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

Higher-cynths, lower-cynths, and Seeze Pyders: why Lear’s ‘nonsense’ language is more than just fun

Edward Lear

You’ve heard of a writer called Lear? His two hundredth birthday’s this year. They called him absurd But he wrote undeterred, That remarkable writer called Lear. If there were no other reason to remember Edward Lear with fondness (and there are, in fact, very many), his popularization of the limerick would be enough. Like so […]

What were your top dictionary lookups in April?

Search monitor

Have you ever wondered which words other people are looking up in the dictionary? Wonder no more… As part of our occasional search monitor series, we’ve taken a look at which words were looked up the most in our free online dictionary last month. We’re very happy (the 259th most looked-up word) here at Oxford […]

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The bizarre history of the Oxford Latin Dictionary

Oxford Latin Dictionary

When we are unsure of the meaning of a word, or want to know when it was first used, or what alternative spellings it has, we consult the dictionary. People often refer to “the dictionary,” as if there were only one, or as if it didn’t matter which one was consulted. But then most households […]

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A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!

A very, extremely, highly, really, most *unique* opportunity!!

The tendency to wax hyperbolic seems to be hard-wired into our brains. Electronic communications also encourage this leaning towards excessive emphasis. We really don’t want our online audience to be in any doubt *whatsoever* [see what I did there?] as to the meaning and tone of what we are writing, so we add emoticons, bung […]

The language of the beautiful game (just don’t mention the S-word)

Football

If being reminded of how long it is since your country won the World Cup makes you sick as a parrot, you’re not alone – and you’d be using one of the many clichés with a long and glorious tradition in football, regardless of where your footballing loyalty lies. Words of two halves Some quintessentially […]

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‘If you want anything said, ask Mrs Thatcher’

10 Downing Street

In May 1979 the United Kingdom elected its first female Prime Minister, in spite of her own comment ten years earlier: ‘No woman in my time will be Prime Minister or Chancellor or Foreign Secretary—not the top jobs. Anyway I wouldn’t want to be Prime Minister. You have to give yourself 100%’. A few years […]

Who’s in charge of the English language?

Solar System

‘Watson’, says Holmes, ‘when you lie here and see all those stars what do you think?’ ‘Well, Holmes,’ says Watson. ‘All that grandeur and majesty. I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t someone in charge. How about you?’ ‘Me?’ says Holmes, ‘I think: Who’s pinched the tent?’ Venus and Jupiter have been extra-bright recently and […]

Is it OK to use ‘hopefully’ as a sentence adverb?

Hopefully

This past week saw a small explosion of anguished queries and dire proclamations in a number of newspaper headlines. “Is This the End of Proper Grammar?” asked the New York Times, and, not to be outdone, the Minnesota Daily trumpeted that the “AP Stylebook seeks to destroy the American way of life”. An article in […]

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