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

Category: English in use

Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

On April 13, 1796, an elephant set foot on American soil for the first time. Although accounts vary, this elephant has been identified with Old Bet, who became a national sensation as the main attraction of Hackaliah Bailey’s circus. Outside the Elephant Hotel in Somers, N.Y., built by Bailey and named after his star performer, […]

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Surfing the Information Superhighway: the changing face of Internet language

Surfing the Information Superhighway: the changing face of Internet language

It’s common to associate the Internet with all things modern and new, and so it’s perhaps unexpected that it can be considered to be nearly half a century old; the ‘symbolic birth date’ of the Internet has been declared 7 April 1969, the date of publication of the first RFC (Request for Comments) document. Much […]

The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher’s linguistic legacy

The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher's linguistic legacy

The debate around Margaret Thatcher’s political and social legacy will no doubt continue for some time yet. But what of her linguistic legacy? Did she leave her mark on the English language? Iron Handbags It’s fair to say that Margaret Thatcher’s linguistic legacy lies more in what others have said about her and her politics […]

Wordsworth

What is the worth of words?

7 April marked 243 years since William Wordsworth was born. The very name of this most appropriately named poet embodies his concern for language: what is the true worth of words? As we raise a glass to celebrate the birth of this mock humorously self-styled ‘simple water-drinking bard’ (who, let’s not forget, has written what […]

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Fashion-mania: a linguistic tribute to Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood

Dame Vivienne Westwood. It’s a name to conjure with. If you know nothing about her, you might be forgiven for thinking that she’s a character in a period drama, or a Jane Austen heroine. Indeed, like so many of Austen’s women, Dame Vivienne is a breaker of social conventions. But while Elizabeth Bennet’s idea of […]

May or might: what’s the difference?

may might

I’ve mentioned before that the grammatical ‘rules’ about which many of us care most passionately often differ from person to person (and, of course, they also change over time). We all have our own particular pain threshold:  I get inordinately ratty when apostrophes are misused, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t even resist […]

Volcanoes in the OED

Volcanoes in the OED

Within the dictionary offices, we refer to the Oxford English Dictionary‘s recently revised and updated batch of words as the blue batch, as blue is the leading headword. Colour words are often big entries, involving many different subject areas. Here, we have natural history (bluebell, blueberry, and blue heron, to name but three), country music (bluegrass), fashion (or not) (blue jeans, blue […]

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Does spelling matter?

Does Spelling Matter?

“You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.” – Rabbit of Owl in A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, chapter 5 As part of his agenda to improve primary school education, Michael Gove plans to invest more teaching time in […]

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