Tag: English usage

old book

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 […]

Performance-wise, adverbs are alive and kicking!

Adverbs

Thankfully, most of us negotiate post-educational life very well without having to do much (or any) conscious grammatical analysis. My hunch is that if you put twenty people into a room and asked them to say what an adverb is, they might look rather uncomfortable or even try to flee. If you applied some metaphorical […]

goat

Is it true that the word ‘tragedy’ originally meant ‘goat-song’?

It is absolutely true. Many theories have been offered to explain it. One is that Greek tragedies were known as goat-songs because the prize in Athenian play competitions was a live goat. The contests were part of worship to Dionysus, involving chants and dances in his honour. The Romans knew Dionysus later as Bacchus, god […]

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Putting the accent on English

Putting the accent on English

A recent article in the New York Times describes a somewhat controversial (and no longer current) program that was run in public schools in the state of Arizona for nearly a decade – sending monitors to judge whether English teachers had an accent. If a teacher was thought to have too strong an accent, he […]

Of moms and men: what two small words reveal about big social changes

Of moms and men

The Oxford English Dictionary’s evidence files reveal an interesting trend: in recent years, the number of phrases designating types of mothers (on the model of [X] mother) has grown much faster than the number of comparable terms for fathers. Since 1990, OED has tracked roughly 40% more maternal terms than their paternal counterparts. But why […]

Truly. Madly. Deep.

Truly. Madly. Deep.

A few years ago, I became unusually vocal over a particular bit of linguistic abuse. Unusually, because the lexicographical instinct is to be descriptive of language change at all times, and sanguine about those bugbears that others decry. But this particular trend had me sufficiently riled that I wrote an article entitled ‘The Adverb is […]

dangle

Participles, and how not to dangle them…

True confessions time: back in the dim and distant days when I first embarked on lexicography, I was tasked with drafting potted biographies of famous people. In trying to be succinct, I had a rather bad habit of writing in the following vein: ‘Born in Russia, his most famous opera is …’ The problem stems […]

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