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

A Durrellian Dictionary

By Yani papadimos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

7 November marks the anniversary of Lawrence Durrell’s death. He was an author for readers of dictionaries par excellence. And while that may seem peculiar praise, it also shapes one way of reading the man. Dictionaries have an indexical nature, and the most labour intensive word for a reader is “See…” Durrell tells us he […]

Read more »

Eponymous instrument makers: from Sax to Stradivari

Saxophone

Today is Saxophone Day, a.k.a. the birthday of Adolphe Sax, which has inspired us to think about other instruments that take their name in some way from their inventors (sidenote: for the correct use of eponymous see this informative diatribe in the New York Times). Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) Belgian inventor of the saxophone. Fun fact: […]

Read more »

Sister-in-laws, sisters-in-law, or sisters-in-laws?

questionmark_sister_in_law

If you had more than one sister-in-law, how would you talk about them? Think you know? How about if you wanted to refer to more than one right of way? Would you say rights of way or rights of ways? Here are a few more plural brain-teasers: Singular noun Plural A Plural B Plural C […]

Read more »

Pencil, walrus, or handlebar? A guide to words for moustaches

mustache title image

As November begins, many a man’s thoughts turn to facial hair. Millions all over the world consign the razor blades to the bathroom cupboard and attempt to grow a moustache for a very good cause. But moustaches come in many varieties, so whether you are barely capable of bumfluff or have designs on the soup-strainer, […]

Read more »
Keep_left

‘Left’: a reliable U.S. political term

The word ‘left’ has invited learned commentary, not least in Anatoly Liberman’s blog ‘The Sinister Influence of the Left Hand’. As Liberman shows, by reputation the word suffers in comparison with the ‘dexterous’ word ‘right’. Origin of the term ‘left’ Those on the political right are happy with this, and contribute to the process. The […]

Read more »

10 medical words you thought you knew

medicine

For many, thoughts of October immediately wend to visions of changing leaves, warm sweet beverages, and costumed children plying neighbors for candy. But October can make a further claim on our interest: it’s also known as Health Literacy Month. As anyone who has taken an anatomy class or tried to read a prescription may attest, […]

Read more »

Of Cabbages and Kings: five ways to talk about translation

King_Alfred

Translation has been a crucial part of Anglophone culture from its very beginnings. The earliest English writers knew that the state of learning in England, with knowledge of Latin far from universal, meant a need for translations. Everything necessary for a rounded education was written in Latin, and so King Alfred the Great introduced a […]

Read more »
baking

The winner bakes it all: the language of the Great British Bake Off

In 2010, when I started watching a BBC2 programme about baking sponge cakes, I assumed it would be one of the many things which marked me out as a social pariah, along with talking to cats and preferring books to people. Yet this evening the fourth series of the Great British Bake Off is coming […]

Read more »

Tweets