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

Category: English in use

The swishwifflingly scrumdiddlyumptious language of Roald Dahl

The swishwifflingly scrumdiddlyumptious language of Roald Dahl

A teacher friend of mine claims that she can spot them by the way they hang around her desk before assembly waiting to be asked something. She’s a kind soul, far more Miss Honey than Miss Trunchbull [...]

A journey through spin

A journey through spin

Spin is one of those words which could perhaps now do with a bit of ‘spin’ in its own right. From its beginnings in the idea of honest labour and toil (in terms of etymology, spin descends from the spinning of fabric or thread), it has come to suggest the twisting of words rather than […]

I could’ve danced all night (if only I knew how)

I could've danced all night

As the names of the participants in both Dancing With the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing have been announced, it seems natural that our thoughts should turn to the dance floor and all of the associated terminology. The difference between an Olympic sprinter and a performer on DWTS, or Strictly, or any of their thirty-two […]

Mooselookmeguntic and Sopchoppy: America’s lakes and rivers

Early Great Lakes map

If you love words, chances are you have a favorite dictionary and probably a well-used thesaurus. Your bookshelves may hold some specialized resources as well – books about usage, idioms, puzzle solving, vocabulary building, rhyming, and so forth. If you have a particular fondness for words with an unusual flavor, you’ve probably browsed through books […]

A quest for agreement over collective nouns

Agreement

I’d like to begin with a quick mental workout. Do you know which of the following sentences, both found in the same British online newspaper in 2003, would be considered incorrect according to standard British and American usage, and why? Colchester police has also queried the proposal. Colchester police have launched a new tough approach […]

Sobriquets for scholars

Graduation

  Back to school As September begins, campus quads around the world once again teem with bewildered freshmen, a word first used of a university student at Cambridge over 500 years ago. In the half millennium since, the number of terms for university and college students has proliferated like a new student’s Facebook friends, and […]

It’s raining; it’s pouring

Storm in NYC

Much, if not all, of the East Coast of the United States was subject to a good drenching last week, courtesy of Hurricane Irene (which might be viewed as an odd name for a storm, given that it shares an etymological root with irenic). Consequently, we who live in that area have been pummeled not […]

Shifted meanings: flash mob

Pillow Fight

Flash mob is a relatively recent addition to Oxford Dictionaries Online. The phrase is defined in the World English version of the dictionary as “a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again”, and with somewhat more brevity in the US version […]

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