"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Sporting the Oak

A knock, as of a visitor and not a postman, was heard at my door. “Goodness gracious,” I exclaimed, “why didn’t we sport the oak?” Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

"Sporting the oak" refers to the open or closed state of the outer door,
indicating the inhabitant's readiness to be disturbed.

“In my Oxford days, to "sport the/one's oak" meant to close the (outer) door of one's set of rooms in college as a sign that one was engaged and did not want to be disturbed. To bang on a fellow student's door when the "oak was sported" would have been regarded as a gross solecism. The expression "to sport the oak" is attested as far back as the eighteenth century (see OED).” F.W.Langley - Hull University


  1. What a wonderful idea for a blog! I definitely need to expand my vocabulary - if nothing else to replace the swear words which can no longer be used due to a curious toddler prone to repetition.

  2. There are no such substitutes, sorry. I discovered that when one of my children, as a toddler, managed to inject so much venom into 'Oh Sugar!" that no one was left in any doubt it was a swear word.