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

Tag: idioms

“The Dickens, reminiscent of Charles”: Boz and the language of hip-hop

Ghetto blaster

“As the plot thickens, it gives me the dickens, reminiscent of Charles…” So unfolds the narrative in “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”, from OutKast’s 1998 album Aquemini, a cornerstone of late 90s southern hip-hop and one of my favorites. Last week, I listened to Andre utter these lyrics once again, and I wondered, what does it really mean to […]

A look at Australian English past and present

Australian English

The 26th of January is Australia Day. In this post, we look at Australian English. Professor Bruce Moore, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, Australian National University , has this to say about Australian English in an article on the OED website: Australian English differs from other Englishes primarily in its accent and vocabulary. […]

Why do we call false sentiment ‘crocodile tears’? Can crocodiles really cry?

crocodile

To shed crocodile tears is to put on an insincere act of being sad. The expression is very old, dating back to the mid-sixteenth century. An account of the life of Edmund Grindal, the sixteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, quotes him as saying, ‘I begin to fear, lest his humility . . . be a counterfeit […]

A Word a Day keeps the cobwebs away

global_languages

Did you know that the Oxford Language Dictionaries Online Words of the Day are handpicked by teams of editors who scour the dictionaries looking for a little quirkiness to brighten up your day? Or that you can easily sign up to receive these Words of the Day by email in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, […]

thunder

Why do we talk about stealing someone’s thunder?

This idiom, defined as using the ideas devised by another person for your own advantage, has a gratifyingly literal story behind it. It is quite rare for etymologists to pinpoint the very first use of a word or phrase. In this case, however, the eighteenth-century actor and playwright Colley Cibber, in his Lives of the […]

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The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?

The language of Downton Abbey

As some of us still dry our tears and reel from the shocking cliffhanger ending to the second series of Downton Abbey, others have been doing a double take at the supposed anachronisms of language being uttered by a number of the characters. A few seemingly modern phrases that have been singled out in the […]

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Baseball: America’s national language?

Baseball: America’s national language?

Baseball is one the oldest professional sports played in North America today. The first recorded baseball game took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1845; the first televised game between professional teams pitted the Cincinnati Reds against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939; and this year marks the 107th Major League Baseball (MLB) Championship, more commonly […]

Mooselookmeguntic and Sopchoppy: America’s lakes and rivers

Early Great Lakes map

If you love words, chances are you have a favorite dictionary and probably a well-used thesaurus. Your bookshelves may hold some specialized resources as well – books about usage, idioms, puzzle solving, vocabulary building, rhyming, and so forth. If you have a particular fondness for words with an unusual flavor, you’ve probably browsed through books […]

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