Tag: English in use

Alan Turing

From CAPTCHA to morphogen: how Alan Turing has influenced modern English

Alan Turing was a 20th-century mathematician and computer scientist, most famous today for his cryptanalysis work during World War II in which he and others at Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma ciphers and created the first electronic computers. But his influence stretches far beyond that achievement, into the English language and even into the modern gay […]

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discworld

Ach crivens! The language of Discworld

If you’re not familiar with the Discworld, the fantasy world created by author Sir Terry Pratchett which has featured in 39 bestselling novels, then you’ve certainly been missing out. For the uninitiated, Discworld is a flat world balanced on the backs of four giant elephants standing on the shell of the star turtle Great A’Tuin […]

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From ‘gadzooks’ to ‘cowabunga’: some episodes in the life of the interjection

OMG

OMG, LOL! When the Oxford English Dictionary decided to include the interjections LOL and OMG as new words in 2011, it seemed as though the apocalypse had finally come. From the tone of so many newspaper commentaries and angry blogs reacting to the news, I might have expected to have seen a few senior editors […]

doughnut

Don’t get honey-fuggled, you doughnut! And other inventive uses of food in English

A few Fridays ago, it was National Doughnut Day. Did you celebrate or did it completely pass you by in the way that most of these days probably do? At least with this particular festivity, there would appear to be an appropriate way to celebrate. The same might not be said for, say, National Stapler […]

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What is a contronym or Janus word?

What is a contronym?

Single words that have two contradictory meanings are known as contronyms. The number of contronyms in English is small, but they are significant. Contronym list dust: 1 to remove dust. 2 to cover with dust. hysterical: 1 frightened and out of control. 2 funny. nervy: 1 showing nerve or courage. 2 excitable and volatile. moot: […]

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Plain English

Keep calm, and say it plainly

Ever since I first read an ancient edition of Ernest Gowers’ book on plain English about fifteen years ago, I’ve tried to put his guidelines into practice whenever I write. I don’t always get it right – I’m sure you’ll catch me out in this piece of writing – but I always try. What is […]

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slang

Props to the cats – the lifespan 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 […]

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boomerang

Boomerang vocabulary: words that return to their origins

“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, […]

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