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

Confessions of a pedant

Pedantry

We all know what a taxi is There are two big problems about working for a dictionary. The first is that everyone assumes you know the meaning of every word, which is setting the bar rather high. There are about 600,000 words and senses in the OED. Any one of them could crop up at […]

A journey through spin

A journey through spin

Spin is one of those words which could perhaps now do with a bit of ‘spin’ in its own right. From its beginnings in the idea of honest labour and toil (in terms of etymology, spin descends from the spinning of fabric or thread), it has come to suggest the twisting of words rather than […]

To describe or prescribe, that is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

prescriptive or descriptive

Regular readers of this blog may remember a recent poll in which we posed the following question: Do you think dictionaries should: Describe language as it is being used Prescribe how language should be used Be a mixture of prescriptive and descriptive The results were as follows: 70.27 % were in favour of a mixture, […]

From telegraphese to texting: one hundred years of the Concise Oxford Dictionary

100  years of the Concise Oxford Dictionary

Part of the fascination of investigating the story of a dictionary which has achieved its centenary is to find windows which open on to very different worlds. It was particularly enjoyable, through files, letters, and papers, to meet the early editors of what was to become such an iconic book. Henry Fowler: ‘a pleasant occupation’ […]

A century of defining our language

coed logo

Since the publication of its first edition in 1911, the revolutionary Concise Oxford Dictionary has remained in print and gained fame around the world over the course of eleven editions. This month heralds the publication of the centenary edition: the new 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary contains some 400 new entries, including […]

28 million words, one corpus, and thousands of fascinating insights

Alphabet

Have you ever been told as a child to ‘stop daydreaming’ and pay attention? Then you will be interested to know that daydreaming is a word that is invariably used in a negative context by adults but in a much more positive sense by children. Examples from the Oxford English Corpus (a vast electronic collection […]

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Unspellable words? Impossible!

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s phrase ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable’ points us to the un- words, an unexhausted yet unassuming and unexplored group of words which stand as a challenge to Napoleon. The Emperor once said ‘the word impossible is not in my dictionary’. Dictionaries have got a lot better since Napoleon’s day and impossible […]

Fnarr fnarr, phwoah, and mwah

Onomatopoeia

Taking a first glance at a list of recent additions to a dictionary, most of us will instinctively seek out the very new. Sometimes it’s their simple sparkle of novelty that attracts – the latest updates to Oxford Dictionaries Online include ‘upcycling’, ‘surveilling’ and ‘wantaway’; others engage through the picture they give of the world […]

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