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

H. P. Lovecraft and the Northern Gothic Tongue

H. P. Lovecraft

There is a very specific language of Gothic and horror literature that has its roots buried deep in the history of English: doom has been around since Old English; dread carries over from Middle English; eerie, that sense of vague superstitious uneasiness, enters Middle English through Scottish. The adjectives are harsh and guttural: moons are […]

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Woman – or Suffragette?

Woman - or Suffragette?

In 1903, the motto ‘Deeds not Words’ was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst as the slogan of the new Women’s Social and Political Union. This aimed above all to secure women the vote, but it marked a deliberate departure in the methods to be used. Over fifty years of peaceful campaigning had brought no change to […]

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A little bit of pixie dust: five of Disney’s contributions to the English language

A little bit of pixie dust: five of Disney’s contributions to the English language

When we ruminate on the enormous effect all things Disney have had on popular culture from the early 20th century onwards (think ‘Steamboat Willie’ to the upcoming Star Wars films), we might call to mind hundreds of animated movies, several enormous theme parks, thousands of toys, and dozens of familiar characters—not to mention one ubiquitous […]

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Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

On April 13, 1796, an elephant set foot on American soil for the first time. Although accounts vary, this elephant has been identified with Old Bet, who became a national sensation as the main attraction of Hackaliah Bailey’s circus. Outside the Elephant Hotel in Somers, N.Y., built by Bailey and named after his star performer, […]

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Surfing the Information Superhighway: the changing face of Internet language

Surfing the Information Superhighway: the changing face of Internet language

It’s common to associate the Internet with all things modern and new, and so it’s perhaps unexpected that it can be considered to be nearly half a century old; the ‘symbolic birth date’ of the Internet has been declared 7 April 1969, the date of publication of the first RFC (Request for Comments) document. Much […]

Fantasies: what would you do to improve the English language?

Fantasies: what would you do to improve the English language?

On holiday driving through the city at three in the morning you realize what life could be like. Gliding across junctions that are normally clogged up and impassable; rolling along sections of road in two minutes that would keep you half an hour in the morning rush hour; crossing the river you’ve scarcely noticed for […]

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

What is the strangest change in meaning that any word has undergone?

  I can only give a very subjective answer, but I’ll start with a few nominations. Most of the words in everyday English have been in (and occasionally out of) circulation for centuries. A study of them in a historical dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary, which charts chronologically the story of a word […]

Relatively speaking: an untangling of that/who/which

Relatively speaking: an untangling of that/who/which

I have a twofold career: as well as writing blogs about grammar and usage, I also teach English as a foreign language. Explaining the more arcane and sometimes illogical nuances of English grammar to native and non-native speakers alike can be challenging, but I relish the chance to do so. I’ve found that some people […]

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