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

Name that cloud

Cirrus clouds

World Meteorology Day marks a highly successful collaboration under the World Meteorological Organization, involving every country, large or small, rich or poor. Weather affects every single person (every living being) on the planet, but why do people feel meteorology is not for them? Why do they even find it so difficult to identify different types […]

Mad Men, the culture of consumerism, and the language of advertising

Madison Avenue

Mad Men, the ’60s-era drama about the men and women working in a New York advertising agency, makes its long-awaited return this weekend after a 17-month long hiatus. Although less obvious than the stellar art direction and costume design in transporting viewers into a specific time, language plays an important role in creating the lived-in […]

Pi Day: or the world of homonyms, homographs, and homophones

Pi Day

Today is Pi Day, a day, presumably, when all things 3.14159 are celebrated. Unless I have made a typo in the first sentence, it should be obvious that you should not be expecting lots of “Who ate all the pies” chants as we honour the humble pastry case with filling. Similarly, the numismatists among you […]

Are there cases of Chinese whispers in language?

Whisper

Oral ‘mis-transmission’—whereby words change as they are passed on verbally and their new form moves towards becoming the norm—can be a subtle and slow process and the results are sometimes hard to detect. Indeed, some of our most common idioms and grammatical constructions are the result of linguistic Chinese whispers. to have another thing coming: […]

A poetic tribute to Dr Seuss

A poetic tribute to Dr Seuss

Last week saw the 108th birthday of Dr Seuss, the pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991). An American writer of hugely successful books for children, he was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937) introduced Seuss’s iconic visual and verbal style. This was further extended in the […]

Slappers and dumb blondes: why we should care about language

Gender

With International Women’s Day being celebrated today, and US talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s controversial description of women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke as a ‘slut’ still causing uproar, journalist and writer Anne Sexton looks at the long and inglorious history of the word ‘slut’, and explains why gender-neutral language is still a hot topic. Is […]

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Leap years around the world: from freak weather patterns to good fortune and baby whales

Leap of faith

What have Italian composer Rossini and American rapper Ja Rule got in common? A number of possible answers may leap to mind here, but the one I’m looking for is that the two musicians were both born on a date that is mysteriously elusive: 29 February. Except that 2012 is a leap year, and so […]

Word in the news: a chink in the armor

Medieval Armour

A lesson on the perils of saying what you don’t mean Recently, followers of US basketball got a stark reminder that words often have connotations which stretch beyond our intentions when using them. An editor for ESPN’s mobile website was dismissed from his position for using the phrase a chink in the armor in a […]

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