Category Archives: Etymology

Interview with Paul Muldoon

Here are some excerpts from an interview I did with Paul Muldoon a couple of years ago, which focused on dictionaries and etymology. A full .pdf version of the interview can be downloaded here: [Interview with Paul Muldoon]. PM: I’ve never really been into the OED Online. Maybe I should. I think I might even […]

Method as Tautology

Although it has been available for a while in the advanced access section of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, and before that Literary and Linguistic Computing, my article on digital methods in literary research has recently been published in its final version. The full bibliographic details are: Williams, David-Antoine. “Method as Tautology in the Digital […]

Catchall for cutthroats

What is the difference between a catch-all and a catch-phrase? Both are compounds formed as Verb+Noun, but in catch-all, the noun is the direct object of the verb, whereas in catch-phrase it is the subject. That is, a catch-all is something that catches all things, whereas a catch-phrase is not something that catches phrases – […]

Published: “Geoffrey Hill’s Etymological Crux”

I’m happy to say that Modern Philology has just published a longish article of mine on etymology in Geoffrey Hill’s work, called “All corruptible things: Geoffrey Hill’s Etymological Crux.” A self-archived copy of the article may be downloaded by clicking here. In the article I trace out some ways in which the intellectual and theological […]

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 […]