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

Category: Varieties of English

Dreadtalk: the language of Rastafari

VSI Rastafari

An extract from Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction In rejecting Babylon’s aesthetic of grooming and Babylon’s language conventions, Rastas have developed the iconic dreadlocks hairstyle and their own argot, commonly referred to as ‘dreadtalk’ or ‘Rasta talk’ and as ‘Iyaric’ by others. Dreadtalk, as an in-group language that surfaced among Rastas in the 1940s, was […]

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From teddy bears to berserkers – the language of bears (part 1)

From teddy bears to beserkers – the language of bears (part 1)

There is a bear alongside me as I write this post. That bear is named Brutus and is famous for being the best man at naturalist Casey Anderson’s wedding – sadly though the bear in question is only on my desktop background (and not available as a best man in general; I checked). This internet […]

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Habla usted Spanglish?

Habla usted Spanglish?

One of the things I love about growing up in New York City is the fact that I live among a variety of cultures and languages. In a multicultural city, it’s not uncommon to hear various languages merge and blend into a hybrid language befitting its mixed environment. One noticeable example of this is Spanglish. […]

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Surf’s up at the OED

surfing

As International Surfing Day takes place on 20 June this year, it is a good time to put on a favourite ‘Hawaiian shirt’ (currently first recorded in 1955) and take a look at some of the surfing terms in the Oxford English Dictionary. Early surf reports The vocabulary of surfing in the English language has […]

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Lily-white hands and scarlet gowns: formulas in British traditional ballads

Lily-white hands and scarlet gowns: formulas in British traditional ballads

Traditional song can be a tricky beast. Stubbornly slippery in form, content, and definition, its remit encompasses an amorphous mass of vernacular songs that have been cherished by everyday people over time. These songs are of varying vintages, of both known and unknown authorship, some passed through generations by word of mouth, others emerging from […]

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Speaking pukka

Speaking pukka

‘I cannot endure a swell, even though his whiskers are pucka’. G. O. Trevelyan The Dawk Bungalow (1863) The word pukka enjoys an unusual status in Britain both as a current slang term and a dusty relic of the Raj. As a London slang term, pukka means first-rate or excellent. The word rose to prominence […]

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Johnson and Grose: lexicography’s odd couple

Johnson and Grose: lexicography's odd couple

April 15 marks the anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755), a work that’s today universally recognized as an astonishing feat of solo lexicography. The publication, in 1755, rightly attracted great attention; David Garrick wrote a poetic eulogy to mark the achievement in the Public Advertiser, describing Johnson as ‘like a hero […]

Wordsworth

What is the worth of words?

7 April marked 243 years since William Wordsworth was born. The very name of this most appropriately named poet embodies his concern for language: what is the true worth of words? As we raise a glass to celebrate the birth of this mock humorously self-styled ‘simple water-drinking bard’ (who, let’s not forget, has written what […]

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