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

The Hanging Garden – remarks on the use of ancient languages

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A fruitful line of research for my book on the Hanging Garden of Babylon was analysis of Babylonian words. They were written in the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) script, which is very different from an alphabet. Most alphabets have about 30 letters, and C, for instance, is always C even if it is pronounced in a variety […]

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Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of The Beatles

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of the Beatles

The Beatles are regarded by many – including me – as the greatest band of all time, and few would doubt the significance of their impact on popular music. Their impact on the lexicon is less clear, though, since using the word ‘na’ 217 times in the lyrics of Hey Jude really doesn’t count. (Incidentally, […]

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H. P. Lovecraft and the Northern Gothic Tongue

H. P. Lovecraft

There is a very specific language of Gothic and horror literature that has its roots buried deep in the history of English: doom has been around since Old English; dread carries over from Middle English; eerie, that sense of vague superstitious uneasiness, enters Middle English through Scottish. The adjectives are harsh and guttural: moons are […]

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Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

Footprints in the butter: an homage to elephants in the English language

On April 13, 1796, an elephant set foot on American soil for the first time. Although accounts vary, this elephant has been identified with Old Bet, who became a national sensation as the main attraction of Hackaliah Bailey’s circus. Outside the Elephant Hotel in Somers, N.Y., built by Bailey and named after his star performer, […]

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A definition of ‘hobbit’ for the OED

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In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. . . What’s a hobbit and how did J.R.R. Tolkien come by this word? Was it invented, adapted, or stolen? To celebrate the release of The Hobbit film and renewed interest in J.R.R Tolkien‘s work, we’ve excerpted this passage from The Ring of Words: Tolkien […]

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Tolkien’s etymologies

Tolkien's etymologies

I’m tremendously excited about the film version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that’s coming out in the UK this week. As a child, my favourite film was the 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi. When I say it was my favourite, I suppose I mean that it […]

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Cake

Let them eat cake! Twelve facts about cake

Cake, in one form or another, has been around for centuries. From its humble beginnings as a flattened, hardened bread, the concept of ‘cake’ has changed significantly to become an essential part of British culinary identity. Here at Oxford Dictionaries, we love a bit of etymology to go with our cake, and today we share […]

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Making a marque: automotive etymologies

Making a marque: Automotive etymologies

On a recent cloudy Sunday afternoon I found myself shepherding the truck-crazy young son of a friend of mine round the crowded arena of a retro and classic truck show at a motor museum in the English Midlands. There were hundreds of trucks of all ages and manufacturers neatly parked in rows and we walked […]

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