Category: English in use

Facebook: a language

Facebook: a language

Today is Mark Zuckerberg’s 29th birthday – yes, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook is still under thirty. Facebook turned nine this February, which is surprisingly young given its influence upon the English language. It is my part-time addiction to Facebook, and not, I hasten to add, my degree in English, that has qualified me […]

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Celebrating Language; the Magic of Angela Carter

Celebrating language: the magic of Angela Carter

When Angela Carter was accused of overwriting, she cheerfully agreed that she pounced on opportunities to do so: ‘Embrace them? I would say that I half-suffocate them with the enthusiasm with which I wrap my arms and legs around them.’ The critic, Helen Stoddart, said she had ‘one of the most distinctive and daring voices […]

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H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft and the Northern Gothic Tongue

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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The old masters - Poetry by Heart

The old masters – Poetry by Heart

I recently watched Andrew Graham Dixon’s enthralling new programme on the BBC, ‘High Art of the Low Countries’. His analysis of Breughel’s Landscape with the fall of Icarus was masterful, and as I watched, and listened, I became aware of Auden’s poem, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, reassembling in my memory, even before part of it was […]

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

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

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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Stork and bundle

Labouring language: the changing vocabulary of childbirth

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 […]

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