Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Category: English in use

Does ‘decimate’ really mean ‘destroy one tenth’?

Roman soldier

Most people have a linguistic pet peeve or two, a useful complaint about language that they can sound off about to show other people that they know how to wield the English language. Most of these peeves tend to be rather irrational, a quality which should in no way diminish the enjoyment of the complainer. […]

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May the odds be ever in your favour: the language of The Hunger Games

The language of The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a trilogy of books set in a post-apocalyptic country in which the Capitol holds hegemony over the rest of the nation. Within that world, the Hunger Games are an annually-televised bloodbath in which 24 children from outside the Capitol fight to the death in penance for the rebellion […]

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Why is something that is the very best known as ‘the bee’s knees’?

The bee's knees

This curious expression is one of many similar sayings for something that is the acme of excellence. We are all familiar with the cat’s whiskers (or the cat’s pyjamas, the cat’s meow, and the cat’s nuts), which originated in the roaring 1920s and which might well have been the first of its kind—it is said […]

The language of cooking: from ‘Forme of Cury’ to ‘Pukka Tucker’

The language of cooking: from 'Forme of Cury' to 'Pukka Tukka'

The earliest surviving English-language recipes came from the kitchens of kings and their great nobles. Richard II’s Master Cooks boasted that their Forme of Cury contained only the ‘best and royallest viand of all Christian Kings’, and, what’s more, had been approved by the king’s physicians and philosophers. Healthy eating issues and celebrity endorsements are […]

Takei-tastic word-shenaniganza

Takei-tastic word-shenaniganza

The actor George Takei, hailed as a social media superstar, recently invited his fans to invent new words and submit them to him with their proposed definitions. Here at Oxford Dictionaries we’re always monitoring new words and meanings for inclusion in our dictionaries: once a word or phrase has gained enough traction, and we’ve recorded […]

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Most of us would agree that English spelling can be a minefield: one reason for this is that there are numerous words which sound the same when you say or hear them but which are spelled differently and which have completely different meanings: a few examples are pour/pore, flower/flour, and sight/site. Such words are known […]

Jack and the Flagpole: what do you call the British national flag?

Bunting

Travelling around Britain, as I’ve been doing this week, I have been struck, as anyone would be, by the profusion of national flags. Not only are they to be found draped on cars and pinned in bedroom windows this year, the British flag is also being displayed on civic flagpoles, high-street lamp-posts, and pub-signs, and […]

“Does ‘all of’ have any legit uses?” A reflection by David Foster Wallace from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

“Does ‘all of’ have any legit uses?” A reflection by David Foster Wallace from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

Other than as an ironic idiom for ‘no more than’ (e.g., sex with Edgar lasts all of twenty seconds), does all of have any legit uses? The answer is a qualified, complicated, and personally embarrassed yes. Here’s the story. An irksome habit of many student writers is to just automatically stick an of between all […]

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