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

Category: English in use

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 […]

Keeping it in mind – Poetry By Heart

Keeping it in Mind - Poetry by Heart

Writing West Midlands was delighted to be asked to run a Teachers’ Days as part of the Poetry By Heart competition. As Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands, and as a reader of poetry for many years, I had a particular interest in the process of memorizing poetry and of speaking it from memory. I […]

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Cat idioms and expressions

Cat idioms and expressions

[The competition that was in this article has now closed, and the winner has been notified.] When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, it was perhaps with the intention of enhancing international communication, and making the workplace more efficient – useful things of that nature. What he perhaps did not expect is what […]

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 […]

“All my love’s in vain”: the language of the blues

"All my love's in vain": the language of the blues

The following is an extract from The Blues: A Very Short Introduction by Elijah Wald (OUP 2010) pp.116-9 Even the greatest blues songwriters have seen no harm in reworking each other’s phrases. As with hip-hop sampling, the idea is to create something unique and new by a combination of borrowing, reworking, and adding original touches—with […]

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Ay caramba! A look at some of the language of The Simpsons

Ay caramba! A look at some of the language of The Simpsons

19 April marks the anniversary of the first airing of The Simpsons on American television – on the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Not the first episode mind, that wouldn’t appear until 1989. Fans of the show, of which there are many, might be dismayed to know that there are only 3 quotations from the […]

The Grapes of Wrath and the language of the Dust Bowl

The Grapes of Wrath and the language of the Dust Bowl

Seventy-eight years ago, a monstrous black dust cloud blotted out the sun above the American plains. This dust cloud, though the worst, was only one of the dozens of “black blizzards” that since 1931 had plagued Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and large swathes of surrounding states —the area which, at that time, recently had been coined […]

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