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Oftener and oftener

When I was growing up, someone in authority told me that way to pronounce often was offen, like off with a little syllabic n at the end. Often was like soften, listen, and glisten, I was warned, with a silent t.

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Ice: a forlorn hope

Why is searching for the origin of “ice” a forlorn hope? Because all the Germanic-speaking people had the same word for “ice,” and yet we don’t know where it came from.

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Super takes off

Superman has been around for more than eighty years. The word “super” been a part of English much longer. It was borrowed into English from Latin, and in Old English we already find the word “superhumerale” to refer to a religious garment worn over the shoulders.

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The hedging henchman and his hidden horse

This is the second and last part of the henchman tale, of which the first part appeared a week ago (August 25, 2021). The difficulties confronting an etymologist are two: 1) We don’t know exactly what the word henchman meant when it first surfaced in Middle English, and 2) the obscure Medieval Latin gloss used […]

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The henchman’s dilemma

I am aware of only two English words whose origin has provoked enough passion and bad blood to inspire a thriller. The first such word is “cockney” and the second is “henchman”.

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The proverbial ninepence

The popularity of ninepence in proverbial sayings is amazing. To be sure, nine, along with three and seven, are great favorites of European folklore. No one knows for sure why just those numerals achieved such prominence.

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SHAPE and societal recovery from crises

The SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy) initiative advocates for the value of the social sciences, humanities, and arts subject areas in helping us to understand the world in which we live and find solutions to global issues. As societies around the world respond to the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, research from SHAPE disciplines has the potential to illuminate how societies process and recover from various social crises.

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Word namesakes, also known as homonyms

Some homonyms are truly ancient: the words in question might sound alike or be nearly identical more than a millennium ago. But more often a newcomer appears from nowhere and pushes away his neighbors without caring for their well-being.

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How to chide according to rule, or the thin edge of the wedge

Chide remains a word “of unknown origin,” even though the Online Etymological Dictionary mentions the hypothesis suggested in my 2008 An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology. Perhaps it might be interesting to some of our readers to know the history of research into the etymology of this verb.

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A world without relative clauses

Where does the relative clause begin and the main clause end? Why does the teacher sometimes call them adjective clauses? Should I use that or which or who? And what is the story with restrictive and non-restrictive?

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What Everyone Needs to Know

What everyone needs to know about 2021 thus far

The year 2020 posed myriad challenges for everyone and now that we have reached the mid-way point of 2021, it is clear that, although the crises are not yet fully averted, the year thus far has already boasted some encouraging events.

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Etymology gleanings for July 2021: tending my flock

This week’s blog post concerns the origin of English “flock”, as in a flock of gulls and a tuft of wool. The two flocks are not related and the origin of the first is unknown. I am unable to unravel this knot, but I can perhaps explain how the problem originated and venture a precarious hypothesis.

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