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

Which word is older?

Escalator

Arnold Zwicky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University, several years ago coined a term for the mistaken belief that a word is newer than it actually is – the recency illusion. This is an easy trap to fall into – many people feel that if a word is new to them that it must be […]

Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling.  It’s a great leveller. The most academically decorated can find it difficult, and someone without a single formal qualification can find it as easy as, well, as easy as ABC.  If you are lucky enough to be in the latter category, it can be bewildering to encounter others who are not equally as adept […]

Keep your friends close, and your false friends even closer

False friends

As an English speaker learning French, it is always a relief to come across a familiar word and to be able to guess its meaning without having to trawl through a bilingual dictionary: restaurant, hôtel, accompagnement. The English equivalents haven’t strayed too far from the French words they derived from, so it’s simple to work […]

When ‘bittersweet’ is a good thing

Apples

For cider makers, June was probably a busy month. October’s apple pressing produced the juice which has been quietly fermenting through winter and spring, and now the rough young cider must be put into bottles and set aside to mature. Cider-making has a rich vocabulary, so to ease my slight guilt at not yet having […]

Redundant expressions

Redundant expressions

Bad habits are hard to break A bad practice in writing (and speaking) is redundancy. Anyone who has sat through a speech that goes round and round and uses the same few words over and over knows what I mean. We may sometimes do this deliberately, for stylistic reasons, or in order to raise the […]

Canadian English: part two

Canadian English

Canadianisms Far more than any other country, Canadians are known for turning their statements into rhetorical questions by adding eh? to the end, or even the middle, of a sentence. It’s a useful way to involve the listener in what is being said, whether by inviting agreement or just by checking to see whether the […]

Brassies, bunkers, and bogeys: celebrating The Open

Brassies, bunkers, and bogeys

The game of golf has a long established history – the OED records the word as far back as 1457. From the moment when the first ball was addressed and the subsequent first putt was sunk, the English language has been enriched with golfing terms, some of which are illustrated in the accompanying word cloud. […]

Abattoir to zigzag: English words of French origin

Arc de Triomphe

To commemorate the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 we are looking at English words of French origin. Hover over the image below to discover a selection of English words derived from French, from abattoir to zigzag. Click on the words to go straight to the dictionary entries.   AndrewHorne at en.wikipedia [GFDL […]

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