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Etymology gleanings for January 2018: Part 1

My most recent post (mad as a hatter) aroused a good deal of criticism. The reason is clear: I did not mention the hypothesis favored in the OED (mercury poisoning). Of course, when I quoted the medical explanation of long ago, I should have written the last set of hypotheses… instead of the last hypothesis. I find all medical explanations of the idiom untenable, and I should have been explicit on this point, rather than hiding behind polite silence.

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Mad as a Hatter

About every well-known English idiom one can nowadays find so much interesting material on the Internet that almost nothing is left for an ambitious etymologist to add. Mad as a hatter has been discussed especially often, and my detailed database contains nearly nothing new. Yet I decided to join the ranks of the researchers of […]

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An oar in every man’s boat

Not too long ago, one of our constant correspondents proposed the etymology of Greek koupí “oar.” I do not know the origin of that word and will probably never know. Koupí did not show up in my most detailed dictionary of Classical Greek, and I suspect that we are dealing with a relative late coinage. By way of compensation, I decided to write something about the origin of Engl. oar and about some other words connected with it.

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Catching someone by the toe

From time to time I receive questions too long for my monthly gleanings. The same happened last week. A reader wanted to know the origin of the eena, meena (or eenie, meenie) rhyme. Although not much can be said with certainty about this matter, a few facts have been established. The Internet devotes a lot of space to this “jingle.”

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First things first

I seldom, if ever, try to be “topical” (I mean the practice of word columnists to keep abreast of the times and discuss the words of the year or comment on some curious expression used by a famous personality), but the calendar has some power over me. The end of the year, the beginning of the year, the rite of spring, the harvest—those do not leave me indifferent.

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Etymology gleanings for December 2017

At the end of December, it is natural to look back at the year almost spent. Modern etymology is a slow-moving coach, and great events seldom happen in it. As far as I know, no new etymological dictionaries have appeared in 2017, but one new book has. It deals with the word kibosh, and I celebrated its appearance in the November “Gleanings.”

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The word “job” and its low-class kin

This post is in answer to a correspondent’s query. What I can say about the etymology of job, even if condensed, would be too long for my usual “gleanings.” More important, in my opinion, the common statement in dictionaries that the origin of job is unknown needs modification. What we “know” about job is sufficient for endorsing the artless conclusions drawn long ago. It would of course be nice to get additional evidence, but there is probably no need to search for it and no hope to dig it up.

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Three millennia of writings – a brief history of Chinese literature

Chinese scholars traditionally have considered the Han fu-rhapsody, Tang shi-poetry, Song ci-song lyrics, and Yuan qu-drama, as the highest literary achievements of their respective dynasties. However, Chinese literature embraces a far wider range of writing than these four literary genres. Explore a treasure trove that offers rich information about Chinese society, thought, customs, and social and political movements

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Nine of diamonds, or the curse of Scotland: an etymological drama in two acts. Act 2, Scene 2

See the previous posts with the same title. We are approaching the end of the drama. It will be a thriller without a denouement, a tragedy without catharsis, but such are most etymological dramas. Putting the kibosh on the origin of a hard word or phrase is an almost impossible endeavor. Heraldry for etymologists and a note on unlikely candidates – It has been said, and for good reason, that, whenever people played cards, every man whose unpopularity made him hated by the people and bearing as arms nine lozenges could be referred to as the curse of Scotland.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2017

A time-consuming kibosh – Long ago (19 May 2010), I wrote a post on the origin of the mysterious word kibosh, part of the idiom to put the kibosh on “to put an end to something.” The discussion that followed made me return to this subject in 28 July 2010, and again three years later (14 August 2013). Since that time, the word has been at the center of attention of several researchers, and last month a book titled Origin of Kibosh by Gerald Cohen, Stephen Goranson, and Matthew Little appeared (Routledge Studies in Etymology.

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Etymology gleanings for October 2017

Singular versus plural. What feel(s) like failed relationships…. The dilemma is as old as the hills: English speakers have always felt uncertain about the number after what. An exemplary treatment of this problem will be found in the old editions of H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the entry what 2).

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Revenons à nos moutons!

I keep returning to my sheep and rams because the subject is so rich in linguistic wool. Last time (see the post for 11 October 2017), I looked at the numerous etymological attacks on sheep and came to rather uninspiring results.

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Sheepskin and mutton

This is a sequel to the previous post of 4 October 2017. Last time I mentioned an embarrassment of riches in dealing with the origin of the word sheep, and I thought it might not be improper to share those riches with the public.

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