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

The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?

The language of Downton Abbey

As some of us still dry our tears and reel from the shocking cliffhanger ending to the second series of Downton Abbey, others have been doing a double take at the supposed anachronisms of language being uttered by a number of the characters. A few seemingly modern phrases that have been singled out in the […]

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Interactive fireworks image: Oooh! Ahhhh!

Fireworks

The names of fireworks conjure up an image of great spectacle  –  you can imagine fizgigs, jumping jacks, and rockets filling the night sky and then disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. Many of the names are familiar, but some may be less so. How about Bengal lights and maroons? Who is the Catherine […]

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Remember, remember… pyrotechnic displays that amaze (and terrify)

Bonfire Night

It’s a custom peculiar to Britain, but for school children (and some adults) all over the country, as November begins, the following words march round and round. Remember remember the fifth of November Gunpowder, treason and plot Confession time.  I have an uneasy relationship with fireworks, something which became apparent in early childhood. As a […]

Scarecrows: those anthropomorphic (not avian) symbols of the season

Scarecrow

The vestiges of Halloween linger in various front yards and on the occasional porch step, but mostly by now the skeletons and witches have retreated into storage along with the gossamer spider webs, howling mummies, and detached body parts that adorned our neighborhoods so cheerfully in our annual salute to October 31. A contraction of […]

Mr_Mrs

What are ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ short for?

  The abbreviations Mr and Mrs are in common use, and are straightforward to pronounce when we see them written down:  an approximation would be ‘mister’ and ‘missus’. But what are they abbreviations of? We seldom, if ever, write them out in full – and most of us probably never stop to think what the full […]

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Are you sitting comfortably?

Furniture

Regular readers of this blog may remember a recent poll in which we posed the following question: What do you call the piece of furniture pictured below? Sofa Couch Settee Other The results were as follows: 58% were in favour of sofa, 29% plumped for couch, settee was chosen by 9%, and 4% of respondents […]

Witches, warlocks, and werewolves: an interactive Halloween timeline

Interactive Halloween timeline

Halloween conjures up lots of lovely childhood memories for me. We didn’t go trick or treating, we went guising, but the basic premise was the same – we would dress up and visit neighbouring houses, but in order to be rewarded with sweets or small amounts of money, we had to sing for our supper […]

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A Trojan Horse in the Tardis: it’s all an allusion…

Tardis

At the beginning of October the Guardian newspaper published a survey of the best independent bookshops in the UK. Two were described in strikingly similar terms: ‘A Tardis among bookshops, [it] appears narrow at first glance, but packs a lot inside’ in one case, and ‘The Tardis-like bookshop is beautiful, with a stained-glass window depicting […]

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