Plain English

Keep calm, and say it plainly

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 […]

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slang

Props to the cats – the lifespan 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 […]

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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 […]

He or she? They? How to handle the singular non-gendered pronoun.

‘He’, ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘s/he’, 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 […]

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royal quotations

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

Queen Elizabeth II is the UK’s longest-reigning monarch, but let’s take a look at some who came before her. 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 Carlyle on her coronation as ‘Poor little Queen! She is at […]

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Monarchs, royal language, and coronation chicken: an interactive jubilee image

Interactive jubilee image

To celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II this weekend, we’re exploring the world of royalty, from the life and family of Elizabeth II to the names of monarchs, and even the origin of coronation chicken. We’re also delving into the influence of royalty on the English language, from margherita pizza to corduroy trousers. […]

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Lol or pulchritudinous: which words do children really use in their writing?

Creative writing

’Twas a caliginous night. . . Fingers on your buzzers, please. Which of the following would you expect children today to use in their writing: gr8, lol, apotropaic, caliginous, cerulean? Yes, that’s right, the last three. This is just one of the happy findings from the BBC Radio 2 500 Words short story competition, run […]

North and South

When south is north and right is left

Last week I drove north from Oxford for two whole days and arrived at the beautiful south. This is not because I’d done a Francis Drake but because one of the very most northerly parts of the island where I live is called ‘south land’ or ‘Sutherland’. I’d have called it something less confusing but […]

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