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

Alluding to illusions …

Illusion

Emmy host Jimmy Fallon … made a sly illusion to Conan O’Brien’s firing as host of “The Tonight Show”. CNN transcripts, August 2010 (taken from the Oxford English Corpus). As the above incorrect usage shows, among many troublesome twosomes in the English language are illusion and allusion. It doesn’t help that their pronunciations are similar, […]

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What do you call a baby owl

What do you call a baby owl and other baby animals?

We’re frequently asked whether there is a word for a specific baby animal in Oxford Dictionaries Online. The table below shows a list of animals with the name of the young animal next to it. Did you know, for example, that a baby eel is an elver, and a baby hare a leveret? Enjoy browsing […]

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Inverted meanings: sick, bad, and wicked

Skater

A common trick of slang is to invert meanings, so that seemingly negative words are used as terms of approval. Bad and wicked are two established examples, although it may surprise you to see just how far back their positive uses go. The OED records ‘bad’ and ‘wicked’ used in a positive sense as long […]

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Chipping away at British and American English

Fish and chips

It has been said that Great Britain and the United States are two nations divided by a common language. When it comes to potatoes, this is most evident in three words: chips, fries, and crisps. Basically, British crisps are US chips, while British chips are US fries/French fries. Confused? Let’s look a little closer. *Orange* […]

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South African English: braais, babalaas, and a monkey’s wedding

Kombi

On 27 April South Africans celebrate Freedom Day, the anniversary of the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. As a South African ex-pat living in the UK and working for Oxford Dictionaries, I often think about the similarities and differences between the English spoken ‘back home’ and standard British English. Robots have taken over the […]

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Author? Author?

Gulliver's Travels

We might spend our days on the Net, but we all love books at Oxford Dictionaries Online. Here’s an interactive quiz in honour of World Book Day, which gives a selection of words to be matched up with the authors who invented them. Think that Oscar Wilde coined the word witticism? Click to play and […]

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That’s so, like, totally random …

Random

In the 1990s teenagers called everything and everyone sad – but in the early 2000s this favourite word of disapproval was overtaken by random. In this second decade of the twenty-first century, even those well out of their teens can be heard using it. According to the OED, the ‘without method or conscious decision’ sense […]

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Incony questrists: Shakespeare’s ‘rare ornaments’ of the English language

Shakespeare

Shakespeare was writing at a time when the English language was in an unusual state of flux. Many English books, and even plays (though not those intended for the popular theatre) were still written wholly in Latin, because this was the best way to achieve an international readership. Shakespeare himself uses many Latin tags (Latin […]

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