What were the most looked-up words in 2011?

Interactive search monitor

In our occasional search monitor series, we take a look at your most searched-for words of the past month. But what were your top look-ups for the past year? Below is a word cloud containing the top 300 most looked-up words in our free online dictionary. Hover over the words to find out more or […]

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Where does the phrase 'mind your Ps and Qs' come from?

Where does ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ come from?

If you have you ever been told to mind your Ps and Qs, it might have struck you as a rather odd thing to do. The concept seems reasonable enough– behaving well and not giving offence – but quite what the letters P and Q have to do with this is a little more mysterious. […]

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Can I start a sentence with and? Most of our classroom experience would have us believe that starting a sentence with a conjunction is wrong.

Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?

For many of us, our English lessons at school were marked by the stern admonition: ‘Never begin a sentence with a conjunction!’. I was taught this ‘rule’ as a grammatical diktat back in the 1970s, and a quick trawl of the Net shows that the same advice is still being handed down to English students […]

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Schlagintweit brothers old engraved portraits.

What is the origin of the term ‘sideburns’?

An American general of the nineteenth century, by the name of Ambrose E. Burnside, was immediately recognizable from his mutton chop whiskers and moustache, combined with (unusually) a clean-shaven chin. Thanks to his trend-setting, and from the 1870s onwards, people were calling this style a Burnside. The whims of fashion meant that the moustache was […]

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Could -boat be the new -gate?

Swift boat

Word in the news: Romney-boated On New Year’s Day this year, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, expressing frustration at negative ads being run by pro-Romney groups, said “I feel Romney-boated”, coining a phrase and – just maybe – launching a new combining form. Gingrich’s neologism uses the second element in swift-boating, a term which dates […]

Election Voting

What is a caucus? and other US politics questions

America’s race for the White House begins in earnest with the Iowa caucuses. If you find yourself wondering precisely what a caucus is, you’re not alone. The Byzantine process by which the US political parties choose their presidential nominees has a jargon all its own. Below is a brief guide to some of the terminology you […]

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