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

Going Dutch: English words of Dutch origin

going_dutch

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Is your boss a bit gruff? Maybe he is given to snooping–you probably wish he would go for a cruise on his yacht, maybe to the Netherlands, where all of these words come from. The English and Dutch languages are closely related, and despite three 17th-century […]

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Dreadtalk: the language of Rastafari

VSI Rastafari

An extract from Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction In rejecting Babylon’s aesthetic of grooming and Babylon’s language conventions, Rastas have developed the iconic dreadlocks hairstyle and their own argot, commonly referred to as ‘dreadtalk’ or ‘Rasta talk’ and as ‘Iyaric’ by others. Dreadtalk, as an in-group language that surfaced among Rastas in the 1940s, was […]

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Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Spellbinding: the classical roots of magical spells in Harry Potter

Magic book

It is no secret that the Harry Potter series is heavily influenced by the classics. JK Rowling studied Latin as a subsidiary subject at the University of Exeter, and often draws upon classical myth, rhetoric, and nomenclature in her writing. In particular, Rowling usually draws her magical words from classical Latin, and many of the […]

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Sein-Language

Seinfeld

Unarguably one of the most influential TV shows of all time, Seinfeld played a major role in shaping the social culture of the ‘90s. Famously self-defined as a “show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s insistent concern with the mundane often manifested itself as an obsession with the ultimate, universally-relatable everyday practice: language. Since the show had no […]

Surf’s up at the OED

surfing

As International Surfing Day takes place on 20 June this year, it is a good time to put on a favourite ‘Hawaiian shirt’ (currently first recorded in 1955) and take a look at some of the surfing terms in the Oxford English Dictionary. Early surf reports The vocabulary of surfing in the English language has […]

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The Hanging Garden – remarks on the use of ancient languages

9780199662265

A fruitful line of research for my book on the Hanging Garden of Babylon was analysis of Babylonian words. They were written in the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) script, which is very different from an alphabet. Most alphabets have about 30 letters, and C, for instance, is always C even if it is pronounced in a variety […]

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Celebrating language: the magic of Angela Carter

Celebrating Language; the Magic of Angela Carter

When Angela Carter was accused of overwriting, she cheerfully agreed that she pounced on opportunities to do so: ‘Embrace them? I would say that I half-suffocate them with the enthusiasm with which I wrap my arms and legs around them.’ The critic, Helen Stoddart, said she had ‘one of the most distinctive and daring voices […]

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