language, how it succinctly incorporates history, and the importance of context in making meaning. Language is thus a “time capsule” of a place. China, which resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong after it stopped being a British colony in 1997, promised universal suffrage in its Basic Law as the ‘ultimate aim’ of its political development.

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9780198712299

Linguistic necromancy: a guide for the uninitiated

It’s fairly common knowledge that languages, like people, have families. English, for instance, is a member of the Germanic family, with sister languages including Dutch, German, and the Scandinavian languages. Germanic, in turn, is a branch of a larger family, Indo-European, whose other members include the Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, and more), Russian, Greek, and Persian.

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