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

alphabet

How many pangrams are there in the OED?

A pangram is a sentence containing all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once. The canonical example in English is “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, which is clearly contrived to be pangrammatic. But pangrams can also occur accidentally. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains 66 pangrammatic quotations. Two […]

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US flag

Quiz: how good is your American English?

We recently tested non-Brits on their knowledge of British English; now it’s time to turn the tables and see how well English-speakers outside of North America can handle the mysteries of American English. Have a go, and let us know how you do. Good luck! Quiz: how good is your American English? Game Over Hair […]

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Superman shirt

The super-language of Superman

17 October marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Jerry Siegel (d. 1996), who, along with artist Joe Shuster, created Superman, one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. The mark left by Superman on today’s pop culture landscape is incalculable; not only has he been featured in comic strips […]

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prison

Fresh fish in stir: The Shawshank Redemption and prison slang

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, the prison drama following the lives of prisoners Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman). Overshadowed by Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction in the year of its release, the film has demonstrated an incredible staying power over the past […]

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christ church

Battels and subfusc: the language of Oxford

Now that Noughth Week has come to an end and the university Full Term is upon us, I thought it might be an appropriate time to investigate the arcane world of Oxford jargon – the University of Oxford, that is. New students, or freshers, do not arrive in Oxford but come up; at the end […]

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A.A. Milne

Not just heffalumps and woozles: the words of A.A. Milne

If you’ve heard of A.A. Milne, there is almost certainly one reason for that – and that reason is a Bear of Very Little Brain, otherwise known as Winnie-the-Pooh. It was on 14 October 1926 that his eponymous story collection was first published (although he had already made an appearance in the poetry book When […]

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Ghost town

How to talk about zombies: walkers, lurkers, geeks, and more

12 October 2014 marked the return in the US of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the zombie drama that follows several groups of survivors as they navigate a post-apocalyptic Georgia. Now in its fifth season, the show (and its comic book source) has made a mark in the world of zombie fiction thanks to a gritty, […]

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Chicken or egg

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

There are two famous riddles about chickens. One investigates the reasoning behind the chicken’s desire to cross the road (“to get to the other side”), while the other poses the ontological quandary: “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” We shan’t attempt to answer the question in a philosophical or biological manner, but we […]

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