In lieu of a feature word origin today, I wanted to point you to some of my other etymological goings-on around the web. I’m very pleased to announce that I have two new series on the Oxford Dictionaries blog debuting this week.
This first, called What in the Word?!, takes an approach familiar to my readers here: uncovering the surprising histories of everyday words and taken-for-granted phrases in the English. My inaugural post gets a handle on the word handsome. What does the word hand have to do with a word for attractiveness? Etymologically, it turns out, everything.
The second series is the Weekly Word Watch. Here, I round up the words—big or small, mundane or unusual—that grabbed headlines, turned heads, or otherwise buzzed in the news over the past week across the English-speaking world. For my first post, I discuss Big Ben, umbraphile, tiki, the problematic label alt-left, and Partition. Here’s a flavor with my section on Big Ben:
British Parliament announced this week that Big Ben will fall silent for the next four years to protect the ears of workers renovating Elizabeth Tower, which houses London’s iconic bell. Yes, Big Ben technically refers to the bell itself, though popular use lumps the bell, clock, and tower all together. Big, of course, is a fitting descriptor for the broad bell, but who is Ben?
Big Ben has long bonged on the hour, but the origin of its nickname isn’t exactly clockwork. The leading theory is that Ben honors Sir Benjamin Hall, a Welsh engineer and politician who oversaw the installation of the nearly 14-tonne ringer in 1856. The Times supports this account, reporting on 22 October that year: ‘All bells, we believe, are christened before they begin to toll and on this occasion it is proposed to call our king of bells “Big Ben” in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, the President of the Board of Works, during whose tenure of office it was cast’.
Elsewhere on the web, I still have articles coming out on Mental Floss. Check out some of my recent pieces on “fool” words, like, how oaf is related to elf and rube is short for the given name Reuben. When you’ve reached five o’clock, grab a cold one and put back the etymologies of 11 booze words. Did you know brandy comes from the Dutch for burnt wine? I’ve several more in the pipeline, so stay posted.
And don’t forget about Nameberry. Earlier this month, around the release of the film Dunkirk, I gathered up some distinctive names inspired by World War 2, from Franklin and Eleanor to Omar and Odette.
On a different topic, I published a piece last month in Atlas Obscura on the elusive and surprising history of the papasan chair–yes, that billowy, rattan bowl everyone got from Pier 1 for their first apartment. (“Surprising history”: Where would I be without this phrase?!)
Finally, you may have noticed a new button beneath my m ∫ r ∫ sign-off: Buy Me a Coffee. Through a great organization called Ko-Fi, this button allows my readers to quickly and easily chip in $3.00 via PayPal for the ongoing creation of Mashed Radish.
Over four years ago—yes, I forget to mark my blog’s four-year anniversary back in May—I started Mashed Radish, which, thanks in no small part to my readers, has grown in reach and, for my stab at trying to make a living doing what I love, opportunity. Still, the blog requires a lot of time and effort, so I’d oh-so appreciate any support you can send my way. Thanks! Have a lovely weekend.