A fleabag is a run-down and shabby establishment, especially a hotel or other lodging place, and the word often used adjectivally, as in fleabag hotel. So it’s no mystery why fleas are associated with such places. But where does the bag come in?

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Video: The Value of Translators

A clever video that makes an economic and social point on the value of work translators do:

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flack, flak

Although they sound the same, their spellings differ by only one letter, they are often confused with one another, and they appeared in English at about the same time, flack and flak are very different words, with very different origins.

In the age department, flack edges out its competitor. The word was supposedly coined in Variety, the newspaper of the entertainment industry, but I’ve been unable to find early citations from this source. The earliest I’ve found is from the 25 February 1937 Oakland Tribune:

Whereupon Paramount elected to cash in on the publicity and the flack as Variety calls press agents, leaped to his typing machine.

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flak, flack

See flack, flak


Fantastic comes from the Latin fantasticus or phantasticus via Old French, which in turn is from the Greek φανταστικός (phantastikos). The Greek verb φαντάζειν (phantazein) means to make visible and φαντάζεσθαι (phantazesthai) means to imagine, to have visions. Words like fantasy, phantasm, and fancy come from the same root.

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No, not the famous nineteenth-century writer. This is the slang term, as in the exclamation what the dickens. Dickens is a euphemism for devil. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the 1599 play King Edward IV, Part 1, commonly attributed to Thomas Heywood:

What the dickens is loue that makes ye prate to me so fondly.

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Deer can be traced back to the Old English word deor, but the word’s use in Old English was somewhat different than deer’s is today. To the Anglo-Saxons, a deor was not necessarily the gentle, forest creature signified by the modern deer, but the word could be used for any undomesticated, four-legged animal, including fabulous beasts of legend. The word carried a connotation of wildness and ferocity, not something we today associate with Bambi. Deer is a cognate (sister word) of the modern German Tier, “animal.”

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Adding Twerk and Other Slang Words to “The Dictionary”

As usual, John McIntyre sums up my feelings on the matter.

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crash blossom

A crash blossom is a poorly worded headline that can be read in more than one way. In most of the common examples one of the readings is humorous. (Non-humorous crash blossoms aren’t usually selected as examples, presumably because they’re not exciting enough.) An example of a crash blossom is:

Girl found alive in France murders car
BBC News, September 2012

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To boycott someone or something is to refuse to buy goods or otherwise engage in commerce with them. Boycotts are usually undertaken as a form of political or social protest.

Boycott is an eponym, or a word that comes from a person’s name. The namesake is Captain Charles Boycott, who managed the Irish estates of the Earl of Erne, an absentee landlord in County Mayo, Ireland. In September 1880, Erne’s tenants and laborers were demanding reduced rents, and Boycott evicted them. In response, the Irish Land League, under the leadership of Charles Parnell, organized the tenants and neighbors to resist the evictions, refuse to rent a farm from which someone had been evicted, refuse to work on the estate Boycott managed, and even to refuse to deliver the mail to Boycott. Boycott managed to get the autumn crop harvested, but at a loss, and by the end of the year he had resigned his post and returned to England.

The word was evidently coined by one or more of the local protesters. The first recorded use of the verb is in the Glasgow Herald of 1 November 1880. The noun appears in the Times (London) on 9 December.

The rapidity with which the word boycott caught on is astounding. It even managed to make its way into French by the end of the year. Also surprising is that the term has lasted. Most such eponyms rapidly fade as the events that inspired them recede into memory. For example, how many people still use to bork, meaning to defame someone in order to prevent them from attaining public office, a word inspired by the treatment political opponents gave U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987. Boycott has not only survived, but most people who use the word don’t even know who Charles Boycott was.


“boycott, v. & n.,” Oxford English Dictionary, third edition.

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