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

Appointment with Words: where does Agatha Christie feature in the OED?

Appointment with Words: where does Agatha Christie feature in the OED?

Tomorrow sees the anniversary of the death of Agatha Christie, a doyenne of the whodunnit, or as the celebrated humourist Ogden Nash put it, a murdermongress. In a career spanning 50 years, she wrote over 60 detective novels, as well as collections of short stories and plays. In addition, she indulged her romantic side by […]

a disappearing poet of always: e.e. cummings and his language

a disappearing poet of always: e. e. cummings and his language

Editor’s note: This article has been abridged to remove references to some of Cummings’s more explicitly sexual poetry. Read the extended version of this article here. Caution: contains strong language. October 14 marked the anniversary of the birth of the American poet and artist E. E. Cummings. If you know anything about Cummings, it is probably […]

L’anglais, c’est super cool!

L'anglais, c'est super cool!

English has, for several decades now, been an important language in the world of international business, trade, politics, and law, and consequently, is the most taught language in European schools. Unsurprisingly, English words and phrases have started to see use in other languages, and France is one country that has experienced first-hand the rise of […]

Obrigado! Takk! Di ou mèsi! Celebrating World Gratitude Day across time and language

gratitude map

How many ways can we say ‘thank you’? In English alone, there are plenty. The Oxford English Dictionary first cites the simplest, thanks, in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1598. The OED also treats us to some oldies (gramercy [c. 1330], thank thee [1631], thankee [1824]) and contextualizes some goodies (British colloquialism cheers stumbled out […]

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German loanwords in the English language

German loanwords in the English language

Cockroach, lantern, algebra, sabbath – these are only a few of the loanwords that we use in the English language without them striking us as being particularly unusual. Appropriately, ‘loanword’ itself is a loan translation (a so-called calque) of the German Lehnwort (Lehn from leihen = ‘lend’ + Wort = ‘word’). Throughout history, English has […]

Boomerang vocabulary: words that return to their origins

Boomerang vocabulary

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” may have been good advice for Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it isn’t practical for a language. English is both an avid borrower (ballet, schmooze, wok) and a generous lender: consider German das Baby, French le week-end, and Japanese aisu kuriimu (‘ice cream’—try saying it out loud). Occasionally, […]

What sound does a French duck make? (Or onomatopoeia in different languages)

Duck

Hearing is important for humans to understand the world around them and it lies in our nature to want to describe what we hear. To do this, we frequently make use of onomatopoeias. But what exactly is an onomatopoeia? It is ‘the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named’. Examples […]

Leap years around the world: from freak weather patterns to good fortune and baby whales

Leap of faith

What have Italian composer Rossini and American rapper Ja Rule got in common? A number of possible answers may leap to mind here, but the one I’m looking for is that the two musicians were both born on a date that is mysteriously elusive: 29 February. Except that 2012 is a leap year, and so […]

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