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

Category: English in use

Plain English in practice: writing instructions

Plain English in practice: writing instructions

In a previous piece, I looked at some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ish: that is, the kind of English that will get your intended meaning across most clearly. Here, I take you through an example. Warning: Instructions may contain lethal sesquipedalian lexemes There are times when clear writing can make the difference between life and […]

Of chanceless innings and textbook shots: the language of cricket and what it says about the game

Of chanceless innings and textbook shots - the language of cricket and what it says about the game

Wickets and dropped catches Cricket absolutely confounds my wife; she simply can’t get to grips with it. I’ve tried my best to explain it to her but I stumble the moment terms like wicket and over get mentioned. Coming home on Sunday evenings and telling her how I’ve played is at best a comedy show […]

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream: a short history of our favourite summer food

I scream, you scream!

Ice cream, one of the most spectacularly successful of all the foods based on dairy products, has a comparatively short history. The first ice creams, in the sense of an iced and flavoured confection made from full milk or cream, are thought to have been made in Italy and then in France in the 17th […]

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Okey-dokey! The story of the birth of OK’s playful grandchild

Okey-dokey! The story of the birth of OK’s playful grandchild

By the early twentieth century, OK was no longer a joke. The letters O and K did not prompt memories of the misspelled oll korrect, nor did they stimulate alternative explanations. In the nineteenth century, OK was recognized as a humorous abbreviation, but in the twentieth, it was understood merely as an arbitrary combination of […]

Embrace your geekness

Embrace your geekness

Today is ‘Embrace your geekness’ day. In this article we look at the word ‘geek’, pit the geeks against the nerds, and geek out over the Oxford English Corpus – the language analysis tool used by Oxford’s dictionary-makers. The Oxford Dictionaries blog has looked at the word geek before. Of course it has: we openly […]

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

English has a rich vocabulary for rhyme, but names are unstable: in what follows, therefore, alternative names are sometimes provided in parenthesis. Fortunately, however, there is more variation in labelling than understanding, for the basic definition of rhyme as involving two elements (the last stressed vowel + all following letters) creates an obvious structure of […]

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Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

As we rolled on, I seen the patrol on creep, so we got ghost. —“Alwayz into Somethin’” , from N.W.A.’s Efil4zaggin (1991) For me, this lyric represents one of the great potentials of hip-hop. An otherwise unremarkable sentiment, when channelled through the mind and mouth of a deft MC, can become something poetic and memorable. […]

Was there ever a real McCoy?

Was there ever a real McCoy?

  As so often in cases like these, there are numerous contenders for the role of McCoy in this phrase, which has been with us since at least the 1850s. Part of the problem facing researchers is that McCoy is a fairly common surname. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the earliest versions […]

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