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

Wall of words: the Berlin Wall fifty years on

Wall of words: the Berlin Wall fifty years on

The Berlin Wall was built fifty years ago on 13 August 1961. Like the concrete wall, the word wall divides Europe linguistically. Some European languages, like German and French, form their words for wall from the Latin murus. So the German for Berlin Wall is die Berliner Mauer. English, Irish, and other languages use another […]

Eating your words

Eating your words

“Keep your words sweet – you may have to eat them” is an aphorism often attributed to the French Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet, although variants of this phrase turn up in a number of other places. Grellet was perhaps a man who was aware of the etymological background of some English words for food, for […]

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A list of phobias from atelophobia to zelotypophobia

We define a phobia as ‘an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something’. You are probably aware of the more common phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), and agoraphobia (fear of open places), but did you know there are also words which describe the fear of idleness, […]

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What were your top lookups in the past year?

What were your top lookups?

As part of our occasional search monitor series, here’s a clickable word cloud displaying about 350 of your most-viewed words in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Instead of looking at the last month, we thought it would be fun to look at the most looked-up words since Oxford Dictionaries Online’s inception. Over the last year a lot […]

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Why a catastrophe hasn’t always been bad news

Why a catastrophe hasn't always been bad news

The non-stop coverage this past month (at least in the United States) of the negotiations on raising the debt limit has propelled a number of words into prominence. Words and phrases such as ceiling, default, and credit rating have all received prime real estate in many newspapers. Along with these words, used largely in an […]

What could be nicer than nice?

What could be nicer than nice?

Picture the scene. I’m cooking lunch and put on some music to accompany the chopping when in comes Masie, who’s over from Washington. She picks up the CD case and looks at it with the sophistication that only a nine-year-old can manage. ‘Miss Harrison says you shouldn’t say that word.’ ‘Which word’s that?’ I say, […]

All hail the superbike!

All hail the superbike!

Congratulations to Carlos Checa, winner of Round 9 of this year’s Superbike World Championship held yesterday at Silverstone Circuit, a relatively short ride north from our base here in Oxford. If you are not a motorcyclist and you have never been to a race meeting, then the excitement and adrenaline generated by the spectacle may […]

Indebted to…Italy

Indebted to... Italy

Try this experiment: think of a word, any word, that we use regularly in English which has clear Italian origins before reading on. Ready? It’s more than likely you’ve come up with a gastronomic term – a snap poll I took last week placed pizza, spaghetti, and cappuccino as front runners (along with ciao, which […]

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