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Michael Quinion in his office

Michael Quinion is a British etymologist and writer. He runs the web site World Wide Words, devoted to linguistics. He graduated from Cambridge University, where he studied physical sciences after which he joined BBC radio as a studio manager.


Quinion has contributed extensively to the Oxford English Dictionary as well as the Oxford Dictionary of New Words (Second Edition, 1996). He has since written Ologies and Isms (a 2002 dictionary of affixes) and Port Out, Starboard Home: And Other Language Myths (2004), published in the US as "Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins" His most recent book is Gallimaufry: A Hodgepodge of Our Vanishing Vocabulary (2006). He also wrote two books about orcharding and cidermaking, one just called Cidermaking from Shire Publications, the other A Drink for its Time published by the Cider Museum in Hereford. He held the post of curator there.

World Wide Words

Quinion is the author and web-master of World Wide Words, a site that documents the meaning and derivation of words and phrases in the English language. It covers a wide range of issues that include etymology, grammar, neologisms, writing style, and book reviews. This site explores International English from a British viewpoint.

The website features a large database of word-related topics, weird words, articles on word and phrase origins, and answers to questions from site visitors. It also offers a free weekly newsletter, which contains the latest additions to the database one week before they are posted on the website. The time delay allows for newsletter subscribers to respond with additional insights and comments, some of which may be included on the posted articles.

A recurring theme in Quinion's articles is the criticism of folk etymology. Such folk etymologies often have the effect of obscuring the true origins of a word or expression by providing a misleading and often unsubstantiated story explaining its origin. Quinion's book, Port Out, Starboard Home (Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds in the US), in fact, deals with many such etymologies.

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