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

Category: English in use

To describe or prescribe, that is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

prescriptive or descriptive

Regular readers of this blog may remember a recent poll in which we posed the following question: Do you think dictionaries should: Describe language as it is being used Prescribe how language should be used Be a mixture of prescriptive and descriptive The results were as follows: 70.27 % were in favour of a mixture, […]

A century of defining our language

coed logo

Since the publication of its first edition in 1911, the revolutionary Concise Oxford Dictionary has remained in print and gained fame around the world over the course of eleven editions. This month heralds the publication of the centenary edition: the new 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary contains some 400 new entries, including […]

Riotous words

Riot police

Various English cities spent a good portion of last week dealing with rioting, avoiding the riots, commenting on said riots, and cleaning up the aftermath. Leaving aside the ongoing discussion regarding the causes and effects of these civil disturbances, it would be interesting to look at the word riot itself. Riot has been in use […]

There’s nothing like a good spoonerism to tickle your bunny phone

Bunny phone

The English economist Sir Roy Forbes Harrod (1900–1978) once said that, compared to all the scholars he had known at Oxford and Cambridge, the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930) was the most exceptional in “scholarship, devotion to duty, and wisdom.” There is no reason to question Harrod’s assessment, but that’s not exactly the imprint for […]

28 million words, one corpus, and thousands of fascinating insights

Alphabet

Have you ever been told as a child to ‘stop daydreaming’ and pay attention? Then you will be interested to know that daydreaming is a word that is invariably used in a negative context by adults but in a much more positive sense by children. Examples from the Oxford English Corpus (a vast electronic collection […]

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Wall of words: the Berlin Wall fifty years on

Wall of words: the Berlin Wall fifty years on

The Berlin Wall was built fifty years ago on 13 August 1961. Like the concrete wall, the word wall divides Europe linguistically. Some European languages, like German and French, form their words for wall from the Latin murus. So the German for Berlin Wall is die Berliner Mauer. English, Irish, and other languages use another […]

Eating your words

Eating your words

“Keep your words sweet – you may have to eat them” is an aphorism often attributed to the French Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet, although variants of this phrase turn up in a number of other places. Grellet was perhaps a man who was aware of the etymological background of some English words for food, for […]

clouds

A list of phobias from atelophobia to zelotypophobia

We define a phobia as ‘an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something’. You are probably aware of the more common phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), and agoraphobia (fear of open places), but did you know there are also words which describe the fear of idleness, […]

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