Title Excerpt Author Date Total Comments Recent Comment
Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles Online The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, or DCHP-2, is an extremely valuable resource for studying any “word, expression, or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada.” And it’s available online for free. The second edition went… Dave Wilton 03/18/17 0
The Oxford Comma and the Law The Oxford comma was in the news recently when a federal court interpreted a Maine statute regarding overtime pay for dairy truck drivers. In the case of O’Connor, et al. v. Oakhurst Dairy, the lack of a comma, or so the news stories would have it, resulted in a victory… Dave Wilton 03/17/17 0
loo Loo, the British word for a lavatory or toilet is one of those words that has generated endless speculation and myth about its origin. While we don’t know for sure where the word comes from, we do have a pretty good guess. It’s most likely from the French lieu, meaning… Dave Wilton 03/12/17 0
Old English Dictionaries Peter Buchanan, who teaches at New Mexico Highlands University, has assembled an excellent introduction to the three major Old English dictionaries: John Clark Hall’s Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (a.k.a., Clark Hall), Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Bosworth Toller), and Toronto’s Dictionary of Old English (DOE). Buchanan’s discussion can… Dave Wilton 03/11/17 0
baseball When examining the origins of a word one must be careful to distinguish between the word and the thing itself. The origin of the word is often quite different from the origin of the thing that it represents. Such is the case with baseball. In this case the word is… Dave Wilton 03/07/17 0
vet Extreme vetting, or the detailed investigation into a person’s background, has been in the news of late as the term of art used by Donald Trump to describe what needs to happen to refugees seeking to enter the United States. Putting aside the fact that existing investigatory measures are already… Dave Wilton 03/04/17 0
Welcome to Wordorigins.org Wordorigins.org is devoted to the origins of words and phrases, or as a linguist would put it, to etymology. Etymology is the study of word origins. (It is not the study of insects; that is entomology.) Where words come from is a fascinating subject, full of folklore and historical lessons.… Dave Wilton 03/01/17 0
sur- The other day I was wondering about the word surname. What is the sur-? prefix. The etymology, while perhaps not immediately obvious, is quite straightforward; the sur- is a French variation on the Latin super, meaning above or beyond. It comes to us, like many French roots, from the Normans.… Dave Wilton 02/27/17 0
A Dialect Coach Critiques Actors’ Accents The topic of actors’ accents has arisen from time to time on our discussion boards. In this sixteen-minute film from Wired magazine dialect coach Erik Singer examines some accents from big Hollywood productions. Yes, Kevin Costner’s English accent in Robin Hood is really that bad, but I was surprised at… Dave Wilton 01/28/17 0
The Last Punchcutter A delightful, short film about a dying art… And a short article on the film. [Discuss this post] Dave Wilton 01/22/17 0
What Did Old Norse Sound Like? My Old Norse expertise doesn’t extend to pronunciation so I can’t comment on the accuracy of this video, but Jackson Crawford’s academic credentials are quite respectable, so I’ll take his word for it. Plus, the image of a man in a cowboy hat reading Old Norse poetry is too good… Dave Wilton 01/16/17 0
American Dialect Society Word of the Year (ADS WOTY) The American Dialect Society (ADS) has decided upon its Word of the Year for 2016 and that word is dumpster fire, meaning “an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation.” The term was commonly heard in reference to last year’s presidential election. It won in a run-off vote against woke, an African-American… Dave Wilton 01/07/17 0
waive, waif To waive something is to voluntarily give up the right to that thing or to refrain from enforcing a rule or regulation, and a waif is an orphaned or abandoned child. But the two words are very much related etymologically. Both date to the thirteenth century and come into English… Dave Wilton 12/29/16 0
waif See waive, waif. Dave Wilton 12/29/16 0
2016 Wordorigins.org Words of the Year (WOTY) Up until now, I’ve resisted jumping on the Word of the Year (WOTY) bandwagon. (I did come up with lists of significant words back in 2007 and 2008, but discontinued the practice.) Words of the Year have no linguistic relevance and are mostly marketing stunts pulled by the organizations that… Dave Wilton 12/22/16 0
In Defense of Puns This is about a year and a half old, but I just discovered it: [Discuss this post] Dave Wilton 12/17/16 0
throw the book at To throw the book at someone is to sentence them to the maximum penalty for a crime or offense. The term is an Americanism dating to the early years of the twentieth century. The “book” in question, however, is a bit uncertain. Dave Wilton 12/06/16 0
book, throw the b. at See throw the book at. Dave Wilton 12/06/16 0
Internet Quotes: Molly Ivins on Flag Burning “I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.” This quotation, attributed to the late, great journalist Molly Ivins, has been making the rounds of the internet lately,… Dave Wilton 12/03/16 0
patient zero The term patient zero is an epidemiological term for the person who transmits an infection into a population that had been free of it. The OED records the first published use of the term being in Randy Shilts’s 1987 And the Band Played On, a book about the early years… Dave Wilton 11/06/16 0
What English Will Sound Like In 100 Years An online article by Michael Erard discusses the possible phonetic changes that English might go through in the coming decades and centuries. The best part of the article are three sound files of the opening lines of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, read in Old English, in modern Received… Dave Wilton 10/23/16 0
Debunked: Students Can’t Write Anymore I’m teaching four sections of first-year English composition this semester, so this subject is near and dear to my heart. Two Stanford researchers, Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, have conducted a longitudinal study of college freshman writing, comparing the results from students in 2006 with earlier studies from… Dave Wilton 10/21/16 0
950 Years Ago On This Date… Her forðferde Eaduuard king, ך Harold eorl feng to ðam rice ך heold hit XL wucena ך ænne dæg, ך her com Willelm ך gewann Ængla land. —The Parker Chronicle (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS. 173) (In this year King Edward died, and the nobleman Harold succeeded to the kingdom… Dave Wilton 10/14/16 0
The Laureation of Bob Dylan A colleague of mine from the University of Toronto, Chet Scoville, has written an excellent piece on Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I want to expand on what he says. Dave Wilton 10/13/16 0
Green’s Dictionary of Slang Green, Jonathan. Green’s Dictionary of Slang. Oxford University Press. 2010. Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the crowning achievement of a scholar who dedicated his career to the research of slang terms. It may be the finest slang dictionary available. It is, unfortunately, far to expensive for anyone who is not… Dave Wilton 10/13/16 0
Chomsky Rebutted Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello have penned a rather thorough take down of Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar in Scientific American. While highly critical, it’s also one of the clearest explanations of Chomsky’s work that I’ve seen. [Discuss this post] Dave Wilton 09/09/16 0
A New Type of Turing Test In 1950, computer pioneer Alan Turing formulated his famous test for determining whether or not a computer was true artificial intelligence (AI). It involved discourse between humans and a computer, and if the humans could not tell whether they were speaking to a another person or to a machine, then… Dave Wilton 07/25/16 0
10K Twitter Followers Wordorigins.org now has over 10,000 followers on Twitter. (We actually broke that barrier some time ago, but I’m in the midst of moving to Texas, so I’ve been slow in conveying the news.) The site’s Twitter handle is @wordorigins. I generally post when I’ve added an article to the site,… Dave Wilton 07/23/16 0
Who We Are Dave Wilton Dave Wilton has a PhD in medieval English Literature from the University of Toronto and teaches writing at Texas A&M University. His research focus is cognitive approaches to Old English lit, and his dissertation examines how metaphors in Old English literature can explicate Anglo-Saxon ideas and conceptions of… Dave Wilton 07/23/16 0
Spelling Reform Anatoly Liberman is one of the leading etymologists out there, author of Word Origins and How We Know Them and the Analytical Dictionary of English Etymology. I did not know until recently, however, that he is also an advocate of English spelling reform. Linguist John McWhorter recently interviewed him regarding… Dave Wilton 07/22/16 0
Man Vs. Marine The Washington Post reports that the U. S. Marine Corps is eliminating the word man from nineteen of its job titles. An infantryman will now be called an infantry marine, and what was once a field artillery man is now a field artillery marine. Some job titles are retaining the… Dave Wilton 06/30/16 0
Woody Words This classic popped up on my Facebook feed today: [Discuss this post] Dave Wilton 06/25/16 0
rap The sense of rap meaning a blow or strike is probably echoic in origin. Much like tap and clap, it represents the sound of the blow. The earliest citation in both the Oxford English Dictionary and the Middle English Dictionary is from the poem Roland and Vernagu, found in the… Dave Wilton 06/14/16 0
Blue Letter Bible A website for exploring the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
Diccionario Etimológico A Spanish etymological dictionary. Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
Deutsches Wörterbuch (Grimm) Grimm’s dictionary of German (1854–1961) is available online through the University of Trier. Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots The Indo-European roots appendix to the American Heritage Dictionary is available as a separate volume. A solid, yet inexpensive resource if you want to trace an etymology to the earliest possible source. Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
A Way With Words Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette host this weekly public radio show and podcast on language. Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
Corpus.BYU.Edu Brigham Young University hosts a number of searchable corpora of English usage. The site is an invaluable resource for determining how words and phrases are used in different genres and registers, regions, and dates. Corpora on the site include: Newspapers on the Web (NOW) Corpus, 2.8 billion words, 2010–present Global… Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
Urban Dictionary An online compendium of slang. Urban Dictionary is crowd sourced with no apparent editorial supervision. Therefore, it cannot be taken as accurate or authoritative, but when used with care it can be a valuable source for information on recent slang that has yet to be recognized by more traditional references. Dave Wilton 06/12/16 0
Wrong. Journalists love to write articles on language. Not only, since they make their livings with words, do they have a professional interest in the topic, but language is a popular topic. People, at least those who read newspapers, love to read about it. The problem is that journalists often get… Dave Wilton 06/11/16 0
Web of Language Linguist Dennis Baron’s blog about language in the news. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Strong Language A blog about swearing with contributions by a number of language experts. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Sesquiotica A blog about language by writer James Harbeck. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Sentence First An Irishman’s blog about language by writer Stan Carey. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Lingua Franca The Chronicle of Higher of Education’s blog about language and writing. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Lexicon Valley Slate’s blog about language. Slate’s podcast about language. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Harmless Drudgery A blog by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
Explorations of Style A blog about academic writing by Rachel Cayley, a teacher of writing for the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
DCBlog (David Crystal) Linguist David Crystal’s blog. Dave Wilton 06/10/16 0
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