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

Mr_Mrs

What are ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ short for?

  The abbreviations Mr and Mrs are in common use, and are straightforward to pronounce when we see them written down:  an approximation would be ‘mister’ and ‘missus’. But what are they abbreviations of? We seldom, if ever, write them out in full – and most of us probably never stop to think what the full […]

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Witches, warlocks, and werewolves: an interactive Halloween timeline

Interactive Halloween timeline

Halloween conjures up lots of lovely childhood memories for me. We didn’t go trick or treating, we went guising, but the basic premise was the same – we would dress up and visit neighbouring houses, but in order to be rewarded with sweets or small amounts of money, we had to sing for our supper […]

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Is it true that the word ‘tragedy’ originally meant ‘goat-song’?

Grinning goat

It is absolutely true. Many theories have been offered to explain it. One is that Greek tragedies were known as goat-songs because the prize in Athenian play competitions was a live goat. The contests were part of worship to Dionysus, involving chants and dances in his honour. The Romans knew Dionysus later as Bacchus, god […]

Baseball: America’s national language?

Baseball: America’s national language?

Baseball is one the oldest professional sports played in North America today. The first recorded baseball game took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1845; the first televised game between professional teams pitted the Cincinnati Reds against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939; and this year marks the 107th Major League Baseball (MLB) Championship, more commonly […]

The rise of the app

The rise of the app

With Apple’s latest iPhone released today, and its Google rival reportedly soon to follow, there will soon be more ‘apps’ in use than ever before. For the increasing number of us who own a smartphone or tablet, apps have become a part of 21st century life. And they’re big business: the market in apps is […]

Flannel trousers are not English!

Celtic cross

One of the facets of English that makes a job working with dictionary data so interesting is its readiness to appropriate loanwords from other languages – seeing the etymology of a familiar word such as ‘ketchup’ for example, and finding it probably has its origins in Chinese. Everybody needs good neighbours We see plenty of […]

Does being ostracized have anything to do with the behaviour of ostriches?

Ostrich

It’s a nice idea, but the two words are in fact quite separate. Ostrich comes from an Old French word ostruce, dating right back to the twelfth century. The Latin term for the bird was struthiocamelus, meaning a ‘sparrow camel’, a word coined after the first encounters with ostriches, probably because of the animal’s long […]

How Latin outlived the Romans

How Latin outlived the Romans

Latin was of course spoken by the Romans – a people who dominated the planet for much of the classical period. Classical Latin has survived through the literary works of scholarly Romans such as Virgil and Cicero and subsequently today you may find yourself casually using a Latin word or phrase without even realising its […]

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