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

Fiona McPherson

Fiona McPherson is a Senior Editor with the Oxford English Dictionary.

Articles by Fiona McPherson


Pele quotation

The first rule of football is… don’t call it soccer

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language – a phrase commonly attributed to George Bernard Shaw sometime in the 1940s, although apparently not to be found in any of his published works. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to say that they are two countries separated […]

chocolate

Is there a word to describe how you eat chocolate?

Earlier today, BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans asked me if there was a word for what you do when you eat chocolate. You don’t exactly chew it but sucking doesn’t seem quite right either. Coincidentally, at a chocolate festival I attended last weekend, during a chocolate tasting session the chocolatier instructed us not to eat […]

theatre

From early doors to blood-tub: language relating to theatre

The lure of the greasepaint has long attracted people, from Mrs Worthington’s daughter to the latest contestants on reality shows to pick the next star of a West End remake. So on World Theatre Day, await the swish of the curtain, don’t let the super troupers blind you, and get ready to tread the boards […]

Talk Like A Pirate Day: pirate phrases and their origins

Jolly_roger

Be it from the pages of Treasure Island, the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow on the silver screen, or the Guybrush Threepwood’s adventures on Monkey Island, the fictional pirate has long held a fascination for landlubbers everywhere. On this International Talk Like A Pirate Day, we take a look at a few of the words […]

We need to talk about literally

Literally

Hold the front pages, literally. Or not. There has been much excitement this week over the discovery that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has recorded a sense of the word literally that seems to cause particular irritation. I am speaking of its use in a sentence like “I literally died laughing and had to run […]

The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher’s linguistic legacy

The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher's linguistic legacy

The debate around Margaret Thatcher’s political and social legacy will no doubt continue for some time yet. But what of her linguistic legacy? Did she leave her mark on the English language? Iron Handbags It’s fair to say that Margaret Thatcher’s linguistic legacy lies more in what others have said about her and her politics […]

Oscar said it

handbag

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all So wrote the inimitable Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism. It’s not an accusation that could be levelled at the man himself. Only 27 years after his death, another inimitable wit, this time Dorothy Parker, published her famous epigram, demonstrating that […]

Argh, muggins, and pleasure boat: diarists in the OED

Argh, muggins, and pleasure boat: diarists in the OED

Diaries hold a special place in literature. They can provide a uniquely personal snapshot of the world at a particular time. When I was younger, it seemed like every year brought forth a particular New Year’s resolution – this would be the year I would begin my diary and, more importantly, keep it going. Yet, […]

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