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

How many Chaucers does it take to change a language?

How many Chaucers does it take to change a language?

After 600 years, what do we think of when we hear the name Geoffrey Chaucer? The straightforward, factual answer – that he was the son of London wine merchant, born sometime in the 1340s, who spent his life, after youthful forays to the French wars and diplomatic missions, working as a civil servant and building up […]

Thick with meaning: 6 UK political terms explored

Thick with meaning: 6 UK political terms explored

The final episode of Armando Iannucci’s political satire The Thick of It will air in the UK this Saturday. Journalists love comparing plotlines in The Thick of It to real-life political events, and sometimes life has even imitated art: politicians picked up and popularized the word ‘omnishambles’, first used by foul-mouthed The Thick of It […]

Presidential: what can we learn about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from their debate transcripts?

Presidential: what can we learn about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from their debate transcripts?

  On September 26, 1960, over 60 million viewers tuned in to watch John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon take the stage for the first televised debate ever between the presidential nominees of the two major US political parties. The contrast the audience perceived that evening between a sickly and tired Nixon and a rested […]

Do you know your -ibles from your -ables?

Do you know your -ibles from your -ables?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that we’ve featured postings on homophones over the past few months, but all of them have been complete words, such as pedal and peddle. Of course, suffixes (word endings) and prefixes (word beginnings) can also sound the same in English, causing no end of […]

Glissandos and glissandon’ts

Glissandos and glissandon’ts

“GLISSANDO. A term unfortunately used by composers anywhere but in Italy to indicate a rapid glide over the notes of a scale on keyboard instruments and the harp, as well as a slur with no definite intervals on strings and on the trombone. Italians do not use it for the simple reason that it is […]

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So far, so bad.

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I found myself looking up the origin of ‘curmudgeon’ last week. Defined as ‘bad-tempered, difficult, or cantankerous’, its components once meant, more or less, ‘a growling grimacer’. This last description sums up almost exactly my facial expression when I hear a language tic of the moment that has knocked ‘going forward’ off the top of […]

Georgette Heyer, zaftig, and the Oxford English Dictionary

Georgette Heyer, zaftig, and the Oxford English Dictionary

“My name is Claire Etty. And I am a reader of historical novels.” Apologies for the AA-style confession. But every time my boyfriend spots a Georgette Heyer open on the coffee table he sneers (from behind his New Statesman): “Exercising the grey cells again?” It usually is Georgette Heyer. I’m aux anges over her books, […]

Taking the credit

Taking the credit

October 16 is the anniversary of the birthday of Oscar Wilde, described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography simply as ‘writer’ but also one of the stalwarts of dictionaries of quotations. Indeed, he even appears as the subject of some quotations – as Dorothy Parker said: If, with the literate, I am Impelled to […]

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