Category: English in use

cryptography

Cryptology: the art and science of keeping words secure

As a cryptologist (alternatively cryptographer), what greater important responsibility could I possibly bear than that of keeping words secure? Cryptology is sometimes defined as the art of writing and solving codes. I am going to contest that on a number of fronts, not the least being that cryptology is far more important to all of […]

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basketball

14 basketball terms you should know

Now that we’re a month into the 2014-15 season, we thought it might be a good idea to pull together a quick basketball glossary, defining some of the trickier terms. While not a complete list, the following terms should help you navigate some of the sports announcers’ patter. alley-oop By far the most amusing basketball term […]

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film reel_large

Cult films in the OED

Cult films are slippery customers. One person’s cult film is another’s mainstream hit, and both would probably be prepared to fight to the death to defend their opinion. For some a film can only be described as ‘cult’ if just a handful of people have seen it. For others it is a film that did […]

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silhouettes

The advantage of ‘trans’

In the late 1990s, I attended a conference focused on “those who identify at the male end of the gender spectrum.” At the end of the conference, organizers asked each participant to fill out an exit poll, intended to capture demographic information about conference attendees. In addition to the usual geographic/age-related questions, organizers asked about […]

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bubbles_large

From muggle to whizzpopper: invented words in children’s literature

When Roald Dahl invented words such as lickswishy, which describes the way English boys taste to giants in The BFG (1982), and whizzpoppers, the enjoyable propelling farts produced by the same giants after they drink frobskottle, he was following in a tradition among children’s writers of coining neologisms that dates back at least as far […]

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berliner

The day JFK did NOT call himself a jam doughnut

On the (in)significance of the indefinite article Earlier this month, on 9 November, Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (initially called antifaschistischer Schutzwall, or ‘anti-fascist protective barrier’) in 1989; a momentous occasion in German history and a crucial milestone hailing the end of the GDR, which had been founded […]

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bastion

Hark! Is that the sound of bastions crumbling?

Shock, horror! The BBC, once revered as a paragon of correct English, seems to have slipped from its pedestal of late. Many people (including me, as I blogged about here) have become increasingly irritated or concerned by our national broadcaster’s lapses from the norm when it comes to English grammar, usage, and pronunciation. Is this […]

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Bow-wow, tyke, and cur: names for dogs

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