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

Mooselookmeguntic and Sopchoppy: America’s lakes and rivers

Early Great Lakes map

If you love words, chances are you have a favorite dictionary and probably a well-used thesaurus. Your bookshelves may hold some specialized resources as well – books about usage, idioms, puzzle solving, vocabulary building, rhyming, and so forth. If you have a particular fondness for words with an unusual flavor, you’ve probably browsed through books […]

A quest for agreement over collective nouns

Agreement

I’d like to begin with a quick mental workout. Do you know which of the following sentences, both found in the same British online newspaper in 2003, would be considered incorrect according to standard British and American usage, and why? Colchester police has also queried the proposal. Colchester police have launched a new tough approach […]

Sobriquets for scholars

Graduation

  Back to school As September begins, campus quads around the world once again teem with bewildered freshmen, a word first used of a university student at Cambridge over 500 years ago. In the half millennium since, the number of terms for university and college students has proliferated like a new student’s Facebook friends, and […]

It’s raining; it’s pouring

Storm in NYC

Much, if not all, of the East Coast of the United States was subject to a good drenching last week, courtesy of Hurricane Irene (which might be viewed as an odd name for a storm, given that it shares an etymological root with irenic). Consequently, we who live in that area have been pummeled not […]

Kawaii Japanese for everyday life

Sushi

The English language is no stranger to being infiltrated by loan words from other languages. As far back as the days of Old English, when there was enormous influence from the Viking invaders, English has always found room for new words and more ways to express similar concepts (e.g. maternal and motherly) and this continues […]

principal

Principle or principal?

It’s very easy to confuse these two words. Although they sound the same when they’re spoken, their meanings are quite different. Here are two sentences in which the wrong choice has been made: X The principle aim of the initiative is to make art accessible to everyone. X There are too many designers who do […]

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How Shakespearean are you?

How Shakespearean are you?

The words of Shakespeare are still held, nearly 400 years after his death, to be some of the most poetic ever written and his influence on modern English is indisputable. Contributions such as pound of flesh (Merchant of Venice) and green-eyed monster (Othello) are fairly well-known, but did you know that he was the first […]

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Shifted meanings: flash mob

Pillow Fight

Flash mob is a relatively recent addition to Oxford Dictionaries Online. The phrase is defined in the World English version of the dictionary as “a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again”, and with somewhat more brevity in the US version […]

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