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Unusual words with surprising meanings

When you hear or read a new word, it can be difficult to work out what the meaning might be intuitively. That, of course, is partly what dictionaries are for. When a word sounds like another, though, you might be misled into thinking you can guess its meaning… Here are some definitions of words which […]

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Russian

Russian? It’s child’s play!

Although Russian isn’t as far removed from many European languages as you might think, it can’t help but appear impenetrable. Those funny letters, long words… Once you’ve mastered Russian’s complex grammar and got your head around those tricky consonant clusters, it often feels as if your language-learning journey is complete. That is, until you encounter […]

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Georges

Quiz: George Orwell or George Michael?

Did you know that the novelist George Orwell and the singer George Michael share 25 June as their birthday? Unsurprisingly, they’re more than a few years apart – George Orwell (the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair) was born on 25 June 1903, while George Michael (originally Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou) followed exactly sixty years later. […]

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ladybird

Ladybirds, ladybugs, and… cows?

When this article was in the brainstorming stage, it started with the simple intention of pointing out that a ladybird was neither a bird nor a lady (I don’t mean to impugn the ladybird’s reputation; I am speaking of the definition rather than the insect’s moral character). Along the way we thought we’d point out […]

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musical terminology

An A-Z of musical terms

Even if you’ve not picked up an instrument since you were eight and tootled away on a recorder, or stood at the back of a school hall holding a tambourine, you probably know the odd piece of musical terminology – forte, perhaps, or andante might ring a bell. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty more where those […]

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Pele quotation

The first rule of football is… don’t call it soccer

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language – a phrase commonly attributed to George Bernard Shaw sometime in the 1940s, although apparently not to be found in any of his published works. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to say that they are two countries separated […]

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Horizontally written letters

‘Horizontally written letters’: Japanese debates on loanwords

The use of foreign loanwords can be a contentious issue. The public attitude towards loanwords not only reveals their view on foreign influences but also demonstrates how the national language or culture is perceived in a given society. The case of contemporary Japan constitutes an interesting case study in this regard. Three layers of the […]

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social media

How social media is changing language

From unfriend to selfie, social media is clearly having an impact on language.  As someone who writes about social media I’m aware of not only how fast these online platforms change, but also of how they influence the language in which I write. The words that surround us every day influence the words we use. […]

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