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Reflections on language by… Zadie Smith

The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus included sections labelled ‘reflections’ by some notable writers, including Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, and Joshua Ferris. In the first of an occasional series looking at these reflections, we’ve excerpted Zadie Smith’s thoughts about various words. All the extracts below are by Zadie Smith, and can be found in the […]

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“Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

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motherland

Identity crisis: motherland or fatherland?

In 2015, people across the globe will commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In Russia, the grand public holiday that marks the end of this ‘Great Patriotic War’ (Velikaya Otechestvennaya voina/Великая Отечественная война in Russian) is one of the highlights of the calendar year. Victory Day (Den’ Pobedy/День Победы) […]

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darwin

The evolution of the word ‘evolution’

It is curious that, although the modern theory of evolution has its source in Charles Darwin’s great book On the Origin of Species (1859), the word evolution does not appear in the original text at all. In fact, Darwin seems deliberately to have avoided using the word evolution, preferring to refer to the process of […]

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ballot box

The vocabulary of voting… a look at election etymology

As Britain goes to the polls, the thought of millions of people up and down the country shuffling into polling booths, quietly putting a cross on a piece of paper and dropping it into a box can sometimes make me misty-eyed about the age-old simplicity of the democratic ritual. But just as age-old as that process […]

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Orson-Welles-Show-1941

Where does the phrase ‘know where the bodies are buried’ come from?

It’s probably not too much of a surprise that Orson Welles’s greatest contribution to language comes from his greatest contribution to cinema. Following the rise and fall of fictional newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, Welles’s 1941 film Citizen Kane is regarded by many as one of the greatest films ever made, and it also contains […]

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historical nicknames

How well do you know historical nicknames?

Many famous people through history are best remembered by nicknames. You might be familiar with authors who adopted pseudonyms (George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, etc.) but what of those people known only by epithets? Take our quiz and see how well you know the real names behind historical nicknames.

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