Category Archives: Dictionaries

From mic drops to manspreading: an Oxford Dictionaries update


Let’s pick that mic up again and check out some of the words that have been added in the world of informal language. The mic drop in question can be a literal ‘instance of deliberately dropping or tossing aside one’s microphone at the end of a performance or speech one considers to have been particularly impressive’, but it’s more likely to be figurative – or an exclamation to emphasize a particularly impressive point: Nuff said. Mic drop.

Read on…

Wordnik – Let’s Add a Million Missing Words to the Dictionary


In this fun, short talk from TEDYouth, lexicographer Erin McKean encourages — nay, cheerleads — her audience to create new words when the existing ones won’t quite do. She lists out 6 ways to make new words in English, from compounding to “verbing,” in order to make language better at expressing what we mean, and to create more ways for us to understand one another.

Erin McKean has also started a Kickstarter for Wordnik: “The reason so few words are added to traditional dictionaries is because writing definitions takes a long time. A very talented editor may write seven entries in a day, or she may need weeks to describe just one word. Dictionary definitions are very difficult to write.

Wordnik takes a different approach. Instead of writing traditional definitions, we search for casual definitions that have already been created. You see these casual definitions all the time in good writing!”

More at

RhymeZone – Find rhymes, synonyms, and more

RhymeZone is a great website to see how a word is used in the context of famous quotes, poems, and plays, but also an easy way of finding rhymes and a whole lot more. Here’s a brief overview of what Rhymezone can do for you:

Find rhymes: This function will return words that exactly rhyme with the word you typed in.
Find near rhymes: This function will return words that almost rhyme with the word you typed in.
Find synonyms: This function will return words that are the same or similar in meaning to the word you typed in.
Find anonyms: This function will return words that can mean the opposite of what you typed in.
Find definition: This function will search for definitions of the word you typed in. It will also allow you to submit your query to other online dictionaries on the Web.
Find homophones: This function will return words that have exactly the same pronunciation as what you typed in but are spelled differently.
Find similar sounding words: This function will return words that have a pronunciation that’s similar, but not necessarily the same, as what you typed in.
Match consonants: This option will return words that have the same pattern of consonant sounds. Phonetic, for example, will return fanatic.
Find related words: This option will return words that are related in some important way to what you typed in.
Find similar spellings: This option will return words in the dictionary that are spelled similarly to what you typed in. Use this feature to spell-check a word that you aren’t sure of.
Match these letters: This option will return words and phrases that contain the letters you type in.
Search for pictures: This function will search for kids-friendly pictures on the Web related to the word you typed in.
Search in Shakespeare: This function will search all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems for your word.

The Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary

Star Wars English-Japanese DictionaryHere’s a great new way to study Japanese or English: using this awesome Star Wars English Learner’s Dictionary from Japan that teaches you through Star Wars quotes. It’s much easier to learn a language when you can connect it to knowledge you already have, and this might be a great way for you or your Padawan to study! So do, or do not. There is no try!

For sale at Jbox.

Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache

Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache

The Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache is a rather obscure source for German slang, but we kind like it and we would really like to recommend, a quality choice to find out that words like Schniposa do exist for real.

English explodes in India – and it’s not just Hinglish

Anyone who travels beyond Delhi and Mumbai to India’s provincial cities will notice English words cropping up increasingly in Hindi conversation,” writes BBC. While some of these terms fell out of use in the UK decades ago, others are familiar, but used in bold new ways.

Picture the scene. I’m chatting to a young man named Yuvraj Singh. He’s a college student in the Indian city of Dehra Dun. We’re talking in Hindi. But every so often there’s an English word. It’s Hindi, Hindi, Hindi, and then suddenly an English word or phrase is dropped in: “job”, “love story” or “adjust”.

What should we make of this? It’s not that Hindi lacks equivalent words. He could have said the Hindi “kaam” instead of “job”. Why mention the English words? And what’s Yuvraj speaking? Is it Hindi, English, an amalgam “Hinglish”, or something else?

In 1886 Henry Yule and Arthur Burnell published Hobson-Jobson, a guide to words from Indian languages that had passed into English.

You can search through it for references to the origins of words such as “shampoo” and “bungalow”. But now many Indian citizens are using English words in the course of talking Hindi – or Tamil, or Bengali etcetera.”

Read on at the BBC.


BBC: Hobson-Jobson – The words English owes to India
On Wikipedia: Hobson-Jobson
Digital Dictionary – Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive.
Digital Book at

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of made-up words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language, to give a name to an emotion we all feel but don’t have a word for.


Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


sonder /SAHN-der/
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.


keta /KAY-tah/
n. an image that inexplicably leaps back into your mind from the distant past.

The Dictionary Has Been Wrong About Siphons for 99 Years

translate english to german berlin

“Dictionaries are pretty solid authorities about what words mean, but they overextended themselves when reaching a bit in the definition for the word siphon,” writes Mashable. “The Oxford English Dictionary and many others have erroneously claimed that atmospheric pressure makes siphons work for 99 years, so Dr. Stephen Hughes did some research to set them straight.

Dr. Hughes noticed that the OED misidentified atmospheric pressure as the thing that makes siphons work back in 2010. Really, it’s gravity that causes liquid to flow up the short side of a siphon and down the long side, but the original definition for a siphon read,

A pipe or tube of glass, metal or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure, which forces the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe.

So, Hughes set about helpfully correcting the dictionary, but of course, he needed some proof. So, he tested a siphon inside a hypobaric chamber where he could change the level of atmospheric pressure and see if it had any effect on the siphon. As we’ve all (hopefully) learned, if you’re going to correct someone, you should really be sure you’re right first.

In Hughes’s experiments, the varied air pressure had a small effect on how the water flowed, but it didn’t have any effect on how much water traveled through the siphon over time. So Hughes concluded in a paper, published in Scientific Reports (that he somehow managed not to title “Neener Neener”), that he is smarter than the dictionary, and gravity is the real driving force.

The OED has changed its definition to remove the reference to atmospheric pressure, but Hughes isn’t fully satisfied with how ambiguous they’ve left the actual driving force behind a siphon. That’s still better than the rest of the world’s dictionaries, as he said,

But at least the reference to atmospheric pressure has been removed. The vast majority of dictionaries of all languages still incorrectly assert that siphons work through atmospheric pressure and not gravity.

Hopefully, the others will come around and change their ways. Sorry, dictionaries, but no book is safe from being proven wrong by science.”

You should try the 1913 Webster’s, seriously

Übersetzung deutsch englisch berlin

James Somers thinks you should switch to the Websters 1913 dictionary, and he cites John McPhee’s composition method of looking up synonyms for problematic words as the key to his peerless prose style. Somers makes a great case for the romance of historical dictionaries, but for my money (literally — I spent a fortune on this one), the hands-down best reference for synonyms and historical language reference is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose magnificence cannot be overstated.

It makes sense: there was, and is, something remarkable about his 1828 dictionary, and the editions that followed in its line (the New and Revised 1847, the Unabridged 1864, the International 1890 and 1900, the New International 1909, the 1913, etc.). You can see why it became cliché to start a speech with “Webster’s defines X as…”: with his dictionary the definition that followed was actually likely to lend gravitas to your remarks, to sound so good, in fact, that it’d beat anything you could come up with on your own.

Take a simple word, like “flash.” In all the dictionaries I’ve ever known, I would have never looked up that word. I’d’ve had no reason to — I already knew what it meant. But go look up “flash” in Webster’s (the edition I’m using is the 1913). The first thing you’ll notice is that the example sentences don’t sound like they came out of a DMV training manual (“the lights started flashing”) — they come from Milton and Shakespeare and Tennyson (“A thought flashed through me, which I clothed in act”).

You’ll find a sense of the word that is somehow more evocative than any you’ve seen. “2. To convey as by a flash… as, to flash a message along the wires; to flash conviction on the mind.” In the juxtaposition of those two examples — a message transmitted by wires; a feeling that comes suddenly to mind — is a beautiful analogy, worth dwelling on, and savoring. Listen to that phrase: “to flash conviction on the mind.” This is in a dictionary, for God’s sake.

The whole story at

The Oxford English Dictionary: crowdsourcing since 1857

r-OXFORD-ENGLISH-DICTIONARYcrowdsourcing since 1857
“The word crowdsourcing may be new, but the idea behind it is not, at least not in lexicography,” writes the Oxford Dictionary Blog. “In fact, the entry for crowdsourcing in Wikipedia (itself a stellar example of an effective crowdsourcing model), gives the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as one of the earliest predecessors of today’s largely Internet-based crowdsourcing projects.

Much of the historical and lexical information contained in the OED is based on the evidence of millions of quotations collected from English texts through the dictionary’s Reading Programme. Through this programme, the OED recruits voluntary and paid readers to gather quotations that illustrate the usage of words.

The OED Reading Programme started in 1857, when volunteer readers began to collect quotations for the British Philological Society’s planned New English Dictionary. Two decades later, the dictionary’s new editor, James A. H. Murray, launched a broader Reading Programme by publishing an appeal for volunteer readers, not only in Britain, but also in America and the British Colonies. “Anyone can help,” Murray wrote in his 1879 appeal, and soon after, he began receiving thousands of quotations from hundreds of volunteers, most of whom were interested laypeople instead of language specialists.”

Read on here…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: