The language of Jersey: little toads and the glove of a Queen

Jersey Island

There was one thing I wanted to know as the plane touched down: were we actually abroad? On the one hand, everyone was driving on the left, paying in pounds, and speaking in English (albeit with what sounded like a faintly South African accent). On the other, everything was the wrong colour: yellow telephone boxes, […]

Treble / triple trouble?

Darts in dartboard

Consider the following sentences: do they strike you as completely unexceptional, or would you prefer to change the instances of treble to triple, or vice versa? The proposals will treble the size of the tiny village. The company is set to triple its output in one year. Double or even treble rows of blast walls […]

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Language play in noms de plume and stage names, from Bono to the Brontës

noms de plume

With the discovery that mystery writer Robert Galbraith and Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling are one and the same, the massively successful novelist has become one of many known popular fiction writers—including Stephen King and Anne Rice—to employ a nom de plume, or pen name, masking the true identity behind their work. There are several […]

Everyday expressions and their poetic origins

albatross

Our impression of “poetic” language as distinct from “everyday” language is unsurprising. At first glance, the flourishes of ornate, pre-1900 verse seem incompatible with common speech, either by virtue of their conspicuously high diction or the maudlin matters they seemingly address. One might hesitate, for instance, to liken a romantic interest to a lovely and […]

Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Aha! Alan Partridge in the OED

Alan_partridge2

There are many places you might expect to find a quotation from Alan Partridge – perhaps on the North Norfolk Digital website or in the Norwich Evening News expressing his views on the pedestrianization of the city centre – but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is probably not the first place you’d look. However, quotations […]

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Video: A Very Short Introduction to Dictionaries

Dictionaries A Very Short Intro

Enjoy a whistle-stop tour of the history of dictionaries by Lynda Mugglestone, the author of Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction, as she succinctly explains why we shouldn’t underestimate the dictionary. And find out which wonderful word means: ‘one whose hair was never cut’.   Follow the Very Short Introductions series on Facebook

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Magic book

Spellbinding: the classical roots of magical spells in Harry Potter

It is no secret that the Harry Potter series is heavily influenced by the classics. JK Rowling studied Latin as a subsidiary subject at the University of Exeter, and often draws upon classical myth, rhetoric, and nomenclature in her writing. In particular, Rowling usually draws her magical words from classical Latin, and many of the […]

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