Feature articles about Oxford University Press around the world

OUP employees choose their favourite words for English Language Day 2021

OUP employees choose their favourite words for English Language Day 2021

23 April 2021

As the official language of over 50 countries, The British Council estimates that 1.75 billion people worldwide can speak English to what it refers to as 'some useful degree.' Furthermore, there are currently over 170,000 words in use, with new words being created frequently.

English Language Day, the date observed as both William Shakespeare’s birthday and the date of his death, provides an opportunity to recognize the global role that English language plays in the world today.

From the sixteenth century with The Great Charter enabling the university to print 'all manner of books', to the finished publication of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928, Oxford University Press' relationship with the English language has been solid and evolving over time. And today, we create world-class resources such as the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary for people learning to speak English all over the world.

To celebrate English Language Day this year, we asked employees across OUP to nominate their favourite word from the English language and explain why it held value to them. Here are just some of the answers we received:

Peter Marshall, Managing Director of English Language Teaching

‘I have chosen a funny sounding word that trips off the tongue nicely, and which I find pleasing to say. It's a word that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think the act of pronouncing it conveys something of its meaning. My word is, “discombobulated.” The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines discombobulated as, “confused and made slightly anxious by something” which, coincidentally, is a sensation I’ve experienced on many occasions in the past twelve months.’

While Peter embraces the feeling of discombobulation, Jane chose a word that describes getting out of a confused and anxious state...

Jane Digby, Marketing and Communications Manager

‘I love “combobulate” - to bring something out of a state of confusion or disarray. I love the meaning but also it is one of those funny sounding words that make you smile.’

Fathima Dada, Managing Director of Education

‘I have different favourites over time. But a sustained one for me is “serendipitous.” I love the sound but also the meaning, which is “when things happen by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” My current favourite is “alignment” because I feel we are all having to realign aspects of life at the moment (work, home, body and health, lifestyle and our general ways of being), and alignment leads to greater collaboration, agreement, balance and equity.’

Donna Williams, Head of Oxford Services

‘Mine is “equilibrium.” I love the rhythm and movement of the word and the meaning is “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced.”  I also really love the word 'rhythm' in equal measure as music is a passion, the meaning “a strong, regular repeated pattern of movement or sound.”

Kerry-Anne Bridges, Design Manager

“Serendipity!” I was introduced to it by my graphic design tutor at university, which brings backs lots of fond memories. He used to encourage us to keep trying lots of different ideas and that’s where the magic can happen. It's also become the name of one of my favourite films Serendipity, based on one of my favourite places – New York.’

John Clegg, Internal Communications Executive in English Language Teaching & Academic

‘My favourite word has to be “ethereal.” The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines it as “extremely light and beautiful; seeming to belong to another, more spiritual, world.” I've always loved its romantic, poetic qualities, and its tangible description of that which is slightly intangible.’

Beatrice Fiora, Educational Consultant

‘Two of my favourite words are “enlightenment” and, by contrast, “decadence.” I first encountered these words through reading, but then became more aware of their meaning in relation to artistic and literary movements through my studies at university. I like how both enlightenment as in “'to enlighten” and decadence as in “something decadent” are commonly used in a variety of contexts, yet have such deep roots in the history and culture of Europe.’

Emma Simmonds, Portfolio Specialist

“Embrace” because it feels like a positive way of accepting what was sure to be another year of life being very uncertain. I also like the way it sounds, but most importantly, how it looks when you write it out! As a keen hand-letterer in my spare time, I do find myself drawn to words that look particularly good written down!'

Elena Osalde, Marketing Manager

'I love “engagement” and the richness of its possibilities. It reminds me how our interactions can be more than functional, operational or transactional. It encourages us to care, commit and communicate. It is about collaboration, synergy and shared growth. It is about going on a journey together whether in business, life, sports, services or challenges.'

Read more about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary here.