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5 (more) words that are older than you think

Every year words are invented or have surges of popularity – some stand the test of time, and remain in dictionaries of current English – and some quietly retreat into the pages of historical dictionaries. Perhaps it is encouraging, to anybody anxious about the seeming surge of new words which enter the world’s vocabulary every […]

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Different from? Different than? Different to?

apple different from than or to

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. F. Scott Fitzgerald 1926 It’s a situation that crops up all the time – you want to contrast people or things, describing how one is not the same as the other, so you use the adjective different, and decide to […]

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sheep

The formation of plurals, from sheep to minotaurs

It’s probably safe to say that most of us don’t give much thought to how plural nouns are formed in English. In fact, add –s or –es, whatever a word’s origin or meaning, might be one of the easiest grammatical rules in the language. So we have book / books, church / churches, hula / […]

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The compilation of dictionaries: are we there yet?

Large press

Dictionary projects can famously, and sometimes fatally, overrun. In the nineteenth century especially, dictionaries for the more recondite foreign languages of past and present (from Coptic to Sanskrit) were compiled by independent scholars, enthusiasts who were ready to dedicate their lives to a particular project. This may make for an exhaustively comprehensive text; it doesn’t […]

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Dialect and identity: Pittsburghese goes to the opera

On a Sunday afternoon in November I am at the Benedum Center with hundreds of fellow Pittsburghers watching a performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” It’s the second act, and Papageno the bird-man has just found his true love. The English super-titles help us decipher what he is saying as he starts to exit the […]

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