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6 February 2016

Satisficer The idea here is the paradox of choice. The classic story is the one about the donkey which was placed exactly halfway between two bales of hay. Unable to decide which one of the two bales was the more enticing ...
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Beside oneself It puzzles us today because language has changed but the idiom hasn’t. The phrase appears first in the language a long time ago. In 1490, William Caxton, who established the first English printing ...
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9 January 2016

Words of the Year 2015

After Oxford’s choice of a non-word — an emoji — for their word of the year, the editors of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary followed suit. They noted that internet users have been searching its site in their masses this year ...
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Peradventure The online Oxford English Dictionary has added a note to each entry showing how often it appears in current use. Peradventure appears in band 2, which the dictionary says contains “terms which are not ...
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Sconce It’s even more weird than those suggest, because the word originates in the Latin verb abscondere, to hide, from which we also get the verb abscond, originally and specifically to flee into hiding. In Latin ...
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Orchidelirium This word turned up in a review I read over the holiday break of Richard Mabey’s new book, The Cabaret of Plants. Checking my files, I found that I’d seen it in two earlier articles in British newspapers in ...
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26 December 2015

How’s your father You take me back to my youth in west London and to my dear old dad, one of whose phrases this was. To my ear it’s an outdated expression, even in Britain, where it was once most popular. However ...
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5 December 2015

Goon Goon stepped shyly on to the public stage in the issue of Harper’s Magazine for December 1921. A whimsical article by Frederick Allen had the title The Goon and His Style: “A goon is a person with a heavy touch ...
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Emoji Dictionaries are hard to promote. They’re utilitarian and unexciting works, to the extent that their users find it hard to differentiate between publishers and often lump them all together as “the dictionary”. The ...
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Thank your mother for the rabbits You may be disappointed to hear that he didn’t invent it, though he was following in some famous footsteps. A detailed discussion of this nonsense phrase appeared in the Australian ...
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Nonplussed If you’re nonplussed, that initial non- means you must be without something, right? That seems to be why many people in North America have interpreted this mildly odd word in recent decades to ...
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7 November 2015

Bob’s-a-dying The usual dictionary sense of Bob’s-a-dying is of a disturbance or uproar, perhaps with physical violence involved. It requires no stretch of imagination to connect this with sailors on shore leave ...
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Methinks The Australian-born humorist, broadcaster and poet Clive James wrote in the Guardian on 24 October “I save time on the web by reading nobody’s opinion that contains the word ‘methinks’.” His dislike is ...
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Bill of goods Let’s start with your last comment. Other than in the swindling sense, bill of goods is now hardly known, but unless you understand its more literal associations, the idiom doesn’t make sense. A century ...
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Binge-watching Binge-watching, consuming several or all the episodes of a television series in quick succession, was announced by the British dictionary publishers Collins as its Word of the Year on 5 November ...
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24 October 2015

Three more pieces on English expressions have been updated today with new information: the emphatic British way of saying that something is nonsense (Codswallop), a curious phrase indicating finality (That’s all she wrote), and an old interjection variously expressing surprise, amazement, annoyance or admiration (Great Scott).

17 October 2015

Three articles on well-known idiomatic phrases have been updated today: Gone for a Burton, Pull the plug and Bob’s your uncle. All have been revised to include information unavailable at the time of their first appearance.

10 October 2015

Two pieces have been updated on the website today to include information from readers: You snowing me? (about English words for snow) and the story behind the nineteenth-century British slang term chi-ike.

3 October 2015

Gibberish To describe some attempt at communication as gibberish today is most likely to disparage it as mere meaningless verbiage. But at its strongest, in its earlier days, gibberish was speech that belonged to ...
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You snowing me? In 1989, the American linguist Geoffrey Pullum wrote a sarcastic piece with the title The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, in which he derided and deconstructed claims that the Inuit (as we have since ...
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Chi-ike This takes me back. Having been brought up in London and being — I guess — roughly contemporary with your grandmother, I’m familiar with chi-ike. That you don’t recognise it confirms that it has now vanished ...
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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Last updated 9 Jan. 2016.

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996– All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm
Last modified: 9 January 2016.