Posts Tagged ‘stories behind words’

  • Get your gas mask on – toot sweet! World War I, and its impact on English

    Posted by on July 28, 2014

    There’s a popular song from World War I about a soldier going off to the front. It starts with the lines: Brother Bertie went away To do his bit the other day (You can hear an original recording here.) “Doing your bit” – taking your fair share of a job that has to be done […]

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  • Trending, then peaking, then past its sell-by date

    Posted by on April 30, 2014

    Australian scientists have discovered that the more beards there are, the less attractive they become. Their experiment, reported in the journal Biology Letters, found that “women and men judged heavy stubble and full beards more attractive when presented in treatments where beards were rare than when they were common … Likewise, clean-shaven faces were least […]

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  • Your stories in a flipbook!

    Posted by on February 19, 2014

    As many of you will remember, last year we ran the Stories behind Words series on this blog. In the series we asked teachers, authors, linguists and other language enthusiasts to share a personal anecdote about a word (or phrase) that they felt strongly about: a word that had a personal meaning to them. We […]

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  • Stories behind Words: Hogmanay

    Posted by on January 01, 2014

    31st December, the last night of the year in the Western calendar, is celebrated in many places, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Scotland. The Scots even have their own word for this festival, shunning the pedestrian New Year’s Eve for the Scots word Hogmanay. The etymology of Hogmanay is complicated, but it is believed […]

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  • Stories behind Words: Boxing Day

    Posted by on December 25, 2013

    The day after Christmas Day, traditionally known as Boxing Day, is a public holiday in Britain and several other countries (if the 26th December falls on a weekend the holiday is moved to the first or second available weekday). But what does it have to do with boxing? Actually nothing, if by boxing you mean […]

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  • Stories behind Words: Christmas, Noel and Yule

    Posted by on December 18, 2013

    More Christmassy words this week; in fact, three words that refer to the festival itself. The oldest of the three is Yule, from Old English geól, which meant Christmas Day or Christmastime, and corresponds to an Old Norse word jól, which was a pagan winter feast lasting twelve days. The earliest citation of this word […]

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  • Stories behind Words: carol

    Posted by on December 11, 2013

    There are some things about Christmas that I can take or leave, and others that I really love. One essential element of the festive season as far as I’m concerned is the Christmas carol. If I haven’t raised my voice to sing ‘Once in Royal David’s City‘ or ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear‘ at […]

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  • Stories behind Words: chortle and galumph

    Posted by on December 04, 2013

    It’s not that unusual for people to ask me how they can get a word into the dictionary. That’s easy, I tell them. Get lots of different people to use it in lots of different places and in it will go. Actually it’s not easy at all, as can be seen from the complete failure […]

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  • Stories behind Words: Ruby, Britney … and Andy too

    Posted by on November 27, 2013

    It’s Friday night. Fancy a ruby washed down with a couple of britneys? Baffled? What if I reminded you that Britney’s surname is Spears (which rhymes with beers), and told you that Ruby is Ruby Murray, another popular female singer, but one whose heyday was in the 50s? And Murray rhymes with curry … there, […]

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  • Stories behind Words: humble pie

    Posted by on November 20, 2013

    Being forced to eat anything is unpleasant, but humble pie must rank among the most disagreeable dishes of all. By eating it you acknowledge that you were completely wrong and that someone else – the person making you eat it – was right. But what is humble pie? And was it ever a physical rather […]

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