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word origins


  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    What’s in a name? How [Canadian] civic holidays get theirs

    The August civic holiday is a mess.Most provinces celebrate the first Monday in August as a holiday, whether mandatory or optional for employers, but the names are all over the map. It’s Natal Day in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, British Columbia Day in British Columbia and Heritage Day in Alberta....But let’s not be naive. Getting a statutory holiday named after you is not easy, and keeping it is even harder.Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, but Canada’s official recognition of her birthday falls in late May on a day named after her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Victoria Day retained that name in Canada after the queen’s death in 1901, even as the rest of the Commonwealth went with Empire Day. Similarly, Beatrix of the Netherlands, who abdicated earlier this year, was born on Jan. 31, but her holiday was held on April 30, the birth date of former queen Juliana....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Allan Metcalf: On the Origin of ‘Shyster’

    Allan Metcalf is a professor at MacMurray College in Illinois, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, and author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.Out in the wilds of western Missouri, in Rolla, which is not far from the tornado-devastated town of Joplin, lives a scholar who has made etymology his life’s work. He is Gerald Leonard Cohen, professor in the department of arts, languages, and philosophy at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and grand impresario of American etymologists—as well as the world’s leading corraler of language historians, who often join him in tackling some of the most challenging puzzles of word origins.