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

Tag: American English

american flag

America’s War on Language

2014 marks the centennial of World War I, time to take a closer look at one of its offshoots, America’s little-known War on Language. In April, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. In addition to sending troops to fight in Europe, Americans waged war on the language of the enemy at home. German was […]

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American british

‘Oh see, can you say…’ linguistic confusion for a Brit in America

When you’re a Brit living in the United States, as I am, sooner or later – and it’s usually sooner, even if you’re trying hard to fit in – you’ll end up using a word or phrase that your interlocutor just doesn’t understand. Everyone knows the obvious pitfalls, and they’re constant causes of amusement or […]

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football redskins

What is the definition of redskin?

What is the definition of redskin? This week Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder told ESPN, “Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride.” The reclamation of the word — often seen as a derogatory to Native Americans — has become a major […]

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cookies

Biscuit vs. cookie: a transatlantic debate

“England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” So said George Bernard Shaw (allegedly). Much has been written about words that are chiefly used in one country or the other (for example, eggplant in the US and aubergine in the UK), but there are also words that exist in both countries but […]

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US Supreme Court

How do British and American attitudes to dictionaries differ?

For 20 years, 14 of those in England, I’ve been giving lectures about the social power afforded to dictionaries, exhorting my students to discard the belief that dictionaries are infallible authorities. The students laugh at my stories about nuns who told me that ain’t couldn’t be a word because it wasn’t in the (school) dictionary […]

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Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Bridesmen and best maids: surprising facts about wedding words

Brides weren’t always female While the oldest recorded sense of bride is the familiar one referring to a woman, there is some evidence of the word being used in a gender-neutral manner (like spouse) from the 15th to the early 17th century:  “Sweet Daughter deer…Isis blesse thee and thy Bride, With golden Fruit” (Joshua Sylvester, […]

Why did the zebra cross the road? The language of driving in the US and UK

Why did the zebra cross the road? The language of driving in the US and UK

In the UK’s not-too-distant past, it was possible for most any Tom, Dick, or Harry (with a little money) to plunk himself down in the driver’s seat of an automobile, turn on the ignition, and zip around to his heart’s content—without ever having taken a test. Collective shudder. So I think we can all be […]

Bathtub gin, blind tigers, and bootleggers: the language of the speakeasy

Bathtub gin, blind tigers, and bootleggers: the language of the speakeasy

We’ve a lot invested in the idea of Prohibition as an era of wild drunkenness, all-night parties and lawlessness. And such language! Back in the day – in this case from early 1920 to late 1933 – it became increasingly fashionable in urban areas for celebrities and the upper-middle classes to get dolled up in […]

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