Category: English in use

Economical English: the hidden connections between homonyms

Economical English: the hidden connections between homonyms

English is famous for being littered with synonyms. Sometimes the number of words we have for a single thing seems almost greedy (not to mention extravagant, hedonistic, decadent, lavish, immoderate, ostentatious, and sybaritic). The dual threads of Germanic and Romance languages that form the basis of the English lexicon are largely to blame for its […]

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What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

  I can only give a very subjective answer, but I’ll start with a few nominations. Most of the words in everyday English have been in (and occasionally out of) circulation for centuries. A study of them in a historical dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary, which charts chronologically the story of a word […]

The whole kitten caboodle

The whole kitten caboodle

Today is Brigitte Bardot‘s birthday. Joyeux anniversaire, BB! The former French film actress caused a sensation in 1956 when she appeared in And God Created Woman, the film that established her reputation as an international sex symbol. Her first scene finds her sunbathing in the nude – in her birthday suit, as it were. In […]

A heap of broken images: the varied voices of T.S. Eliot

A heap of broken images: the varied voices of T. S. Eliot

Today, September 26th, is the 124th anniversary of the birth of the poet, playwright, and critic T. S. Eliot. Apart from being one of the twentieth century’s most important writers, Eliot is, more importantly, one of my top-five favourite poets of all time. He is a poet of language, a poet of many voices, and today […]

gratitude map

Obrigado! Takk! Di ou mèsi! Celebrating World Gratitude Day across time and language

How many ways can we say ‘thank you’? In English alone, there are plenty. The Oxford English Dictionary first cites the simplest, thanks, in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1598. The OED also treats us to some oldies (gramercy [c. 1330], thank thee [1631], thankee [1824]) and contextualizes some goodies (British colloquialism cheers stumbled out […]

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The love that doesn’t quite know how to speak its name: the nomenclature of bisexuality

The love that doesn’t quite know how to speak its name: the nomenclature of bisexuality

In the first of our new opinion columns, Bonnie Kneen looks at the problems surrounding the word ‘bisexual’, and the power of language to make visible – or erase. *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 23 September is Bi Visibility/Celebrate Bisexuality […]

Feelin' "aight"?

Feelin’ “aight”?

In the early 90s hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh released a single called “I-Ight (Alright)”. The song wasn’t what you’d call a smash hit, but I mention it today because the editors of the OED have just put its namesake aight into the dictionary. Looking at the entry, it seems that Mr. Fresh was a bit of a lexical trail-blazer in […]

The lexical legacy of Occupy Wall Street

The lexical legacy of Occupy Wall Street

Monday, September 17 marks the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which spawned a movement that spread from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan to public spaces around the US, the UK, and the world. Although the Wall Street encampment was cleared out only two months later, it had already left a mark on the […]

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