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

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Brides weren’t always female While the oldest recorded sense of bride is the familiar one referring to a woman, there is some evidence of the word being used in a gender-neutral manner (like spouse) from the 15th to the early 17th century:  “Sweet Daughter deer…Isis blesse thee and thy Bride, With golden Fruit” (Joshua Sylvester, […]

The language of the summer solstice

The language of the summer solstice

It’s hard to believe, with spring only just about sprung here in Britain, but 21 June is midsummer. This is also called the summer solstice, from Latin sol “sun” and stitium “standing still”, because seen from the earth it looks like the sun halts in its tracks going northward, and moves back south. Because of […]

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Surf’s up at the OED

surfing

As International Surfing Day takes place on 20 June this year, it is a good time to put on a favourite ‘Hawaiian shirt’ (currently first recorded in 1955) and take a look at some of the surfing terms in the Oxford English Dictionary. Early surf reports The vocabulary of surfing in the English language has […]

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From ‘transpired’ to ‘toothless’ and ‘tot’… the journey of journalese

From ‘transpired’ to ‘toothless’ and ‘tot’… the journey of journalese

‘Floral tributes have been pouring in, as loved ones pay fulsome homage to their slain tot. All eyes are on concerned local residents, and debate rages, as a last-ditch probe to solve the crime that made world headlines draws to a close. At the end of the day, only time will tell who did it.’ […]

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Lily-white hands and scarlet gowns: formulas in British traditional ballads

Lily-white hands and scarlet gowns: formulas in British traditional ballads

Traditional song can be a tricky beast. Stubbornly slippery in form, content, and definition, its remit encompasses an amorphous mass of vernacular songs that have been cherished by everyday people over time. These songs are of varying vintages, of both known and unknown authorship, some passed through generations by word of mouth, others emerging from […]

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Speaking pukka

Speaking pukka

‘I cannot endure a swell, even though his whiskers are pucka’. G. O. Trevelyan The Dawk Bungalow (1863) The word pukka enjoys an unusual status in Britain both as a current slang term and a dusty relic of the Raj. As a London slang term, pukka means first-rate or excellent. The word rose to prominence […]

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Words must advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers in the OED

Words must advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers in the OED

13 June 2013 would have been the 120th birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers, born on that date in 1893. Detective novelist, Christian writer, Dante translator, and glorious wordsmith, she was a true daughter of Oxford, blood and bone: her father was chaplain of Christ Church Cathedral School, and she took first class honours in medieval […]

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Cole Porter: the tinpantithesis of poetry

Cole Porter: the tinpantithesis of poetry

Cole Porter was one of the few songwriters of his era who wrote both music and lyrics. Another was his friend Irving Berlin. The two men shared a private joke. Whenever a songwriting team–such as Ira and George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, or Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern—had a hit, Porter and Berlin […]

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