We are one more week closer to Halloween, and pumpkins are ubiquitous. How did the pumpkin get its name?
How can a ghost (any ghost) get its name, and why is the etymology of bogymen, gremlins, goblins, and spooks usually unknown?
A bit more is known about the origin of the words thaw and dew than about ice and snow. They are less impenetrable than those two, but they also contain riddles.
Winter is round the corner, and the best way to prepare for it is to read a few murky stories about the etymology of the relevant words: “ice” and “snow.”
In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist tackles questions from readers.
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.
In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist discusses two slang idioms: “worth a Jew’s eye” and “to save one’s bacon”.
In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist dives into the lexicographical history of two puzzling English homonyms: “mother” and “haggard.”
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 […]
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have been meaning to write about homonyms for quite some time, and now this time has come. Here we are interested in one question only, to wit—why so many obviously different words are not distinguished in pronunciation, or, to change the focus of the enquiry, why language, constantly striving for the most economical and most perfect means of expression (or so it seems), has not done enough to get rid of those countless ambiguities.
Let me begin by saying that the best authorities disagree on the etymology of “beacon,” and my suggestion with which I’ll finish this essay is my own.