It has been claimed that 52 percent of words in use aren’t included in dictionaries – is this true? Elyse Graham investigates how this figure arose, and suggests why it’s not quite right.

Are 52% of words really not included in dictionaries?

In 2011, a remarkable article appeared in the journal Science that argued, based on a computational analysis of five million books, that “52 percent of the English lexicon—the majority of the words used in English books—consists of lexical ‘dark matter’ undocumented in standard references”. Taken at face value, this might seem like an astonishing claim. Fifty-two […]

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Schrödinger’s cat: What can cats tell us about physics, philosophy, and language?

What can cats tell us about physics, philosophy, and language?

Take a cat, a Geiger counter, a radioactive sample that has a fifty-fifty chance of decaying in an hour, some cyanide in a glass phial, and a metal box. Lock the cat into the box together with the other equipment rigged up so that if an atom of the radioactive substance decays it triggers the […]

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Some words unique to Singapore have recently been included in the OED.

5 great words from Singapore English (now in the OED)

As an OED editor working mostly on words coming from world varieties of English, I am always fascinated by the research that goes into every dictionary entry, and what it tells me about the culture and history of English-speaking communities in different parts of the globe. Every once in a while, I also get the […]

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Lorna Shaddick explores the language of Pokemon Go.

Pokémon Go: a novice learns the language

Until recently, all I knew about Pokémon was this joke, a distant memory from the school playgrounds of my youth: ‘How do you get a thousand Pikachus on a bus?’ ‘You Poke-em-on’. Whenever anyone brought up the topic of the strange Japanese video and card game  – and it wasn’t often – I would just […]

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Book lovers everywhere, can you pick the odd one out in our book quiz?

Book quiz: odd one out

Every day is Book Lovers’ Day, we’d argue, and to celebrate, we’ve taken a broad look across lots of authors and genres to come up with an ‘odd one out’ quiz. In each question, three of the titles were written by one author, while the fourth was written by somebody else. Can you identify which […]

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The usage of the so-called “quotative like” has been around for more than thirty years.

‘Like’, valley girls, and philosophy

It’s the most recognizable feature of the dialect called “Valley Girl”: the use of the word “like” to report a sentiment or an utterance. She said, “It’s the least I can do.” And I was like, “Yes, it’s literally the least you can do.” I was like, “Thanks, Dad. That is not helpful.” She’s like, […]

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Holy lexicon, Batman! Comic book language from Agitron to Zod.

Holy lexicon, Batman! Comic book language from Agitron to Zod

The most hotly-anticipated film of the summer, Suicide Squad, shows that even supevillains can make a contribution to society. But what contribution have superheroes, supervillains, and comic books in general made to the English language? Here’s an A-Z of words and terms from comic book culture. Some have yet to gain the traction to make […]

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Is Polish the most difficult language to learn?

Is Polish the most difficult language to learn?

How ethical is it to start working in a country where you don’t speak the local language? Before I started teaching English in Poland, this question didn’t trouble me in the slightest. When I taught in Sardinia, I spoke enough Italian to get by; and nobody in Cambodia expected foreign teachers to speak any Khmer […]

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