Category: English in use

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 […]

Woman - or Suffragette?

Woman – or Suffragette?

In 1903, the motto ‘Deeds not Words’ was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst as the slogan of the new Women’s Social and Political Union. This aimed above all to secure women the vote, but it marked a deliberate departure in the methods to be used. Over fifty years of peaceful campaigning had brought no change to […]

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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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Stork and bundle

Labouring language: the changing vocabulary of childbirth

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 […]

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