Category: English in use

Virtual reality: can a PDF be a hard copy?

Computer code

Recently I was asked to “send a hard copy” of a document to a colleague in New York. I am in Oxford, and knew they didn’t want me to send it by Airmail, but instead just wanted the PDF forwarding. This, however, struck me as strange—a hard copy is usually specifically a paper version of […]

Bagel, bisque, and grill: the delectable language of tennis


While many people in the Northern Hemisphere are mourning the end of summer, to a certain set of folks in America and around the globe, this is the most wonderful time of the year – time for the U.S. Open! The fourth and final Grand Slam tennis tournament to occur in a calendar year, it […]

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Family tree

Relational logic: removing the confusion from the naming of cousins

It would always throw people when we told them. The four of us – my sister and I, and the two boys – spent all our school holidays together, and we all had dark hair. So when people asked if my “brothers” wanted an ice cream too, I’d have to take a deep breath and […]

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Beefcakes and Barbarians: the language of the macho man


Today marks the birthday of Chris Pine, the actor who took on the role of Captain Kirk in the two most recent Star Trek films. Captain Kirk is the quintessential man’s man, whilst also being a bit of a ladies’ man. He is a rugged, handsome fighter who finds time to charm and seduce even […]

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English language changing

Should we be happy that the English language is changing?

‘When you come to those parts of the body which are not usually mentioned,’ C. S. Lewis once said, ‘you will have to make a choice of vocabulary. And you will find that you have only four alternatives: a nursery word, an archaism, a word from the gutter, or a scientific word. You will not […]

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From ‘amigo’ to ‘ven’: a mapping of ‘friend’ around the world

friend map_small

If you’ve ever travelled to a country in which you don’t speak the language, you’re probably aware that there are always a few key vocabulary words and phrases travel guides recommend you stock up on. I don’t speak [insert language]… Where is the restroom?… Help… Thank you. We would offer an additional word to learn—one […]

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Mae West’s linguistic legacy


Maritime safety and early-Hollywood sex symbols may not seem to have much in common, but the etymology of the Mae West life jacket manages to connect these two very different worlds. 17 August is the birthday of Mae West, the American actress whose controversy and fame help to explain the many ways in which she […]

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We need to talk about literally


Hold the front pages, literally. Or not. There has been much excitement this week over the discovery that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has recorded a sense of the word literally that seems to cause particular irritation. I am speaking of its use in a sentence like “I literally died laughing and had to run […]

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