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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Keep_left

‘Left’: a reliable U.S. political term

The word ‘left’ has invited learned commentary, not least in Anatoly Liberman’s blog ‘The Sinister Influence of the Left Hand’. As Liberman shows, by reputation the word suffers in comparison with the ‘dexterous’ word ‘right’. Origin of the term ‘left’ Those on the political right are happy with this, and contribute to the process. The […]

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10 medical words you thought you knew

medicine

For many, thoughts of October immediately wend to visions of changing leaves, warm sweet beverages, and costumed children plying neighbors for candy. But October can make a further claim on our interest: it’s also known as Health Literacy Month. As anyone who has taken an anatomy class or tried to read a prescription may attest, […]

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translation

Of Cabbages and Kings: five ways to talk about translation

Translation has been a crucial part of Anglophone culture from its very beginnings. The earliest English writers knew that the state of learning in England, with knowledge of Latin far from universal, meant a need for translations. Everything necessary for a rounded education was written in Latin, and so King Alfred the Great introduced a […]

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baking

The winner bakes it all: the language of the Great British Bake Off

In 2010, when I started watching a BBC2 programme about baking sponge cakes, I assumed it would be one of the many things which marked me out as a social pariah, along with talking to cats and preferring books to people. Yet this evening the fourth series of the Great British Bake Off is coming […]

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Russian alphabet

‘You speak Russian?!’

If you want to impress your friends, family, colleagues, and almost every English speaker you’ll ever meet, learn Russian. Russian – so I’m told – is hard. It is the language of spies, code-breakers, and Communists, and the preserve of Oxbridge intellectuals. Winston Churchill famously called Russia ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an […]

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A slice of apple’s linguistic history

apple

October is National Apple Month. To celebrate, we’ve got an extract from The Diner’s Dictionary looking at the linguistic life of this humble fruit. The apple was probably the earliest of all fruits to be cultivated by human beings. Its wild ancestor was a sharp, mouth-puckering little thing, like today’s crab apple, and this abel-, […]

The language of Prohibition-era gangsters: knowing your goons from your gumshoes

model t

Although this blog has already covered a number of the interesting words and phrases associated with the speakeasies of 1920’s and early 1930’s America, the period still has a number of gems. As today marks the anniversary of the conviction of notorious Chicago-based gangster Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, what better reason to revisit some of the […]

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