Tag: English usage

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 […]

That’s ell oh ell


‘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 […]

Slappers and dumb blondes: why we should care about language


With International Women’s Day being celebrated today, and US talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s controversial description of women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke as a ‘slut’ still causing uproar, journalist and writer Anne Sexton looks at the long and inglorious history of the word ‘slut’, and explains why gender-neutral language is still a hot topic. Is […]

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I or me

‘I’ or ‘me’?

Choosing whether to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ can be tricky, but it’s something that often pops up in both written and spoken communications, and it’s important to get it right. As the results of our poll shows, it’s not always clear which is the right choice. Here’s some advice taken from our Better writing section, […]

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Confessions of a pedant

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 […]

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


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


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

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 […]

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