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

Beth Tovey

Beth Tovey works for the Oxford English Dictionary.

Articles by Beth Tovey


Le Geek, C’est Chic

Le Geek, C'est Chic

The Glorious 25 May, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, is a day for wearing lilacs to celebrate the People’s Revolution. The 25th is also Towel Day, commemorating the life and works of Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy celebrated the towel as ‘the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have’. Furthermore, the […]

Vampires say the funniest things! A quiz of quotations from famous bloodsuckers

Vampires say the funniest things! A quiz of quotations from famous bloodsuckers

Like those of the creature itself, the origins of the word vampire are somewhat mysterious. The word comes to English from the Hungarian, perhaps having its roots in a Turkish word for a witch. It was introduced into English around the early 1700s in fascinating accounts of European legends. A little later in the same […]

Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

On April 13, 1796, an elephant set foot on American soil for the first time. Although accounts vary, this elephant has been identified with Old Bet, who became a national sensation as the main attraction of Hackaliah Bailey’s circus. Outside the Elephant Hotel in Somers, N.Y., built by Bailey and named after his star performer, […]

Fashion-mania: a linguistic tribute to Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood

Dame Vivienne Westwood. It’s a name to conjure with. If you know nothing about her, you might be forgiven for thinking that she’s a character in a period drama, or a Jane Austen heroine. Indeed, like so many of Austen’s women, Dame Vivienne is a breaker of social conventions. But while Elizabeth Bennet’s idea of […]

Tolkien’s etymologies

Tolkien's etymologies

I’m tremendously excited about the film version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that’s coming out in the UK this week. As a child, my favourite film was the 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi. When I say it was my favourite, I suppose I mean that it […]

a disappearing poet of always: e.e. cummings and his language

a disappearing poet of always: e. e. cummings and his language

Editor’s note: This article has been abridged to remove references to some of Cummings’s more explicitly sexual poetry. Read the extended version of this article here. Caution: contains strong language. October 14 marked the anniversary of the birth of the American poet and artist E. E. Cummings. If you know anything about Cummings, it is probably […]

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 […]

Strawberry Fields Forever: the legacy of The Beatles

Only a Northern Song

As a die-hard Beatles fan, I was delighted to learn that the Beatles’ lyrics are very popular with teachers of English as a foreign language. Apparently, the songs are notable for containing high percentages of the commonest English words, and are therefore very useful for learners. But in writing this article, I’m more interested in what […]

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