Category: English in use

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 […]

Plain unlucky! From hapless hunters to unfortunate accidents

Four-leaf clover

Dog Shoots Man: … Man Recovering from Gunshot Wound Caused by Pet … The hapless hunter was setting up decoys in the water when the mishap occurred. The above Huffington Post story caught my eye for two reasons: after I’d stopped smiling at the image of a dog shooting his master in the posterior (no […]

What makes Christmas merry? A brief history of yuletide adjectives

What makes Christmas merry?

From Happy Easter to Happy Halloween to countless Happy Birthdays, our felicitations hardly vary from one celebration to the next. Christmas is the notable exception, with the dominant descriptor being Merry. We wish our friends a Merry Christmas but a Happy New Year. Is there any difference? Not everyone’s Christmas is merry. Happy Christmas has […]

Sing a song of Christmas

Sing a song of Christmas

A change is not as good as a rest Christmas brings out the conservative in us all, especially in children. This summer we dismantled a ridiculously large stone clad shelf that was built in the sixties to support a weighty cathode ray tube. Now there’s a space beside the fire which would be, I suggested, […]

Cheers, slainte, bottoms up… the language of beer

The language of beer

I have a school friend who follows Arsenal F.C. wherever they go. His devotion to the team takes him on a yearly tour of the English Premier League, but has also sent him to football-crazy cities all over the world. He has a simple philosophy with respect to learning foreign languages that would probably shock […]

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