Category: English in use

“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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Rye

Speaking Holden Caulfield’s language

Although it’s been 62 years since The Catcher in the Rye was first published, J.D. Salinger’s seminal coming-of-age novel doesn’t look a day over 16. What’s often remarked about The Catcher in the Rye is how universal experience seeps out of a deeply subjective narrative. The story is told from Holden Caulfield’s point-of-view, and so […]

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From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 2)

From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 2)

Following on from the first instalment about the word bear, today’s post looks at real bears, fictional bears, and (of course) teddy bears. A bear, or not a bear? That is the question. Most taxonomists agree that there are eight species of bear in five genera in the world today. However this does not include the koala, […]

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drunk tank pink1

Drunk tank pink? International Klein blue? Charting the outer-reaches of the colour spectrum

As Katherine Shaw noted in a rather colourful article for this blog, the origins of the English primary colour names are ultimately either non-referential, in that they aren’t derived from the colour of some previously known entity, or have such long histories that their origins are simply unknown. This, she notes, is in contrast with […]

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Entering the comfort zone of comfort food

Entering the comfort zone of comfort food

A friend of mine who is a world-class chef once surprised me when his serious answer to the joking question, “Do you ever go to McDonald’s?” was, in his native French accent, “Yes, yes, certainly.” He explained that when he’s on the run and has a grumbling stomach, McDonald’s is just the ticket. No matter […]

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Centre Court Wimbledon

Wimbledon, Shakespeare, and strawberries

It’s time to dust off your racket and wrestle the tennis balls from your dog’s mouth. Wimbledon 2013 is upon us! Wimbledon is now as much a feature of the British summer as barbecues, Henley Royal Regatta, and summer rain. Whether you grew up shouting ‘Come on Tim!’ or ‘Don’t cry Andy!’, Wimbledon seemingly captivates every generation of the […]

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Seinfeld

Sein-Language

Unarguably one of the most influential TV shows of all time, Seinfeld played a major role in shaping the social culture of the ‘90s. Famously self-defined as a “show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s insistent concern with the mundane often manifested itself as an obsession with the ultimate, universally-relatable everyday practice: language. Since the show had no […]

Little green men to the men in black: alien words in the OED

Little green men to the men in black: alien words in the OED

When responding to the argument that extraterrestrial life cannot exist because humans have not found it yet, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the well-known American astrophysicist—retorted: “That’s like going to the ocean, taking a cup of water, scooping it up, and saying, ‘There are no whales in the ocean.’” It is clear we earthlings have a complicated relationship […]

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