Interactive quiz: how well do you know the language of film?

Film quiz

Hollywood doesn’t pay much attention to lexicographers (Billy Wilder’s 1941 comedy Ball of Fire is the notable exception), but lexicographers are duty-bound to make a careful study of the world of film. The Oxford English Dictionary regularly studies screenplays as part of its research programme, and cites nearly 200 examples from film scripts. During the […]

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Watch out for the birdie?

Watch out for the birdie

…an accountant found guilty of sending a “menacing tweet” was the victim of a legal “steamroller” that threatened to make the law look silly… The Telegraph 8 February 2012 What comes into your head when you see the words ‘menacing’ and ‘tweet’ side by side, as in the above? It initially struck me as being […]

Word in the news: diva

Diva

Last week, music lovers learned of the untimely death of celebrated pop and R&B singer Whitney Houston. Blessed with extraordinary vocal talent and marred by tumultuous personal struggles, Whitney will be remembered all around the world as the ultimate diva. The news coverage of her passing uses language that never once allows us to overlook […]

“Zoots you, sir”: the language of clothes

London Fashion Week

The world of fashion is definitely one of those areas where words have to be coined, blended, or repurposed to describe ever more interesting and inventive garments. The current English dictionary in Oxford Dictionaries Online contains over a thousand words and phrases classified as garments or types of clothing – from an aigrette (‘a headdress […]

“The Dickens, reminiscent of Charles”: Boz and the language of hip-hop

Ghetto blaster

“As the plot thickens, it gives me the dickens, reminiscent of Charles…” So unfolds the narrative in “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”, from OutKast’s 1998 album Aquemini, a cornerstone of late 90s southern hip-hop and one of my favorites. Last week, I listened to Andre utter these lyrics once again, and I wondered, what does it really mean to […]

Six obsolete endearments for old-fashioned romantics

Long-eared bat

Some terms of affection, like darling, have endured in the English language from the outset, while others have come and gone in less than a century. The language of love thrives on metaphor, but precisely what connotes affection has changed over time. Some endearments employed by love poets in centuries past, like sparling (a type […]

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Where the dickens did that word come from?

Oliver Twist

Did you know that when you get ‘the creeps’, ‘clap eyes’ on someone, or find yourself ‘flummoxed’, you are recalling expressions first used by the novelist Charles Dickens? Dickens has long been famous for coining some of the most creative character names in English literature (the Fezziwigs, the Jellybys, the Pardiggles, Chevy Slyme, Mrs Spottletoe, […]

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Was a parting shot once a real bullet?

Bullet hole

A parting shot, a phrase used to mean a final remark, usually pointed or cutting, made by a person at the moment of leaving, started out as something quite different: a ‘Parthian shot’. And it was indeed both live and dangerous. The Parthians were an ancient race living in southwest Asia; they were skilled warriors […]

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