Từ chỉ nỗi sợ “thứ 6 ngày 13”

The word is triskaidekaphobia. Its literal meaning is ‘superstition about the number thirteen’, but it’s also used to refer to the specific fear of Friday the 13th. There is also the word paraskavedekatriaphobia, proposed by some as a more specific option, although this word is not yet in our dictionaries.

View original

Có từ nào chỉ “con bò”, chứ không hẳn là “con bò đực” hay “con bò cái”, không?

The truth is that there is no noun in general use that refers equally to a cow or a bull.

Zoologists use two terms. The first is ‘ox’, which is often restricted to animals of the genus Bos (i.e. the wild cattle – gaur, banteng, yak, aurochs, and kouprey – as well as domestic cattle). In popular use, though, the word ‘ox’ often refers to a castrated male animal, so that isn’t a perfect solution. The second zoological term is ‘bovine’,  which is used as a noun to refer to any animal of the wider group that comprises cattle, buffaloes, and bison. But this would be a strange choice in most general contexts.

View original

Questions about symbols


Is there a name for the dot above the letters i and j?

The dot is just called superscript dot. It was added to the letter i in the Middle Ages to distinguish the letter (in manuscripts) from adjacent vertical strokes in such letters as u, m, and n. J is a variant form of i which emerged at this time and subsequently became a separate letter.

Does the ‘¢’ in the US cent sign stand for ‘cent’?

Yes, it does. It dates back to the early 19th century. Writing a letter with the line through it is a common way of indicating that it is a currency symbol, and not just an ordinary letter of the alphabet.

What is the name of the # symbol?

It has several names. The most common is probably hash. In North American English, it’s sometimes called the pound sign and used as a symbol for pounds weight: this can be confusing for British people for whom a pound sign is £. It’s also known as the number sign in North American English, in contexts such as go to question #2. In a musical context, the symbol is known as a sharp. The picturesque name octothorpe has also been introduced: it’s said to have been invented by an employee of Bell Laboratories in the 1960s, in honour of the American athlete Jim Thorpe (with the octo- part deriving from the symbol’s eight points). In the large form in which it appears on telephones it’s sometimes called  a square.

Recently, the hash sign has acquired a new role. On social networking sites such as Twitter, it’s attached to keywords or phrases so as to identify messages on a particular topic (e.g. #volcano; #Iceland). These keywords or phrases are known as hashtags.

What is the origin of the ‘@’ sign?

This sign originated as a scribe’s quick way of writing the Latin word ad, especially in lists of prices of commodities. It’s usually just known as ‘the at sign’ or ‘the at symbol’:  although it has acquired various nicknames in other languages none of these has so far caught on in English.

What is the origin of the dollar sign ($)?

Many suggestions have been made about the origin of the dollar symbol $, one of the commonest being that it derives from the figure 8, representing the Spanish ‘piece of eight’. However, it actually comes from a handwritten ‘ps’, an abbreviation for ‘peso’ in old Spanish-American books. The $ symbol first occurs in the 1770s, in manuscript documents of English-Americans who had business dealings with Spanish-Americans, and it starts to appear in print after 1800.

The word ‘dollar’ itself derives from the Flemish or Low German word daler (in German taler or thaler), short for Joachimstaler, referring to a coin from the silver mines of Joachimstal, in Bohemia (now Jáchymov in the Czech Republic). The term was later applied to a coin used in the Spanish-American colonies and also in the British North American colonies at the time of the American War of Independence. It was adopted as the name of the US currency unit in the late 18th century.

What is the origin of the pound sign (£)?

This sign is simply a capital letter L, written in an old-fashioned handwriting style and with one or two crossbars to show that it is being used as a symbol or abbreviation. The L stands for the Latin word libra, the name of a Roman unit of weight, which also gave rise to the abbreviation lb for a pound as a measure of weight, and to the French word livre. The symbol for the Japanese yen was probably invented by analogy with the pound and dollar symbols, as it is a capital Y with one or two bars across it.

View original

10 words you didn’t know were acronyms


Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to say a whole word. That’s why the good British public have taken abbreviations to their hearts so willingly. Many people talk about ‘quotes’ instead of ‘quotations’, ‘info’ rather than ‘information’, ‘R-Patz’ in place of ‘Robert Pattinson’. . . yes? Anyone?

And then there is the acronym, an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. (By contrast, an initialism – likeOED for Oxford English Dictionary – remains pronounced as separate letters.) The acronym creates one handy little word, saving the time needed to say them all individually, and giving you more time to do the important things in life like reading books and eating cake.

Occasionally an acronym disguises itself so successfully that we forget it isan acronym. Here are five examples of words that you might not have known hid other words within them. . .


Often used derogatively, ‘quango’ refers to an administrative body connected to the government, but outside the civil service. Which, considering it sounds like it ought to be a tropical fruit drink, might come as a bit of a disappointment. Maybe they should just call a spade a spade – or, in this case, call a quango a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.


The earliest record of ‘scuba’ in the OED is from 1952, where it appeared as SCUBA – a snappy way of referring to self-contained underwater breathingapparatus. The upper-case letters have more popularly become lower-case, as the word becomes more familiar with water-lovers around the world.


If you were a child in the 90s, chances are that you played with Pogs. It seems oddly quaint that we were content, in that 20th-century world, to flip little disks of cardboard about, often without any very definite understanding of the rules and no intention of adhering to them. But did you know that ‘Pog’ is an acronym? It derives from ‘passion fruit, orange, guava’, the trademark for a Hawaiian juice drink, the lids of which provided the first disks.


We probably all know what a laser is – what would a James Bond film be without one? – but did you know that the word, currently first identified in 1960, is an acronym of ‘light amplification by stimulated emission ofradiation’? You can see why they went with the acronym, can’t you? By the time James Bond had finished asking for one of them to be passed, all opportunities for cutting into the bank vault would be scuppered.

care package

Perhaps the most surprising acronym on the list, given the widespread use of the term for parcels sent to anyone from soldiers at war to students at university, the ‘care’ in care package originally stood for the Cooperative forAmerican Remittances to Europe, which sent out aid in the aftermath of World War Two.

And one that isn’t. . .

Then there’s the backronym. Somebody retrospectively creates an appropriate acronym for an existing word, and it can be so convincing that people mistakenly believe the word was originally an acronym. A good example is ‘posh’. You might have heard that posh is an acronym for ‘port out,starboard home’, in reference to the more comfortable accommodation on a ship sailing from England to India – but the evidence to support this suggestion has yet to be discovered.


You might have anticipated that sim (often heard in sim card, and also spelledSIM or Sim) was an acronym, but perhaps you didn’t know quite what it was. The letters stand for subscriber identity module, or subscriber identificationmodule: in other words, a microprocessor in a mobile phone holding details of the user’s network registration etc. So now you know.


You’ve probably heard of gulag (also spelled Gulag and GULAG) – a term used both for the department of Soviet secret police responsible for labour camps from the 1930s until the 1950s, and for those camps themselves. What you might not realize, unless you’re a fluent Russian speaker, is thatgulag is an acronym of Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovȳkh lagereĭ – which translates as ‘Chief Administration for Corrective Labour Camps’.


Let’s turn to something more cheerful, shall we? The etymology of puffinwhen referring to the bird (auks of the genus Fratercula, if you will) is uncertain, although it certainly isn’t an acronym. Where the acronym comes into play is with the British puffin crossing – a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights which use sensors to detect whether or not pedestrians are waiting. The acronym in question is pedestrian user friendly intelligent (crossing) – respelled after the bird’s name for punning potential…


…and by analogy with the earlier pelican crossing, also British. This variety of pedestrian crossing has traffic lights operated by pedestrians, and is a respelling of the acronym pedestrian light controlled (crossing). Other crossings represent a veritable menagerie of animals – the zebra crossingbecause it is striped black and white and the Pegasus crossing because horse riders can cross there (with reference to the mythical winged horse). The suggestion that the toucan crossing (which a cyclist may use withoutdismounting) is a pun on ‘two can cross’, sadly, seems likely to be a laterrationalization.


We’ll finish with a borderline case. Alphabet isn’t strictly an acronym, but it is close to an initialism, where the word is pronounced as separate letters, rather than as one word – such as OED for Oxford English Dictionary. In this instance, the initialism comes via Hellenistic Greek ἀλϕάβητος, from the first two letters of the ancient Greek alphabet ἄλϕα (alpha) and βῆτα (beta). That is to say, the word alphabet is formed in much the same way that we might refer to the English alphabet as the ABC.


View original

Why do we use ‘first, second,..’ and not ‘firstly, secondly…’?


When listing things there is a convention that the first item is introduced as first rather than firstly, although the following items can be said to be secondlythirdlyfourthly, etc.

The reason for this is that first early on had a role as an adverb, and the use of firstly, though established by the 17c, was felt to be an unnecessary affectation. Today this rule is considered outdated, and a variety of sequences are sometimes used:

First…, secondly…, thirdly

Firstly…, secondly…, thirdly

Firstly…, second…, third

The first two of these examples are both usually considered acceptable, but the third should normally be avoided.

View original

What do you call a group of …?


Many of the following terms belong to 15th-century lists of ‘proper terms’, such as those in the Book of St Albans attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes (1486). Some are fanciful or humorous terms which probably never had any real currency, but have been taken up by antiquarian writers, notably Joseph Strutt in Sports and Pastimes of England (1801).


blush of boys
drunkship of cobblers
hastiness of cooks
stalk of foresters
an observance of hermits
bevy of ladies
faith of merchants
superfluity of nuns
malapertness (= impertinence) of pedlars
pity of prisoners
glozing (= fawning) of taverners


shrewdness of apes
herd or pace of asses
troop of baboons
cete of badgers
sloth of bears
swarm or drift or hive or erst of bees
flock or flight or pod of birds
herd or gang or obstinacy of buffalo
bellowing of bullfinches
drove of bullocks
an army of caterpillars
clowder or glaring of cats
herd or drove of cattle
brood or clutch or peep of chickens
chattering or clattering of choughs
rag or rake of colts
covert of coots
herd of cranes
bask of crocodiles
murder of crows
litter of cubs
herd of curlew
cowardice of curs
herd or mob of deer
pack or kennel of dogs
school of dolphins
trip of dotterel
flight or dole or piteousness of doves
raft or bunch or paddling of ducks on water
safe of ducks on land
fling of dunlins
herd or parade of elephants
gang or herd of elk
busyness of ferrets
charm or chirm of finches
shoal or run of fish
swarm or cloud of flies
skulk of foxes
gaggle of geese on land
skein or team or wedge of geese in flight
herd of giraffes
cloud of gnats
flock or herd or trip of goats
band of gorillas
pack or covey of grouse
down or mute or husk of hares
cast of hawks
siege of herons
bloat of hippopotami
drove or string or stud or team of horses
pack or cry or kennel of hounds
flight or swarm of insects
fluther or smack or jellyfish
mob or troop of kangaroos
kindle or litter of kittens
desert of lapwing
an exaltation or a bevy of larks
leap or lepe of leopards
pride or sawt of lions
tiding of magpies
sord or suit of mallard
stud of mares
richesse of martens
labour of moles
troop of monkeys
barren of mules
watch of nightingales
yoke of oxen
pandemonium of parrots
covey of partridges
muster of peacocks
muster or parcel or rookery of penguins
head or nye of pheasants
kit of pigeons flying together
litter or herd of pigs
stand or wing or congregation of plovers
rush or flight of pochards
pod or school or herd or turmoil of porpoises
covey of ptarmigan
litter of pups
bevy or drift of quail
string of racehorses
an unkindness of ravens
crash of rhinoceros
bevy of roes
parliament or building of rooks
hill of ruffs
pod or herd or rookery of seals
flock or herd or trip or mob of sheep
dopping of sheldrake
wisp or walk of snipe
host of sparrows
murmuration of starlings
flight of swallows
game of swans; a wedge of swans in the air
drift or herd or sounder of swine
spring of teal
knot of toads
hover of trout
rafter of turkeys
bale or turn of turtles
bunch or knob or raft of waterfowl
school or pod or herd or gam of whales
company or trip of wigeon
sounder of wild boar
destruction of wild cats
team of wild ducks in flight
bunch or trip or plump or knob (less than 30) of wildfowl
drift of wild pigs
pack or rout of wolves
fall of woodcock
descent of woodpeckers
herd of wrens
zeal of zebras

How many is a billion?

In British English, a billion used to be equivalent to a million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000), while in American English it has always equated to a thousand million (i.e. 1,000,000,000). British English has now adopted the American figure, though, so that a billion equals a thousand million in both varieties of English.

The same sort of change has taken place with the meaning of trillion. In British English, a trillion used to mean a million million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000). Nowadays, it’s generally held to be equivalent to a million million (1,000,000,000,000), as it is in American English.

View original