Susie Dent

Susie Dent is the word referee on C4's Countdown; she has written several books on language, including What Made the Crocodile Cry?, and also writes for the Radio Times.

Articles by Susie Dent

Tragedy comes from a word meaning 'goat song'.

Did ‘tragedy’ originally mean ‘goat song’?

It is absolutely true that the word ‘tragedy’ has roots in a Greek word meaning ‘goat-song’. Many theories have been offered to explain it. One is that Greek tragedies were known as goat-songs because the prize in Athenian play competitions was a live goat. The contests were part of worship to Dionysus, involving chants and […]

Drive safely

Truly. Madly. Deep. Adverbs and flat adverbs

A few years ago, I became unusually vocal over a particular bit of linguistic abuse. Unusually, because the lexicographical instinct is to be descriptive of language change at all times, and sanguine about those bugbears that others decry. But this particular trend had me sufficiently riled that I wrote an article entitled ‘The Adverb is […]

The origin of ostracize has, unfortunately, nothing to do with ostriches.

Does ‘ostracize’ have anything to do with ‘ostriches’?

It’s a nice idea, but the two words are in fact quite separate. Ostrich comes from an Old French word ostruce, dating right back to the twelfth century. The Latin term for the bird was struthiocamelus, meaning a ‘sparrow camel’, a word coined after the first encounters with ostriches, probably because of the animal’s long […]

fnarr fnarr

Fnarr fnarr, phwoah, and mwah

You might be surprised to discover that fnarr fnarr is included in, but it has been for a few years now. ‘Fnarr fnarr’, that two-word deliverer of sniggering, usually at some piece of sexual innuendo, got me thinking about words born through sound association, and their often overlooked power in our language. A 16th century writer […]

Big Society Word of the Year

The OUP UK Word of the Year 2010 is … ‘big society’

Let’s hear a woot (or not?) for the Big Society! Each year, as the announcement of Oxford’s Word of the Year approaches, I’m reminded of some words from the playwright Dennis Potter: ‘the trouble with words is that you never know whose mouth they’ve been in’. I sometimes wonder whether that’s why I like new […]