Tag: idioms

In a nutshell, cutting the mustard by the skin of your teeth: popular idioms explained

In a nutshell, cutting the mustard by the skin of your teeth: popular idioms explained

Why do good things ‘cut the mustard’? The word mustard has been used to mean something excellent or superlative for almost a hundred years—the phrase ‘keen as mustard’ draws on the same idea of added piquancy and zest. ‘Hot stuff’, in other words. In America, to say something was ‘the proper mustard’ in the early […]

The language of cooking: from ‘Forme of Cury’ to ‘Pukka Tucker’

The language of cooking: from 'Forme of Cury' to 'Pukka Tukka'

The earliest surviving English-language recipes came from the kitchens of kings and their great nobles. Richard II’s Master Cooks boasted that their Forme of Cury contained only the ‘best and royallest viand of all Christian Kings’, and, what’s more, had been approved by the king’s physicians and philosophers. Healthy eating issues and celebrity endorsements are […]

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Most of us would agree that English spelling can be a minefield: one reason for this is that there are numerous words which sound the same when you say or hear them but which are spelled differently and which have completely different meanings: a few examples are pour/pore, flower/flour, and sight/site. Such words are known […]

Jack and the Flagpole: what do you call the British national flag?

Bunting

Travelling around Britain, as I’ve been doing this week, I have been struck, as anyone would be, by the profusion of national flags. Not only are they to be found draped on cars and pinned in bedroom windows this year, the British flag is also being displayed on civic flagpoles, high-street lamp-posts, and pub-signs, and […]

Using food for thought: Intellectual hunger, thirst, and omnivorous behaviors

Using food for thought: Intellectual hunger, thirst, and omnivorous behaviors

We search for things to read to satiate our intellectual hunger or quench our thirst for knowledge. A favorite of mine is the phrase that someone is ‘intellectually omnivorous’, meaning that their intellectual diet consists of all (omni-) types of brain foods. Junkier ideas which are sweet and appealing are called brain candy. Brain candy […]

Book Lover's Day: George Eliot

Writing for grown-up people: George Eliot and the Oxford English Dictionary

In celebration of Book Lover’s Day, we asked four of our dictionary editors to tell us about their favourite writers. Each of the writers featured is in the top 1000 cited sources in the Oxford English Dictionary. If you subscribe to the OED Online (many UK libraries offer free access if you provide your library […]

Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

As we rolled on, I seen the patrol on creep, so we got ghost. —“Alwayz into Somethin’” , from N.W.A.’s Efil4zaggin (1991) For me, this lyric represents one of the great potentials of hip-hop. An otherwise unremarkable sentiment, when channelled through the mind and mouth of a deft MC, can become something poetic and memorable. […]

Pedal or peddle?

Bike

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

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