Tag: English in use

Keep calm, and say it plainly

Plain English

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Time to get ill: Beastie Boys lyrics in the Oxford English Dictionary

Beastie Boys

Like many folks of my generation, upon hearing about the death of Adam Yauch, aka MCA, I’ve spent the last few weeks revisiting my Beastie Boys’ albums. At one point during my listen, I began to wonder about their lyrics and what kind of mark they’ve made on the English language. Is it possible that […]

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Why do we love to give people and places nicknames?

Nicknames

What’s in a nickname? Corruption, initially. Which is not to say that there is anything inherently dishonest about nicknames; the history of the word stems from an error. Originally “an eke-name”, meaning an additional name, “a neke name” formed out of an incorrect word division that blended the noun with its indefinite article. By the […]

What is the origin of ‘swashbuckler’?

Jolly Roger

The traditional swashbuckler, described by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a swaggering bravo or ruffian; a noisy braggadocio’, was, indeed, someone who ‘swashed his buckle’. To ‘swash’, in the sixteenth century, was to dash or strike something violently, while a ‘buckler’ was a small round shield, carried by a handle at the back. So a […]

The language of the beautiful game (just don’t mention the S-word)

Football

If being reminded of how long it is since your country won the World Cup makes you sick as a parrot, you’re not alone – and you’d be using one of the many clichés with a long and glorious tradition in football, regardless of where your footballing loyalty lies. Words of two halves Some quintessentially […]

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