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

Category: English in use

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

Tiramisu and steam irons: Good Housekeeping 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

This 22 April, Earth Day will have been celebrated internationally for 24 years. This famous annual event has contributed to global recognition of our shared responsibility to protect the Earth’s natural environment. As we continue to work to “cherish our green inheritance”—poignant words from the noted naturalist Sir David Attenborough—we can celebrate the impact Earth […]

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Henry James books

Henry James, or, on the business of being a thing

It is virtually impossible for an English-language lexicographer to ignore the long shadow cast by Henry James, that late nineteenth-century writer of fiction, criticism, and travelogues. We can attribute this in the first place to the sheer cosmopolitanism of his prose. James’s writing marks the point of intersection between registers and regions of English that […]

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Scrabble

Scrabble: a logophile’s view

National Scrabble Day was on 13 April, and it feels like a good opportunity to celebrate the wordiest of all games. Even if you’ve never played it – and, let’s face it, we’ve all played it – you’ll be familiar with the concept: players use seven letter tiles to create words on a board, intersecting […]

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jeans

Can -core survive normcore?

What do President Obama, Steve Jobs, and the Toyota Camry have in common? In recent weeks all three have been described as “normcore,” a supposed fashion trend in which the sartorial elite eschew their usual sui generis styles for dowdy clothing of the type ordinary people wear. The concept may have originated as satire, but […]

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