Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Ammon Shea

Ammon Shea is a consulting editor for American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

Articles by Ammon Shea


Putting the accent on English

Putting the accent on English

A recent article in the New York Times describes a somewhat controversial (and no longer current) program that was run in public schools in the state of Arizona for nearly a decade – sending monitors to judge whether English teachers had an accent. If a teacher was thought to have too strong an accent, he […]

It’s all about the nuance – synonyms and the Oxford English Corpus

It’s all about the nuance

There are few words that share an exact set of definitions – it is almost a guarantee that there will be some subtle differences between one word and its synonym.  Sometimes these nuances are so subtle that they can be difficult to articulate fully in a definition, and only become apparent through examining usage. Oxford […]

Which word is older?

Which word is older?

  As part of our occasional series, have a look at these five pairs of related words and see if you can guess which entered the language first. 1)      Telephone and annoyance 2)      Bodacious and badass 3)      Patriot and traitor 4)      Chauvinism and sexism 5)      Sexy and anaphrodisiac   Answers 1) It will perhaps come as […]

Wonderful word origins

Seasick

Many of us are fascinated by the origins of the words we use. The genealogy of our vocabulary choices is not always obvious – even though English may be a relatively young language, many of its words have been around for over a thousand years, and a word can change its meaning dramatically in far […]

It’s raining; it’s pouring

Storm in NYC

Much, if not all, of the East Coast of the United States was subject to a good drenching last week, courtesy of Hurricane Irene (which might be viewed as an odd name for a storm, given that it shares an etymological root with irenic). Consequently, we who live in that area have been pummeled not […]

Shifted meanings: flash mob

Pillow Fight

Flash mob is a relatively recent addition to Oxford Dictionaries Online. The phrase is defined in the World English version of the dictionary as “a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again”, and with somewhat more brevity in the US version […]

Riotous words

Riot police

Various English cities spent a good portion of last week dealing with rioting, avoiding the riots, commenting on said riots, and cleaning up the aftermath. Leaving aside the ongoing discussion regarding the causes and effects of these civil disturbances, it would be interesting to look at the word riot itself. Riot has been in use […]

Eating your words

Eating your words

“Keep your words sweet – you may have to eat them” is an aphorism often attributed to the French Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet, although variants of this phrase turn up in a number of other places. Grellet was perhaps a man who was aware of the etymological background of some English words for food, for […]

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