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


Mondegreens: plywood heels and Bohemian sausages

Listening man

Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands, Oh where have you been? They have slain the Earl O’ Moray And layd him on the green Misheard earls So goes the first verse of The Bonnie Earl of Murray, a 17th century Scottish ballad. Now unless you are an aficionado of such things, you might not be familiar […]

Long to reign over us: the language of anniversaries

Diamond

On 6 February, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II began her reign as monarch of the United Kingdom. Although she would not be ceremonially crowned until 2 June 1953 (the same day that news reached London of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful ascent of Mount Everest), she was proclaimed queen of the Commonwealth upon the […]

What is the origin of the word ‘posh’?

P.O.S.H

There have been many attempts to explain the etymology of posh, with some theories being more persuasive than others. Stylish dandies and cash Posh, meaning ‘smart, stylish, splendid, luxurious’ is first recorded in 1914, with the chiefly British strand of meaning, ‘typical of the upper classes; snooty’, following soon after. As the Oxford English Dictionary […]

Burns suppers: neeps, tatties, and A Toast to the Lassies

Burns supper

January 25th is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, when Burns suppers are held in commemoration of the Scottish poet and lyricist. Despite being the national bard of Scotland, his influence spreads much further than those national borders, and his works have been translated into many languages including Russian and Czech. There are […]

Where does the expression ‘to mind your Ps and Qs’ come from?

etiquette

If you have you ever been told to mind your Ps and Qs, it might have struck you as a rather odd thing to do. The concept seems reasonable enough– behaving well and not giving offence – but quite what the letters P and Q have to do with this is a little more mysterious. […]

First feet, black buns, and hansels: the language of Scottish New Year’s traditions

First-footing

Get up, goodwife, and shake your feathers, And dinna think that we are beggars; For we are bairns come out to play, Get up and gie’s our hogmanay My grandma taught me this ditty longer ago than I care to remember, and it served as my first introduction to the word Hogmanay. Nowadays, many people […]

How to amuse friends and bamboozle people without even knowing it – reflections of a Scot down south

Reflections of a Scot down south

When people ask where I am from, the answer “Scotland” is not what they are expecting – that much is evident from my accent, which I haven’t lost after 14 years down south. For the most part, people find it easy enough to understand me – my Scots brogue isn’t all that impenetrable. Yet on […]

Remember, remember… pyrotechnic displays that amaze (and terrify)

Bonfire Night

It’s a custom peculiar to Britain, but for school children (and some adults) all over the country, as November begins, the following words march round and round. Remember remember the fifth of November Gunpowder, treason and plot Confession time.  I have an uneasy relationship with fireworks, something which became apparent in early childhood. As a […]

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