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

Surprising word stories: Mr Punch, Dr Murray, and the first tonk

Surprising word stories: Mr Punch, Dr Murray, and the first tonk

Many sports fans will be familiar with the verb tonk, which is widely used to describe the action of giving a ball a good firm hit. Less familiar, but common enough, is the noun tonk describing the same action. Both are of course in the Oxford English Dictionary, with histories traced back to the early […]

Hold on to your tin foil hat: the origin of the UFO

Hold on to your tin foil hat: the origin of the UFO

2 July is World UFO Day, a chance for us all to think about UFO sightings, and, for this blog, to take a journey from clay pigeons to the mysterious habits of abbreviations. Is this a saucer I see before me? On 24 June 1947 Kenneth Arnold, an American businessman, was flying towards Mount Rainier […]

mochy, mizzly, or mothery

Mochy, mizzly, or mothery? Ten regional words to describe the weather

The UK is often characterized (particularly in the US) as a damp and windy island with unusually changeable weather. The past week here has done little to dispel this impression, with flash floods in the North and muggy heat here in the South. Last week we asked our Twitter followers to describe the weather in […]

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Of game changers and moving goalposts – football idioms in the English language

Of game changers and moving goalposts - football idioms in the English language

Football (or soccer, for avoidance of doubt) is one of those odd sports that tend to polarize: you either love it or you hate it. No matter whether you’re a lover or a hater, you will come across plenty of football-related idioms in everyday life. This is not in the least surprising, considering that The […]

Ballin’ for real: What’s the OED say about hip-hop’s ‘baller’?

Ballin' for real: What's the OED say about hip-hop's 'baller'?

The other day I had an earworm stuck in my head, an old rap song which goes:  Wanna be a baller, shot-caller, 20-inch blades on the Impala…  [N.B. 20-inch blades are wheels, and the Impala is a type of car] After mouthing that line to myself for a few hours, it occurred to me that […]

Wombling free: what does Wimbledon have in common with the language of sustainability?

Wombling free: what does Wimbledon have in common with the language of sustainability?

Wimbledon – that fortnight of lush green grass, strawberries, and tennis. Mention Wimbledon to a British person above the age of 30 and they are likely to mention something else – Wombles.  For the uninitiated, the Wombles are a group of creatures who live in an underground burrow on Wimbledon Common and who, as the […]

ELIZA: a real example of a Turing test

ELIZA: a real example of a Turing test

As part of our marking the centenary of Alan Turing, mathematician, cryptanalyst, and progenitor of computer science, we wanted to provide you with a demonstration of one of the areas in which his work has had an influence on the English language. The Turing test, ‘a test for intelligence in a computer, requiring that a […]

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From CAPTCHA to morphogen: how Alan Turing has influenced modern English

Alan_Turing_Memorial

23 June 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, 20th century mathematician and computer scientist. Turing is most famous today for his cryptanalysis work during World War II in which he and others at Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma ciphers and created the first electronic computers. But his influence stretches far […]

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