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

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Borrowed words in English: tracing the changing patterns

In Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English I examine how words borrowed from different languages have influenced English throughout its history. The above feature summarizes some of the main data from the book, focussing on the fourteen sources that have given the most words to English, as reflected by the new and revised […]

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How well do you know the language of love?

Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can sign and seal a foil-embossed card and attach it to a heart-shaped box of chocolate, all addressed to a loved one for Valentine’s Day. But it takes someone truly versed in romantic delights to know the difference between an allumeuse and an amourette, a chocolatier and a ballotin, an […]

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Word of the Year 2013: blips on our radar

Detail of selected items from the previous graph

As OUP’s lexicographers go about our quiet work, occasionally a novel word, spied in a newspaper, a post, or a tweet, catches our fancy. “Possible WOTY?!!!” we might email to a colleague, anticipating the year’s end. When we go back through those old emails months later, it is sometimes difficult to remember what inspired such […]

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Extra sausages, tap-dancing bears, and idiomatic tomatoes

dog in pan

What makes idioms so wonderful is that they make communication easier and, in my opinion, add an element of fun to language. By definition, an idiom is a figure of speech where the ‘meaning [is] not deducible from those of the individual words’. Thus, if you’re not a member of a certain ‘language club’, the […]

We need to talk about literally

Literally

Hold the front pages, literally. Or not. There has been much excitement this week over the discovery that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has recorded a sense of the word literally that seems to cause particular irritation. I am speaking of its use in a sentence like “I literally died laughing and had to run […]

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Poll results: fount or font of knowledge?

fount of knowledge

There are few things more likely to cause fierce argument between language-lovers than variant spellings of everyday expressions, especially if one is celebrated by language traditionalists and the other by the linguistic vanguard. You may remember the heated arguments that arose over the topic of pronouncing scone (some friendships have never truly recovered) – well, […]

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The language of Jersey: little toads and the glove of a Queen

Jersey Island

There was one thing I wanted to know as the plane touched down: were we actually abroad? On the one hand, everyone was driving on the left, paying in pounds, and speaking in English (albeit with what sounded like a faintly South African accent). On the other, everything was the wrong colour: yellow telephone boxes, […]

Labouring language: the changing vocabulary of childbirth

Stork and bundle

Expectant parents don’t generally have a lot of spare time for idly perusing the dictionary, but if they did, they would find that the vocabulary of the event they joyfully anticipate has undergone significant changes over the centuries. Consider, for instance, the verb to deliver. In contemporary use, the mother is often the subject of […]

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