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

Category: Dictionaries and lexicography

H. P. Lovecraft and the Northern Gothic Tongue

H. P. Lovecraft

There is a very specific language of Gothic and horror literature that has its roots buried deep in the history of English: doom has been around since Old English; dread carries over from Middle English; eerie, that sense of vague superstitious uneasiness, enters Middle English through Scottish. The adjectives are harsh and guttural: moons are […]

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Paris in the spring

Paris in the spring

To celebrate the publication of OUP’s new bilingual Compact dictionaries in May, we are featuring a series of blog posts regarding French, Spanish, Russian, German, and Italian over the coming weeks. In this first post, Joanna Rubery considers the far-reaching effects of Parisian culture, including French words to be heard in the streets of South […]

Who’s confident [confidant?] about using -ance, -ence, and similar suffixes?

Who's confident [confidant?] about using -ance, -ence, and

For those of you who’ve been following my occasional series about homophonous affixes (or, to put it another way, word-endings and -beginnings that sound the same when spoken!), you should now know your -ables from your -ibles and be proficient in fore- versus for- or four. There are plenty more similar-sounding affixes, though, so I thought […]

Woman – or Suffragette?

Woman - or Suffragette?

In 1903, the motto ‘Deeds not Words’ was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst as the slogan of the new Women’s Social and Political Union. This aimed above all to secure women the vote, but it marked a deliberate departure in the methods to be used. Over fifty years of peaceful campaigning had brought no change to […]

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A little bit of pixie dust: five of Disney’s contributions to the English language

A little bit of pixie dust: five of Disney’s contributions to the English language

When we ruminate on the enormous effect all things Disney have had on popular culture from the early 20th century onwards (think ‘Steamboat Willie’ to the upcoming Star Wars films), we might call to mind hundreds of animated movies, several enormous theme parks, thousands of toys, and dozens of familiar characters—not to mention one ubiquitous […]

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Labouring language: the changing vocabulary of childbirth

Stork and bundle

Expectant parents don’t generally have a lot of spare time for idly perusing the dictionary, but if they did, they would find that the vocabulary of the event they joyfully anticipate has undergone significant changes over the centuries. Consider, for instance, the verb to deliver. In contemporary use, the mother is often the subject of […]

Cricket and the Queen Mum: the OED’s Chief Editor discusses some fascinating words

John Simpson - Chief Editor OED

Yesterday it was announced that John Simpson, Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, will be retiring in October 2013. The full press release can be read on the OED website, and it seems an appropriate time to ask John Simpson to discuss some of the more fascinating words and expressions he has worked on: It’s hard […]

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Play ball!

Play ball!

In spring, as the saying goes, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love.” Who first penned that immortal mush, anyway? You well-read literary types probably know it was Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem “Locksley Hall,” and I suppose that was romantic of him, but the way I see it, when love becomes a […]

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