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

shift

Functional-shifty characters: what’s wrong with this verb?

Loathsome. Wretched. Horrible. These were the words used on a recent Twitter debate about a new usage. If it had gone on much longer, people would doubtless have weighed in with the other heavy hitters of language criticism: Clumsy! Infelicitous! Abomination! Why or how these new usages merit such opprobrium is never explained objectively. After […]

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Love triangles and cliffhangers: soap operatic language

soap

As my family have long since learnt, it’s never worth trying to call me between the hours of 5.30-6pm or 7-7.30pm. That is when the rest of the world is as nothing to me, earthquakes and hurricanes would not disrupt me, for I am watching my soaps. (Neighbours and Emmerdale, since you ask.) Since soap […]

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Treble / triple trouble?

Darts in dartboard

Consider the following sentences: do they strike you as completely unexceptional, or would you prefer to change the instances of treble to triple, or vice versa? The proposals will treble the size of the tiny village. The company is set to triple its output in one year. Double or even treble rows of blast walls […]

Everyday expressions and their poetic origins

albatross

Our impression of “poetic” language as distinct from “everyday” language is unsurprising. At first glance, the flourishes of ornate, pre-1900 verse seem incompatible with common speech, either by virtue of their conspicuously high diction or the maudlin matters they seemingly address. One might hesitate, for instance, to liken a romantic interest to a lovely and […]

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. […]

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 […]

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of The Beatles

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of the Beatles

The Beatles are regarded by many – including me – as the greatest band of all time, and few would doubt the significance of their impact on popular music. Their impact on the lexicon is less clear, though, since using the word ‘na’ 217 times in the lyrics of Hey Jude really doesn’t count. (Incidentally, […]

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Facebook: a language

Facebook: a language

Today is Mark Zuckerberg’s 29th birthday – yes, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook is still under thirty. Facebook turned nine this February, which is surprisingly young given its influence upon the English language. It is my part-time addiction to Facebook, and not, I hasten to add, my degree in English, that has qualified me […]

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