Category: English in use

cat fiddle

Nursery rhymes: time capsules of language

It’s uncanny: when most of us hear the lines “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” or “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall”, we find our brains mysteriously capable (how many years after our youth?) of reciting the full nursery rhyme, as if on autopilot. These are rhymes many begin to learn in the cradle from parents who […]

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flowers

In an English country garden

What could be nicer on a sunny Sunday afternoon in spring, than a spot of gardening? Though the language of horticulture proper can seem somewhat bewildering and full of complicated Latin names, growing plants is an activity that people have undertaken for thousands of years– whether for pleasure, or simply for food – and so it […]

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real tennis

The language of real tennis

This month, in Melbourne, Australia, saw 46-year-old Rob Fahey successfully defend his Real Tennis World Championship title, which he has held since 1994. Real Tennis is the king of racket sports and a game of kings – its best-known royal exponent was undoubtedly Henry VIII, whose passion for the game led to the construction of […]

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freud

Say one thing and mean your mother: the language of Freudianism

It is difficult to realize, from a distance of nearly a century, quite the impact that Sigmund Freud and his theories had upon polite society of the 1920s and ‘30s. The novelist D.H. Lawrence wrote that ‘the Oedipus complex was a household word, the incest motive a commonplace of tea-time chat’, and popular guides to […]

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tiramisu

How Good Housekeeping appears in the OED

Your first thought, when you think of the magazine Good Housekeeping, might not be that it is a source for lexicographers. Founded in the US on 2 May 1885, it perhaps brings to mind recipes, health tips, and pieces about fashion – all of which is true, although you might not know that it has […]

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q

Q tips: some rule-breaking words beginning with q

One of the first spelling rules that young children are taught is ‘i before e except after c’. Once they encounter words like neighbour, foreign, and weight, it soon becomes clear that there are exceptions. The same is also then true of another rule, namely ‘always use u after q’. There are at least a […]

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chocolate

Is there a word to describe how you eat chocolate?

Earlier today, BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans asked me if there was a word for what you do when you eat chocolate. You don’t exactly chew it but sucking doesn’t seem quite right either. Coincidentally, at a chocolate festival I attended last weekend, during a chocolate tasting session the chocolatier instructed us not to eat […]

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earth

Earth Day: a world of words

Environmentalism has become something we are all aware of – continuing to work to “cherish our green inheritance”, as the noted naturalist Sir David Attenborough described it – and this is reflected in the changing use of related language. Eco origins For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a huge number of terms formed […]

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