Emoji and emoticon

Last week’s OED word of the day was emoji: an icon used to show an emotion in computer mediated communication. It’s apparently from Japanese emoji (pictograph) made up of e (meaning picture) and moji (meaning letter). I was surprised to read that its similarity to emoticon is a coincidence. Emoticon (a facial expression made up of keyboard characters to show emotion) is composed of emot- from emotion + icon.

Because of their similar meanings and initial spellings, I had assumed they shared the same formation. While the vast majority of the words beginning with ’emot-‘ are related to emotion, it seems emo-, without being followed by the letter t, actually isn’t linked to emotional meanings. The exception to this is the word emo, first recorded in 1988. 


Nocuous or noxious

This is why I keep a blog:

Me: “Mum, the OED’s word of the day is fascinating, it’s-”
Mum: “-Mhm, that’s nice.”

Apparently although I’m in my twenties I haven’t grown out of the 10-year-old me’s need to share ‘facts’ that other people don’t find remotely interesting. This blog is really in existence because I need somewhere to ramble about things I find cool.

The word of the day today is nocuous, adj: ‘Noxious, hurtful; venomous, poisonous’. (1627)

Nocuous comes from classical Latin nocuus (harmful) plus -ous suffix. Nocuus came from nocēre (to hurt, injure) + uus suffix. Innocuous developed later however I had only heard of innocuous, not nocuous.

Noxious stems from classical Latin noxius (harmful, injurious, guilty), from noxa (harm, injury).

Nocuous and noxious have similar meanings. The only difference I can see is noxious can also mean a guilty or irritating person. (Interestingly, its antonym, innoxious, no longer means someone who’s innocent). The earliest recorded use of nocuous is 1627, while noxious is over 100 years earlier. I’m guessing our favouring of one over the other is because they have such similar uses in common English so there was no need for such close synonyms in the language? However, it doesn’t explain why their antonyms don’t follow the same pattern: innocuous is more common than innoxious.

I used Google Ngram Viewer to have a look how often the words and their antonyms appeared in google books.


We can see that noxious is used far more often than the other three words, but it drops in usage until the 1930s when it starts slowly appearing again. Innocuous slowly increases in usage until it’s now used as often as noxious. Innoxious and nocuous are used a lot less often and so don’t show up well on the graph.

I took off noxious so the pattern of the others is clearer.


It looks like nocuous was never particularly commonly used in writing. While innoxious was more commonly used than innocuous at one point it drops steadily in the 1840s when innocuous gains usage.

The trends are similar when we look at just their uses in fiction, suggesting that a scientific use isn’t skewing the results. I wish I knew why we use noxious and innocuous, but not their opposites innoxious and nocuous. From the second graph we can see that noxious and innoxious were originally the preferred terms, as I’d expect, but that this changes in the 1800s.

I really love the inconsistency of language.


Gay marriage in dictionaries


This short news story tells me that Macmillan Dictionary has edited their entry on marriage to reflect the use of the term in referring to same-sex relationships. Back in July we were told that the Oxford English Dictionary was also updating their marriage entry and the OED does now have a note under their definition to say that marriage is also used to refer to same-sex relationships, although the main definition still defines it as husband and wife. Gay marriage still has its own definition under the entry for ‘gay’. It’s good to know we’re slowly seeing changes to reflect modern usage!


New words added to the Oxford English Dictionary

Okay, well not new-new, this is the list of words added in June, but it is the first time I’ve seen it. There are a few words in the list I found interesting, some vulgar, some not. Here I ramble about six of them:

geekery, n. – while the original sense (bizarre acts preformed by a carnival geek) is recorded as being in use since 1947, I imagine that this word has only now just been added because of the rise of ‘geek culture’. They define it as actions typical of geeks: an unfashionable person with an obsessive hobby. I think that the meaning of ‘geek’ is so tied up with people’s  connotations about it that it seems hard to properly define.

headfucking n. – this shows how flexible the word ‘fuck’ is. While not unheard of I thought it was interesting that a word ending with an ‘-ing’ suffix has become a noun.

smeg, n. (and int.) – added over twenty years after it made its way into popular culture by Red Dwarf! Defined as ‘a general expletive’.

young adult, n. and adj. – recorded as being used from 1762, but I guess it’s only recently that they’ve decided to class it as one word instead of just having ‘young’ modifying ‘adult’. I would love to hear the decision making process behind a choice like this: when two words collocate so closely that they become one.

trans- prefixed words such as ‘transperson’ and ‘transphobia’ –  out of all of the words on the list I am most surprised that these have only just been added! ‘transexual’ was added to the OED in 1986 and I had just assumed that related ‘trans-‘ prefixed words would have been added already too. Interestingly it seems that ‘cissexual’ isn’t even in the OED yet, I wonder how long that will take to get an entry?

heart-stopper, n. – I just thought that this was a cute description of someone who makes your heart jump a beat! Seems like it should be a far older term than only having the first recorded use in 1940.


Favourite words: Nipple

Finishing my final year of university has made me realise that soon I will no longer have university access to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online. So, I have decided to make the most of it and will be looking up the etymologies or morphological composition of my favourite words.

Today, I am starting with ‘nipple’. I am starting with ‘nipple’ because it’s the place of the body I start with when I do a life drawing. Yes, I know it sounds immature or just plain odd to have ‘nipple’ as a favourite word, but I think that it is pleasant to say and to me just sounds exactly like the thing it denotes. Not onomatopoeia exactly, but just sounds right. I think it’s a perfect term.

The OED puts the first recorded use of the word as around 1510 and suggests that it was originally composed from the stem noun ‘neb’ plus the suffix ‘-le’. I won’t list all the meanings, but in general ‘neb’ seems to mean a protruding part and has been used to refer to the nose as well as to the nib of a pen or pencil. The suffix ‘-le’ can infuse the noun it’s attached to with a diminutive sense or give it the the sense of being a tool or appliance. The OED also suggests a possible link with the word ‘nap’ meaning ‘to suck’.

I’d prefer to think that the ‘-le’ suffix is adding the sense of diminutive and not of being a tool, although if you see ‘nipple’ as a way to get milk to a baby then I guess this might also be apt. I like that my objective feeling that the word means what it sounds like is very slightly supported here with the morphological composition giving the meaning of small protuberance. And the word ‘nipple’ has something in common with the nib of a pencil. I can’t help but like that!

Pencil nibs and nipples. This is why I love the OED.

Today I saw that Ted talks have posted a link to some videos of word etymologies. They are nice light bites of etymology and are only a couple of minutes each.