Category: English in use

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, […]

Taking the credit

Taking the credit

October 16 is the anniversary of the birthday of Oscar Wilde, described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography simply as ‘writer’ but also one of the stalwarts of dictionaries of quotations. Indeed, he even appears as the subject of some quotations – as Dorothy Parker said: If, with the literate, I am Impelled to […]

a disappearing poet of always: e. e. cummings and his language

a disappearing poet of always: e.e. cummings and his language

Editor’s note: This article has been abridged to remove references to some of Cummings’s more explicitly sexual poetry. Read the extended version of this article here. Caution: contains strong language. October 14 marked the anniversary of the birth of the American poet and artist E. E. Cummings. If you know anything about Cummings, it is probably […]

The language of P.G. Wodehouse

By Jove! The language of P.G. Wodehouse

My dad introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse when I was a teenager. Not for a moment did it occur to him that a 14-year-old girl whose first language was Afrikaans and who had never left the African continent might not find immediate resonance with Bertie Wooster, Lord Ickenham, Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and co., or […]

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