Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Fearfully great creeping reptiles: the naming of dinosaurs

dinosaur

The names of dinosaurs seem to resonate, almost magically, with youngsters. Once they have seen a skeleton in a museum, or a vivid reconstruction of one of these animals in a book, even a three year old rapidly learns to identify each one pretty reliably (much to their parents or grandparents amazement and occasional befuddlement). […]

Relational logic: removing the confusion from the naming of cousins

family tree

It would always throw people when we told them. The four of us – my sister and I, and the two boys – spent all our school holidays together, and we all had dark hair. So when people asked if my “brothers” wanted an ice cream too, I’d have to take a deep breath and […]

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On a wild goose chase for the origin of wayzgoose

Wayzgoose notice

Here in the UK we have been enjoying the hottest summer since 2006. For many, this has meant getting together with friends for day trips and outings in the sunshine. For employees at Oxford University Press there have been a variety of organized events for staff to enjoy, from sports evenings to open-air Shakespeare. But […]

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Mae West’s linguistic legacy

MaeWest

Maritime safety and early-Hollywood sex symbols may not seem to have much in common, but the etymology of the Mae West life jacket manages to connect these two very different worlds. 17 August is the birthday of Mae West, the American actress whose controversy and fame help to explain the many ways in which she […]

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Zebra crossings: what zonkeys tell us about our love of hybrid words

Zonkey

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal baby born last week, some media outlets found time to report on another notable birth: that of Italy’s rare donkey-zebra hybrid, Ippo, which is being called a zonkey. Zonkey, it turns out, is only one of several words for the semi-striped offspring of zebras and other equine mammals. […]

Spellbinding: the classical roots of magical spells in Harry Potter

Magic book

It is no secret that the Harry Potter series is heavily influenced by the classics. JK Rowling studied Latin as a subsidiary subject at the University of Exeter, and often draws upon classical myth, rhetoric, and nomenclature in her writing. In particular, Rowling usually draws her magical words from classical Latin, and many of the […]

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Die wunnerbaare Sprooch: Pennsylvania German

Pennsylvania German

As a native eastern Pennsylvanian, I tend to get a little misty-eyed when dreaming of shoo-fly pie or spotting a hex sign – such as the ones on the barn in the picture above. However, shoo-fly pie and hex signs are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the culture and tradition […]

Surf’s up at the OED

surfing

As International Surfing Day takes place on 20 June this year, it is a good time to put on a favourite ‘Hawaiian shirt’ (currently first recorded in 1955) and take a look at some of the surfing terms in the Oxford English Dictionary. Early surf reports The vocabulary of surfing in the English language has […]

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