Tag: English in use

cemetary

Die, my dear Doctor, that’s the last thing I shall do!

‘Famous last words’ in the literal sense means someone’s final remarks before they die, but the phrase is often said as an ironic comment on an overconfident assertion that may later be proved wrong. A classic example of the two senses combined is the case of the Union general John Sedgwick, whose last words immediately […]

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hibernating bear

Hibernating words and linguistic cicadas

Most words develop along fairly predictable paths. They may be quotidian words, such as set, which accrue new shades of meanings along the course of a very long life, and which end up with so many dozens of definitions that it is extremely difficult to see where one begins and another ends. Some words may […]

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LOL!

LOL: a brief history

‘Out shopping. There’s a bird going cheep’. I text this to my daughter, and then, because I’m crossing the generational gap, I add ‘lol’. At some point, probably towards the end of the 80s, someone felt the need to signal, probably while emailing, that something was funny. Perhaps they wrote out the whole thing, ‘laughing […]

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Chinese whispers

Are there cases of Chinese whispers in language?

Oral ‘mis-transmission’—whereby words change as they are passed on verbally and their new form moves towards becoming the norm—can be a subtle and slow process and the results are sometimes hard to detect. Indeed, some of our most common idioms and grammatical constructions are the result of linguistic Chinese whispers. to have another thing coming: […]

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Lie or lay? What is the cat doing?

What’s the difference between ‘lie’ and ‘lay’?

There’s an abundance of evidence in every type of writing, from journalism to legal reports, that many English speakers are all at sea when it comes to understanding the differences between lie and lay If you confess to being among their number, it’s not entirely your fault: the situation is bewildering in some respects, all part […]

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Dr Seuss

A poetic tribute to Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss, the pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991), was an American writer of hugely successful books for children. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937) introduced Seuss’s iconic visual and verbal style. This was further extended in the ‘Beginner Book’ series, of which The Cat in the Hat (1957) was […]

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digital

Word trends: digital

The word digital is one which has become very much associated with the modern world. However, it is not a modern word. The OED’s entry for digital actually contains evidence for the word as far back as the 15th century with the sense, ‘designating a whole number less than ten’. Another early sense referred to […]

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OED films

Lights, camera, lexicon: the language of films in the OED

Film, that great popular art form of the twentieth century, is a valuable window on the evolving English language, as well as a catalyst of its evolution. Film scripts form an important element of the Oxford English Dictionary’s reading programme, and the number of citations from films in the revised OED multiplies with each quarterly […]

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