The Hanging Garden – remarks on the use of ancient languages

9780199662265

A fruitful line of research for my book on the Hanging Garden of Babylon was analysis of Babylonian words. They were written in the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) script, which is very different from an alphabet. Most alphabets have about 30 letters, and C, for instance, is always C even if it is pronounced in a variety […]

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Speaking pukka

Speaking pukka

‘I cannot endure a swell, even though his whiskers are pucka’. G. O. Trevelyan The Dawk Bungalow (1863) The word pukka enjoys an unusual status in Britain both as a current slang term and a dusty relic of the Raj. As a London slang term, pukka means first-rate or excellent. The word rose to prominence […]

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Tweet geekery and epic crowdsourcing: an Oxford English Dictionary update

Tweet geekery and epic crowdsourcing: an Oxford English Dictionary update

Today the Oxford English Dictionary announces its latest update, which sees the inclusion of over 1200 newly revised and updated words. The additions bring the OED’s total number of entries – including headwords, sub-senses, phrases, and compounds – to over 823,000. Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing words included in the OED […]

Words must advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers in the OED

Words must advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers in the OED

13 June 2013 would have been the 120th birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers, born on that date in 1893. Detective novelist, Christian writer, Dante translator, and glorious wordsmith, she was a true daughter of Oxford, blood and bone: her father was chaplain of Christ Church Cathedral School, and she took first class honours in medieval […]

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Cole Porter: the tinpantithesis of poetry

Cole Porter: the tinpantithesis of poetry

Cole Porter was one of the few songwriters of his era who wrote both music and lyrics. Another was his friend Irving Berlin. The two men shared a private joke. Whenever a songwriting team–such as Ira and George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, or Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern—had a hit, Porter and Berlin […]

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Chasing the rainbow connection

Chasing the rainbow connection

Reflect and refract When was the last time you looked out the window and said, “Oh look! There’s a many-coloured refraction of light from drops of water!”? Well – OK, if you said that last week then feel free to skip the next paragraph, but most of us refer to the sudden splash of colours […]

You Can Say That Again: On Poetry Reading(s)

You Can Say That Again: On Poetry Reading(s)

Invite someone to a poetry reading and, even in today’s verse-enlightened times, they’ll generally say ‘No, you’re alright’ – meaning ‘I would rather shoot myself.’ And you understand because you know how it can be, trapped in the audience of a bad reading. Now and then people are obliged to faint and the whole row helps […]

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Celebrating Russian Language Day

Celebrating Russian Language Day

Pushkin 6 June is UN Russian Language Day, which coincides with the birth of Aleksandr Pushkin (Александр Пушкин), possibly the most well-known Russian poet, and often referred to as the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was exceptional for not only writing about life as it was known, something unusual at the time, but also […]

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