We were stood at the bar talking about continuous tenses. . .

We were stood at the bar talking about continuous tenses. . .

Shock horror – Auntie ventures into non-standard English! Call me a dyed in the wool reactionary, but the BBC (familiarly known as ‘Auntie’ because the broadcaster is regarded as the UK’s rather staid maiden aunt) has surprised me twice recently. Firstly, I was shocked to encounter someone saying ‘sh** happens’ at around 11.45 a.m. on […]

Making a marque: Automotive etymologies

Making a marque: automotive etymologies

On a recent cloudy Sunday afternoon I found myself shepherding the truck-crazy young son of a friend of mine round the crowded arena of a retro and classic truck show at a motor museum in the English Midlands. There were hundreds of trucks of all ages and manufacturers neatly parked in rows and we walked […]

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

  I can only give a very subjective answer, but I’ll start with a few nominations. Most of the words in everyday English have been in (and occasionally out of) circulation for centuries. A study of them in a historical dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary, which charts chronologically the story of a word […]

The whole kitten caboodle

The whole kitten caboodle

Today is Brigitte Bardot‘s birthday. Joyeux anniversaire, BB! The former French film actress caused a sensation in 1956 when she appeared in And God Created Woman, the film that established her reputation as an international sex symbol. Her first scene finds her sunbathing in the nude – in her birthday suit, as it were. In […]

On the radar: September 2012

Green on blue, unboxing, and brass: on the radar in September 2012

The origin of green on blue The phrase green on blue has been used with tragic frequency in recent weeks to describe attacks by Afghan soldiers on Coalition troops in Afghanistan. Green on blue is modeled after an earlier phrase, blue on blue, referring to inadvertent clashes between members of the same side in an […]

A heap of broken images: the varied voices of T.S. Eliot

A heap of broken images: the varied voices of T. S. Eliot

Today, September 26th, is the 124th anniversary of the birth of the poet, playwright, and critic T. S. Eliot. Apart from being one of the twentieth century’s most important writers, Eliot is, more importantly, one of my top-five favourite poets of all time. He is a poet of language, a poet of many voices, and today […]

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Oktoberfest: mapping the beers of Europe

Oktoberfest: mapping the beers of Europe

How many styles of beer can you name? Or for those old enough to do so legally, how many have you tasted? According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, there are well over 100 styles from all over the world. With the start of Oktoberfest, the annual German festival with a tradition of celebrating all […]

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Pleb or snob?

Pleb or snob?

An altercation between a politician and some policemen featured heavily in the UK press this week and prompted thousands of extra hits on the Oxford Dictionaries definition of ‘pleb’: Plebeian first appeared in English in 1533 with reference to Roman history, meaning ‘a Roman commoner’, or ‘a member of the plebs’. The plebs were the […]

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