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

I Mubarak, you Mubaraked, they were Mubaraking?

mubarak

There have been a good number of comments tweeted and posted online over the past few weeks about the possibility of turning Mubarak, the name of the recently resigned Egyptian leader, into a verb. Some of the suggestions as to what it might mean are ‘to stick to something like glue’, ‘to refuse to leave’, […]

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Beware the hares of March

Hare

When I think about the month of March, two things spring to mind: the March hare from Alice in Wonderland and the familiar quotation from Julius Caesar:  ‘Beware the ides of March’. In my mind, the two have become somewhat conflated, so I always picture ‘the ides of March’ as a posse of incongruously terrifying […]

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What’s the problem with meteorology?

Barometer

Why is it that some people have difficulty in saying certain words? My grandmother could never pronounce ‘helicopter’ (it always came out as ‘helicotter’) and a friend’s wife could never manage ‘linoleum’ (‘liloleum’). I’ve found an extraordinary number of people have problems with ‘meteorology’. Even my adult-education students invariably had difficulty. Tell them to think […]

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Word trends: viral

Computer virus

Viral now has more meanings than it used to. In the twentieth century, you would only have encountered this word in the physiological context of diseases: Rabies is an acute viral infection that is extremely rare in the UK. A quarter of the residents had high levels of viral hepatitis. In the twenty-first century, most […]

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Are Chinese characters pictures?

Have you ever wondered if Chinese characters began life as ‘pictures’ of physical objects? If not, what is the meaning of the symbols and do they hold any significance? As a non-native speaker of Chinese, I’m often asked about this. The subject is of interest to many, not just those who study Sinology. While some […]

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There’s nothing fishy about animal words

Mouse

The English language is swarming with animal words. It seems that almost every common animal in our midst has attached its name to some verb or noun. One can be dogged in the pursuit of something, and pig out when one has got it. You can snake through to get somewhere, and horse around when […]

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International Women’s Day

dictionary_critical_theory

To celebrate International Women’s Day, here is an extract on feminism from the Dictionary of Critical Theory, edited by Ian Buchanan. Please note that links in this extract are to the dictionary entries in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Feminism One of the most important social movements of the past two centuries and certainly the social movement […]

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Are you calling me a geek? Why, *thank you*

Geek

Geek has seen an interesting transformation in meaning over the last couple of decades. The word used to be a cruel and critical label attached to clever, but socially awkward, people – such as computer or science geeks. The origin of this sense of the word can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, […]

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