Guest blogger

Simon Horobin

Simon Horobin

Simon Horobin is Professor of English at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Magdalen College. He is the author of Does Spelling Matter? and writes a blog at Spelling Trouble. He is on Twitter @SCPHorobin.

Articles by Simon Horobin


What is the language of rugby?

Now that the Rugby World cup has officially kicked off, I thought it might be useful to offer a linguistic guide for the uninitiated. During a game you are likely to hear all kinds of bewildering jargon, some of which – foot-up, hand-off, head-up, put-in, knock-on – makes rugby sound more like a choreographed dance […]

how to train your dragon

How to train your dragon? Try learning Dragonese

The twelfth and final instalment in the How to Train Your Dragon series has recently been published; the book reveals whether the unlikely hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, will be crowned king of the Wilderwest. Based on Hiccup’s own account of the events, the books purport to have been translated into English from the original […]


How accurate was the sitcom Blackadder?

Blackadder is a character from a BBC TV period sitcom series which ran from 1983 to 1989, also named Blackadder. Each of the four series was set in a different historical period: the Middle Ages, Elizabethan age, Restoration, and First World War. Rumours of a fifth series have recently resurfaced in an interview with Tony […]


From teaspoons to tea-sots: the language of tea

Tea was first imported into Britain early in the 17th century, becoming very popular by the 1650s. The London diarist Samuel Pepys drank his first cup in 1660, as recorded in his famous diary: ‘I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before’. The word tea […]


All you never knew you wanted to know about the language of hawking

Among the many pleasures of reading Helen Macdonald’s moving memoir H is for Hawk is an inauguration into the arcane terminology of hawking. Mastery of this complex lexicon was a badge of social status in the Middle Ages. According to medieval legend, the terms for hawking and hunting were introduced by Sir Tristram, one of […]


Death roll, leapfrog, and dambuster: the language of croquet

Now that spring and sunshine have reached Oxford, the croquet season has begun in earnest in college quads. Its reputation as a civilized, gentle pastime is confirmed by some of the terms used by players of the game: tea lady, dolly rush, trundle, and pirie poke. But the game has a nastier side too, witnessed […]

golden compass

The language of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Northern Lights (published in the US as The Golden Compass), the first novel in Philip Pullman’s hugely successful His Dark Materials trilogy. In the preface, the author tells us that the story is set in a universe ‘like ours, but different in many ways’. One […]

horse racing

The language of horse-racing

2 May sees the running of the Kentucky Derby, one of the most important races in the American horse-racing calendar, in which 21 riders compete over the two kilometers of the famous Churchill Downs racecourse in Louisville, Kentucky for a total prize fund of $2,000,000. The race is also sometimes known as ‘the most exciting […]