John Kelly


I am obsessed with English etymology, the study of where words come from and how their meanings change over time.

Each etymology is like a magic portal into a tiny truth about history, culture, language, or the mind—a miniature eureka, a quiet a-ha, a satisfying huh, or a little story that I believe only a good word origin can tell. So, each week, I pick some words, usually based on a newsy theme or topic, to see what we can learn from their roots.

I currently live in Austin, Texas, with my dog Hugo and fiancée Olivia. I am Managing Editor at Dictionary.com, where I specialize in content on trending words, slang, and other intersections of lexicography and news and pop culture. Discover my earlier work at Emojipedia, Slate, Mental Floss, Oxford Dictionaries, Nameberry, and Strong Language.

In 2016, I read and wrote about the experience of reading the complete works of Shakespeare Confidential.

Follow me on Twitter at @mashedradish or send me an email at mashedradish@gmail.com.

Thanks to my brother, Andrew Kelly,  with a special assist from Sveta Eremenko, for my bio “doodle” featured on the splash page.

m ∫ r ∫

43 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi John, A very interesting blog. I am also very interested in questions of etymology and have a blog devoted to trashing the work of the late Daniel Cassidy. He took a very different view from you on the origins of lunch but you are right, of course. 🙂


    1. Thank you for the kind words! You seem very vehement about Cassidy’s specious scholarship, indeed! One must always be wary of folk etymology. Words are flexible, but they don’t like an agenda.


  2. Vehement is an understatement. I sometimes think that prolonged contact with Daniel Cassidy’s work has infected me with the same kind of monomaniac craziness. I’d better start another blog and write about something positive and life-affirming before I go completely apeshit!


  3. I just picked up on your blog via “A Way with Words.” I’m looking forward to reading it. Should I understand the relevancy of the blog title, The Mashed Radish? Would you clue me in?


      1. Essentially, yes. And you’re the first ask. The Latin word for “root” is “radix,” which is also a word for “radish.” The notion of mashing is analogous, if you will, to breaking a word down. Add to this the fact that the name is something of a mouthful and a bit unusual, and there you have it. Thanks for asking, and welcome.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, John. I like the subtle depth of the title. I didn’t know the Latin ancestry of radish, but I connected the dots and understood what was implied in the use of “mashed.” I like the playfulness of it too. I should have pondered a little before asking, but it is the first thing that stood out for me.

    I’m a high school history teacher. As I tell my students, EVERYTHING has a history…even words and phrases. It is a fascinating way to explore history. Few history teachers incorporate it into their teaching, but for me it opens up a new perspective on learning about the past and understanding the future.

    Yes, I followed the trail from AWW’s Twitter post. Thanks for taking time to respond.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree: etymologies present an interesting, if specific, way to “slice history,” if you will. Take a word like “paper”: it straps you into a time machine to “papyrus” and all sorts of ancient practices, from how and what early civilizations wrote to how and what they cultivated to do it.


  6. Hi John. Great blog. I’m going to have fun digging in here. I love words, well I would 😉 I see you also play the guitar, me too. I have a background in tutoring and coaching as well. Nice to meet you.


  7. I’m delighted your blog exists. In undergrad I studied Linguistics. My favorite course was on the history of the English language in general and specific etymologies, with an ultra passionate professor. I’m happy I can read your writing/research/wit to fill in what I’ve missing in the years since that class.


  8. Hello! I just found your blog and am very excited to explore it. I’m a new college student majoring in Linguistics, so I’m fascinated by your blog. Thank you for enlightening us and I look forward to reading what you’ve got to say as I progress through my college years.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. maybe you can help me with your skills to incorporate the significance of the created words i have in my language theorems. if you want to do this, then head on over to my blog post.


  10. … had kind of a weird experience driving to work… let’s say over two months or so ago now. For some reason the experience has gotten stuck in my head and has become a casual obsession. If an obsession can be… casual.

    I saw an advertisement on a truck or van that morning. Still not quite together- I am not a ‘morning’ person- I had noticed the word “stampede” and another word before that and trying to make out that other word I deduced it was “traherne”.

    Now the word was indeed not “traherne”; I strained a bit more and realized the word was something utterly different but that experience of seeing “traherne” seemed, in this instance, strange to me. A different thing than the usual perception gone slightly awry. It even seemed strangely almost a communication… Now of course I know that makes little sense.

    So I had this peculiar combination of words “traherne stampede”. Now I have, embarrassing to say, attacked this from several directions trying to squeeze a sort of meaning out of it. Of course the first thing I did was google it… that was interesting.

    I found a video on YouTube of a passage from Thomas Traherne set to a sort of atmospheric music that seemed to be the result of a musical group- very local and unheard of- by the name of Stampede. Now there is another group called Stampede that has a site on the internet but this is a different group. Definitely kind of strange to even find that. And I also found a book by what seems may be one of his relations, from a later time, that is after the word ‘stampede’ was born and actually uses that word…

    I ended up downloading Traherne’s “Centuries” to my phone- he is vaguely reminiscent of Blake & Wordsworth. Definitely his own style… quite different and interesting from either Blake etc. And I thought he might have a passage employing the word “stampede” but gradually learned that “stampede” has a much later vintage than the 17th century… well he would not have used that word. It didn’t exist. Unless he had created a neologism… but seems not.

    Now I have also tried to decipher the roots of these words- their etymologies. Traherne has a meaning “very much like iron”… But your post about stampede was not what I expected. Very personal… yet informative. It seems like a pretty recent addition… just from last month!

    The meaning of stampede is “crash, bang, uproar” so putting these meanings together “traherne stampede” = “a crash of iron”. Now this begins to sound musical… a gong. Or as iron is associated with Mars alchemically we could even get “war of the worlds’ out of it… an uproar or crash courtesy of Mars. Still I think it is time to put my casual obsession to rest… don’t you? Thanks for the post!


  11. Occasionally, I come across your blog at oxforddictionaries.
    You come across as a political activist quite often. You don’t stick to the etymology, but peremptorily assert biases as if they were facts.
    Would you dare to embark on the endless toil of proving the realism of those statements?


  12. “[…] the final solution is the genocide of Jewish people […]”
    Read David Irving’s “Hitler’s War”.
    Read, also, what historians of good repute say about David Irving and his methodology.


  13. “Land’s End officially has an apostrophe between the ‘d’ and the ‘s’ in a win for grammar pedants across the country.”
    For you, minimal grammar is pedantry? Or, you have a personal definition for the word?!

    “Trump’s critics see shekel as a dog whistle for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of a Jewish-controlled media and stereotypes about money and greed.”
    Inform yourself!

    “[..] for the Trumps, already dogged by charges of anti-Semitism, shekel is an unfortunate, shall we say, choice of words.”
    Who, do you think, gave his son-in-law permission to work with Israel for the benefit of the latter?

    Generally, you venture fatuous political statements. Stick to etymology.


  14. Hey – I just found this blog after researching the word “bastille”. And now I’ve spent (too) much time reading some of your other posts. I love your style and content, and the enthusiasm and curiosity that you inject into each post. Thank you!

    P.s. never before have I felt such an onus to check my grammar and spelling for a simple comment as I have now


  15. Hello, John – I’m an ESL teacher and some Chinese students were telling me today that when they translate “insist,” “persist,” and “resist,” there is only one equivalent word in Chinese for all of these English words. So I decided to do a little research and came up on the article you wrote about “sistere,” and your blog. I’m also intrigued by etymology and word origins. So thank you, and I’ll be back for more reading in the future!


    1. Hi Joanna from David Fraser. I think your students are pulling your leg. There are perfectly good and distinct Chinese words for those three. 堅持 jianchi [insist] can also serve for persist, although there are several other translations such as 持續 chixu [continue]. Resist is another matter; it’s generally translated as 抵制 dizhi [as in 抵制外貨, dizhi waihuo, boycott foreign goods] and 反抗 fankang, for resisting the enemy. The first term, jianchi, may work for resist but I haven’t seen it used that way. Looking forward to reading about ‘sistere’. Cheers, David


  16. Wow. I was just going to leave a comment saying how excited I was as a fellow word nerd to have found this blog — falling down rabbit holes while binging on word etymologies, relations and cognates is a sort of guilty pleasure of mine — but THEN I got the additional bonus of perusing through the previous comments peppered through the years with the occasional harmless nutbaggery, full-on rants and, um, I’ll go with “esoteric digressions” that, I mean, hey, perhaps one might ought to expect to be par for the course for most bloggers. Comment sections — particularly those presumably unmoderated (or not overly restricted by moderators) — are another personal indulgence, so thanks for allowing all THAT to stay up, pristine in form. Seriously, chef’s kiss.


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