From ‘transpired’ to ‘toothless’ and ‘tot’… the journey of journalese

From ‘transpired’ to ‘toothless’ and ‘tot’… the journey of journalese

‘Floral tributes have been pouring in, as loved ones pay fulsome homage to their slain tot. All eyes are on concerned local residents, and debate rages, as a last-ditch probe to solve the crime that made world headlines draws to a close. At the end of the day, only time will tell who did it.’ […]

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Lily-white hands and scarlet gowns: formulas in British traditional ballads

Lily-white hands and scarlet gowns: formulas in British traditional ballads

Traditional song can be a tricky beast. Stubbornly slippery in form, content, and definition, its remit encompasses an amorphous mass of vernacular songs that have been cherished by everyday people over time. These songs are of varying vintages, of both known and unknown authorship, some passed through generations by word of mouth, others emerging from […]

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The Hanging Garden – remarks on the use of ancient languages

9780199662265

A fruitful line of research for my book on the Hanging Garden of Babylon was analysis of Babylonian words. They were written in the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) script, which is very different from an alphabet. Most alphabets have about 30 letters, and C, for instance, is always C even if it is pronounced in a variety […]

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Speaking pukka

Speaking pukka

‘I cannot endure a swell, even though his whiskers are pucka’. G. O. Trevelyan The Dawk Bungalow (1863) The word pukka enjoys an unusual status in Britain both as a current slang term and a dusty relic of the Raj. As a London slang term, pukka means first-rate or excellent. The word rose to prominence […]

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Tweet geekery and epic crowdsourcing: an Oxford English Dictionary update

Tweet geekery and epic crowdsourcing: an Oxford English Dictionary update

Today the Oxford English Dictionary announces its latest update, which sees the inclusion of over 1200 newly revised and updated words. The additions bring the OED’s total number of entries – including headwords, sub-senses, phrases, and compounds – to over 823,000. Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing words included in the OED […]

Words must advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers in the OED

Words must advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers in the OED

13 June 2013 would have been the 120th birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers, born on that date in 1893. Detective novelist, Christian writer, Dante translator, and glorious wordsmith, she was a true daughter of Oxford, blood and bone: her father was chaplain of Christ Church Cathedral School, and she took first class honours in medieval […]

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Cole Porter: the tinpantithesis of poetry

Cole Porter: the tinpantithesis of poetry

Cole Porter was one of the few songwriters of his era who wrote both music and lyrics. Another was his friend Irving Berlin. The two men shared a private joke. Whenever a songwriting team–such as Ira and George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, or Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern—had a hit, Porter and Berlin […]

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Chasing the rainbow connection

Chasing the rainbow connection

Reflect and refract When was the last time you looked out the window and said, “Oh look! There’s a many-coloured refraction of light from drops of water!”? Well – OK, if you said that last week then feel free to skip the next paragraph, but most of us refer to the sudden splash of colours […]

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