Origins

  1. Are New Idioms Ever Created?

    Many idioms—expressions that are not taken literally—are so old and so familiar that we don’t think twice about using them. We say, for example, “it’s raining cats and dogs” to indicate that it’s pouring outside, and “comfortable as an old shoe” to explain an easy and familiar relationship. We can trace the etymology of some idioms to books and sayings that were first used hundreds …

  2. Misogyny, Sexism, And Taking Down The Patriarchy

    With the recent #MeToo and Times Up movements, equality and the empowerment of women have become household conversations around the world. Everyone from your next-door neighbor to your favorite high-school teacher have likely joined the discussion, using a brand new set of vocabulary including the words misogyny and sexism. While these two terms may seem similar, there are actually several differences that make them stand …

  3. The Many, Many Words For Drunkards

    Grab your drink of choice and join us as we look back on some of the best words for drunkards from history. 1. He’s biggy Here’s the thing: We’ve been getting drunk since the stone age. (We as in “humans,” not necessarily we as in the Dictionary.com staff.) Why? Well for one thing, it’s fun. For another, it’s a communal, social activity, and we (as …

  4. They Call It Puppy Love And Other Animal-inspired Phrases

    We often attribute emotions and other human characteristics to animals. This is called anthropomorphism. Similarly, we also describe people using animal characteristics. You might, for example, say my teenage son “eats like a horse,” meaning he’s a growing boy and consumes a lot of food. This is called zoomorphism. Zoomorphism also includes assigning animal-like qualities to gods and inanimate objects. The term comes from the Greek …

  5. Foxy, Catty, Fishy: Are These Traits For Animals Or Humans?

    Catty It seems horribly unfair to adorable cats that catty is a human descriptor meaning “devious or spiteful” (and usually in reference to female behavior). What gives? The word cat has been around since the year 700. But then, in the Middle Ages, cat became one of the many offensive terms against women and was slang for “prostitute.” The association might have been made because …

  6. Villainous Pets We Love To Hate

  7. Know Your Meme

    The Original Memes (Before Memes)

    The word meme, coined in 1976 by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, goes way beyond social-media pixels. Meme captures the concept of “cultural transmission” of ideas in general, where customs and ideas spread from brain to brain.  Which means memes have been around longer than Success Kid or Kermit sipping tea. Wildfire ideas have been around as long as humans have—in fact, discovering fire is …

  8. The Sh!t End Of The Stick: Bizarre Origin Rumors For Strange Idioms

  9. D’oh! Words We Blurt

    Ever trip over a sidewalk curb? Fall down a step? Bump into someone on the street? Push a door the wrong way? What’s your first verbal instinct in these moments of surprise? Is it to blurt out some onomatopoetic non-word (QZ.com refers to them quite accurately as “interjections, exclamations, non-lexical conversational sounds”). Well, whatever they are called, we know a few gut-reaction examples (that have …

  10. A Smack Of Jellyfish And Other Strange Animal Groups

    What do hunting and sexual desires have in common? We could point to several things, but from a linguistic point of view, we’re referring to the archaic word venery, which means both hunting (from the Latin venor) and sexual desire (from Latin veneria, referring to Venus). Strangely, terms of venery is a collective noun that means a group of animals. And, many of these animal …

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