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Strictly speaking

EVERGREEN(ING)

The evergreen pine is one of the proverbial “friends of winter” in China and Japan, and still a symbol of Christmas celebrations in the southern hemisphere. In German tradition, the persistently green needles of evergreen trees are symbolic of fidelity ...

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bagel

In this year’s Australian Open, Andy Murray was described by commentators as bageling his semi-final opponent, before being bageled himself in the final. This is not a new way of abusing your opponents by hurling bread at them. Rather, it ...

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scofflaw

The birthdate of the word scofflaw (one who flouts laws that are minor and unenforceable) is known much more exactly than most: January 15, 1924. It was the winning entry, out of more than 25,000 in a competition held in ...

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Gothic values

The word Gothic (in Latin “gothicus”) would have struck terror into the hearts of 5th-century Romans, with its dark connotations of barbarians pouring out of Germanic wilderness to destroy their civilisation. Centuries later, Gothic seems to have shaken off its ...

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anecdata and anecdota

Both anecdata and anecdota are cousins of anecdote, a 17th-century loanword from French that goes back to the Greek word anecdoton, meaning “something unpublished”. The earliest English citations have it in the plural form anecdota and glossed as “secret history/histories” ...

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Google

The term google has become so familiar – both as the proprietary name of the Internet search engine and as the act of searching on it – that it’s easy to disregard what a strange word it is. The company’s ...

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Trevally, trevalla

These fish names originate from one and the same word, according to the earliest Southern Hemisphere records published in Morris’s Dictionary of Austral English (1898). At the entry for trevally,Morris gives the alternative spellings trevalli, trevalla and travale,and suggests they ...

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Creeping

A recent blog entry for Cambridge Dictionaries Online (June 23, 2014) recorded a new use of the word creeping to mean “secretly viewing online information about someone”. This usage combines the idea of stealth behind the verb to creep with the suggestion that someone who does ...

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SCULL or SKULL

Despite different spellings, scull and skull can express the same meaning when – as verbs – they take a beer or two as their grammatical object. They are variants of skol, the Scandinavian toast used by English-speaking drinkers everywhere who ...

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Gifable

Barely hours after the 2014 Oscars ceremony had finished, online headlines were touting its most gifable, or GIF-Able moments. The word refers to the image file format GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) which was originally created as a means of exchanging ...

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