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

Whale-horses and morses: Tolkien and the walrus in the OED

Whale-horses and Morses: the Walrus in the OED

With the once-in-a-lifetime visit by a young male walrus to the island of North Ronaldsay in Orkney making the news on 3 March, it seems like a good time to look back at the coincidence of one particularly famous Oxford lexicographer’s tussle with the history of the word ‘walrus’, and an earlier visit by a […]

When does ‘wrong’ become ‘right’?

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People can go a bit funny when I tell them I edit dictionaries for a living. They get nervous and hesitant, as if they’re expecting me to leap on them at any moment, mock their use of grammar, laugh cruelly at their mispronunciations, and pour scorn on their woefully limited vocabulary. But nothing could be […]

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Ask a lexicographer: part 2

Every now and again, we like to share a few of the very interesting questions sent to us by users of Oxford Dictionaries. Read on to learn more about the peculiarities of the English alphabet and dictionary history. The dictionary speaks Answer: One could argue that dictionaries are called as such because they tell the […]

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Ask a lexicographer

Every now and again, we like to share a few of the very interesting questions sent to us by fans of Oxford Dictionaries. Read on to see how our experts tackle texting, the Bible, and one very difficult name. Standard messaging rates apply Answer: For nouns ending in ‘s’ you would add ‘es’ to make them […]

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A soul of fire: celebrating Samuel Johnson

A soul of fire: celebrating Samuel Johnson

September 18 marks the anniversary of the birthday of Samuel Johnson. Although he wrote a number of works, he is arguably best known for the 1755 publication A Dictionary of the English Language. While it was by no means the first ever dictionary published, its influence was remarkable, not least upon the dictionary which would […]

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 […]

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 […]

Pedal or peddle?

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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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