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

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2011: ‘squeezed middle’

Squeezed middle

You’d think that choosing the standout word of the year would be a contentious affair. So many possibilities, you’d guess, and so many linguistic loves, hates, and indifferences to deal with amongst those who debate it. The truth is that, normally, choosing the word of the year is a slam dunk. Take ‘bling’, the obvious […]

Squeezed middle, hacktivism, Occupy, or facepalm: what makes a Word of the Year?

What makes a Word of the Year?

Every year, the dictionaries teams at Oxford University Press in the UK and the US put their heads together and come up with a Word (or Phrase) of the Year. And this year has been no different, although for the first time ever, the UK and US dictionaries teams have agreed on a global Word […]

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More than just moccasins: American Indian words in English

More than just moccasins

A menagerie of words Most English speakers could easily identify words like tomahawk, moccasin, or tepee as having Amerindian origins (from Virginia Algonquian, Powhatan, and Sioux, respectively), but indigenous American languages have given English many other words which have now become so fully naturalized that their roots often go unrecognized. In fact, fully half of […]

The future of language: South African English in Zoo City

South African English in Zoo City

Earlier this year South African author Lauren Beukes won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction for her second novel Zoo City. It was a big moment for the author as it puts her in the company of illustrious recent winners such as, among others, China Miéville (who has won it three times […]

The language of fandom: from Twihards to Tolkienites

The language of fandom

As Breaking Dawn, the film adaptation of the fourth and final Twilight novel is released, we take a look at the language of fandom. Fandom and cultural discourse What is it about fan culture? Why does it seem like ‘Team Edward’ vs ‘Team Jacob’ has become the biggest cultural divider since Coke vs Pepsi? How […]

Invented languages: from Na’vi and Elvish to Standard English?

From Elvish to Klingon

When you hear the term ‘invented language’, you probably think first of the famous imaginary languages of fiction, for instance, the mind-numbing Newspeak of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or the Russian-based criminal argot Nadsat in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, or Elvish and other languages in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. […]

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Performance-wise, adverbs are alive and kicking!

Adverbs

Thankfully, most of us negotiate post-educational life very well without having to do much (or any) conscious grammatical analysis. My hunch is that if you put twenty people into a room and asked them to say what an adverb is, they might look rather uncomfortable or even try to flee. If you applied some metaphorical […]

Our words remember them – language of the First World War

Poppies

In July 1917, after three years of bloody war, anti-German feeling in Britain was reaching a feverish peak. Xenophobic mutterings about the suitability of having a German on the throne had been heard since 1914. The fact that the Royal family shared part of its name, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with the Gotha bombers responsible for the devastating […]

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