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

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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Mitigate or militate?

Mitigate or militate

These two verbs have similar spellings and they sound alike when they are pronounced. As a result, it’s easy to get them confused, even though their meanings are completely different. Mitigate means ‘make something less harmful, severe, or bad’. It’s often used in formal or official contexts, as in the following sentences from the Oxford […]

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Father’s Day words

dad

Father’s Day is that day of the year on which fathers are particularly honoured by their children, usually with greeting cards and gifts. It was first observed in the state of Washington in 1910. In the US, South Africa, and Britain, it is usually the third Sunday in June; in Australia, the first Sunday in […]

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Rulers and monarchs in ancient and modern times

Crown

The second Saturday in June sees the birthday parade of Queen Elizabeth II. This annual display of pomp and pageantry on London’s Horse Guards Parade is known as trooping the colour, and marks Her Majesty’s official birthday – while her real birthday is on 21 April. The Queen’s official birthday is celebrated in many Commonwealth […]

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