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23 Aug 2018

Today’s Word of the Day over on Haggard Hawks needs—well, a little bit more explaining. 

So a Spartan boy is, proverbially, someone who keeps a secret and suffers as a result. But how? Or rather, why?

Sparta was one of the smallest but most powerful of Ancient Greek city-states, and much of that...

22 Aug 2018

Today’s Word of the Day on HH is a good one: if you’re flagitious, then you’re guilty of atrocious crimes.  

Dating back to the Middle English period in English (but rarely used since the nineteenth century), flagitious derives via French from its Latin equivalent, flagitiosus. That word in turn...

15 Aug 2018

“Do you have it in black?” Houdini has a jacket fitted, 1923 (Public domain) 

Here’s a strange fact. Straitjackets were originally called strait-waistcoats

The straitjacket as we know it today was invented in the mid eighteenth century, with a French upholsterer enigmatically known only as “Guillere...

9 Dec 2016

This week on our YouTube channel, we looked at 10 words that you might not have realised are onomatopoeic:

Everybody knows what onomatopoeia is, of course. But when it comes to etymology, it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot more of it in the dictionary besides snapcrackle and pop. Quite a f...

1 Dec 2016

This week over on the HH YouTube channel we looked at the literal meanings of words, with an eye to picking out a set of 10 whose literal meanings seemed at odds with, or far removed from, their actual meanings:

So a corridor is literally “a place for running”. Something that’s mediocre is lite...

25 Nov 2016

It’s by no means unusual for words to change their meaning, often quite dramatically, as they’re passed down from decade and decade, and from century to century, through the language. Sometimes however, those changes can be quite surprising—which is the point of the new HH book, The Accidental Dicti...

24 Nov 2016

Perspective wasn’t popular among eighteenth-century artists 

(Image credit: Wikipedia/Public domain

Second in our series of extracts from the new HH book, The Accidental Dictionary, is the bizarre story behind a word for bad behaviour...

It’s tempting to think that as another word for disreputab...

31 Jul 2015

Yesterday, HH tweeted this fairly peculiar definition: 

In fact, Rebecca is just one of a handful of first names that you can use as a word in its own right. A George, for instance, is a loaf of brown bread. Abigail is an old nickname for a lady’s maid. A Robert is a restaura...

15 Jul 2015

(Image credit: Shorpy) 

Last week, we tweeted this:

It’s a great word, and given its meaning it seems plausible that it should have a much more familiar etymological cousin:

A nice idea—but unfortunately the two are unrelated. Hoolybuss is an old Cornish word, dating back to the eighteenth century...

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