Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Language /
  • Dictionaries & Lexicography

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.

Read More

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

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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).

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Etymology gleanings for September 2017

Cognates and borrowing once again It has been known for a long time that the only difference between borrowing and genetic relation is one of chronology.  Engl. town once meant “enclosure,” as German Zaun still does. Russian tyn also means “fence.” There is a consensus that the Russian word is a borrowing from Germanic because […]

Read More

Trashing Thurse, an international giant

While working on my previous post (“What do we call our children?”), which, among several other words, featured imp, I realized how often I had discussed various unclean spirits in this blog. There was once an entire series titled “Etymological Devilry.” Over the years, I have dealt with Old Nick, grimalkin, gremlin, bogey, goblin, and […]

Read More

What do we call our children?

In the Indo-European languages, most words for “mother,” “father,” “son,” and “daughter” are very old—most (rather than all), because some have been replaced by their rivals. Thus, Latin filia “daughter” is the feminine of filius “son,” and filius has nothing to do with son, which is indeed ancient.

Read More