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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Chewing the cud and ruminating on word origins

The history of cud may be more exciting than it seems at first sight. Initially (long ago!), I was intrigued when I read the statement by Henry Cecil Wyld, an outstanding language historian, that the origin of cud is unknown.

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A four-forked etymology: curfew

It appears that the etymology of curfew has been solved. In any case, all modern dictionaries say the same. The English word surfaced in texts in the early fourteenth century, but a signal to people to extinguish their fires is much older.

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“Indian summer” and other curious idioms

The Internet is full of information about the origin of the phrase Indian summer. Everything said there about this idiom, its use, the puzzling reference to Indian, as well as about a desired replacement of Indian by a word devoid of ethnic connotations and about the synonyms for the phrase in the languages of the world, is correct.

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Intractable words

In my correspondence with the journalist who was curious about the origin of caucus, I wrote that we might never discover where that word came from.

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The intractable word caucus

At the moment, the word caucus is in everybody’s mouth. This too shall pass, but for now, the same question is being asked again and again, namely: “What is the origin of the mysterious American coinage?”

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Word Origins

Etymologicon and other books on etymology

In the previous post, I answered the first question from our correspondents (idioms with the names of body parts in them) and promised to answer the other one I had received during the break. The second question concerned the book titled The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections.

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Back to work: body and etymology

While the blog was dormant, two questions came my way, and I decided to answer them at once, rather than putting them on a back burner. Today, I’ll deal with the first question and leave the second for next week. Since the publication of my recent book Take My Word for It (it deals with […]

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English spelling, rhyme, rime, and reason

The story of rhyme has been told more than once, but though both The OED and The Century Dictionary offer a detailed account of how the word acquired its meaning and form, it may be instructive to follow the discussion that occupied the intellectuals about a hundred and fifty years ago and some time later.

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