Are you father-waur or father-better? The forgotten language of fathers

Forgotten language of fathers

To judge by the typical Father’s Day gift, there isn’t much more to fatherhood than golf, grilling, and garish neckties. The history of the English language reveals some different and even surprising associations in some rare words and meanings alluding to the paternal parent. Some of these largely forgotten words may be worthy of a […]

Pride and Prejudice interactive text analyser

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is one of Jane Austen’s best-known love stories, and one of the nation’s favourite novels, achieving second place in the BBC’s Big Read Top 100. You may think you know this novel inside out; you may know how many times Mr. Collins was asked to […]

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Why do some words have two opposite meanings?

Janus words

Single words that have two contradictory meanings are known as contronyms. The number of contronyms in English is small, but they are significant. Examples include: dust: 1 to remove dust. 2 to cover with dust. hysterical: 1 frightened and out of control. 2 funny. nervy: 1 showing nerve or courage. 2 excitable and volatile. moot: […]

Keep calm, and say it plainly

Plain English

Ever since I first read an ancient edition of Ernest Gowers’ book on plain English about fifteen years ago, I’ve tried to put his guidelines into practice whenever I write. I don’t always get it right – I’m sure you’ll catch me out in this piece of writing – but I always try. What is […]

Props to the cats – the lifespan of slang

Life of Slang

My students are mostly white, middle-class, and female, but their slang is heavily influenced by rap culture. They chillax with their bloods and homies, dissing the skanky hos, expressing props to the players and pimping up their whips. Comparison with hippy slang suggests that it’s only a matter of time before they’re not the only […]

Summertime, and the words are too easy

Sunflowers

Memorial Day has come and gone, bringing with it the unofficial beginning of the summer in the northern hemisphere. These days, summer evokes such plebeian terms as barbecue, vacation (or, even worse, staycation), or timeshare. Yet if we scratch even the surface of English vocabulary, we quickly find that there is a wealth of more […]

Faceoff: ‘he’, ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘s/he’ versus ‘they’

He, she, or they?

I enjoy reading your comments on Oxford’s blog posts: they provide an invaluable insight into your language concerns, likes, and dislikes. Your remarks strengthen my awareness that we have a sophisticated and grammatically knowledgeable audience: this keeps me on my toes, to say the least. Of course, I always aim to stay within the bounds […]

‘The glory of my crown’: royal quotations past and present

Crown

With the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in full swing, it is perhaps a good moment to look back at some other long-serving monarchs of the British Isles. Inevitably, those who rule for a long time come to the throne early: Queen Victoria was 18 at her accession, and was described by Thomas […]

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