iStock_000019732832Medium

Genes and genetics: the language of scientific discovery

It is sometimes the case that a scientific field experiences such dramatic progress that the rate at which new discoveries are made outpaces the language needed to describe them. How would it be if there were no words to describe the results of your latest experiment or the structures you see using your new microscope? […]

Read more »

What the Nobel laureates did for us

What the Nobel laureates did for us

19 February isn’t a great day, should you happen to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chances are, you might meet your maker – Nobel laureates André Gide and Knut Hamsun both died on 19 February, in 1951 and 1952 respectively. And that’s before we widen the net to other Nobel Prizes (step forward […]

shutterstock_69693964

Unpresidential presidential quotations in the OED

The Oxford English Dictionary is founded upon millions of quotations, which trace the history of each word starting with its earliest recorded use. America’s presidents are well represented among the authors of those quotations; after all, they are influential speakers and writers whose words are painstakingly recorded and preserved. Presidential quotations often turn up in […]

shutterstock_78917488

5 words you didn’t know were acronyms

Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to say a whole word. That’s why the good British public have taken abbreviations to their hearts so willingly. Many people talk about ‘quotes’ instead of ‘quotations’, ‘info’ rather than ‘information’, ‘R-Patz’ in place of ‘Robert Pattinson’. . . yes? Anyone? And then there is the […]

Read more »
The language of courtship

The language of courtship

Both my parents have been gone for many years now, but I sometimes have to jolt myself into remembering just how long it has been. Today is one of those times because it’s soon after the turn of the new year that I used to be making anniversary plans with my siblings. As what would […]

Minor slip - guzz

A Minor case: OED contributions from a prison cell

17 February will mark a significant date in the annals of the Oxford English Dictionary. 17 February 1872 was the date on which a Dr. William Chester Minor, American army surgeon, shot and killed George Merrett in the early hours of the morning on a gloomy Lambeth street. Not an auspicious date, granted, but Minor […]

Abraham Lincoln

If Obama had been Lincoln: 10 lines from Obama’s Second Inaugural Address that wouldn’t have been used in 1865

When writing his screenplay for the film Lincoln, playwright Tony Kushner used his copy of the Oxford English Dictionary to check for possible anachronisms, seeking to impart the flavor of 19th-century English to the script. How much has the vocabulary of English changed since Abraham Lincoln’s presidency? About 25% of the OED’s entries are for words […]

Chinese New Year

Some Chinese wisdom for Chinese New Year

10 February is an important date this year because it is the first day of the new lunar year, marking the first day in the Chinese New Year. The Chinese calendar names each of the years (in a twelve year cycle) after an animal, and 2013 is the Year of the Snake. Chinese New Year, also […]

Tweets