Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

From cherub to jubilee: Hebrew’s influence on today’s English

Hamantaschen

If you’ve ever noshed on a bagel with your schnoz stuck in a schmaltzy novel, or schlepped to a party to schmooze with the mavens and machers, you know all about the influence of Yiddish on modern English. But what about Hebrew? Thanks to English translations of the Bible, Hebrew-derived words have been playing their […]

Word trends: digital

Digital

The word digital is one which has become very much associated with the modern world. However, it is not a modern word. The OED’s entry for digital actually contains evidence for the word as far back as the 15th century with the sense, ‘designating a whole number less than ten’. Another early sense referred to […]

The Madness of March and the Oxford Dictionaries Bracket Challenge

March Madness

March Madness, the single elimination college basketball tournament, is upon us. All month long, the top 68 teams in the US will duke it out in a series of rounds—some of which are remarkable feats in and of themselves, like the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four—for the NCAA Division I championship title. Oftentimes […]

Book quiz: do you know these classic first lines?

Book quiz: do you know these classic first lines?

Opening lines are an important part of any piece of literature. A writer has to grab the attention of the reader with that first line or run the risk of them putting the book down. While that might sound a little alarmist, there is no doubt that a punchy opening line lingers in the memory […]

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“Music in your blood and poetry in your soul”: the beauty of Welsh English

Welsh Flag

To be born Welsh requires the genes of a chameleon. You must be a geographer (how many maps have I drawn to explain to anyone not from our little island the difference between “Britain” and “England”?), a musician (try singing “Bread of Heaven” in a Welsh pub: I give you two bars before you’re accompanied […]

Leap years around the world: from freak weather patterns to good fortune and baby whales

Leap of faith

What have Italian composer Rossini and American rapper Ja Rule got in common? A number of possible answers may leap to mind here, but the one I’m looking for is that the two musicians were both born on a date that is mysteriously elusive: 29 February. Except that 2012 is a leap year, and so […]

What gets leapt in a leap year?

Calendar February 2012

2012 is a leap year in the Gregorian calendar, making it an appropriate time to consider the origin of this rather puzzling term. After all, leap implies that something is being skipped over, but a leap year has an extra day, making it longer than an ordinary year, not shorter. Where is the metaphorical leap […]

Linsanity: a star is born

Basketball game

The Internet in general and the sports world in particular (as least that aspect of it that follows basketball) have been fairly agog of late, following the sudden elevation of the New York Knicks latest star, one Jeremy Lin. This is not surprising, given that the story of an Asian-American player from Harvard achieving stardom […]

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