Nine of diamonds, or the curse of Scotland: an etymological drama in two acts: Act 1

The origin of this mysterious phrase, "nine of diamonds," has been discussed for over two hundred years. Nor are surveys wanting. I cannot say anything on this subject the world does not know, and I
The origin of this mysterious phrase, "nine of diamonds," has been discussed for over two hundred years. Nor are surveys wanting. I cannot say anything on this subject the world does not know, and I [More]

October etymological gleanings continued

There is a good word aftermath. Aftercrop is also fine, though rare, but, to my regret, afterglean does not exist (in aftermath, math- is related to mow, and -th is a suffix, as in length, breadth,
There is a good word aftermath. Aftercrop is also fine, though rare, but, to my regret, afterglean does not exist (in aftermath, math- is related to mow, and -th is a suffix, as in length, breadth, [More]

Our shortest words continued: “of,” “both,” and (again) “if”

Last week, we looked at the history of the conjunction if, and it turned out that the Dutch for if is of. The fateful question asked “at dawn,” when “Scheherazade” had to stop her tale, was: “Are
Last week, we looked at the history of the conjunction if, and it turned out that the Dutch for if is of. The fateful question asked “at dawn,” when “Scheherazade” had to stop her tale, was: “Are [More]

A few more of our shortest words: “if,” “of,” and “both”

The post of 21 June 2017 on the “dwarfs of our vocabulary” was received so well that I decided to return to them in the hope that the continuation will not disappoint our readers. Those dwarfs have
The post of 21 June 2017 on the “dwarfs of our vocabulary” was received so well that I decided to return to them in the hope that the continuation will not disappoint our readers. Those dwarfs have [More]

Etymology gleanings for July 2017

First of all, I would like to thank our readers for their good wishes in connection with the 600th issue of The Oxford Etymologist, for their comments, and suggestions. In more than ten years, I
First of all, I would like to thank our readers for their good wishes in connection with the 600th issue of The Oxford Etymologist, for their comments, and suggestions. In more than ten years, I [More]

Two numerals: “six” and “hundred,” part 1

The reason for such a strange topic will become clear right away. The present post is No. 600 in the career of “The Oxford Etymologist.” I wrote my first essay in early March 2006 and since that
The reason for such a strange topic will become clear right away. The present post is No. 600 in the career of “The Oxford Etymologist.” I wrote my first essay in early March 2006 and since that [More]

Boasting and bragging

No one likes boasters. People are expected to be modest (especially when they have nothing to show). For that reason, the verbs meaning “to boast” are usually “low” or slangy (disparaging) and give
No one likes boasters. People are expected to be modest (especially when they have nothing to show). For that reason, the verbs meaning “to boast” are usually “low” or slangy (disparaging) and give [More]

Mid-June etymology gleanings

John Cowan pointed out that queer “quaint, odd” can be and is still used today despite its latest (predominant) sense. Yes, I know. Quite intentionally, I sometimes use the phrase queer smile. It
John Cowan pointed out that queer “quaint, odd” can be and is still used today despite its latest (predominant) sense. Yes, I know. Quite intentionally, I sometimes use the phrase queer smile. It [More]

Sleeveless errand

The phrase is outdated, rare, even moribund. Those who use it do so to amuse themselves or to parade their antiquarian tastes. However, it is not quite dead, for it sometimes occurs in books
The phrase is outdated, rare, even moribund. Those who use it do so to amuse themselves or to parade their antiquarian tastes. However, it is not quite dead, for it sometimes occurs in books [More]

Spelling and knowhow: the oddest English spellings, part 23

We are so used to the horrors of English spelling that experience no inconvenience at reading the word knowhow. Why don’t know and how rhyme if they look so similar? Because such is life. The post
We are so used to the horrors of English spelling that experience no inconvenience at reading the word knowhow. Why don’t know and how rhyme if they look so similar? Because such is life. The post [More]