Magazine changes and the Oxford English Dictionary

The pen is mightier than the sword. Look at what happened to the word, “magazine”.

There was a time when it meant an arsenal, an armoury, a storehouse for arms and ammunition. Maybe that is how the cartridge-holder for rifles and machine-guns came to be called a “magazine”.

[Read more...]

The man who added “c***” and “f***” to Oxford English Dictionary

Robert Burchfield

Robert Burchfield

If nothing else, the man had balls. The man who added swear words like “c***” and “f***” to  the Oxford English Dictionary also broke another taboo. [Read more...]

Cuppa and other words first used by P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse

When you think of P.G. Wodehouse, you think of pigs, aunts, potty earls and dapper younger brothers, unflappable omniscient butlers, goofy young men and irresistible young women – and a language that’s absolutely unique, peppered with words and phrases as funny  and bizarre as the situations the characters get into. Wodehouse uses words and expressions such as “oojah-cum-spiff’, “rannygazoo”  and “twenty-minute egg”.  Colourful, outlandish, memorable.

But did you know he was the first writer known to have used  the word “cuppa” ? It’s such a common word. Yet, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first evidence of the word comes from him.  The OED has 1,756 quotations from Wodehouse.  Here are the 22 words which, according to the OED, first appeared in the writings of Wodehouse.  Here are the words, in alphabetical order, followed by the quotations from Wodehouse. The entries are all from the OED.

  • Billiken: A small, squat, smiling figure used as a mascot.
    1914   P. G. Wodehouse Man Upstairs 257   When you send a girl three bouquets, a bracelet, and a gold Billiken with ruby eyes, you do not expect an entire absence of recognition
  • Crispish: Somewhat crisp.
    1930   P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves vi. 142   When not pleased Aunt Dahlia, having spent most of her youth in the hunting-field, has a crispish way of expressing herself.
  •  Cuppa:  A form, freq. in modern times, of cup o’. Also used ellipt. for cup o’ tea. colloq.
    1925   P. G. Wodehouse Sam the Sudden vi. 42   Come and have a cuppa coffee. [Read more...]

Awesome and groovy

Schoolmasters as a class are extremely groovy.

You don’t say!

That’s what it says in the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which plucked that quote from an article published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1896.

Wow, “groovy” was in use that long ago?

I thought “groovy” was what baby boomers said when they meant “awesome”.  Like Simon and Garfunkel here at the end of this post, singing Feelin’ Groovy.

Well, “groovy” predates the boomers and meant something completely different earlier. [Read more...]

How words get into the Oxford English Dictionary

I have seen the word "linguaphile" (meaning word lover or language lover) on Dictionary.com and the Free Dictionary, but it's not there in the Oxford English Dictionary. It no longer tries to be comprehensive. "The language is expanding so fast this may be an impossible mission," said Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Mark Abley recalls their conversation in his book, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English, where he also writes about Singlish and other variants of the English language, as I mentioned here.

"The Internet poses problems," said Weiner. "We tend to avoid citing the Web unless we feel we really have to. What we've tended to cite are newsgroups and discussion groups – they guarantee to archive them for a long time. We've occasionally taken quotations from websites. But we don't like doing that."

[Read more...]

Avatar No 1 on the Net: Indian words in English

Viagra sounds like the Sanskrit word for tiger — “vyaghra”.

Henry Hitchens points that out in his delightful book, The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes the similarity but doubts any connection between the two words. The “vi” of Viagra possibly comes from virile and virility, it says.

That may be so, but there are plenty of Indian words in English. Think of the Oscar nominee, Avatar.

That’s another Sanskrit word, which means incarnation. It was first used in English by the Orientalist Sir William Jones in 1784.

But how did avatar come to mean a computer graphics icon? OED offers no explanation for this new incarnation of avatar. It simply notes the word has been used in this sense since 1986.

Indian words may not be a dime a dozen in the English language, but they are certainly among the most common.

Think of curry, cot, bungalow, bangle, pyjamas. They are all from India. Cot comes from the Hindi “khat”, bangle from the Hindi “bangri”, pyjamas from the Urdu “pyjama”, bungalow from the Hindustani “bangla”. Curry is from the Tamil “kari”, which means sauce or relish for rice, says the OED.

Now let’s do a Google search to see which appears most often on the internet.

And the winner is …

Avatar!

[Read more...]