Tag: English in use

Gutbucket, hamfatter, and chops: the language of jazz

Jazz musician

Today is International Jazz Day and to celebrate we’ve delved into the language of this musical movement to bring you our favourite words and terms. From bebop to vocalese via the more unexpected gutbucket and hamfatter, you don’t need to be a jive-talking hepcat to enjoy the language associated with this popular musical genre. barrelhouse:  […]

birth of words

Tracing the birth of words: from ‘open’ to ‘heffalump’

Open for longer It is always immensely satisfying to be able to pinpoint the genuine birthday of a word in English, although there will always be some words for which this will be impossible. It can be difficult to trace exactly when a word first made its appearance on paper (and when it was used […]

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Place your bets: getting geed up for the Grand National

Horse racing

The only time I’ve ever been in a betting shop was more than twenty years ago, on National day. Though not a betting man by nature, like much of the British population my dad would have a flutter on the Grand National. He took me with him one year, and I remember the small, close […]

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 words and linguistic cicadas

Cicada

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 […]

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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