The Insect that Stole Butter?: Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

Front Cover
Julia Cresswell
Oxford University Press, 2009 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 502 pages
Drawing on Oxford's unrivalled dictionary research program and language monitoring, this fascinating volume captures the often odd and unexpected stories behind many of our most curious expressions, offering a rich account that far exceeds what can be found in a general dictionary.
Indeed, this alphabetically organized resource contains a wealth of information on the history of English words, in a delightful roadmap tracing the curious twists and turns that words take as their meanings evolve over the centuries. We learn, for instance, that "abracadabra," just a fun word said by magicians today, was once believed to actually be a magic word that was supposed to be a charm against fever and was often engraved on an amulet worn around the neck. And we also discover the curious history of the word "ache," whose noun form was once pronounced "aitch" and whose verb form was spelled "ake," while the modern word is spelled like the old noun but pronounced like the old verb. The entries include the first known use of a word along with examples that illustrate the many faces of the particular word or phrase. For instance, under "bunny," which was originally a term of endearment (and only later a small rabbit), the editor also discusses "bunny boiler" (a woman who acts vengefully after having been spurned), which refers to the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction. Also featured are almost 20 special panels that cover expressions common in English but drawn from other languages, such as "coffee," "sugar," and "candy" from Arabic or "booze," "brandy," and "gin" (Dutch).
The Insect that Stole Butter? is a must-have volume for anyone who loves language and enjoys the strange and singular tales of the history of words.

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About the author (2009)


Julia Cresswell is an experienced author and language researcher, having worked on the 4th edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Books to her credit include Naming Your Baby: The Definitive Dictionary of First Names, and The Cat's Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Cliches.

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