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

Diacritics? They’re just passé!

Dogs Dinner

There is a moment in the life of every British 12-year-old in the first year of secondary school (that’s high school, for non-Brits), when, sitting down in front of their French teacher for the first time, they are introduced to the mysteries of accented letters. The twenty-six letters that have served them so well for […]

Affect-effect

Affect versus effect

Every month, affect is one of the most searched-for words in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Its high ranking in our search logs is probably because a lot of people are confused about the difference between affect and effect, two words which have almost the same spelling, but very different meanings. The basic difference between them is […]

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I Mubarak, you Mubaraked, they were Mubaraking?

mubarak

There have been a good number of comments tweeted and posted online over the past few weeks about the possibility of turning Mubarak, the name of the recently resigned Egyptian leader, into a verb. Some of the suggestions as to what it might mean are ‘to stick to something like glue’, ‘to refuse to leave’, […]

Beware the hares of March

Hare

When I think about the month of March, two things spring to mind: the March hare from Alice in Wonderland and the familiar quotation from Julius Caesar:  ‘Beware the ides of March’. In my mind, the two have become somewhat conflated, so I always picture ‘the ides of March’ as a posse of incongruously terrifying […]

What’s the problem with meteorology?

Barometer

Why is it that some people have difficulty in saying certain words? My grandmother could never pronounce ‘helicopter’ (it always came out as ‘helicotter’) and a friend’s wife could never manage ‘linoleum’ (‘liloleum’). I’ve found an extraordinary number of people have problems with ‘meteorology’. Even my adult-education students invariably had difficulty. Tell them to think […]

Word trends: viral

Computer virus

Viral now has more meanings than it used to. In the twentieth century, you would only have encountered this word in the physiological context of diseases: Rabies is an acute viral infection that is extremely rare in the UK. A quarter of the residents had high levels of viral hepatitis. In the twenty-first century, most […]

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Are Chinese characters pictures?

Have you ever wondered if Chinese characters began life as ‘pictures’ of physical objects? If not, what is the meaning of the symbols and do they hold any significance? As a non-native speaker of Chinese, I’m often asked about this. The subject is of interest to many, not just those who study Sinology. While some […]

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There’s nothing fishy about animal words

Mouse

The English language is swarming with animal words. It seems that almost every common animal in our midst has attached its name to some verb or noun. One can be dogged in the pursuit of something, and pig out when one has got it. You can snake through to get somewhere, and horse around when […]

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