quotations

Borrowed words: editing the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

I have been Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations for over 15 years, and the interest of the work is as keen as ever. The joy of ODQ is that its content (based firmly on what is being quoted) is unpredictable and uncontrollable: no-one, however cleverly they craft a current soundbite, can ensure that […]

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America's war on language

America’s war on language

In April, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. In addition to sending troops to fight in Europe, Americans waged war on the language of the enemy at home. German was the second most commonly-spoken language in America, and banning it seemed the way to stop German spies cold. Plus, immigrants had always been […]

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A dog chewing on a bone.

10 unusual synonyms for ‘chew’

Do you manducate? Do you chavel? The chances are the answer is ‘yes’ to both these questions; they are both synonyms for chew. Taking a look in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, we’ve come up with 10 unusual words you can use in place of chew next time you’re chomping on your […]

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all told

Telling all about ‘all told’

What is it we tell when things are all told? It’s a common enough expression.  A newspaper observes of a political candidate that “All told, [she] has taken some $19,650 in campaign contributions.” Of a moment in a Miley Cyrus concert a magazine writes, “All told, it was one of the most arresting moments of […]

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How well can you do on our comic book quiz?

How well do you know the language of comic books?

Are you a comic book fan as well as a language maven? Prove it with the OxfordWords comics quiz! Comic books are often looked down upon as a juvenile form of literature, but the medium has spawned countless works and even contributed many catchphrases (most of which come from superheroes) into the modern English lexicon. […]

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beer last call

From First World problems to last calls: notes on the OED update

Katherine Connor Martin, Head of US Dictionaries, takes a closer look some of the new additions in this quarter’s update to the OED. Today’s quarterly update is devoted to the revision of several core words in the vocabulary of English, including high and low, fact, case, day, week, group, and company. The new versions of […]

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cough syrup

Ahem, ahem: the language of coughing

The language of coughing is not, on the face of it, a particularly expressive one. Most usually associated with colds and winter mornings, it isn’t a medium that lends itself to communication – indeed, it is more likely to disperse a crowd than attract eager listeners. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring the […]

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A Brit in America struggles with understanding and being understood.

The linguistic confusion of a Brit in America

When you’re a Brit living in the United States, as I am, sooner or later – and it’s usually sooner, even if you’re trying hard to fit in – you’ll end up using a word or phrase that your interlocutor just doesn’t understand. Everyone knows the obvious pitfalls, and they’re constant causes of amusement or […]

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