Shakespeare often refers to theatres, acting, and performance in his plays.

Quiz: Shakespeare and the theatre

You’ll hopefully have seen at least one play by Shakespeare in a theatre, at some point in your life – but did you know how often Shakespeare refers to theatres, acting, and performance in his plays? It adds a layer of amusement to a scene, acknowledging that the audience is seeing a play being performed, without […]

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Katherine Martin is back at Nine Worlds this year, and she's returned with some interesting new word suggestions.

Geek dictionary corner at Nine Worlds 2016

Nine Worlds is an inclusive multi-genre convention for ‘books, films, TV shows, gaming, comics, cosplay, crafts, sciences, fanfic, and the culture and creativity that underlie them all’. This was the third summer that I have skipped along to join in: here are my dispatches from 2014 and 2015. Besides running an academic panel on foreign […]

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Words invented for existing concepts to distinguish them from something new are known as retronyms.

What are retronyms, and why do they exist?

One way that language changes is the coinage of terms to describe new versions of existing concepts or inventions, for example the compound electric guitar to differentiate the new invention from the existing type of guitar. However, with electric guitars becoming increasingly widespread, the word guitar no longer unambiguously described one that could be played […]

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The Brexit referendum in the UK has spawned a number of new portmanteaus.

From TEOTWAWKI to hoyay: words on the radar

Which words are our lexicographers looking carefully at right now? Well, all and any of them, of course – but there are some interesting words which are hovering on the peripheries of dictionary inclusion that we wanted to draw your attention to. Words aren’t included in Oxford Dictionaries until enough evidence of their sustained use […]

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The -ee suffix is typically added to a verb to form a noun denoting a person who is affected by the action expressed by the verb.

Escapee or escaper? Investigating –ee suffixes (and why they’re not always obvious)

‘-ee means something happens to you; -er means you do something: so employee, invitee (if you must), refugee but attender, escaper, etc, rather than attendee, escapee, etc.’ So says the Guardian style guide, and similar advice is given in many other usage guides. But is this the whole story? Attendee and escapee are now much […]

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Paris street

A rue by any other name… exploring the streets of Paris

David Parsons writes in his book on Shropshire place-names that street-names ‘reveal the layers of history in a place’ and ‘fill the imagination with the sights, sounds, and smells of the past if we attend to them.’ We learn, for instance, that a high street in Shrewsbury formerly went by the name of ‘gumbestolestrete’ – […]

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Among the slips of paper Arthur Maling used for his work on the letter W are the wrappers for at least five different varieties of chocolate.

Esperanto, chocolate, and biplanes in Braille: the interests of Arthur Maling

The Oxford English Dictionary is the work of people: many thousands of them. In my work on the history of the Dictionary I have found the stories of many of those people endlessly fascinating. Very often an individual will enter the story who cries out to be made the subject of a biography in his […]

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Opinions are divided on the subject of ‘trigger warnings’—statements cautioning you that what you’re about to read, watch, or listen to might cause emotional or psychological distress.

You have been warned: the debate on trigger warnings

Opinions are divided on the subject of ‘trigger warnings’—statements cautioning you that what you’re about to read, watch, or listen to might cause emotional or psychological distress. For their defenders these alerts show sensitivity to the needs of vulnerable people; for their critics they’re a new form of ‘political correctness’, another sign that, as one […]

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