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

Robert Hughes

Articles by Robert Hughes


Who’s in charge of the English language?

Solar System

‘Watson’, says Holmes, ‘when you lie here and see all those stars what do you think?’ ‘Well, Holmes,’ says Watson. ‘All that grandeur and majesty. I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t someone in charge. How about you?’ ‘Me?’ says Holmes, ‘I think: Who’s pinched the tent?’ Venus and Jupiter have been extra-bright recently and […]

Dishonesty or coincidence? The origin of the word ‘gasoline’

Gasoline

New research, published in the March 2012 update of the Oxford English Dictionary, shows that gasoline might have its origins not in gas as has long been thought (it is a liquid after all) but rather in the name of a London publisher. It then reached something close to its present form in the murky […]

That’s ell oh ell

LOL

‘Out shopping. There’s a bird going cheep’. I text this to my daughter, and then, because I’m crossing the generational gap, I add ‘lol’. At some point, probably towards the end of the 80s, someone felt the need to signal, probably while emailing, that something was funny. Perhaps they wrote out the whole thing, ‘laughing […]

Confessions of a pedant

Pedantry

We all know what a taxi is There are two big problems about working for a dictionary. The first is that everyone assumes you know the meaning of every word, which is setting the bar rather high. There are about 600,000 words and senses in the OED. Any one of them could crop up at […]

Sing a song of Christmas

Sing a song of Christmas

A change is not as good as a rest Christmas brings out the conservative in us all, especially in children. This summer we dismantled a ridiculously large stone clad shelf that was built in the sixties to support a weighty cathode ray tube. Now there’s a space beside the fire which would be, I suggested, […]

The swishwifflingly scrumdiddlyumptious language of Roald Dahl

The swishwifflingly scrumdiddlyumptious language of Roald Dahl

A teacher friend of mine claims that she can spot them by the way they hang around her desk before assembly waiting to be asked something. She’s a kind soul, far more Miss Honey than Miss Trunchbull [...]

I could’ve danced all night (if only I knew how)

I could've danced all night

As the names of the participants in both Dancing With the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing have been announced, it seems natural that our thoughts should turn to the dance floor and all of the associated terminology. The difference between an Olympic sprinter and a performer on DWTS, or Strictly, or any of their thirty-two […]

Wall of words: the Berlin Wall fifty years on

Wall of words: the Berlin Wall fifty years on

The Berlin Wall was built fifty years ago on 13 August 1961. Like the concrete wall, the word wall divides Europe linguistically. Some European languages, like German and French, form their words for wall from the Latin murus. So the German for Berlin Wall is die Berliner Mauer. English, Irish, and other languages use another […]

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