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

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Dialect and identity: Pittsburghese goes to the opera

On a Sunday afternoon in November I am at the Benedum Center with hundreds of fellow Pittsburghers watching a performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” It’s the second act, and Papageno the bird-man has just found his true love. The English super-titles help us decipher what he is saying as he starts to exit the […]

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Die wunnerbaare Sprooch: Pennsylvania German

Pennsylvania German

As a native eastern Pennsylvanian, I tend to get a little misty-eyed when dreaming of shoo-fly pie or spotting a hex sign – such as the ones on the barn in the picture above. However, shoo-fly pie and hex signs are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the culture and tradition […]

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

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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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Why learn Italian?

Florence

“Marjorie!” Sighing with relief, I looked around the rows of old-fashioned single desks, wondering who the unfortunate Marjorie was. Our fierce and flame-haired Italian professoressa was picking on lone students to perform grammatical acrobatics. It was eight o’clock on a dark December morning and my Introduzione all’italiano module was not going well. “Marjorie!” – poor […]

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, […]

Wordsworth

What is the worth of words?

7 April marked 243 years since William Wordsworth was born. The very name of this most appropriately named poet embodies his concern for language: what is the true worth of words? As we raise a glass to celebrate the birth of this mock humorously self-styled ‘simple water-drinking bard’ (who, let’s not forget, has written what […]

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From ‘carbonation’ to ‘navy blue’: which words came to life 200 years ago?

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If the dawning of the New Year invariably brings you to brood upon the inexorable march of time, you find yourself in good company. Here at the Oxford English Dictionary, we are very aware of how what society does—and even how society thinks—is much informed by the movement from past to present, and onward into […]

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