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

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 […]

International Women’s Day

dictionary_critical_theory

To celebrate International Women’s Day, here is an extract on feminism from the Dictionary of Critical Theory, edited by Ian Buchanan. Please note that links in this extract are to the dictionary entries in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Feminism One of the most important social movements of the past two centuries and certainly the social movement […]

Are you calling me a geek? Why, *thank you*

Geek

Geek has seen an interesting transformation in meaning over the last couple of decades. The word used to be a cruel and critical label attached to clever, but socially awkward, people – such as computer or science geeks. The origin of this sense of the word can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, […]

Blurring the lines between fiction and reality

Romeo and Juliet

Have you ever been caught in a Catch-22 situation? Do you get the eerie feeling that Big Brother is watching you as you spy yet another CCTV camera filming your every move? Or perhaps you’re grinning like a Cheshire cat having just won another game of hangman on Oxford Dictionaries Online? The English language is […]

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