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

Category: English in use

The life of slang… dot com

Slang wordle

At my son’s recent tenth birthday party, I was struck by differences in the slang used between two groups of friends from different schools. We tend to think of slang as ‘British’, ‘American’, or ‘Australian’ or perhaps as belonging to sub-groups like teenagers or rappers, but it isn’t really that simple because individual social networks […]

Martin Luther King, Jr., Rhetorically Speaking

Martin Luther King, Jr

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday in the U.S., we commemorate the birthday of the eponymous leader and activist, and reflect on his significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Dr. King’s legacy, while forged in the midst of a tumultuous time in U.S. history, transcends categorical […]

Which words do we love to hate?

Banned

Every year since 1976, Lake Superior State University in Michigan has released a small list of select words – those that they have decided should be banished from everyday use of English. The list is released on the first day of the year, and is composed of words submitted by the public that are thought […]

From warring rutabagas to human beef: the wonderful world of typos

Error

Years ago I learned a valuable twofold editorial lesson: respect the precision of a good keyboarder, and don’t get cute in the margins. The project was an encyclopedia of Japan, and it was back in the era of editing only on paper. One morning, I sat down with the freshly typed arts entries and my […]

What is a caucus, anyway?

What is a caucus, anyway?

On January 3, America’s quadrennial race for the White House begins in earnest with the Iowa caucuses. If you find yourself wondering precisely what a caucus is, you’re not alone. The Byzantine process by which the US political parties choose their presidential nominees has a jargon all its own. Below is a brief guide to […]

First feet, black buns, and hansels: the language of Scottish New Year’s traditions

First-footing

Get up, goodwife, and shake your feathers, And dinna think that we are beggars; For we are bairns come out to play, Get up and gie’s our hogmanay My grandma taught me this ditty longer ago than I care to remember, and it served as my first introduction to the word Hogmanay. Nowadays, many people […]

Birds of a feather feel dread together

Birds of a feather feel dread together

For some reason things of bird-interest seem to flock to me—seriously. One of the first big book projects I worked on was The Sibley Guide to Birds and right around that time I met my now husband who was a self-proclaimed birder. I didn’t even know what a birder was at the time. This particular […]

Shrapnel, Plimsoll, Joule, Boole: eponyms in science and invention

Leylandii

You have to feel sorry for Christopher Leyland. Having inherited his father’s Northumberland country estate in 1889, Leyland dedicated his life to its improvement, paying particular attention to the gardens and the cultivation of trees. By his death in 1926 the estate boasted (among many other things) a palm house, an arboretum, and a menagerie […]

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