Category: English in use

British, American, and both: a history of Halloween words

British, American, and both: a history of Halloween words

The holiday of Halloween has its roots in the British Isles; the word itself (short for All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day on November 1), originated in Scotland. Nonetheless, it was in North America that disparate regional customs were amalgamated into the celebration we recognize today. The vocabulary of the holiday reflects […]

The Hobbit: Tolkien's Old English fairy tale

The Hobbit: Tolkien’s Old English fairy tale

As Peter Jackson celebrates his birthday this week many Tolkien fans across the world are eagerly awaiting the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, due to hit the cinemas in December. To many, The Hobbit is the clumsier younger brother of The Lord of the Rings, less epic and with a Middle Earth that […]

The Lexicographer who Loved Me

The Lexicographer who Loved Me

What’s your favourite James Bond film? That’s a question that gets bandied about a fair bit, especially on a Friday night in the pub, once the subject of children’s TV of yesteryear has been exhausted. And what better week to posit the question than in the one when Skyfall, Bond’s 23rd cinematic outing, hits our screens? […]

How many Chaucers does it take to change a language?

How many Chaucers does it take to change a language?

After 600 years, what do we think of when we hear the name Geoffrey Chaucer? The straightforward, factual answer – that he was the son of London wine merchant, born sometime in the 1340s, who spent his life, after youthful forays to the French wars and diplomatic missions, working as a civil servant and building up […]

Thick with meaning: 6 UK political terms explored

Thick with meaning: 6 UK political terms explored

The final episode of Armando Iannucci’s political satire The Thick of It will air in the UK this Saturday. Journalists love comparing plotlines in The Thick of It to real-life political events, and sometimes life has even imitated art: politicians picked up and popularized the word ‘omnishambles’, first used by foul-mouthed The Thick of It […]

Presidential: what can we learn about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from their debate transcripts?

Presidential: what can we learn about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from their debate transcripts?

  On September 26, 1960, over 60 million viewers tuned in to watch John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon take the stage for the first televised debate ever between the presidential nominees of the two major US political parties. The contrast the audience perceived that evening between a sickly and tired Nixon and a rested […]

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So far, so bad.

I found myself looking up the origin of ‘curmudgeon’ last week. Defined as ‘bad-tempered, difficult, or cantankerous’, its components once meant, more or less, ‘a growling grimacer’. This last description sums up almost exactly my facial expression when I hear a language tic of the moment that has knocked ‘going forward’ off the top of […]

Georgette Heyer, zaftig, and the Oxford English Dictionary

Georgette Heyer, zaftig, and the Oxford English Dictionary

“My name is Claire Etty. And I am a reader of historical novels.” Apologies for the AA-style confession. But every time my boyfriend spots a Georgette Heyer open on the coffee table he sneers (from behind his New Statesman): “Exercising the grey cells again?” It usually is Georgette Heyer. I’m aux anges over her books, […]

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