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

What sound does a French duck make? (Or onomatopoeia in different languages)

Duck

Hearing is important for humans to understand the world around them and it lies in our nature to want to describe what we hear. To do this, we frequently make use of onomatopoeias. But what exactly is an onomatopoeia? It is ‘the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named’. Examples […]

What is the origin of the word ‘serendipity’?

Origin of serendipity?

The wonderfully onomatopoeic serendipity, which is indeed often chosen as Britons’ favourite English word (alongside nincompoop and discombobulate), means the making of happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. It was invented by the writer and politician Horace Walpole in 1754 as an allusion to Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka. Walpole was a prolific […]

Die, my dear Doctor, that’s the last thing I shall do!

Famous last words

‘Famous last words’ in the literal sense means someone’s final remarks before they die, but the phrase is often said as an ironic comment on an overconfident assertion that may later be proved wrong. A classic example of the two senses combined is the case of the Union general John Sedgwick, whose last words immediately […]

Hibernating words and linguistic cicadas

Cicada

Most words develop along fairly predictable paths. They may be quotidian words, such as set, which accrue new shades of meanings along the course of a very long life, and which end up with so many dozens of definitions that it is extremely difficult to see where one begins and another ends. Some words may […]

March Madness: Championship Final

Championship Final

This is it, folks. We’ve reached the main event: the winner-takes-all championship final of the Oxford Dictionaries Bracket Challenge. After three rounds of brutal takedowns, white-knuckled anticipation, and not a little bit of hyperbole, only two worthy contenders are left to complete for the title of Favorite Sport Expression. Saved by the bell Defined in […]

Rein or reign? Hold your horses before applying pen to paper…

Rein or reign?

It wasn’t that many moons ago that horses were an integral part of our daily lives: in war and peace, in commerce and agriculture, they proved their worth by pulling various carts, carriages, and barges or they carried individual riders, from messengers to cavalry, on their backs. Since the dawn of the age of the […]

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Name that cloud

Cirrus clouds

World Meteorology Day marks a highly successful collaboration under the World Meteorological Organization, involving every country, large or small, rich or poor. Weather affects every single person (every living being) on the planet, but why do people feel meteorology is not for them? Why do they even find it so difficult to identify different types […]

Mad Men, the culture of consumerism, and the language of advertising

Madison Avenue

Mad Men, the ’60s-era drama about the men and women working in a New York advertising agency, makes its long-awaited return this weekend after a 17-month long hiatus. Although less obvious than the stellar art direction and costume design in transporting viewers into a specific time, language plays an important role in creating the lived-in […]

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