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

Hungerful and dee-do – the invention of language

The invention of language

As a publicist, I spend a lot of time writing: pitch letters, press releases, emails, they take up the large part of my day. Then on rare occasions, when I unchain myself from my desk and get out into the world to have live conversations with people, it can feel like all sense of spoken […]

The prime minister in your teapot, the hero on your plate: eponyms in Oxford Dictionaries

Cup of tea

If you were asked to think about the link between real-life people and English language dictionaries, the connection you’d probably make is lexicographers—people like the great Dr Johnson or the OED’s founder James Murray, who compiled those mighty reference works on which we rely for information and enjoyment. And you’d be right, up to a […]

The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?

The language of Downton Abbey

As some of us still dry our tears and reel from the shocking cliffhanger ending to the second series of Downton Abbey, others have been doing a double take at the supposed anachronisms of language being uttered by a number of the characters. A few seemingly modern phrases that have been singled out in the […]

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Interactive fireworks image: Oooh! Ahhhh!

Fireworks

The names of fireworks conjure up an image of great spectacle  –  you can imagine fizgigs, jumping jacks, and rockets filling the night sky and then disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. Many of the names are familiar, but some may be less so. How about Bengal lights and maroons? Who is the Catherine […]

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Remember, remember… pyrotechnic displays that amaze (and terrify)

Bonfire Night

It’s a custom peculiar to Britain, but for school children (and some adults) all over the country, as November begins, the following words march round and round. Remember remember the fifth of November Gunpowder, treason and plot Confession time.  I have an uneasy relationship with fireworks, something which became apparent in early childhood. As a […]

Scarecrows: those anthropomorphic (not avian) symbols of the season

Scarecrow

The vestiges of Halloween linger in various front yards and on the occasional porch step, but mostly by now the skeletons and witches have retreated into storage along with the gossamer spider webs, howling mummies, and detached body parts that adorned our neighborhoods so cheerfully in our annual salute to October 31. A contraction of […]

Mr_Mrs

What are ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ short for?

  The abbreviations Mr and Mrs are in common use, and are straightforward to pronounce when we see them written down:  an approximation would be ‘mister’ and ‘missus’. But what are they abbreviations of? We seldom, if ever, write them out in full – and most of us probably never stop to think what the full […]

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Are you sitting comfortably?

Furniture

Regular readers of this blog may remember a recent poll in which we posed the following question: What do you call the piece of furniture pictured below? Sofa Couch Settee Other The results were as follows: 58% were in favour of sofa, 29% plumped for couch, settee was chosen by 9%, and 4% of respondents […]

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