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

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 […]

Reports of the death of the cassette tape are greatly exaggerated

Cassette tapes

A few months back Oxford University Press received a good deal of attention in response to an announcement about new words that would be added to the 12th edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (among them mankini, cyberbullying, and retweet). While the responses were largely positive, there was a certain amount of disquiet, which is […]

Hungerful and dee-do – the invention of language

The invention of language

As a publicist, I spend a lot of time writing: pitch letters, press releases, emails, they take up the large part of my day. Then on rare occasions, when I unchain myself from my desk and get out into the world to have live conversations with people, it can feel like all sense of spoken […]

The prime minister in your teapot, the hero on your plate: eponyms in Oxford Dictionaries

Cup of tea

If you were asked to think about the link between real-life people and English language dictionaries, the connection you’d probably make is lexicographers—people like the great Dr Johnson or the OED’s founder James Murray, who compiled those mighty reference works on which we rely for information and enjoyment. And you’d be right, up to a […]

The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?

The language of Downton Abbey

As some of us still dry our tears and reel from the shocking cliffhanger ending to the second series of Downton Abbey, others have been doing a double take at the supposed anachronisms of language being uttered by a number of the characters. A few seemingly modern phrases that have been singled out in the […]

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Interactive fireworks image: Oooh! Ahhhh!

Fireworks

The names of fireworks conjure up an image of great spectacle  –  you can imagine fizgigs, jumping jacks, and rockets filling the night sky and then disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. Many of the names are familiar, but some may be less so. How about Bengal lights and maroons? Who is the Catherine […]

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