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

Let’s just “call a cat a cat”

Cat

Just a few weeks ago Christine Lindberg explored phrases and idioms that revealed the somewhat surprising way in which the English language describes man’s best friend. But what about that equally popular household pet – the beloved, fluffy, crazy cat? (Those three adjectives are among some of the most popular in the English language to […]

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Independence Day in the USA

Apple pie

Independence Day is celebrated in the USA on the fourth of July and for those of you who know bupkis about it, the tag cloud below illustrates just a few American icons included in our dictionary to give you bang for your buck. All are as American as apple pie, so whether you choose to […]

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Canadian English: part one

Canadian flag

When in Canada, eh? In 1971, a CBC radio show asked listeners to complete the following sentence: “as Canadian as…” The idea was to find a national equivalent to “as American as apple pie” or “as English as tuppence.” Suggestions might have included “as Canadian as a butter tart” or even a Nanaimo bar. (Loonies […]

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The Oxford Comma: Hart’s Rules

Comma

The presence or lack of a comma before and or or in a list of three or more items is the subject of much debate. Such a comma is known as a serial comma. For a century it has been part of Oxford University Press style to retain or impose this last comma consistently, to […]

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Shifted meanings: marriage

Just married

Last week New York became the sixth state in the US (and the largest so far) to pass legislation that would allow same-sex marriage. The law was promptly signed by the Governor, and should be in effect within the month. It is fairly common knowledge that the word gay has changed its meaning over the […]

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Unspellable words? Impossible!

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s phrase ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable’ points us to the un- words, an unexhausted yet unassuming and unexplored group of words which stand as a challenge to Napoleon. The Emperor once said ‘the word impossible is not in my dictionary’. Dictionaries have got a lot better since Napoleon’s day and impossible […]

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Anyone for tennis?

Tennis ball

We are now well and truly into the first week of Wimbledon, the third Grand Slam event of the tennis calendar, and provided the weather holds, a feast of tennis beckons, with a plentiful supply of the traditional strawberries and cream of course. Keeping it real The modern game has its origins in real tennis, a […]

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Food, glorious food: take our quiz

Pretzel

Travel broadens the mind, they say, but it can also enrich the language as a whole. Food names have entered English from many routes: as imported goods were brought to our shores in past centuries, we encountered terms such as garam masala and macaroni. Later additions to the language reflect the growth of mass travel […]

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