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

Tracing the birth of words: from ‘open’ to ‘heffalump’

New words

Open for longer It is always immensely satisfying to be able to pinpoint the genuine birthday of a word in English, although there will always be some words for which this will be impossible. It can be difficult to trace exactly when a word first made its appearance on paper (and when it was used […]

There, their, or they’re? Whose [who’s??] spelling needs a quick overhaul?

Help With Spelling

Floccinaucinihilipilification – we might not bandy it around much in our daily conversation (well, you might, but I certainly don’t), but it usually ranks fairly highly in Oxford’s search monitor surveys. It’s one of those very rare and curious-sounding long words that entertain and amuse us – so much so that it came 38th in […]

stratford_upon_avon

Interactive image: the life and language of Shakespeare

For many of us, most of our knowledge of Shakespeare comes from what we were taught at school. But how much can you remember, other than the odd quotation (‘is this a dagger I see before me’ sticks in my mind)? Even if you didn’t do much Shakespeare at school, or it was too long […]

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Classical character large

Which classical character are you?

The many and varied characters of classical mythology played such a large role in the cultural identity of Ancient Greece and Rome that tales of their exploits have endured and have been incorporated into literature and language worldwide. The names of the characters themselves are often listed in dictionaries and are frequently associated with particular […]

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When W (yes, W) marked the end of the Dictionary

OED

On 19 April 1928 the final section, or fascicle, of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. Perhaps surprisingly, it covered the words in the range Wise to Wyzen; the fascicle dealing with X, Y, and Z had been published as long ago as 1921. This was because, for many years, there […]

A ‘smidget’ of regional terms: from ‘squirrel load’ to ‘whoopity scoot’

Squirrel

There are some things I love to an unhealthy degree, such as The Shield, Russian imperial stouts, George Carlin’s comedy, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and Evil Dead 2. My heart beats equally fast for the Dictionary of American Regional English, which recently published its long-awaited final volume. I wrote about euphemisms from DARE—which documents […]

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Which words came to life 100 years ago? New words in 1912 from ‘ambivalence’ to ‘jazz’

Jazz

On April 15, 1912, readers of the Los Angeles Times opened their papers to the headline “The World’s Greatest Steamship Wrecked.” Less than two weeks earlier, they had read something else of historical note, at least to etymologists: the April 2 edition contained the earliest citation yet found for the word jazz. At that time, […]

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