Category Archives: Etymology

Plural Fixation

Or, “How not to be a pedant with the OED.” I like a good hatchet job. Done well, the literary smack-down is thrilling and educative. Terry Eagleton on Richard Dawkins [“Lunging, flailing, mispunching”, LRB, 19.10.06] is among my favourite examples of the dark art: characterizing Dawkins’s idea of the Christian god as “some kind of […]

Snowclone Sandwich

“Snowclone” is a word for a kind of transferable, reusable pattern of phrase, such as the original “X have Y words for Z” (on the pattern “Eskimos have fifty-five (or pick your number) words for snow“, so transferable to “The French have no word for entrepreneur“, or whatever), or “X is the new Y” (on […]

“Chickadee” an “Authorism”?

This morning while watching a small horde of black-capped chickadees [a banditry or dissimulation of chickadees, you might say, or just a flock] taking turns at the feeder, a I had a quick look through Paul Dickson’s Authorisms: Words Wrought by Authors. The book is a list of literary neologisms and their attributions. There are […]

Contending and Pretending with Etymology

This morning brought a FB cry for help: As I happen to have my American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (third edition) handy, I quickly came to the answer that English attend and content are indeed from the same root, although not exactly the same Latin root. That is, the historical semantic tree branches off […]

On the origins of bears, and words for bears

A poem by Simon Armitage called “The Great Bear” (from CloudCukooLand, 1997) has a few things to say about, and to, a bear – or bears in general. The poem is modelled as a set of ratifications (“it’s right… And right…” etc.) of ursine legends and myths, actual and invented:  [embedded from Google Books] The […]

“Disobstetricate not their enixibility”: OED’s Double Hapaxes

Or, Urquhart’s folly. Here’s a challenge: write a sentence with two never-before-used words in it, and see if the Oxford English Dictionary ever adds both of them to its long list of English words. In “Acrasial Philogamy – Ghost Hapaxes in OED”, I documented some words that are included as headwords in the OED on […]

Going Live: “The Life of Words”

For over two years, I’ve been posting short posts and articles on topics related to poetry, criticism, lexicography – especially the Oxford English Dictionary – and Digital Humanities, on my research blog, “Poetry & Contingency”. That blog was initially set up to collect thoughts, results, and new research questions generated in the course of a […]