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

The rise of the app

The rise of the app

With Apple’s latest iPhone released today, and its Google rival reportedly soon to follow, there will soon be more ‘apps’ in use than ever before. For the increasing number of us who own a smartphone or tablet, apps have become a part of 21st century life. And they’re big business: the market in apps is […]

Seventy years young

Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

Borrowed words We all find at times that we reach for the words of others to express just what we want to say. Gleaming red berries through the fog of a September morning may remind the more literary of John Keats’s ‘season of mists, and mellow fruitfulness’. The Indian summer of 2011, on the other […]

Putting the accent on English

Putting the accent on English

A recent article in the New York Times describes a somewhat controversial (and no longer current) program that was run in public schools in the state of Arizona for nearly a decade – sending monitors to judge whether English teachers had an accent. If a teacher was thought to have too strong an accent, he […]

Of moms and men: what two small words reveal about big social changes

Of moms and men

The Oxford English Dictionary’s evidence files reveal an interesting trend: in recent years, the number of phrases designating types of mothers (on the model of [X] mother) has grown much faster than the number of comparable terms for fathers. Since 1990, OED has tracked roughly 40% more maternal terms than their paternal counterparts. But why […]

It’s all about the nuance – synonyms and the Oxford English Corpus

It’s all about the nuance

There are few words that share an exact set of definitions – it is almost a guarantee that there will be some subtle differences between one word and its synonym.  Sometimes these nuances are so subtle that they can be difficult to articulate fully in a definition, and only become apparent through examining usage. Oxford […]

The poetry of autumn

The poetry of autumn

I do not grieve the passing of summer the way some folks I know do. Indeed, I grew up in a household where the turning leaves evoked a collective sigh of dismay, as if the ungreening of foliage were signaling another inevitable death march into darkening afternoons and mornings too cold to bear. As the […]

Truly. Madly. Deep.

Truly. Madly. Deep.

A few years ago, I became unusually vocal over a particular bit of linguistic abuse. Unusually, because the lexicographical instinct is to be descriptive of language change at all times, and sanguine about those bugbears that others decry. But this particular trend had me sufficiently riled that I wrote an article entitled ‘The Adverb is […]

Does being ostracized have anything to do with the behaviour of ostriches?

Ostrich

It’s a nice idea, but the two words are in fact quite separate. Ostrich comes from an Old French word ostruce, dating right back to the twelfth century. The Latin term for the bird was struthiocamelus, meaning a ‘sparrow camel’, a word coined after the first encounters with ostriches, probably because of the animal’s long […]

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