Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

hotdog

Hot diggety dog: the language of hotdogs

In my local supermarket there is a section of shelving devoted to sausages in tins and jars. American-style hot dogs whose label reveals them to be made in England from mechanically recovered turkey, frankfurters made from slightly more identifiable meats, Bockwurst from Germany, and jars of Polish kiełbasa. European harmony expressed through the medium of […]

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cows in the oed

The peculiar history of cows in the OED

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has hundreds of words that relate to cows. For most English speakers, the idea that anyone would need so many words for one specific animal probably seems absurd. Especially cows. Perhaps it’s their mysterious ubiquity throughout children’s books and TV shows or just the dull empty look in their eyes, […]

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Extant

Extant’s slippery title confuses even the cast members

With the debut of the Steven Spielberg-produced Halle Berry vehicle Extant, one question has been on a lot of people’s minds: what does the title mean? Following the show’s premiere on July 9, Oxford Dictionaries saw a noticeable increase in the number of searches for the definition of extant. But it wasn’t only the Internet […]

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Thackeray word cloud2

Snobs and brain cracks: Thackeray in the OED

William Makepeace Thackeray was born on 18 July 1811, and before his death just over fifty years later he had written over thirty-five works. These include Catherine (1839-40), Pendennis (1848-50), and The Book of Snobs (1848) – the last of which popularized (and is currently the earliest known evidence for) the sense of snob as ‘a person who admires […]

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magazines pile

Why do we need grammar?

It’s not often that the word ‘inspiring’ is used to describe a day of grammar talks, but I was not the only one to think so at last week’s English Grammar Day at the British Library. With a queue out the door and tickets sold out, it’s clear that grammar’s back. After years of conspicuous […]

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How I created the languages of Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones

How I created the languages of Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones

In a guest blog article, David J Peterson uses his experience as a language creator on Game of Thrones, Defiance, and Dominion to discuss the world of conlang. My name is David Peterson, and I’m a conlanger. “What’s a conlanger,” you may ask? Thanks to the recent addition of the word “conlang” to the Oxford […]

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Language quiz: does the world look the same in any language?

Language quiz: does the world look the same in any language?

The Japanese language has a single word that encompasses both green and blue colors, whilst the Russian language has separate terms for different shades of blue. So does this mean that people who speak Russian and Japanese perceive these colors differently from English speakers? And even more questionably: are we only able to form concepts […]

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David Foster Wallace

Infinite vocabulary: the language of David Foster Wallace

Though the late David Foster Wallace was an internationally renowned author of fiction and non-fiction, many of his readers and even some of his most ardent fans may not know about Wallace’s love of language and the work he contributed to the modern American English lexicon. Wallace could take even the most unassuming or simple […]

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