Functional-shifty characters: what’s wrong with this verb?

shift

Loathsome. Wretched. Horrible. These were the words used on a recent Twitter debate about a new usage. If it had gone on much longer, people would doubtless have weighed in with the other heavy hitters of language criticism: Clumsy! Infelicitous! Abomination! Why or how these new usages merit such opprobrium is never explained objectively. After […]

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Hobbiton

Why did Tolkien use archaic language?

All words have life cycles. They are born, sometimes by a specific individual at a recorded moment, as was the case with grotty. The current first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from the 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, in which George Harrison utters the word in response to some shirts. ‘I […]

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OED JS cake

Interview with John Simpson, former Chief Editor of the OED

John Simpson recently retired as chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Before he left, we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his time at the helm of our historical dictionary. Watch the videos below to learn how life at the OED has changed since John Simpson joined in 1976, […]

Quiz: Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas?

Dylan Thomas or Bob Dylan.jpg

Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan: what else do the Welsh poet and American singer-songwriter have in common besides their names? A lot more than you’d think. A tale of two Dylans It is often remarked that Bob Dylan credits Dylan Thomas as an influence. As we’ve noted in a previous post, they share thematic interests—both […]

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A Durrellian Dictionary

By Yani papadimos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

7 November marks the anniversary of Lawrence Durrell’s death. He was an author for readers of dictionaries par excellence. And while that may seem peculiar praise, it also shapes one way of reading the man. Dictionaries have an indexical nature, and the most labour intensive word for a reader is “See…” Durrell tells us he […]

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Eponymous instrument makers: from Sax to Stradivari

Saxophone

Today is Saxophone Day, a.k.a. the birthday of Adolphe Sax, which has inspired us to think about other instruments that take their name in some way from their inventors (sidenote: for the correct use of eponymous see this informative diatribe in the New York Times). Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) Belgian inventor of the saxophone. Fun fact: […]

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Sister-in-laws, sisters-in-law, or sisters-in-laws?

questionmark_sister_in_law

If you had more than one sister-in-law, how would you talk about them? Think you know? How about if you wanted to refer to more than one right of way? Would you say rights of way or rights of ways? Here are a few more plural brain-teasers: Singular noun Plural A Plural B Plural C […]

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moustaches

Pencil, walrus, or handlebar? A guide to words for moustaches

As November begins, many a man’s thoughts turn to facial hair. Millions all over the world consign the razor blades to the bathroom cupboard and attempt to grow a moustache for a very good cause. But moustaches come in many varieties, so whether you are barely capable of bumfluff or have designs on the soup-strainer, […]

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