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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Yiddish

English words of Yiddish origin: schmoozing, kvetching, and keeping schtum

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Yiddish, based on German dialect combined with words from Hebrew and Slavic languages, was spoken by Jews in central and eastern Europe before World War Two. It is still used in Israel and parts of Europe and the USA, especially New York, and has added an extra […]

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skiing

10 Russian words to help you enjoy the Winter Olympics

Les Jeux olympiques d’hiver, Olympische Winterspiele, Juegos Olímpicos de Invierno – regardless of your first language or geographical location, you’ve probably struggled to escape news of this year’s Winter Olympics. The XXII Olympic Games open on 7 February in Sochi (Сочи), Russia, and promise to deliver two weeks of nail-biting sporting action. In honour of […]

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Dim sum small

Having a yen for dim sum this Chinese New Year: English words of Chinese origin

Chinese New Year traditionally means a time for families to gather together, usually over some delicious foods. There are certain foods that are associated with Chinese New Year, such as Buddha’s Delight, a dish made with many different vegetables, fish, dumplings, and mandarin oranges. These particular foods are chosen because the words used to describe […]

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Russian alphabet

‘You speak Russian?!’

If you want to impress your friends, family, colleagues, and almost every English speaker you’ll ever meet, learn Russian. Russian – so I’m told – is hard. It is the language of spies, code-breakers, and Communists, and the preserve of Oxbridge intellectuals. Winston Churchill famously called Russia ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an […]

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How many Chaucers does it take to change a language?

How many Chaucers does it take to change a language?

After 600 years, what do we think of when we hear the name Geoffrey Chaucer? The straightforward, factual answer – that he was the son of London wine merchant, born sometime in the 1340s, who spent his life, after youthful forays to the French wars and diplomatic missions, working as a civil servant and building up […]

German loanwords in the English language

German loanwords in the English language

Cockroach, lantern, algebra, sabbath – these are only a few of the loanwords that we use in the English language without them striking us as being particularly unusual. Appropriately, ‘loanword’ itself is a loan translation (a so-called calque) of the German Lehnwort (Lehn from leihen = ‘lend’ + Wort = ‘word’). Throughout history, English has […]

Boomerang vocabulary: words that return to their origins

Boomerang vocabulary

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” may have been good advice for Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it isn’t practical for a language. English is both an avid borrower (ballet, schmooze, wok) and a generous lender: consider German das Baby, French le week-end, and Japanese aisu kuriimu (‘ice cream’—try saying it out loud). Occasionally, […]

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