Category Archives: Etymology

Published: “Alien” vs. Editor: “World English” in the OED 1884-2020

This article discusses the changing ways in which the Oxford English Dictionary has recorded the vocabularies of ‘World English’ from the beginnings to the present day.

Seamus Heaney on Dictionaries

In the summer of 2012 Seamus Heaney wrote to me on some questions I had sent him about dictionaries and words and etymologies. Bits of what he had to say made it into a couple of talks I did around that time, but I recently rediscovered the original text, and thought it should see the […]

Fulsome Recovery

The 1989 Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will tell you that you’re wrong if your think fulsome means the same as full. If you give a ‘fulsome answer’ to some question (as I’ve noticed many people do), it will tell you that your answer is ‘disgusting, repulsive, odious’, ‘Offensive to good taste’ and ‘gross […]

“Covid-19”, and other swiftly documented words in the OED

The OED documented the verb to Google in a 2006 update, eight years after the first occurrence of this sense in print (1998, in eGroups, an old mailing list). Happy slap and derivatives also took eight years to get in, appearing in 2013.  Ditto paywall (published 2012), sext (2015), retweet (2015), and Schmallenberg virus (2019). Omnishambolic (2019) and live-blog (2013) took […]

New Map of Indigenous American Words in English

For some time I’ve been meaning to update my map of pathways into English of  Indigenous American Words, which was based on the Second (1989) Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. With a couple of hours to spare while watching the kids this week, I managed to get around to it, using data from the […]

And we have Coverage!

Here’s the cover of my new book, out in April/May from OUP: Image credit: “Iskandar and the Talking Tree”, from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (977-1010 CE), Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add.176, fol. 311v.  

“Bastard” goes legit! (and has some babies of its own)

The June 2019 update to OED3 has many lovely lexicographical additions: the first three listed are ‘ayuh’, ‘bae’, and ‘ball sack’ (if that gives any indication). Twitterati have commented on ‘upper-class twit’ and ‘you (wee) dancer’. But what caught our eye was the adjacent article by senior editor Matthew Bladen on revisions to “bastard, n.” […]

“Juvescence” and other poetical “Errors”

This morning on the Twitter came this from @nemoloris: OED says “juvescence” is “irregular”, not “erroneous”, but (notorious TSE fan) Robert Burchfield himself called it a malformation (in his Eliot memorial lectures, I believe). Eliot’s defensive letter, sourced by @rngould, is worth keeping in mind: irregular needn’t be erroneous, and sometimes poets are looking to […]

Englishing Non-European Words

My last post focussed on words that are formed within English from other English words with non-English origins. I mostly concentrated on European donor languages, because they make up the overwhelming majority, and show the most variation. But English Englishes wherever it goes, and non-European languages have contributed plenty of English words over the years. […]

The What and When of English’s Englishing

In my previous post, I used OED3’s etymologies to chart the languages that gave English its words, noting that most English words come from other English words.  I then dug deep into all the non-English sources of English. Today I’ll take a closer look at the etymological sources of English words developed within English. Lexical […]