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

Who’s in charge of the English language?

Solar System

‘Watson’, says Holmes, ‘when you lie here and see all those stars what do you think?’ ‘Well, Holmes,’ says Watson. ‘All that grandeur and majesty. I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t someone in charge. How about you?’ ‘Me?’ says Holmes, ‘I think: Who’s pinched the tent?’ Venus and Jupiter have been extra-bright recently and […]

Is it OK to use ‘hopefully’ as a sentence adverb?

Hopefully

This past week saw a small explosion of anguished queries and dire proclamations in a number of newspaper headlines. “Is This the End of Proper Grammar?” asked the New York Times, and, not to be outdone, the Minnesota Daily trumpeted that the “AP Stylebook seeks to destroy the American way of life”. An article in […]

Gutbucket, hamfatter, and chops: the language of jazz

Jazz musician

Today is International Jazz Day and to celebrate we’ve delved into the language of this musical movement to bring you our favourite words and terms. From bebop to vocalese via the more unexpected gutbucket and hamfatter, you don’t need to be a jive-talking hepcat to enjoy the language associated with this popular musical genre. barrelhouse:  […]

Why does English have so many terms for being drunk?

Beer

There are many hundreds of words and phrases for being drunk, not just in modern times, but also throughout the history of slang. A study by one of today’s leading chroniclers of slang, Jonathon Green, of half a millennium’s worth of collected material—amounting to almost 100,000 words and phrases—shows the extent to which the same […]

A short history of Oxford dictionaries

A-short-history-of-Oxford-dictionaries-es

Oxford is famous for, among other things, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which has been the last word on words for more than a century. It is the largest dictionary of English, covering the history of the language, and aiming to include all vocabulary from the Early Middle English period (1150 ad) onward, along with […]

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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