Are there cases of Chinese whispers in language?

Whisper

Oral ‘mis-transmission’—whereby words change as they are passed on verbally and their new form moves towards becoming the norm—can be a subtle and slow process and the results are sometimes hard to detect. Indeed, some of our most common idioms and grammatical constructions are the result of linguistic Chinese whispers. to have another thing coming: […]

March Madness: The Elite Eight

Elite Eight

We’re back with Round 2 of the Oxford Dictionaries Bracket Challenge, and the competition is heating up. Saved by the bell, an expression I always assumed to have originated from a high school colloquialism thanks to the ubiquity of my favorite Saturday morning sitcom of yesteryear, trounced the formidable rough and tumble with an impressive […]

Cat lying down large

Lie or lay? Laying down the law on some puzzling verbs

Can you declare, hand on heart, that you always use the verbs lie and lay correctly? You don’t say? Does that go for all the tenses and forms of those verbs? There’s an abundance of evidence in every type of writing, from journalism to legal reports, that many English speakers are all at sea when […]

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A poetic tribute to Dr Seuss

A poetic tribute to Dr Seuss

Last week saw the 108th birthday of Dr Seuss, the pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991). An American writer of hugely successful books for children, he was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937) introduced Seuss’s iconic visual and verbal style. This was further extended in the […]

Slappers and dumb blondes: why we should care about language

Gender

With International Women’s Day being celebrated today, and US talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s controversial description of women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke as a ‘slut’ still causing uproar, journalist and writer Anne Sexton looks at the long and inglorious history of the word ‘slut’, and explains why gender-neutral language is still a hot topic. Is […]

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From cherub to jubilee: Hebrew’s influence on today’s English

Hamantaschen

If you’ve ever noshed on a bagel with your schnoz stuck in a schmaltzy novel, or schlepped to a party to schmooze with the mavens and machers, you know all about the influence of Yiddish on modern English. But what about Hebrew? Thanks to English translations of the Bible, Hebrew-derived words have been playing their […]

Word trends: digital

Digital

The word digital is one which has become very much associated with the modern world. However, it is not a modern word. The OED’s entry for digital actually contains evidence for the word as far back as the 15th century with the sense, ‘designating a whole number less than ten’. Another early sense referred to […]

The Madness of March and the Oxford Dictionaries Bracket Challenge

March Madness

March Madness, the single elimination college basketball tournament, is upon us. All month long, the top 68 teams in the US will duke it out in a series of rounds—some of which are remarkable feats in and of themselves, like the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four—for the NCAA Division I championship title. Oftentimes […]

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