Word in the news: diva

Diva

Last week, music lovers learned of the untimely death of celebrated pop and R&B singer Whitney Houston. Blessed with extraordinary vocal talent and marred by tumultuous personal struggles, Whitney will be remembered all around the world as the ultimate diva. The news coverage of her passing uses language that never once allows us to overlook […]

“Zoots you, sir”: the language of clothes

London Fashion Week

The world of fashion is definitely one of those areas where words have to be coined, blended, or repurposed to describe ever more interesting and inventive garments. The current English dictionary in Oxford Dictionaries Online contains over a thousand words and phrases classified as garments or types of clothing – from an aigrette (‘a headdress […]

Charles Dickens and hip hop

“The Dickens, reminiscent of Charles”: Boz and the language of hip-hop

“As the plot thickens, it gives me the dickens, reminiscent of Charles…” So unfolds the narrative in “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”, from OutKast’s 1998 album Aquemini, a cornerstone of late 90s southern hip-hop and one of my favorites. Last week, I listened to Andre utter these lyrics once again, and I wondered, what does it really mean to […]

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What terms of endearment would have been used in this situation?

6 obsolete endearments

Some terms of affection, like darling, have endured in the English language from the outset, while others have come and gone in less than a century. The language of love thrives on metaphor, but precisely what connotes affection has changed over time. Some endearments employed by love poets in centuries past, like sparling (a type […]

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The English language is full of terms coined by Dickens.

Words popularized by Dickens

Did you know that when you get ‘the creeps’, ‘clap eyes’ on someone, or find yourself ‘flummoxed’, you are recalling expressions first used by the novelist Charles Dickens? Dickens has long been famous for coining some of the most creative character names in English literature (the Fezziwigs, the Jellybys, the Pardiggles, Chevy Slyme, Mrs Spottletoe, […]

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parting shot

Was a parting shot once a real bullet?

A parting shot, a phrase used to mean a final remark, usually pointed or cutting, made by a person at the moment of leaving, started out as something quite different: a ‘Parthian shot’. And it was indeed both live and dangerous. The Parthians were an ancient race living in southwest Asia; they were skilled warriors […]

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Are double negatives always wrong?

What is a double negative?

Is there a specific grammatical slip that’s guaranteed to make you wince? I bet there is! While it’s hard to say why certain linguistic errors cause our hackles to rise rather than others, everyone has their own bête noire. You could split your infinitives till kingdom come and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but whenever […]

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Long to reign over us: the language of anniversaries

Diamond

On 6 February, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II began her reign as monarch of the United Kingdom. Although she would not be ceremonially crowned until 2 June 1953 (the same day that news reached London of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful ascent of Mount Everest), she was proclaimed queen of the Commonwealth upon the […]

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