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

Category: English in use

Oscar said it

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A man who does not think for himself does not think at all So wrote the inimitable Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism. It’s not an accusation that could be levelled at the man himself. Only 27 years after his death, another inimitable wit, this time Dorothy Parker, published her famous epigram, demonstrating that […]

The wearin’ (and speakin’) o’ the green

The wearin' (and speakin') o' the Green

Every month evokes a certain characteristic (January is cold, May brings flowers), but no month is more connected to a single color than March. The color, of course, is green. The onset of spring obviously plays into that, but as anyone in upstate New York could point out, the “spring greenness” of March is often […]

My Fair Lady: simple phonetics and pygmalion words

My Fair Lady: simple phonetics and pygmalion words

My Fair Lady, a musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion, was first performed on Broadway in 1956, and has been in performance somewhere in the world almost ever since. Telling the tale of how London phonetics professor Henry Higgins gives cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle speech lessons in order to pass her […]

What do you call a librarian on Tumblr?

What do you call a librarian on Tumblr?

There is nothing, it seems, that the Internet loves so much as . . . well, cats falling off draining boards, but second to that, it’s abbreviations. As technology and social media expand, and communities continue to grow across the Internet, so language and language use develop and adapt to cater to new situations. From […]

Mumbo-jumbo and plocking: Vita Sackville-West in the OED

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On 9 March 2013, Vita Sackville-West would have been 121 years old. By birth she was a Victorian, but she spent her life railing against the stifling conventions of her parents’ generation. She and her husband Harold Nicolson enjoyed a famously open marriage; one of Vita Sackville-West’s many lovers was the novelist Virginia Woolf, who […]

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scones

How do you pronounce scone?

If you’re ever looking to liven up a tea party with some fully-fledged warfare, then can I suggest that you try something subtler than putting salt in the sugar bowl or pushing someone down the stairs? Simply point to the curranty baked goods on the Cath Kidston three-tiered cake stand, and ask: “Scone or scone?” […]

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Argh, muggins, and pleasure boat: diarists in the OED

Argh, muggins, and pleasure boat: diarists in the OED

Diaries hold a special place in literature. They can provide a uniquely personal snapshot of the world at a particular time. When I was younger, it seemed like every year brought forth a particular New Year’s resolution – this would be the year I would begin my diary and, more importantly, keep it going. Yet, […]

A-tremble and dimplement: Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the OED

A-tremble and dimplement: Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the OED

Did you know that Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the fifth most quoted woman in the OED’s illustrative quotations? I was tipped off to this rather surprising fact a few days ago, and thought I’d take a look at where she pops up. Amazingly, she is currently quoted no fewer than 1,530 times, starting, alphabetically, with […]

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