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

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 […]

Red, White, and Blue: the international origins of our favorite Independence Day words

Red, White, and Blue: the international origins of our favorite Independence Day words

Today, many millions of citizens of the United States will engage in a number of rituals all centered on the marking of a historic event that occurred almost two hundred and fifty years ago – namely, the ratification by the Second Continental Congress of the Declaration of Independence (not the voting that passed that document, […]

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I was Country when Country wasn’t cool

I was Country when Country wasn't cool

Over a decade ago I experienced something of an epiphany. On a long drive under the endlessly wide skies of the Canadian prairie, I tired of the bland AOR from the FM stations on my hire car’s radio so I flipped over to AM and started listening to the first station I found, which was […]

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 […]

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