BBC Wordhunt

Did you call someone a minger rather than just pig-ugly before 1995? Did you sport a mullet and call it that before the 1994 Beastie Boys song Mullet Head? Were you dubbed the nit nurse before 1985? And, do you have the evidence to prove it?

BBC Two and Oxford University Press are sponsoring a new project to find the origins of a number of slang terms. The project will provide data to both the OED and to a BBC television series.

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Poker Terms, Part III

The game of poker has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years. More popular than ever, there really are big bucks in the game. Poker tournaments garner large TV audiences and the lines for a place at table in a casino or card room are long.

This is the third of three articles that examines the jargon and slang of the game. In this part, we take a look at terms for the cards and hands as well as poker slang terms.

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Redskins Controversy

The name of the Washington Redskins football team has long been controversial with many claiming, with more than a little justification, that the term redskin is racist and offensive. Recently, sportswriter Frank Deford weighed in on the controversy in a Sports Illustrated article. Leaving aside his opinion on the issue (he favors changing the name), Deford made the following claim in his article:

It’s important to understand that "redskin" does not refer to skin color. It’s not like, well, I’m a whiteskin and Shaquille O’Neal is a blackskin. A redskin was a scalp taken by Native Americans as bounty. The red in redskin is blood red. But the Nation’s Capitol’s football team adamantly holds onto its name.From SI.com, 25 May 2005

Deford could not be more wrong on this. The term redskin does indeed refer to skin color. The OED2 dates redskin to 1699.

Ye firste Meetinge House was solid mayde to withstande ye wicked onsaults of ye Red Skins.
--From S. Smith, 1699 (in H.E. Smith’s Colonial Days)

The use of the adjective red to describe Native American skin color is even older, dating to 1587:

Hee maketh some folkes whyte, some blacke, some read, and some Tawny; and yet is hee but one selfesame Sunne.
--From Arthur Golding, Mornay’s Woorke concerning the trewnesse of the christian religion, 1587

This use of red to describe skin color predates the practice of scalping among Native Americans by nearly a century. The OED2 dates the verb to scalp from 1676 and the noun meaning a scalp taken as a Native American bounty to a year later.

Laying him for dead, they flead (or skulp’d) his head of skin and hair.
--From Narrat. New-Eng., 1676

Two or three miles further they came up with some Heads, Scalps, and Hands cut off from the bodies of some of the English.
--From William Hubbard’s A narrative of the troubles with the Indians in New-England, 1677

Deford may be on the side of the angels in this argument, but he does no good by repeating contentions that are not based in fact.

Poker Terms, Part II

The game of poker has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years. More popular than ever, there really are big bucks in the game. Poker tournaments garner large TV audiences and the lines for a place at table in a casino or card room are long.

This is the second of three articles that examines the jargon and slang of the game. In this second part, we take a look at terms for betting in poker.

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Poker Terms, Part I

The game of poker has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years. More popular than ever, there really are big bucks in the game. Poker tournaments garner large TV audiences and the lines for a place at table in a casino or card room are long.

This is the first of three articles that examines the jargon and slang of the game. In this first part, we take a look at names of various styles of poker.

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Judging Words

It seems everyone wants to be a lexicographer. Even the 7th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals wants to get into the act. Judge Terence Evans writes in his opinion in the case United States v. Murphy on 4 May 2005:

On the evening of May 29, 2003, Hayden was smoking crack with three other folks at a trailer park home on Chain of Rocks Road in Granite City, Illinois. Murphy, Sr., who had sold drugs to Hayden several years earlier, showed up later that night. He was friendly at first, but he soon called Hayden a “snitch bitch hoe”* and hit her in the head with the back of his hand.

*The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden’s response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies.”

British Electoral Speech

On this past Thursday the United Kingdom held a general election to choose a new parliament and government. As expected, the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair, despite losing a few seats, won a majority of seats, giving Blair an unprecedented (for a Labour politician) third term. Despite both being democracies and sharing similar political traditions, the United Kingdom and the United States have different political mechanisms and different vocabularies to describe them.

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Nuclear Option

A term in the news quite a lot lately is nuclear option. The current usage isn’t the literal meaning of the words, some political or military strategy involving weapons of mass destruction. Rather, the nuclear option in the news is metaphorical. It refers to the US Senate changing the rules regarding filibuster to allow more of President Bush’s judicial nominees to be confirmed and take the bench.

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Taxing Terms

In the United States, today is the day when tax returns and payments are due to the Internal Revenue Service. It is "tax day." The verb to tax appears in English usage as early as ca.1290. The word comes from the Old French taxe, which is after the Latin taxare. The noun tax appears in English sometime before 1327.

Internal revenue is the term used in the United States for taxes collected domestically, as opposed to custom duties levied on imports. The term dates to 1862, when the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue was appointed to collect income taxes to fund the U.S. Civil War. This first U.S. income tax was a wartime measure and was repealed in 1872. The income tax was re-imposed in 1894, but was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court the following year. It wasn’t until the passage of the 16th amendment in 1913 that explicitly permitted an income tax was the tax permanently instituted. In the United Kingdom, the corresponding term is inland revenue, a term that dates to 1849.

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A Demonstration of the Futility of Using Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check

Frustrated with your spell checker? That it can’t tell you when to use "there" or "their" (and forget about "they’re")? Does the grammar checker on your word processor miss bad grammar while flagging perfectly good sentences as improper?

If so, you’re not alone. Check out http://faculty.washington.edu/sandeep/check/ and find at least one other who commiserates with you.

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