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OUPblog » Lexicography & Language



OUPblog » Lexicography & Language



Last Build Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:19:37 +0000

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An oar in every man’s boat

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 12:30:38 +0000

Not too long ago, one of our constant correspondents proposed the etymology of Greek koupí “oar.” I do not know the origin of that word and will probably never know. Koupí did not show up in my most detailed dictionary of Classical Greek, and I suspect that we are dealing with a relative late coinage. By way of compensation, I decided to write something about the origin of Engl. oar and about some other words connected with it.

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Catching someone by the toe

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:30:48 +0000

From time to time I receive questions too long for my monthly gleanings. The same happened last week. A reader wanted to know the origin of the eena, meena (or eenie, meenie) rhyme. Although not much can be said with certainty about this matter, a few facts have been established. The Internet devotes a lot of space to this “jingle.”

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First things first

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 12:30:22 +0000

I seldom, if ever, try to be “topical” (I mean the practice of word columnists to keep abreast of the times and discuss the words of the year or comment on some curious expression used by a famous personality), but the calendar has some power over me. The end of the year, the beginning of the year, the rite of spring, the harvest—those do not leave me indifferent.

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Etymology gleanings for December 2017

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 12:00:44 +0000

At the end of December, it is natural to look back at the year almost spent. Modern etymology is a slow-moving coach, and great events seldom happen in it. As far as I know, no new etymological dictionaries have appeared in 2017, but one new book has. It deals with the word kibosh, and I celebrated its appearance in the November “Gleanings.”

The post Etymology gleanings for December 2017 appeared first on OUPblog.




The New Year is approaching. What else is new? Or a chip off the old block

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 12:30:39 +0000

Many things are new. The vocabulary of the Germanic languages shows its great potential when new objects have to be described. Even to characterize people wearing shiningly new clothes English has a picturesque phrase, namely, he/she has come (or stepped) out of the bandbox.

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The word “job” and its low-class kin

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 12:30:11 +0000

This post is in answer to a correspondent’s query. What I can say about the etymology of job, even if condensed, would be too long for my usual “gleanings.” More important, in my opinion, the common statement in dictionaries that the origin of job is unknown needs modification. What we “know” about job is sufficient for endorsing the artless conclusions drawn long ago. It would of course be nice to get additional evidence, but there is probably no need to search for it and no hope to dig it up.

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Three millennia of writings – a brief history of Chinese literature

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:30:06 +0000

Chinese scholars traditionally have considered the Han fu-rhapsody, Tang shi-poetry, Song ci-song lyrics, and Yuan qu-drama, as the highest literary achievements of their respective dynasties. However, Chinese literature embraces a far wider range of writing than these four literary genres. Explore a treasure trove that offers rich information about Chinese society, thought, customs, and social and political movements

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Nine of diamonds, or the curse of Scotland: an etymological drama in two acts. Act 2, Scene 2

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 12:30:04 +0000

See the previous posts with the same title. We are approaching the end of the drama. It will be a thriller without a denouement, a tragedy without catharsis, but such are most etymological dramas. Putting the kibosh on the origin of a hard word or phrase is an almost impossible endeavor. Heraldry for etymologists and a note on unlikely candidates - It has been said, and for good reason, that, whenever people played cards, every man whose unpopularity made him hated by the people and bearing as arms nine lozenges could be referred to as the curse of Scotland.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2017

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 12:30:27 +0000

A time-consuming kibosh - Long ago (19 May 2010), I wrote a post on the origin of the mysterious word kibosh, part of the idiom to put the kibosh on “to put an end to something.” The discussion that followed made me return to this subject in 28 July 2010, and again three years later (14 August 2013). Since that time, the word has been at the center of attention of several researchers, and last month a book titled Origin of Kibosh by Gerald Cohen, Stephen Goranson, and Matthew Little appeared (Routledge Studies in Etymology.

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Nine of diamonds, or the curse of Scotland: an etymological drama in two acts: Act 2, Scene 1

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 12:30:48 +0000

Battles, butchers, and tyrants - CULLODEN. The battle of Culloden took place on 16 April 1746 between the forces of the Catholic “Young Pretender” Charles Edward Stuart, who was at the head of the Jacobites, and those of the government, led by Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland.

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Nine of diamonds, or the curse of Scotland: an etymological drama in two acts: Act 1

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 12:30:02 +0000

The origin of this mysterious phrase, "nine of diamonds," has been discussed for over two hundred years. Nor are surveys wanting. I cannot say anything on this subject the world does not know, and I have no serious preferences for any of the relatively promising hypotheses.

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Etymology gleanings for October 2017

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 11:30:24 +0000

Singular versus plural. What feel(s) like failed relationships…. The dilemma is as old as the hills: English speakers have always felt uncertain about the number after what. An exemplary treatment of this problem will be found in the old editions of H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the entry what 2).

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Revenons à nos moutons!

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 11:30:42 +0000

I keep returning to my sheep and rams because the subject is so rich in linguistic wool. Last time (see the post for 11 October 2017), I looked at the numerous etymological attacks on sheep and came to rather uninspiring results.

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Sheepskin and mutton

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 11:30:05 +0000

This is a sequel to the previous post of 4 October 2017. Last time I mentioned an embarrassment of riches in dealing with the origin of the word sheep, and I thought it might not be improper to share those riches with the public.

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Sheep and lambs on an etymological gallows

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 11:30:16 +0000

Animal names are so many and so various that thick books have been written about their origins, and yet some of the main riddles have never been solved.

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Etymology gleanings for September 2017

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 11:30:49 +0000

Cognates and borrowing once again It has been known for a long time that the only difference between borrowing and genetic relation is one of chronology.  Engl. town once meant “enclosure,” as German Zaun still does. Russian tyn also means “fence.” There is a consensus that the Russian word is a borrowing from Germanic because […]

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Trashing Thurse, an international giant

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 16:30:43 +0000

While working on my previous post (“What do we call our children?”), which, among several other words, featured imp, I realized how often I had discussed various unclean spirits in this blog. There was once an entire series titled “Etymological Devilry.” Over the years, I have dealt with Old Nick, grimalkin, gremlin, bogey, goblin, and […]

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What do we call our children?

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 11:30:32 +0000

In the Indo-European languages, most words for “mother,” “father,” “son,” and “daughter” are very old—most (rather than all), because some have been replaced by their rivals. Thus, Latin filia “daughter” is the feminine of filius “son,” and filius has nothing to do with son, which is indeed ancient.

The post What do we call our children? appeared first on OUPblog.




Etymology gleanings for August 2017: “Getting on one’s wick” and other “nu-kelar” problems of etymology

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 11:30:04 +0000

Dark. I am sorry for the unavoidable pun, but the origin of most adjectives for “dark” is obscure. This is what etymological dictionaries of German tell us about dunkel and finster.

The post Etymology gleanings for August 2017: “Getting on one’s wick” and other “nu-kelar” problems of etymology appeared first on OUPblog.




A fake etymology of the word “fake,” with deep thoughts on “Fagin” and other names in Dickens

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 11:30:49 +0000

I do not know the etymology of fake, and no one knows, but, since the phrase fake news is in everybody’s mouth, I am constantly asked where the word fake came from. I’ll now say what I can about this subject, in order to be able to refer to this post in the future and from now on live in peace.

The post A fake etymology of the word “fake,” with deep thoughts on “Fagin” and other names in Dickens appeared first on OUPblog.




Our shortest words continued: “of,” “both,” and (again) “if”

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 11:30:42 +0000

Last week, we looked at the history of the conjunction if, and it turned out that the Dutch for if is of. The fateful question asked “at dawn,” when “Scheherazade” had to stop her tale, was: “Are English if and of related?”

The post Our shortest words continued: “of,” “both,” and (again) “if” appeared first on OUPblog.




A few more of our shortest words: “if,” “of,” and “both”

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 11:30:44 +0000

The post of 21 June 2017 on the “dwarfs of our vocabulary” was received so well that I decided to return to them in the hope that the continuation will not disappoint our readers. Those dwarfs have a long history and have been the object of several tall tales.

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Etymology gleanings for July 2017

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 11:30:08 +0000

First of all, I would like to thank our readers for their good wishes in connection with the 600th issue of The Oxford Etymologist, for their comments, and suggestions. In more than ten years, I must have gone a-gleaning about 120 times.

The post Etymology gleanings for July 2017 appeared first on OUPblog.




Two numerals: “six” and “hundred,” part 2: “hundred”

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 11:30:21 +0000

Like the history of some other words denoting numbers, the history of hundred is full of sticks and stones. To begin with, we notice that hundred, like dozen, thousand, million, and billion, is a noun rather than a numeral and requires an article (compare six people versus a hundred people); it also has a regular plural (a numeral, to have the plural form, has to be turned into a noun, or substantivized, as in twos and threes, at sixes and sevens, on all fours, and the like).

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Two numerals: “six” and “hundred,” part 1

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 11:30:28 +0000

The reason for such a strange topic will become clear right away. The present post is No. 600 in the career of “The Oxford Etymologist.” I wrote my first essay in early March 2006 and since that time have not missed a single Wednesday.

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