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

cough syrup

Ahem, ahem: the language of coughing

The language of coughing is not, on the face of it, a particularly expressive one. Most usually associated with colds and winter mornings, it isn’t a medium that lends itself to communication – indeed, it is more likely to disperse a crowd than attract eager listeners. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring the […]

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American british

‘Oh see, can you say…’ linguistic confusion for a Brit in America

When you’re a Brit living in the United States, as I am, sooner or later – and it’s usually sooner, even if you’re trying hard to fit in – you’ll end up using a word or phrase that your interlocutor just doesn’t understand. Everyone knows the obvious pitfalls, and they’re constant causes of amusement or […]

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colours

Colourful language: colours in international idioms

Although we have a plethora of words in our vocabularies to describe colour, it’s unlikely that we each perceive colour in the same way. What if your red is actually my blue, or my yellow is your green? We may never know if a Parisian’s rouge is identical to a Varsovian’s czerwony, but we can […]

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Is Arabic really a single language?

Is Arabic really a single language?

All language-learners face the difficulties of regional variations or dialects. Usually, it takes the form of an odd word or turn of phrase or a peculiar pronunciation. For most languages, incomprehension is only momentary, and the similarity – what linguists often refer to as the mutual intelligibility – between the standard language taught to foreigners […]

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beyonce

The many B’s of Bey: a Beyoncé appreciation post

When the Queen Bey herself gave a momentous performance at this year’s MTV VMAs, so close to her 4 September birthday, we knew that no self-respecting Beyoncé fan would let these two celebratory occasions go by unappreciated. So how does one (namely this Oxford Dictionaries editor) go about delving into the language of Beyoncé? With […]

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Aviation

Winged words: the language of aviation

Ever since we first gazed up to the skies and envied the glorious freedom of birds, many of us have yearned to join them (appropriately, aviation derives from avis, which means ‘bird’ in Latin). Some of mankind’s earliest myths (including that of the Greek craftsman Daedalus and his son Icarus) are testament to our deep-rooted […]

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Bill and Ted

The bodacious language of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Keanu Reeves a linguistic icon? That would be an impressive achievement for Reeves, who turns fifty this month — when I turned fifty, no one said I was the icon of anything, let alone a linguistic one — and I’m a linguist! — but at fifty you have more important things to worry about, like […]

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Are you thinking of learning Arabic

Which Arabic should you learn?

If you have ever tried learning Arabic, you’ll know it is not an easy language to master. One of the first decisions learners are faced with is which type of Arabic to learn – the dizzying choice can give you flexibility, or confusion! Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or fuṣḥā is said to be the common […]

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