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

Confessions of a pedant

Pedantry

We all know what a taxi is There are two big problems about working for a dictionary. The first is that everyone assumes you know the meaning of every word, which is setting the bar rather high. There are about 600,000 words and senses in the OED. Any one of them could crop up at […]

This blog is a he

This blog is a he

Cast your mind back to your twelve-year-old self stuck in the classroom on a Friday afternoon in the middle of a French lesson. (Or German, or Spanish, for that matter.) If you grew up as a native monolingual English speaker, what was the thing you struggled with the most when learning a foreign language? Was […]

Spelling can be a hot potatoe

Spelling can be a hot potatoe

The 2012 presidential election is but a little more than nine months away, which means that there are a host of candidates all furiously vying for the attention of the public and the money of the donors. Many of these candidates are speaking extemporaneously a good deal, and as is inevitable in such cases, gaffes […]

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Interactive quiz: Dickens or what the dickens?

Dickens quiz

2012 sees the bicentenary of one of the great and prolific authors of the English literary canon – Charles Dickens. His contribution to literature speaks for itself, but his contribution to the English language is also significant. In particular, the names of some of his characters have entered the language as words in their own […]

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A look at Australian English past and present

Australian English

The 26th of January is Australia Day. In this post, we look at Australian English. Professor Bruce Moore, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, Australian National University , has this to say about Australian English in an article on the OED website: Australian English differs from other Englishes primarily in its accent and vocabulary. […]

Burns suppers: neeps, tatties, and A Toast to the Lassies

Burns supper

January 25th is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, when Burns suppers are held in commemoration of the Scottish poet and lyricist. Despite being the national bard of Scotland, his influence spreads much further than those national borders, and his works have been translated into many languages including Russian and Czech. There are […]

Why do we call false sentiment ‘crocodile tears’? Can crocodiles really cry?

crocodile

To shed crocodile tears is to put on an insincere act of being sad. The expression is very old, dating back to the mid-sixteenth century. An account of the life of Edmund Grindal, the sixteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, quotes him as saying, ‘I begin to fear, lest his humility . . . be a counterfeit […]

It’s a quotation! It’s a proverb! It’s a phrase!

A leopard can't change his spots

Superman himself would often have problems deciding whether a saying is a quotation, a proverb, or a phrase. The lines are blurred: a proverb can be defined as ‘a short, well-known pithy saying’, but a quotation is ‘a group of words repeated by someone other than the original author’ and in any case a phrase […]

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