Showing 1-10 of 15 entries tagged


Word stories

As a historical dictionary, the OED shows how words can change and extend their meanings over time. Here we look at the stories behind some everyday words (old and new), along with some tales of word hunting. digital, by Richard Holden precarious, by Peter Gilliver information, by Michael Proffitt mammoth, by John Simpson nachos anyone?, [...]

Material world: the language of textiles

The English language is rich in words for fabrics and textiles imported from various regions of the world. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries in particular an enormous number and variety of fabrics were imported to Britain, especially from Europe and the Middle and Far East. jersey from Jersey Many of these, or the [...]

‘Fly in the ointment’? Assessing the influence of the King James Bible (1611)

Please note: several of the following links to dictionary content require subscriber access  to the OED Online. What is the influence of the King James Bible (1611) on the English language? The claims have sometimes been quite extraordinary, and with the 400th anniversary of publication falling in 2011, the exaggerations have been growing. In an [...]

A hat, a hypnotist, and one (partially) bad egg

The Du Maurier family had several illustrious members. Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989) is now probably the best-known, a prolific novelist whose writing inspired such films as Rebecca, Don’t Look Now, and The Birds.  Daphne’s father Gerald Du Maurier (1873-1934), in turn, was a famous actor and theatre manager. However, it was Daphne’s grandfather, George Du [...]

The AUTO- age

‘Self’ reference How readily someone may be understood when using a new word will depend on several factors: the intuitable transparency of meaning, its clarity in context, the receptiveness of the audience, and so on. It’s scarcely surprising, then, that coiners or early adopters of new terminology often exhibit a certain hesitancy. Among the early [...]


In lexicography it is often easier to identify developments in the meaning and usage of a word than it is to determine their causes. The quotation evidence that we adduce will often clearly show a new sense in use; what it less frequently provides is an explanation as to why that new sense has arisen. [...]


An engine in a car or aeroplane is such a solid, physical thing that it might be hard to imagine that the word engine has shown much development over its history. Instead, the history of engine is a curious one, and is a good example of a process which is common in English nouns: the [...]


If the content of OED is now more extensive and diverse than that of previous editions, we could say the same of the dictionary’s readership. Usage statistics from the OED Online show that—as a rough average—every second of every day someone somewhere in the world is extracting an OED entry to read. We can record [...]


What does the OED‘s entry for the word mammoth tell us about the development of the word in English? Take a brief look at the entry as a whole: before you reach the different meanings of the word as a noun and as an adjective you’ll find the modern pronunciation, a list of ways the [...]

Nachos, anyone?

In the 25 years during which I worked for the Oxford English Dictionary, before the days of sophisticated electronic searching, the methods used by OED library researchers like myself were varied, random, and frequently unscientific. These were pre-computer days. The internet was 25 years in the future. Gradually computer use for library holdings was introduced, [...]