Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: World Wide Words

“World Wide Words” for Folks Who Are REALLY into Words…

World Wide Words is a WebSite/Service that, ironically, only deals with English words.

World Wide Words

Image Courtesy of Brenton Nicholls ~

Though, the Site’s subtitle is, Investigating the English language across the globe.

I’d linked to World Wide Words in a post back in March of last year called, Some Very Cool WebSites for #Readers & #Writers, which also linked to five other wonderful word-sites…

In that post, I included these words from the World Wide Words Site:

“The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.”

But, that’s all that was said about the site in that post…

Here are a few excerpts from the page about the founder of the site, Michael Quinion (the whole Bio is fascinating…):

“After Cambridge University, where he studied physical sciences, he joined BBC radio as a studio manager.”

“After [two other positions] he returned to working for himself, writing scripts for exhibitions, taking on a freelance curatorial role, creating audio-visual programmes…”

“After illness forced him to take early retirement, he turned to his lifelong love of the English language. Yet another chance encounter led him to become a freelance reader for the Oxford English Dictionary, between 1992 and 2016 supplying more than 175,000 examples of English usage old and new. He also compiled a third of the entries for the second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of New Words. In 1996, he took advantage of spare space on his son’s website to begin posting articles on language. This soon evolved into the World Wide Words website and its associated newsletter. More than 900 issues have appeared.”

With a bit of work, you can subscribe to his newsletters

What might be easier is to access back issues of the newsletter on the site (they go back to 2011...).

Since the bulk of information resides in his newsletters, I’ll reproduce a bit of the December, 2016 issue:


1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Not my pigeon.

3. Subnivean.

4. Black as Newgate knocker.

5. In the news.

6. Boxing Day.

From the article, Not my pigeon:

Q: From Helen Mosback: I have just read a serialised version of John Rowland’s Calamity in Kent. It includes this: “In fact, it’s your pigeon, as they say in the civil service.” I was wondering if you could shed any light on the expression it’s your pigeon? I have to admit to being quite taken by the Polish expression not my circus, not my monkeys to indicate that something is not one’s problem, and would be very happy should I have found an equally enchanting English expression!

A: Readers may not be familiar with John Rowland, a little-known and neglected British detective-story writer who published Calamity in Kent in 1950. The British Library has republished it this year in its Crime Classics series.

The date of his book is significant, since at that time the expression was more familiar to people in the countries of what is now the Commonwealth than it is now. It had come into the language around the end of the nineteenth century.

The idiom suggests something is the speaker’s interest, concern, area of expertise or responsibility. This is a recent British example:

If posh people aren’t your pigeon, the correspondence on display in this book will be a massive bore and irritation.

The Times, 8 Oct. 2016.

It also turns up in the negative in phrases such as “that’s not my pigeon”, denying involvement or responsibility in some matter.

There’s quite a bit more of this article on the site…

And, from the article, In the news:

Oxford Dictionaries announced its Word of the Year 2016 on 16 November: post-truth. Its editors defined this as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” One example came in a report in The Times on 31 October of comments by the president of the European Council on the signing of a trade deal with Canada: “Mr Tusk also denounced the ‘post-truth politics … on both sides of the Atlantic’ which nearly scuppered the deal because ‘facts and figures won’t stand up for themselves’ against an emotional opposition campaign.” Though it has been very much a word of this year, connected both with the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential election, Oxford Dictionaries noted that “post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine.”

Again, there’s more of this article on the site…

Finally, if you’re wordly-adventurous, you can call up a Random Page
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Some Very Cool WebSites for #Readers & #Writers

Last month I published the post, What Are the “Best” WebSites for #Writers?

WebSites for Readers and Writers

Image Courtesy of Julie Elliott-Abshire ~

They were mostly about various aspects of the art and craft of writing.

The sites I’ll feature today are more closely concerned with the Words writers use and readers absorb

The first is World Wide Words.

This from the site:

“The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.”

Next is Wordwizard.

From their site:

“At Wordwizard we’re interested in English, in particular the origins of English words or phrases, and English usage. But we’re also happy to discuss any interesting aspect of the English language with like-minded people, and try to help anyone with a tricky letter or other writing project.”

And, now, Word Spy:

“…this is the central premise of Word Spy — that you can understand the culture by examining its new words, by going out to what one linguist calls the “vibrant edges” of language. There you see that new words both reflect and illuminate not only the subcultures that coin them, but also our culture as a whole. New words give us insight into the way things are even as they act as linguistic harbingers (or canaries in the cultural coal mine), giving us a glimpse of (or a warning about) what’s to come.”

And, one of my favorites, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

“This is a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English. Etymologies are not definitions; they’re explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.”

Next is Wordnik:

“Wordnik is the world’s biggest online English, by number of words….Wordnik shows definitions from multiple sources, so you can see as many different takes on a word’s meaning as possible….We try to show as many real examples as possible for each word….Our word relationships include synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms, words used in the same context, a reverse dictionary, and tags….There are more than 30,000 lists on Wordnik! Any logged-in Wordnik can make one (or more, or many, many more) lists.”

And, finally, The Sciolist—a links page (over 40) from the editor of the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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Would You Like To Deeply Study English?


I receive Michael Quinion’s newsletter from World Wide Words—always something interesting or strange or wonderful :-)

Here’s a recent example:

Q:From Bob Taxin, San Francisco — I was watching an Australian murder mystery on television where a teacher criticised her student’s grotesque theory of what might have happened to the victim by saying that she must have read too many penny dreadfuls. I presume this refers to some sort of horror story, perhaps which sold for a penny. Any thoughts on this?

A: “They were indeed sold for a penny, a British penny. And they were considered to be dreadful for reasons that will become clear.

“It was common in the nineteenth century to publish works in serial form or in magazines — Dickens’s novels, for example, first appeared this way. Such magazines were directed at the educated and affluent reading public and were usually priced at a shilling, unaffordable by the working man.

“To meet demand among the less well-off, some publishers brought out serials of inferior technical and literary quality, accompanied by vivid illustrations, which were sold in penny instalments. These featured sensationalist and lurid tales of highwaymen, pirates and murderers as well as exaggerated stories of real-life crimes. They were most popular among young men, who would sometimes club together to buy single copies which one person might read to others who were illiterate. The genre was widely regarded by the middle classes and by magistrates as a corrupting influence among young people and a cause of the rise in juvenile crime. This was contested by others and most famously disputed by G K Chesterton in his essay of 1901, A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls.”

And, Mr. Quinion himself?

“…Michael concentrates on World Wide Words and on providing citations and advice for the Oxford English Dictionary. He also wrote a third of the entries for the second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of New Words and compiled a weekly New Words column in the Daily Telegraph.”

Plus, it’s definitely worth reading his full bio :-)

The WebSite has LOTS of resources:


If you really want to deeply study English, check out World Wide Words :-)
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My Favorite Word is “Word” :-)

I started experimenting with words as a child—harmless activity that had some social benefit.

Now, I’m totally addicted to words and, worst of all, I’ve actually become an author, selling words to others

So, with that tongue-in-cheek opening to this post, is my favorite word really “word”?


As a child, I was an avid dictionary reader and swiftly moved on to Etymologies. And, when you look up the word-history of “word” you find it traced back to, well back to speech, talk, utterance, and word!

This self-reflective quality of the word “word” has always made it my favorite.

And, even though dictionaries with their word histories may seem like the ultimate authority of what words Mean, I’ve written an essay that explores an Origin for words that goes beyond sifting through old manuscripts… Just scroll down in the left side-bar until you get to ~Download the Essay ~

But, if you want to explore the fruit of search in available histories you might like to visit Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words and perhaps even subscribe to his newsletter.

Or, you could follow the blog, Inky Fool, by Mark Forsyth.

Mark also turned some of his blog into the book, The Etymologicon.

Here’s the elevator pitch from GoodReads:

“The Etymologicon springs from Mark Forsyth’s Inky Fool blog on the strange connections between words. It’s an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language, taking in monks and monkeys, film buffs and buffaloes, and explaining precisely what the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening.”

And, as a favor to my best friend, who’s Australian, here’s Mark explaining the word “Barracking”

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