Category: English in use

Vivienne Westwood

Fashion-mania: a linguistic tribute to Vivienne Westwood

Dame Vivienne Westwood. It’s a name to conjure with. If you know nothing about her, you might be forgiven for thinking that she’s a character in a period drama, or a Jane Austen heroine. Indeed, like so many of Austen’s women, Dame Vivienne is a breaker of social conventions. But while Elizabeth Bennet’s idea of […]

may might

May or might: what’s the difference?

I’ve mentioned before that the grammatical ‘rules’ about which many of us care most passionately often differ from person to person (and, of course, they also change over time). We all have our own particular pain threshold:  I get inordinately ratty when apostrophes are misused, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t even resist […]

Volcanoes in the OED

Volcanoes in the OED

Within the dictionary offices, we refer to the Oxford English Dictionary‘s recently revised and updated batch of words as the blue batch, as blue is the leading headword. Colour words are often big entries, involving many different subject areas. Here, we have natural history (bluebell, blueberry, and blue heron, to name but three), country music (bluegrass), fashion (or not) (blue jeans, blue […]

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spelling

Does spelling matter?

“You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.” – Rabbit of Owl in A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, chapter 5 As part of his agenda to improve primary school education, Michael Gove plans to invest more teaching time in […]

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The oink on the page: pig idioms and expressions

The oink on the page: pig idioms and expressions

27 March is Dick King-Smith’s birthday and, although his name might not immediately be ringing bells in your head, there’s a strong possibility that you’ve come across one of his creations. Of the dozens of children’s books he wrote before his death in 2011, perhaps the most famous is The Sheep-Pig (1983), published in the […]

Why did the zebra cross the road? The language of driving in the US and UK

Why did the zebra cross the road? The language of driving in the US and UK

In the UK’s not-too-distant past, it was possible for most any Tom, Dick, or Harry (with a little money) to plunk himself down in the driver’s seat of an automobile, turn on the ignition, and zip around to his heart’s content—without ever having taken a test. Collective shudder. So I think we can all be […]

‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’, find out what it means to me

‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’, find out what it means to me

Most of us can rattle off the ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ bit of Aretha Franklin’s signature tune, but how much do you know about the rest of the lyrics? See if you can fill in the blank below: I’m about to give you all of my money, And all I’m askin’ in return, honey, Is to give me […]

Better the weather you know: proverbs and quotations about the weather

Better the weather you know: proverbs and quotations about the weather

22 March is World Water Day, and 23 March is World Meteorological Day, so what better time to celebrate our fascination with foreboding forecasts? Threatening thunderstorms and disconcerting downpours crop up time and time again in popular proverbs and quotations, and not least because of the abundance of words that rhyme with ‘rain’. Perhaps the […]

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