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

Tag: English in use

cliches

Quiz: how well do you know your clichés?

When we think of clichés, we often think of a phrase that is trite and hackneyed, a person who stereotypically conforms to social constructs and labels, or something that is predictable and lacks ingenuity. The word cliché is of French origin, and originally meant a stereotype block bearing text that was used to produce multiple […]

Read more »
money coins

How did bread, cheese, and dough come to mean money?

Back in the day, the hip-hop duo OutKast released a song called “Aquemini” that goes: Street scholars that’s majoring in culinary arts, you know, how to work the bread, cheese, and dough from scratch This is a little André wordplay, talking about hustlers out to earn their pay. When I heard this and clocked the […]

Read more »
Extant

Extant’s slippery title confuses even the cast members

With the debut of the Steven Spielberg-produced Halle Berry vehicle Extant, one question has been on a lot of people’s minds: what does the title mean? Following the show’s premiere on July 9, Oxford Dictionaries saw a noticeable increase in the number of searches for the definition of extant. But it wasn’t only the Internet […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »

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 […]

Read more »

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. […]

Tweets