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How the OED Got Shorter

Ben’s column this week looks at the fascinating history of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. He explains how the OED, quite possibly OUP’s most important book (well, series of books), got trimmed to a manageable two volumes and why this development was important.

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BEA Dispatch

Purdy, Director of Publicity, is in LA this weekend at Book Expo America. He will be reporting from the action for those of us left in NYC. Live from the convention floor of BEA in LA. For those not in the know BEA stands for Book Expo America, the largest convention of publishers, media, bookstore […]

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From “trash” to “rubbish” and back to “trash” (part two)

In the beginning, words for things wasted or thrown away tend to denote some concrete refuse and only later acquire a generic meaning. Yet, when several synonyms share the field, they are seldom fully interchangeable. Thus, trash, rubbish, junk, offal, and garbage either refer to different kinds of discarded objects or have different stylistic overtones. One also notices with some surprise that in Modern English, all such words are borrowings.

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The Louvre and its environs

What is the origin of the name Louvre? Dictionaries and websites say unanimously that the sought-for etymology is unknown or uncertain. Perhaps so, but we will see.

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Language contact and idioms: out of India

The overlap between English and French idioms is considerable. Familiar quotations from Classical Greek and Latin, to say nothing of the Bible, are taken for granted. A few idioms seem to have come from India, which is not surprising, considering how long British servicemen lived in that country. The Indian connection has rarely been discussed; yet it deserves a brief mention.

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A mild case of etymological calf love

As far as I can judge, the origin of “calf”, the animal, contains relatively few riddles, and in this blog, I prefer not to repeat what can be found in solid dictionaries and on reliable websites. But there is a hitch in relation to the frolicsome calf, the lower leg. That is why I decided to give calf a chance…

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The Invention of Martial Arts

Bruce Lee and the invention of martial arts

Had he lived, Bruce Lee would have been 80 on 27 November 2020. This anniversary will be marked by countless people and innumerable institutions all over the world, from China to Russia to the USA, and almost everywhere in between. This is because, in the space of a few episodes of a couple of US TV series and four martial arts films, Bruce Lee changed global popular culture forever.

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Music & Autism

A conversation on music and autism (part one)

In the first part of this two-part interview, author of “Music and Autism,” Michael Bakan speaks to his co-author Graeme Gibson, Dr Deborah Gibson, and legendary science fiction author William Gibson about musical instruments and autism.

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A “baker’s dozen” and some idioms about food

I decided to write this post, because I have an idea about the origin of the idiom baker’s dozen, and ideas occur so seldom that I did not want this opportunity to be wasted. Perhaps our readers will find my suggestion reasonable or refute it. I’ll be pleased to hear from them.

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Harlots all over the place

Harlot turned up in English texts in the thirteenth century, acquired its present-day sense (“prostitute”) about two hundred years later, and ousted all the previous ones. Those “previous ones” are worthy of recording…

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As daft as a brush and its kin

Some similes make sense: for example, as coarse as hemp (or heather). Hemp and heather are indeed coarse. But cool as a cucumber? Many phrases of this type exist thanks to alliteration. Perhaps at some time, somewhere, cucumbers were associated with coolness, but, more likely, the simile was coined as a joke: just listen to coo-coo in it!

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