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

Happy faces

Smiles for World Smile Day

You may be familiar with that old joke: what is the longest word in the English language? Smiles – there is a mile between s and s! Well, those of us in the know would cite the supposed lung disease pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis as the longest word in English, and that certainly isn’t something to smile about. […]

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Alleyways

Alleyways of language: regional words for ‘alleyway’

In these times of mass media and global communications, it is comforting to think that regional lexical variation in British English is alive and well—in fact it seems to be right up many people’s alley. When linguists set out to collect distinctive local vocabulary, one of the classic questions informants are asked is “What do […]

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British English quiz

Quiz: how good is your British English?

If you’re an English speaker and have spent any time in an English-speaking country not your own, you know how different the language can be. Sometimes the differences are slight – for example, the stress on different syllables of weekend between British and American English (wiːkˈɛnd vs. ‘wēkˌend, respectively) – but sometimes the differences are […]

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surveillance

Orwell’s Newspeak: a doubleplusgood language

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four astounded the literary world when it first was published in 1949, and its significance and cultural impact have only grown stronger in the years since. Orwell’s warnings against totalitarian authority and omnipresent surveillance are as relevant as ever. Beyond the familiar message that “Big Brother is always watching you,” what many […]

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Coffee

Americano to zarf: a list of coffee words

To celebrate International Coffee Day, we thought we’d set aside our mugs and cups to take a look at some words every coffee-lover needs to know… Americano or café Americano: a drink of espresso coffee diluted with hot water. Arabica: mild-flavoured, high-quality coffee obtained from beans of the Coffea arabicai tree (the most widely grown […]

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feminism

Feminist language: 5 terms you need to know

The film star Emma Watson gave a speech at the United Nations this September to launch “He For She” — a campaign asking men to get involved in the fight for gender equality. The speech drew approbation and ire in equal measure. Vanity Fair called it a “game changer” but fourth wave feminists were less […]

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dinner

Talking proper: the language of U and Non-U

The release of The Riot Club, a fictionalized version of the Oxford University Bullingdon Club, based on Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh, seems a fitting moment to consider how to talk posh. In 1954 the linguist Alan C. Ross published a study of ‘Linguistic Class-Indicators in Present-day English’, which first introduced the concept of ‘U’ […]

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Spiflicated, mopsy, and spondulicks: historical synonyms for everyday things

Spiflicated, mopsy, and spondulicks: historical synonyms for everyday things

In Words in Time and Place, David Crystal explores fifteen fascinating sets of synonyms, using the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. We’ve turned selections from six sections of Words in Time and Place into word clouds, arranged in a shape related to the topic in question. Take a look at the images below to see […]

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