Old English Alphabet

One of the daunting things about looking at Old English text is the alphabet. It has, to the modern English speaker, some odd characters. These put people off, although they are not difficult to master. Less obvious is the fact that some modern letters are absent from Old English texts.

Modern versions of Old English texts frequently add diacritical marks, usually as an aid in pronunciation (or, more accurately, an aid in how the transcriber thinks the words were pronounced). These do not exist in the original texts and can usually be ignored.

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How To Sound Like An American

Slate has a neat video featuring a British-born reporter visiting a dialect coach to find out how British actors learn to speak with American accents.

Do you have any little bottles of water?

New York Times Archive

With the New York Times ending their disastrous “TimesSelect” online service (that charged people for “premium” content, the equivalent of which was given away for free by every other newspaper in the country), the entire archive of New York Times articles, dating back to 1851, is now available for free to everyone. Simply go to www.nytimes.com and do a search.

The archive is broken into two sections: articles since 1981 and articles published between 1851 and 1981. The older articles are delivered as PDF documents. Unfortunately, they’re not full text searchable once downloaded, so locating the exact word or phrase your looking for in the article can be a challenge. But for a free service, this is a minor annoyance.


Dizzy sounds like it should be a fairly recent coinage. The double z makes it seem very modern and the word has a slangy air about it. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Dizzy is a very old word, going back to the Old English dysig or dyseg, meaning foolish or stupid. The word appears in the Vespasian Psalter from c.825:

swe folc dysig
(such dizzy folk)

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Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th Edition

The 6th edition of the Shorter OED is officially released on 20 September, but it’s actually been available for some time from Amazon and other outlets.

The Shorter OED is not simply an abridged version of the OED, but an independently edited dictionary. The Shorter OED focuses on words that have been in use since 1700, so archaic words that fell out of use before that date are omitted. It is also not a historical dictionary, so it doesn’t contain all the citations of use in th big OED. But this makes it more useful as a quick reference for writers. It’s a two-volume work, also available on CD-ROM.

It’s listed at $175, but Amazon currently has it for $110.

OED Update, Sep 2007

The latest quarterly update of the OED online has been released. This one contains words between proter and purposive, plus a lot of out-of-sequence updates. New words in the range of Ps include Prozac, pubbing, and pupusa (mmmmh...pupusa). New out-of-sequence words include balls-out, chimichanga, and Kuiper belt. The complete list of new additions can be found here. Editor John Simpson has a short essay on the new additions here.

Strangely, the OED continues its policy of not correcting known errors in existing entries. Somehow, the greatest benefit of being online has not sunk into the editors heads. The 1909 misdating of jazz, for example, persists, even though the editorial staff are well aware and have amply verified and documented that this is an error.


A recent ADS-L discussion on the meaning of the word khaki (apparently it is shifting from tan or dun color to mean green) prompted this entry. Khaki is Urdu meaning dusty; khak means dust. It was brought into English via the colonization of India. The word first appears in English in the latter half of the 19th century, in reference to the color of army uniforms. From a 21 July 1857 letter by an H.B. Edwardes:

The whole of the troops here are dressed in khâkee.

Within a few decades, the word was being applied to a type of cloth of that color from which uniforms were made. From E.S. Bridges’ 1879 Round the World in 6 Months:

The troops here are dressed in khaki...It is a kind of strong brown holland, and appears to me to be made of flax.

By the end of the century, khaki was being used to denote a soldier. From an 1899 appearance in Modern Newspaper:

Before daylight the Khakis were at them again.

And from the 5 January 1900 Yorkshire Herald:

Are you...going to...vote solid for our Government? Or may I put it in another way,...will you vote khaki?

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

Word Nerds, The

A monthly (more or less) podcast about language by three teachers from the Washington, DC area. Covers a broad spectrum of language issues. Also available for free via iTunes and other podcasting services.


The use of hot to mean excellent or fashionable dates to the mid-19th century. From H.W. Shaw’s 1866 Josh Billings, Hiz Sayings:

I dropt tu sleep, az a snoflake dus on the buzzum ov a silvery Lake, (i have a faint idee that this laste sentense, for lovlaness, kant be beat, handy.) I dreamed a good-sized, hot dream.1

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Hilton v. Hallmark

In yet another case of a celebrity claiming ownership of a commonly used term, the AP reported yesterday that Paris Hilton is suing Hallmark over the use of her likeness and the phrase that’s hot in a greeting card. The card has a photo of Hilton’s head superimposed on a waitress’s body and she is telling a customer not to touch a plate because that’s hot.

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