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

Indebted to…Italy

Indebted to... Italy

Try this experiment: think of a word, any word, that we use regularly in English which has clear Italian origins before reading on. Ready? It’s more than likely you’ve come up with a gastronomic term – a snap poll I took last week placed pizza, spaghetti, and cappuccino as front runners (along with ciao, which […]

Take our band names quiz

Take our band names quiz

Would the Beach Boys have sounded the same if they had been called Carl and the Passions? Does On A Friday convey the same passion as Radiohead? Would teenagers have found as much to scream about had The Executive not evolved into Wham? How much do you know about band names? Take our quiz and […]

‘Hackergate’: the language of scandal

‘Hackergate’: the language of scandal

As the phone-hacking scandal continues to loom large in much of the world’s media, so we hear more and more instances of associated vocabulary – fit and proper, hacking, blagging. Not all of these terms are new – after all hacking has been around for quite some time – but they demonstrate how often scandals […]

All in a day’s work: the days of the week

All in a day's work

The Latin days of the week in imperial Rome were named after the planets, which in turn were named after gods. These names were adopted in translated form by the English and other Germanic peoples. In most cases the Germanic names have substituted the Roman god’s name with that of a comparable one from the […]

Which word is older?

Escalator

Arnold Zwicky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University, several years ago coined a term for the mistaken belief that a word is newer than it actually is – the recency illusion. This is an easy trap to fall into – many people feel that if a word is new to them that it must be […]

Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling.  It’s a great leveller. The most academically decorated can find it difficult, and someone without a single formal qualification can find it as easy as, well, as easy as ABC.  If you are lucky enough to be in the latter category, it can be bewildering to encounter others who are not equally as adept […]

Keep your friends close, and your false friends even closer

False friends

As an English speaker learning French, it is always a relief to come across a familiar word and to be able to guess its meaning without having to trawl through a bilingual dictionary: restaurant, hôtel, accompagnement. The English equivalents haven’t strayed too far from the French words they derived from, so it’s simple to work […]

When ‘bittersweet’ is a good thing

Apples

For cider makers, June was probably a busy month. October’s apple pressing produced the juice which has been quietly fermenting through winter and spring, and now the rough young cider must be put into bottles and set aside to mature. Cider-making has a rich vocabulary, so to ease my slight guilt at not yet having […]

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