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Travels with “gorse” in search of its kin

In the long history of this blog, I have rarely touched on the origin of plant names, but there have been posts on mistletoe (December 20, 2006) and ivy (January 11, 2017). Some time ago, a letter came with a question about the etymology of gorse, and I expect to devote some space to this plant name and its two synonyms.

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Plant lore: gorse

In the long history of this blog, I have rarely touched on the origin of plant names, but there have been posts on mistletoe (December 20, 2006) and ivy (January 11, 2017). Some time ago, a letter came with a question about the etymology of gorse, and I expect to devote some space to this plant name and its two synonyms.

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It’s time to raise the retirement age again

Since the election, we Americans have engaged in a healthy debate about the Electoral College. My instincts in this debate are those of an institutional conservative: Writing our Constitution from scratch today, we would not have designed the Electoral College as it has evolved. However, institutions become embedded in societies. To further this debate, consider these three contentions often heard today about the Electoral College.

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Attacking a loaf of bread

This post returns to loaf, noun, which, incidentally, has nothing to do with loaf, verb (but see the picture)! Since loaf, from hlaif-, appears to be a more ancient word for “bread” (as noted in the posts for October 17 and October 24), people must have coined bread, to designate the product that was different from the old one.

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The history of The Declaration of the Rights of the Child

Virtually every news cycle seems to feature children as victims of military actions, gun violence, economic injustice, racism, sexism, sexual abuse, hunger, underfunded schools, unbridled commercialism—the list is endless. Each violates our sense of what childhood ought to be and challenges what we believe childhood has always been. But the ideas that shape our notions of childhood emerged less than a century ago. Reformers and policy-makers had struggled toward creating a modern childhood since the 1830s.

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A fresh look at clichés

Recently a friend gave me a copy of It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés by lexicographer Orin Hargraves. I was intrigued to read it because I had been wondering about clichés for some time.

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Concern for global democracy

A new report by the Democracy Project finds that a majority of Americans view democracy in the United States as weak and getting weaker. Even worse, nearly half of Americans express concerns that the United States is in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country.”

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Etymology gleanings for October 2018

I have received a letter with a query about whether kibosh might be a borrowing from Hebrew. Both the Hebrew and the Yiddish hypotheses on kibosh are discussed in detail in the book by Gerald Cohen, Stephen Goranson, and Matthew Little on this intractable word (Routledge, 2018).

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Does poverty cause terrorism?

On 11 September 2001 (9/11), some 17 years ago, four hijackings of US commercial planes by al-Qaida terrorists led to almost 3,000 deaths and over 6,000 injuries, and profoundly changed our sense of security.

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Returning to our daily bread [Part II]

Bread may not be a very old word, but it is old enough, and, whatever its age, its origin has not been discovered. However, the harder the riddle, the more interesting it is to try to solve it. Even if the answer evades us, it does not follow that we have learned nothing along the way.

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Will Egypt have another uprising?

Egypt is well-known for its exceptionally rich history. For many, the country is synonymous with ancient wonders such as the pyramids of Giza and the royal tombs of Luxor. However, in January 2011, modern Egypt suddenly leapt to the center of the public’s imagination. Over a period of 18 days, millions of Egyptians engaged in sit-ins, strikes, and demonstrations as well as pitched battles with the security forces.

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Not by “bread” alone [Part I]

Two recent posts (part 1 and part 2) were devoted to the origin of the word bride, and it occurred to me that a quick look at a few other br-words might be of some use. Breed, brood, and bread have been more than once invoked in trying to explain the etymology of the troublesome Germanic noun. […]

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The bride all dressed in white bows out [Part II]

So where did the word bride come from? Granted, the initial meaning of bride is not entirely clear, but neither is it hopelessly opaque. Whatever the interpretation, the bride has always been a woman who will soon become a wife, and the mystery surrounding the sought-after etymology comes as a surprise, regardless of whether the initial sense of the noun was “the woman to be married,” “the woman after the consummation of the marriage rite,” or even “daughter-in-law” ~ “a new female member of the adopting family.”

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Is there a comma after BUT?

According to editors and grammarians, there is no comma after the word but at the beginning of a sentence. But it is something I see a lot in sentences like “But, there were too many of them to count” or “But, we were afraid the situation would get worse.”

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Etymology gleanings for September 2018

Many thanks to those who have commented on the recent posts and written me privately. My expertise is in Germanic, with occasional timid inroads into the rest of Indo-European. Therefore, I cannot answer questions about Arabic and Chinese. Below, I’ll say something about Hittite, but, obviously, for my information I depend on the authority of others.

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Thoughts on the origin of the word “bride” [Part I]

The blog named “The Oxford Etymologist,” which started on March 1, 2008, and which appears every Wednesday, rain or shine (this is Post no. 663), owes many of its topics to association. Some time ago, I wrote about the puzzling Gothic verb liugan “to lie, tell falsehoods” and “to marry” (August 15, 2018) and about the etymology of the English verb bless (October 12, 2016).

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