Everyday expressions and their poetic origins

albatross

Our impression of “poetic” language as distinct from “everyday” language is unsurprising. At first glance, the flourishes of ornate, pre-1900 verse seem incompatible with common speech, either by virtue of their conspicuously high diction or the maudlin matters they seemingly address. One might hesitate, for instance, to liken a romantic interest to a lovely and […]

Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Aha! Alan Partridge in the OED

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There are many places you might expect to find a quotation from Alan Partridge – perhaps on the North Norfolk Digital website or in the Norwich Evening News expressing his views on the pedestrianization of the city centre – but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is probably not the first place you’d look. However, quotations […]

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Video: A Very Short Introduction to Dictionaries

Dictionaries A Very Short Intro

Enjoy a whistle-stop tour of the history of dictionaries by Lynda Mugglestone, the author of Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction, as she succinctly explains why we shouldn’t underestimate the dictionary. And find out which wonderful word means: ‘one whose hair was never cut’.   Follow the Very Short Introductions series on Facebook

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Magic book

Spellbinding: the classical roots of magical spells in Harry Potter

It is no secret that the Harry Potter series is heavily influenced by the classics. JK Rowling studied Latin as a subsidiary subject at the University of Exeter, and often draws upon classical myth, rhetoric, and nomenclature in her writing. In particular, Rowling usually draws her magical words from classical Latin, and many of the […]

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Sherlock-logo_KT

A Study in Sherlock: Holmesian homages for Benedict’s birthday

It’s the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday today, so I’m told. Most recently seen on the big screen playing an iconic Star Trek baddie, Cumberbatch has enthralled viewers and theatre audiences as characters ranging from Vincent van Gogh and Stephen Hawking to Frankenstein’s monster and a Tolkienian dragon. But one of his most successful roles to […]

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jane austen characters

Which Jane Austen heroine are you?

It’s been nearly 200 years since Jane Austen died, leaving behind only six completed novels, and yet she has never been more popular. To her millions of readers, she is renowned for her humour, her incisive observation, and her memorable characters – who range from lovable to ridiculous to frustrating, and sometimes all of the […]

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“Intelligence Officer”: A gentleman and patriot, or a scoundrel seeking reputational refuge?

“Intelligence Officer”: a gentleman and patriot, or a scoundrel seeking reputational refuge?

The Oxford English Dictionary gives interesting examples of how the term intelligence officer has changed its meaning: An example from American usage in 1847 still conveys the eighteenth-century sense of a person who simply transmits information. Then there is a reference to the poet Rupert Brooke, who in the Great War served as an “intelligence […]

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