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Casting a last spell: After Skeat and Bradley

By Anatoly Liberman
I think some sort of closure is needed after we have heard the arguments for and against spelling reform by two outstanding scholars. Should we do something about English spelling, and, if the answer is yes, what should we do? Conversely, if no, why no? 

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Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman
Henry Bradley, while writing his paper (see the previous post), must have looked upon Skeat as his main opponent. This becomes immediately clear from the details. For instance, Skeat lamented the use of the letter c in scissors and Bradley defended it.

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Professor Wright and Professor Skeat

By Anatoly Liberman
From time to time I mention the unsung heroes of English etymology, but only once have I devoted a post to such a hero (Frank Chance), though I regularly sing praises to Charles P.G. Scott, the etymologist for The Century Dictionary. Today I would like to speak about Joseph Wright (1855-1930). He was not an etymologist in the strict sense of this term, but no article on the origin of English words can do without consulting The English Dialect Dictionary he edited.

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Walter W. Skeat Faces the World

By Anatoly Liberman
Last week I wrote that one day I would reproduce some memorable statements from Skeat’s letters to the editors. This day has arrived. I have several cartons full of paper clippings, the fruit of the loom that has been whirring incessantly for more than twenty years: hundreds of short and long articles about lexicographers, with Skeat occupying a place of honor. A self-educated man in everything that concerned the history of Germanic, he became the greatest expert in Old and Middle English and an incomparable etymologist. In England, only Murray, the editor of the OED, and Henry Sweet were his equals, and in Germany, only Eduard Sievers. Joseph Wright, another autodidact

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Word Origins

Gr-words as mushrooms

Some words propagate like mushrooms: no roots but a sizable crowd of upstarts calling themselves relatives. Gr-words are the pet subject of all works on sound imitation and sound symbolism.

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Word Origins

Post-summer gleanings

The Oxford Etymologist answers readers’ questions on the origin of the word “race”, variants of “in one’s stockinged feet”, the folkloric creature Lady Hoonderlarly, and “bonfire.”

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Word Origins

In one’s stockinged feet

One does not need to be an etymologist to suggest that stocking consists of “stock-” and “-ing”. The trouble is that though “-ing” occurs in some nouns, it looks odd in stocking. Few English words have more seemingly incompatible senses than stock.

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Word Origins

On mattocks and maggots, their behavior and origin

The mattock, a simple tool, has a name troublesome to etymologists even though it has been known since the Old English period. In this blog post, the Oxford Etymologist explores a new hypothesis for the origins of “mattock”.

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Word Origins

Cheek by jowl

The history of “cheek by jowl” and especially the pronunciation of “jowl” could serve as the foundation of a dramatic plot, says the Oxford Etymologist in this week’s blog post.

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Bachelors and bachelorettes

No one doubts that “bachelor” came to Middle English at the end of the thirteenth century from Old French and meant “a young knight.” Most conjectures about the etymology of this mysterious word were offered long ago.

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