The English language is, quite literally, the greatest language in the world. Great in terms of size – the current edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains 615,000 entries. Great in terms of scope — it’s an official language in seventy-nine countries and territories. And great in terms of, well, greatness — it’s just one fantastic mishmash of borrowings, inventions, corruptions, misinterpretations, misspellings, alterations, words you’ll never need, and words you never even knew you’ll never need.
Since December 2013, @HaggardHawks has been trying to prove precisely this by tweeting odd words, word origins and language facts every day. 1,300 tweets later, it turns six months old this week and so to celebrate, here are 66 random facts from our first semester that hopefully go some way towards showing how great — and how downright bizarre — the English language can be.
- In the 17th century, magpies were nicknamed pie-maggots.
- The part of a wall between two windows is called the interfenestration.
- If you were to write out every number name in full (one, two, three, four…), you wouldn’t use a single letter B until you reached one billion.
- The part of your back that you can’t quite reach to scratch is called the acnestis.It’s derived from the Greek word for “cheese-grater.”
- A hecatompedon is a building measuring precisely 100ft × 100ft.
- A growlery is a place you like to retire to when you’re unwell or in a bad mood. It was coined by Charles Dickens in Bleak House (1853).
- There was no word for the color orange in English until about 450 years ago.
- The infinity sign, ∞, is called a lemniscate. Its name means “decorated with ribbons” in Latin.
- A Dutch feast is one at which the…
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