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

Category: Word origins

crying

Skrike, lachryme, and water-cart: the language of crying

Crying is one of the first things that any of us do in our lives. It tends to happen again at the most important moments in life – whether as a sign of happiness or sadness – and some of us find it’s an involuntary reaction to anything from pieces of music to absorbing stories. […]

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Superman shirt

The super-language of Superman

17 October marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Jerry Siegel (d. 1996), who, along with artist Joe Shuster, created Superman, one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. The mark left by Superman on today’s pop culture landscape is incalculable; not only has he been featured in comic strips […]

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A.A. Milne

Not just heffalumps and woozles: the words of A.A. Milne

If you’ve heard of A.A. Milne, there is almost certainly one reason for that – and that reason is a Bear of Very Little Brain, otherwise known as Winnie-the-Pooh. It was on 14 October 1926 that his eponymous story collection was first published (although he had already made an appearance in the poetry book When […]

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Chicken or egg

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

There are two famous riddles about chickens. One investigates the reasoning behind the chicken’s desire to cross the road (“to get to the other side”), while the other poses the ontological quandary: “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” We shan’t attempt to answer the question in a philosophical or biological manner, but we […]

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Sheet Music

Foreign words and musical notes

Anyone who’s ever had to learn to read sheet music will know what I mean when I say that it can sometimes literally be like learning another language. Besides parsing those tricky lines, dots, tails, and bars, there are also the snatches of foreign languages – mostly Italian, along with the occasional word of French, […]

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All told

Telling all about ‘all told’

What is it we tell when things are all told? It’s a common enough expression.  A newspaper observes of a political candidate that “All told, [she] has taken some $19,650 in campaign contributions.” Of a moment in a Miley Cyrus concert a magazine writes, “All told, it was one of the most arresting moments of […]

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Aviation

Winged words: the language of aviation

Ever since we first gazed up to the skies and envied the glorious freedom of birds, many of us have yearned to join them (appropriately, aviation derives from avis, which means ‘bird’ in Latin). Some of mankind’s earliest myths (including that of the Greek craftsman Daedalus and his son Icarus) are testament to our deep-rooted […]

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Stock market report with bull and bear

Bulls, bears, and the other business animals of Wall Street

The finance world famously has almost a language all of its own, ranging from complex financial jargon to the playful slang of the stock market. What that means is that within the thicket of terms like VaR, backwardation, contango, tranche, and junk bond, we find some familiar animal friends — although often in some strange […]

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