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

Category: English in use

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 […]

Mondegreens: plywood heels and Bohemian sausages

Listening man

Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands, Oh where have you been? They have slain the Earl O’ Moray And layd him on the green Misheard earls So goes the first verse of The Bonnie Earl of Murray, a 17th century Scottish ballad. Now unless you are an aficionado of such things, you might not be familiar […]

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Word in the news: diva

Diva

Last week, music lovers learned of the untimely death of celebrated pop and R&B singer Whitney Houston. Blessed with extraordinary vocal talent and marred by tumultuous personal struggles, Whitney will be remembered all around the world as the ultimate diva. The news coverage of her passing uses language that never once allows us to overlook […]

“Zoots you, sir”: the language of clothes

London Fashion Week

The world of fashion is definitely one of those areas where words have to be coined, blended, or repurposed to describe ever more interesting and inventive garments. The current English dictionary in Oxford Dictionaries Online contains over a thousand words and phrases classified as garments or types of clothing – from an aigrette (‘a headdress […]

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