Tag: English usage

Confessions of a pedant

Pedantry

We all know what a taxi is There are two big problems about working for a dictionary. The first is that everyone assumes you know the meaning of every word, which is setting the bar rather high. There are about 600,000 words and senses in the OED. Any one of them could crop up at […]

Shrapnel, Plimsoll, Joule, Boole: eponyms in science and invention

Leylandii

You have to feel sorry for Christopher Leyland. Having inherited his father’s Northumberland country estate in 1889, Leyland dedicated his life to its improvement, paying particular attention to the gardens and the cultivation of trees. By his death in 1926 the estate boasted (among many other things) a palm house, an arboretum, and a menagerie […]

It is better to give than to receive

present

So, the Christmas season is well and truly upon us, something that tends to either warm the cockles of one’s heart, or bring about a blinding depression. For many people the cause of holiday angst is the entire hullabaloo made about gifts and shopping – there is an increasing complaint that the gift-giving (or commercial) […]

The lexicon of consumerism and America’s Christmas season

Christmas shopping

For those of us immersed in preparations for Christmas, the time remaining feels insufficiently brief, and the few weeks since Thanksgiving seem more like a few days. As fleeting as time is between Turkey Day and December 25, we in the US possess a peculiarly American interpretation of when the Christmas season “begins.” My British […]

thunder

Why do we talk about stealing someone’s thunder?

This idiom, defined as using the ideas devised by another person for your own advantage, has a gratifyingly literal story behind it. It is quite rare for etymologists to pinpoint the very first use of a word or phrase. In this case, however, the eighteenth-century actor and playwright Colley Cibber, in his Lives of the […]

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Oyez, oyez, oyez! Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage

Oyez, oyez, oyez!

Legal English is not just for the legally-minded. It can be arcane, yes, but it’s certainly not irrelevant – whether we’re agreeing a mortgage, reading about changes to the law, or (tut, tut) standing as a defendant in a trial, legal language is not something we can easily ignore. But it is still arcane – […]

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prepositions

Grammar myths #1: is it wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?

Stranded prepositions are nothing to fret about There are numerous myths relating to grammatical dos and don’ts, many of which were drummed into us at school. The one that stubbornly refuses to budge from my mind is the diktat ‘never begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but’. And why not, pray?* […]

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The Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower

Having undertaken . . . a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends […]

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