Definitely versus defiantly – is there a difference?

The simple answer to that question: yes, there’s definitely a distinction between these words, but it’s most unlikely that there’s anything defiantly different about them! A slight spelling digression…  Up till now, I’d always reckoned that the main trouble people had with the word definitely was that they tended to misspell it as definately or […]

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Butterflies and worms: a linguistic look at pasta for World Pasta Day

Did you know that pasta had its own day? No? Well, 25 October 2014 is World Pasta Day. We’ve taken the opportunity to look at a selection of words for different types of pasta. Unsurprisingly, many of the words are simply the Italian for the shape in which the pasta comes, but they may well […]

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A closer look at hi-fi, sci-fi, DIY

Hi-fi, sci-fi, DIY. Three expressions which, for me, typify the late lamented twentieth century. Do-it-yourself The concept of do-it-yourself is the earliest of the three. Not surprisingly, the phrase is first recorded, as an adjective, in the United States in 1910: ‘the “do-it-yourself” method’, redolent of the struggle for self-improvement and self-reliance of that era. A series of ‘Do […]

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Doris Lessing: another world of words

Doris Lessing (22 October 1919 – 17 November 2013) was an astonishing wordsmith, as any reader of her many novels, stories, plays, and poems would attest – and the genesis of this talent can be seen in her upbringing and surroundings. Childhood memories She was five years old when her family emigrated in 1925 to […]

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How many pangrams are there in the OED?

A pangram is a sentence containing all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once. The canonical example in English is “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, which is clearly contrived to be pangrammatic. But pangrams can also occur accidentally. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains 66 pangrammatic quotations. Two […]

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Quiz: how good is your American English?

We recently tested non-Brits on their knowledge of British English; now it’s time to turn the tables and see how well English-speakers outside of North America can handle the mysteries of American English. Have a go, and let us know how you do. Good luck!

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The super-language of Superman

The mark left by Superman on today’s pop culture landscape is incalculable; not only has he been featured in comic strips and books, radio and television series, films, and video games, he is also referenced everywhere, from pop songs (“Sunshine Superman” by Donovan, for instance) to sitcoms (some claim that every episode of Seinfeld has […]

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Fresh fish in stir: The Shawshank Redemption and prison slang

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, the prison drama following the lives of prisoners Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman). Overshadowed by Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction in the year of its release, the film has demonstrated an incredible staying power over the past […]

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