Category: English in use

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 […]

Mimsy, chortle, and galumph: Alice in Wonderland and the portmanteau

Mimsy, chortle, and galumph: Alice in Wonderland and the portmanteau

Let’s go glamping. Oh, wait, don’t know what I’m talking about? Vogue introduced glamping – a portmanteau of ‘glamorous’ + ‘camping’ that came into use in the mid 2000s – into the high fashion lexicon in October of 2011 with its suggestion to go pitch a tent and sleep in the woods, decked out in […]

The rain in Spain: rhyming traditions from early China to modern-day rap

The rain in Spain: rhyming traditions from early China to modern-day rap

Rhyme is heard everywhere—because it works. In advertising jingles, football chants, birthday-card greetings, tabloid headlines, political slogans, and catchphrases, rhyme makes the sentiments more powerful and more memorable. If you can’t beat them, join them; Arrive Alive—Don’t Drink and Drive; Dennis the Menace; No More War; hang ‘em and flog ‘em: in all, words are […]

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I was Country when Country wasn't cool

I was Country when Country wasn’t cool

Over a decade ago I experienced something of an epiphany. On a long drive under the endlessly wide skies of the Canadian prairie, I tired of the bland AOR from the FM stations on my hire car’s radio so I flipped over to AM and started listening to the first station I found, which was […]

Surprising word stories: Mr Punch, Dr Murray, and the first tonk

Surprising word stories: Mr Punch, Dr Murray, and the first tonk

Many sports fans will be familiar with the verb tonk, which is widely used to describe the action of giving a ball a good firm hit. Less familiar, but common enough, is the noun tonk describing the same action. Both are of course in the Oxford English Dictionary, with histories traced back to the early […]

Hold on to your tin foil hat: the origin of the UFO

Hold on to your tin foil hat: the origin of the UFO

2 July is World UFO Day, a chance for us all to think about UFO sightings, and, for this blog, to take a journey from clay pigeons to the mysterious habits of abbreviations. Is this a saucer I see before me? On 24 June 1947 Kenneth Arnold, an American businessman, was flying towards Mount Rainier […]

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