Category: English in use

Taking the credit

Taking the credit

October 16 is the anniversary of the birthday of Oscar Wilde, described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography simply as ‘writer’ but also one of the stalwarts of dictionaries of quotations. Indeed, he even appears as the subject of some quotations – as Dorothy Parker said: If, with the literate, I am Impelled to […]

a disappearing poet of always: e. e. cummings and his language

a disappearing poet of always: e.e. cummings and his language

Editor’s note: This article has been abridged to remove references to some of Cummings’s more explicitly sexual poetry. Read the extended version of this article here. Caution: contains strong language. October 14 marked the anniversary of the birth of the American poet and artist E. E. Cummings. If you know anything about Cummings, it is probably […]

The language of P.G. Wodehouse

By Jove! The language of P.G. Wodehouse

My dad introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse when I was a teenager. Not for a moment did it occur to him that a 14-year-old girl whose first language was Afrikaans and who had never left the African continent might not find immediate resonance with Bertie Wooster, Lord Ickenham, Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and co., or […]

Fantasies: what would you do to improve the English language?

Fantasies: what would you do to improve the English language?

On holiday driving through the city at three in the morning you realize what life could be like. Gliding across junctions that are normally clogged up and impassable; rolling along sections of road in two minutes that would keep you half an hour in the morning rush hour; crossing the river you’ve scarcely noticed for […]

Doin' it your own way

Doin’ it your own way

As a result of my job and my interests I follow a lot of logophiles, copywriters, proof readers, and harmless drudges through my social media accounts. One group among those I follow are the style guides for various different media organisations organizations, people whose job it is to ensure that writing appearing under the name of […]

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 […]

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