Category: English in use

Poll results: fount or font of knowledge?

fount of knowledge

There are few things more likely to cause fierce argument between language-lovers than variant spellings of everyday expressions, especially if one is celebrated by language traditionalists and the other by the linguistic vanguard. You may remember the heated arguments that arose over the topic of pronouncing scone (some friendships have never truly recovered) – well, […]

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Love triangles and cliffhangers: soap operatic language

soap

As my family have long since learnt, it’s never worth trying to call me between the hours of 5.30-6pm or 7-7.30pm. That is when the rest of the world is as nothing to me, earthquakes and hurricanes would not disrupt me, for I am watching my soaps. (Neighbours and Emmerdale, since you ask.) Since soap […]

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The language of Jersey: little toads and the glove of a Queen

Jersey Island

There was one thing I wanted to know as the plane touched down: were we actually abroad? On the one hand, everyone was driving on the left, paying in pounds, and speaking in English (albeit with what sounded like a faintly South African accent). On the other, everything was the wrong colour: yellow telephone boxes, […]

Language play in noms de plume and stage names, from Bono to the Brontës

noms de plume

With the discovery that mystery writer Robert Galbraith and Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling are one and the same, the massively successful novelist has become one of many known popular fiction writers—including Stephen King and Anne Rice—to employ a nom de plume, or pen name, masking the true identity behind their work. There are several […]

Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Aha! Alan Partridge in the OED

Alan_partridge2

There are many places you might expect to find a quotation from Alan Partridge – perhaps on the North Norfolk Digital website or in the Norwich Evening News expressing his views on the pedestrianization of the city centre – but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is probably not the first place you’d look. However, quotations […]

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A Study in Sherlock: Holmesian homages for Benedict’s birthday

It’s the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday today, so I’m told. Most recently seen on the big screen playing an iconic Star Trek baddie, Cumberbatch has enthralled viewers and theatre audiences as characters ranging from Vincent van Gogh and Stephen Hawking to Frankenstein’s monster and a Tolkienian dragon. But one of his most successful roles to […]

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“Intelligence Officer”: A gentleman and patriot, or a scoundrel seeking reputational refuge?

“Intelligence Officer”: a gentleman and patriot, or a scoundrel seeking reputational refuge?

The Oxford English Dictionary gives interesting examples of how the term intelligence officer has changed its meaning: An example from American usage in 1847 still conveys the eighteenth-century sense of a person who simply transmits information. Then there is a reference to the poet Rupert Brooke, who in the Great War served as an “intelligence […]

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