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

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Most of us would agree that English spelling can be a minefield: one reason for this is that there are numerous words which sound the same when you say or hear them but which are spelled differently and which have completely different meanings: a few examples are pour/pore, flower/flour, and sight/site. Such words are known […]

Jack and the Flagpole: what do you call the British national flag?

Bunting

Travelling around Britain, as I’ve been doing this week, I have been struck, as anyone would be, by the profusion of national flags. Not only are they to be found draped on cars and pinned in bedroom windows this year, the British flag is also being displayed on civic flagpoles, high-street lamp-posts, and pub-signs, and […]

Pedal or peddle?

Bike

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

Of game changers and moving goalposts – football idioms in the English language

Of game changers and moving goalposts - football idioms in the English language

Football (or soccer, for avoidance of doubt) is one of those odd sports that tend to polarize: you either love it or you hate it. No matter whether you’re a lover or a hater, you will come across plenty of football-related idioms in everyday life. This is not in the least surprising, considering that The […]

Props to the cats – the lifespan of slang

Life of Slang

My students are mostly white, middle-class, and female, but their slang is heavily influenced by rap culture. They chillax with their bloods and homies, dissing the skanky hos, expressing props to the players and pimping up their whips. Comparison with hippy slang suggests that it’s only a matter of time before they’re not the only […]

Summertime, and the words are too easy

Sunflowers

Memorial Day has come and gone, bringing with it the unofficial beginning of the summer in the northern hemisphere. These days, summer evokes such plebeian terms as barbecue, vacation (or, even worse, staycation), or timeshare. Yet if we scratch even the surface of English vocabulary, we quickly find that there is a wealth of more […]

Boomerang vocabulary: words that return to their origins

Boomerang vocabulary

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” may have been good advice for Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it isn’t practical for a language. English is both an avid borrower (ballet, schmooze, wok) and a generous lender: consider German das Baby, French le week-end, and Japanese aisu kuriimu (‘ice cream’—try saying it out loud). Occasionally, […]

The changing meaning of ‘socialist’

Changing meaning of socialist

On May 6, France held their presidential elections, picking François Hollande over the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande is a socialist (a member of the French Socialist Party), a word that on occasion apparently confuses a large number of Americans, as many use it in a manner that is perhaps inconsistent with its intended meaning. Hence, a […]

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