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 […]

It’s all about the nuance – synonyms and the Oxford English Corpus

It’s all about the nuance

There are few words that share an exact set of definitions – it is almost a guarantee that there will be some subtle differences between one word and its synonym.  Sometimes these nuances are so subtle that they can be difficult to articulate fully in a definition, and only become apparent through examining usage. Oxford […]

The poetry of autumn

The poetry of autumn

I do not grieve the passing of summer the way some folks I know do. Indeed, I grew up in a household where the turning leaves evoked a collective sigh of dismay, as if the ungreening of foliage were signaling another inevitable death march into darkening afternoons and mornings too cold to bear. As the […]

Truly. Madly. Deep.

Truly. Madly. Deep.

A few years ago, I became unusually vocal over a particular bit of linguistic abuse. Unusually, because the lexicographical instinct is to be descriptive of language change at all times, and sanguine about those bugbears that others decry. But this particular trend had me sufficiently riled that I wrote an article entitled ‘The Adverb is […]

When worlds collide: science or science fiction?

Science or science fiction?

The discovery, reported this week, of a faster-than-light neutrino shows just how easily the line between science and science fiction can become blurred. Equally, to the uninitiated, the language of science can be indistinguishable from the language of science fiction. We all know, alas, that Superman does not really exist, but how about the kryptonite […]

Read more »

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 […]

A bookworm is born

Win an iPod Shuffle: show us how well you know our dictionaries sites

Sarah Russo describes her first encounter with Oxford’s historical dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary. Visit OED online or find out more about the difference between the OED and Oxford Dictionaries Online. Let me tell you a story about a young girl who loved words and big, thick books and rainy days in which to explore […]

Participles, and how not to dangle them…

Dangling kitten

True confessions time: back in the dim and distant days when I first embarked on lexicography, I was tasked with drafting potted biographies of famous people. In trying to be succinct, I had a rather bad habit of writing in the following vein: ‘Born in Russia, his most famous opera is …’ The problem stems […]

Read more »

Tweets