Etymology Corner – ‘Surprise’

The election of Donald J Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States certainly came as a surprise to many people. But why do we call an event that was not expected to happen a surprise? ‘Surprise’ is one of five common English words… Read More

Etymology Corner – Collins Word of the Year 2016

Brexit Surely the most significant event in British politics for many years occurred on 23 June 2016 when voters decided that Britain should leave the European Union. Even before departure from the EU became a reality, a new word had been coined to describe the act: Brexit. Read More

Etymology Corner – ‘bonfire’

Bonfire Coming as it does just after the clocks have been turned back, Bonfire Night brings a welcome distraction from the dark November evenings. Bonfires produce warmth, light, and good cheer at an otherwise dreary time of the year. So when the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson compiled his… Read More

Etymology Corner – ‘battery’ and ‘debate’

(de)bat(tery) The words ‘debate’ and ‘battery’ might seem to have little in common, although both have been in the news recently: production of a notable brand of smartphone has been stopped due to the risk of its battery catching fire, while the televised debates between the US presidential candidates have… Read More

We take a look at the surprising origins behind the word ‘aftermath’

Aftermath Most words that begin with ‘after-’ are self-explanatory. We can all understand why we talk about an ‘aftertaste’, an ‘aftershock’, or an ‘aftereffect’, but why do we talk about the consequences of an event as its ‘aftermath’? It turns out that the ‘math’ in ‘aftermath’ has nothing to… Read More

We take a look at the etymology behind the word ‘podium’

Podium Like the Olympic Games in which it features so prominently, the word ‘podium’ has its origins in ancient Greece. Greek architects thought that a low structure that supported a colonnade or wall looked like a small foot, and so they called it a podion (‘a little foot’). In… Read More

We take a look at the etymology behind the word ‘sedentary’

Sedentary Scientists have recently warned that a sedentary lifestyle may be as dangerous to our health as smoking. As Collins Cobuild Dictionary explains, someone who has a sedentary lifestyle or job sits down a lot of the time and does not take much exercise. The origin of the word… Read More

We take a look at the etymology behind the word ‘genius’

GeniusThe arrival on our television screens of the show Child Genius prompts this month’s Etymology Corner to look into why we refer to people who possess uncanny mental ability as ‘geniuses’. The idea of a ‘genius’ originated in ancient Rome. The Romans believed that all people had… Read More