Category: English in use

Peppers, particles, pain, and the weird words that measure them

Peppers, particles, pain, and the weird words that measure them

For many people, the following two statements probably apply: 20 May is just another day, and You can’t remember the last time you took a moment to contemplate, gratefully, all the varying words that enable us, more-or-less concisely, to understand and efficiently communicate measurement. Yes, measurement. And although 20 May is in fact World Metrology […]

Beam me up, dictionary: Star Trek in the OED

Beam me up, dictionary: Star Trek in the OED

Star Trek is one of the most successful science-fiction franchises of all time: since the original TV series first aired in 1966, there have been four further live-action TV shows (plus an animated series), twelve films, and innumerable books. Only Star Wars and (particularly for the British) Doctor Who have achieved a comparable level of […]

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Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of the Beatles

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of The Beatles

The Beatles are regarded by many – including me – as the greatest band of all time, and few would doubt the significance of their impact on popular music. Their impact on the lexicon is less clear, though, since using the word ‘na’ 217 times in the lyrics of Hey Jude really doesn’t count. (Incidentally, […]

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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 […]

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