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

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

English has a rich vocabulary for rhyme, but names are unstable: in what follows, therefore, alternative names are sometimes provided in parenthesis. Fortunately, however, there is more variation in labelling than understanding, for the basic definition of rhyme as involving two elements (the last stressed vowel + all following letters) creates an obvious structure of […]

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Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

As we rolled on, I seen the patrol on creep, so we got ghost. —“Alwayz into Somethin’” , from N.W.A.’s Efil4zaggin (1991) For me, this lyric represents one of the great potentials of hip-hop. An otherwise unremarkable sentiment, when channelled through the mind and mouth of a deft MC, can become something poetic and memorable. […]

How Telstar changed history: celebrating 50 years since the launch of the first communication satellite

How Telstar changed history: celebrating 50 years since the launch of the first communication satellite

It is something we take for granted, that we can turn on our television in the morning and watch the news and sport as it unfolds on the other side of the world. From my home here in Oxford, I have watched the Arab Spring, the Chilean mine rescue, the Euro 2012 football, and thousands […]

Was there ever a real McCoy?

Was there ever a real McCoy?

  As so often in cases like these, there are numerous contenders for the role of McCoy in this phrase, which has been with us since at least the 1850s. Part of the problem facing researchers is that McCoy is a fairly common surname. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the earliest versions […]

Pedal or peddle?

Bike

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

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Mimsy, chortle, and galumph: Alice in Wonderland and the portmanteau

Mimsy, chortle, and galumph: Alice in Wonderland and the portmanteau

Let’s go glamping. Oh, wait, don’t know what I’m talking about? Vogue introduced glamping – a portmanteau of ‘glamorous’ + ‘camping’ that came into use in the mid 2000s – into the high fashion lexicon in October of 2011 with its suggestion to go pitch a tent and sleep in the woods, decked out in […]

The rain in Spain: rhyming traditions from early China to modern-day rap

The rain in Spain: rhyming traditions from early China to modern-day rap

Rhyme is heard everywhere—because it works. In advertising jingles, football chants, birthday-card greetings, tabloid headlines, political slogans, and catchphrases, rhyme makes the sentiments more powerful and more memorable. If you can’t beat them, join them; Arrive Alive—Don’t Drink and Drive; Dennis the Menace; No More War; hang ‘em and flog ‘em: in all, words are […]

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The Higgs boson: now considered real

The Higgs boson: now considered real

From a dictionary editor’s point of view, perhaps the main immediate outcome of the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson is the need to rework some definitions. Following the lead of physicists, the current Oxford Dictionaries Online definition doesn’t state definitively whether or not the particle actually exists: a subatomic particle whose existence […]

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