stuff. Here's two to get you started:
Calling from the grave - If you ever felt slightly claustrophobic using a traditional BT telephone kiosk, this might be down to its unique architectural history – the design of the UK’s world famous red telephone boxes was inspired by a nineteenth century tomb.
Mass trespass - The Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers were on high alert. A left-wing group had been agitating in the Derbyshire village of Hayfield, threatening to “take action to open up the fine country at present denied us.” Their target was Kinder Scout, part of the Duke’s extensive moorland estate in the Peak District. But if they wanted to trespass on His Grace’s land, they would have to get past the gamekeepers.
posted by unliteral
on Dec 5, 2012 -
Are you enthusiastic ("pertaining to possession by a deity," from Gk. enthousiastikos "inspired," from enthousiazein
) about Etymology? ( ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly "study of the true sense (of a word),"
Then why not explore ( 1580s, "to investigate, examine," a back formation from exploration, or else from M.Fr. explorer (16c.), from L. explorare
) the vast resources (1610s, "means of supplying a want or deficiency," from Fr. resourse
) of the ONLINE ETYMOLOGY DICTIONARY [more inside]
posted by The Whelk
on Nov 12, 2012 -
Alphabet Horror Vacui
is a satire of children's alphabet books utilizing unnerving themes such as nightmares, war, monsters, institutionalized ignorance, and willful ambivalence to human suffering in lieu of familiar alphabet scenes of busy city streets, animals amongst nature, and happy fanciful scenes. Each piece takes a slightly different tack with Marsh's self-imposed assignment, and while some of them are funny
in an almost Edward Gorey way
, others worm their way
into your brain
) [more inside]
posted by mysticreferee
on Oct 7, 2012 -
The alphaDictionary Historical Dictionary of American Slang
presents a unique way for studying slang. It contains over 2200 slang words with the centuries in which they were first printed. The dates were taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, the Online Etymological Dictionary, or the earliest occurrences the editors can remember. [more inside]
posted by netbros
on Sep 14, 2012 -
Dave Wilton of wordorigins.org
) has been compiling etymological snapshots for each year of the past 100 years, based on words that first appeared in English that year. As of now, he is up to 1941
. The 1911
entry gives a good overview of his goals and parameters. (via
) [more inside]
posted by kmz
on Nov 10, 2011 -
My brother often informs me that I live 'the life of Riley'. The other night while re-reading Bill Bryson's Made in America
I noted he mentioned the origin of the phrase was a popular 1880s song (possibly 1883) Is That Mr. Reilly?
by Pat Rooney, in which "the hero speculates on what he would do with a fortune", and revived for use during WWI
. Curious, I found several possible origins
, though the song remains the top contender. Dictionary.com defines life of Riley
as "a carefree, comfortable, and thoroughly enjoyable way of living. The term became popular and eventually 'The Life of Riley' was used as the title of an American radio sitcom
(Wiki), followed by a movie and television series. It was used again with the alternate spelling 'The Life of Reilly' in 1995 as the title of a short film from Ireland
, and in a 2006 movie starring Charles Nelson Reilly
. In 2009 'The Life of Riley' was the name of a British television comedy
. Now that's a phrase with staying power. It's the name of an Irish band
, an online store
in the UK, it was used by a
, and quite obviously, as the moniker of several drinking establishments, such as the Life of Riley Tavern
in Portland, Oregon; The Life of Reilly - Irish Pub & Restaurant
in Baltimore, in the United Kingdom as the 'Life Of Riley' in Glasgow, Lanarkshire; and 'Life of Reilly Pub' in Harrow, Middlesex; and with a strange possessive at the 'Life of Reilly's Pub and Grill' in Long Beach, New York. Let's also not forget the mysterious MeFite LifeofRiley
, whose stats stand entirely at zero. My main reason for writing all this is to ask: how many Mefites use this term? I do, but unfortunately my brother is wrong: I don't live the life of Riley. I might one day, if I win the lottery . . .
posted by bwg
on Dec 18, 2010 -
The Language of Food
is a blog with only four entries, but each one is an excellent, well-researched essay on, yes, food and language: ketchup
, and ceviche
. The author, Dan Jurafsky, teaches a parallel course at Stanford, the syllabus for which you can peruse here
. via (mefi's own) honestengine.blogspot.com
posted by Rumple
on Aug 14, 2010 -
The Atlas of True Names
reveals the etymological roots, or original meanings, of the familiar terms on today's maps of the World, Europe, the British Isles and the United States. For example, Britain = Great Land of the Tattooed, New Jersey = New Island of Spears, and Chicago = Stink Onion. There's now an iPhone app
. However, at least one linguistic historian takes issue
with some of their methodology. Mefi's own languagehat responds
posted by desjardins
on Jun 17, 2010 -
I've considered myself a fanboy
on occasion in the past, but it never occurred to me to investigate the history of the term. Technologizer's Harry McCracken (god I love that name) has a *far* more detailed and interesting look into the history of the term
than I would ever have considered undertaking. [more inside]
posted by antifuse
on May 20, 2010 -
MTV's Jersey Shore
, a Real World
-style reality program centered around eight young Italian-Americans living together in a beach house, is garnering charges of racism
following their use of the allegedly pejorative terms guido
and the feminine counterpart guidette
in advertisements. But what exactly is
a guido? [more inside]
posted by joechip
on Jan 3, 2010 -
Why would an evolutionary biologist study words? It turns out there is an astonishing parallel
between the evolution of words in a lexicon and the evolution of genes in an organism. The word two
, for example, has been around much longer than most, and will likely be with us for millennia, whereas the comparatively rare and recent word dirty
has undergone many mutations, and will probably be extinct in a few hundred years. Professor Mark Pagel
, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, tells us why on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program As It Happens
. Pull slider to 16:00 to start the seven minute interview
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium
on Mar 7, 2009 -
John Hodgman: "Did I ever tell you people how much I hate the word 'meh'? Nothing announces 'I have missed the point' more than that word. It is the essence of blinkered Internet malcontentism. And a rejection of joy. By definition, it may mean disinterest (although simple silence would be a more damning and sincere response, in that case). But in use, it almost universally seems to signal: I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear. It's part of the toxic Internet art of constant callous one upsmanship.
" (via Andy Baio)Andy Baio
: "Part of the problem is that 'FAIL' implies objective truth, when it's just your personal opinion. Tantek Çelik pointed out that, in LOLspeak, 'DO NOT WANT' would be more appropriate since it clearly conveys a personal opinion. [...]
I know many people who make stuff for the web, all of them very passionate about what they do. And every time I see a 'FAIL' assigned to their work, it makes me sad. Yes, I know you're trying to be funny. But I'm starting to see a trend away from the funny, and towards the angry, bitchy, or mean. So please, mind yer words." [more inside]
posted by WCityMike
on Mar 2, 2009 -
A false etymology
is "an assumed or postulated etymology that current consensus among scholars of historical linguistics holds to be incorrect." The internet has provided a platform for the rapid spread of some false etymologies - Snopes has posts debunking Picnic
On the other hand, a folk etymology
can mean "the process by which a word or phrase, usually one of seemingly opaque formation, is arbitrarily reshaped so as to yield a form which is considered to be more transparent." Other interesting anomalies of etymology: backronyms
posted by billysumday
on Feb 5, 2009 -
Etymology-wise, which hormone is an island? What word both denotes a prime and euphemizes Satan? What word denotes "the future" and abbreviates the unknown? Is urine pith? These are some of the questions from "Moot: The World's Toughest Language Game
," a homemade and little-known board game for lovers of words. Some puzzles
are available online; there are a few more available on a page detailing the interesting story
behind the game's creation. You can sign up
to have a new language puzzle e-mailed to you every week.
posted by painquale
on Dec 4, 2004 -
If you don't like dictionary posts, look away, NOW!
But if you like to play with words, the dictionarians at Merriam-Webster
have announced the winners in their poll for the Ten Favorite Words for 2004
Also, a list of runners-up with more of my personal faves: oxymoron, copacetic, curmudgeon, conundrum,
euphemism, superfluous, and of course, Smock! Smock! Smock!
posted by wendell
on Jun 12, 2004 -
What does your last name mean?
This site has a good variety of surnames with etymologies that seem to be trustworthy in general. You may have to try variant spellings; for instance, "Cardoso" comes up empty, but "Cardozo" gives:
Spanish and Portuguese, derived from Cardoso 'place where thistles grew', town or city from which the first bearer moved; also found in the form CARDOZA; made popular by the Sephardim moiety (Spanish-Portuguese group of Jews).
And if your name isn't there, you can try Behind the Name
, which depends on submissions from readers and so is spottier, but has (for example) Nixon ("son of Nicholas"), which vitalog omits. Enjoy!
posted by languagehat
on Jul 18, 2003 -
Victoria Beckham aka Posh Spice is fighting a move
by second division Peterborough United
to register their nickname POSH as a trademark for it's club merchandise claiming that the nickname is recognised around the world as belonging to her.
The term POSH is widely believed to have originated
in the time of the British Raj when P&O passenger ship tickets were marked POSH -Port Out Starboard Home - port (left-hand side) berths were mostly in the shade when travelling out (easterly) and the starboard ones when coming back. So the best and most expensive berths were POSH. Unfortunately P&O say they have never issued such tickets and none have ever been found even though many tickets do exist from the time.
But this page
from the US Navy METOC site claims it originated in Boston as a label for the luggage of wealthy passengers travelling from the US to Europe to indicate which side of the ship to place the luggage to protect it from the sun.
Should you be allowed to register a word in common usage as a trademark? If posh goes what word is next.
posted by stunned
on Nov 13, 2002 -
From its origins
Stalinist rhetoric in the 30's, to ironic Left-wing jibe in the 70's, to
Iconoclastic taunt in the 80's, to the Conservative pejorative of today, has the
had its day? It's probably just me but it seems to be used
far more frequently by people who are in positions of power or by those more in
tune with society's mainstream orthodoxy
than by those who aren't. Of
course, no one ever calls themselves
politically correct. What do you
think, what does the p.c. term mean to you?
posted by lagado
on Jun 18, 2001 -