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

leaves

Can a word really be untranslatable?

There’s no such thing as an untranslatable word. There, I’ve said it. Despite all the memes, blogs, and books to the contrary, all language is inherently translatable. However, whether the broader meaning of a text – the jokes, philosophies, and cultural peculiarities of its language – is translatable depends almost entirely on the individual with their nose […]

Read more »

What the Romans did for us: English words of Latin origin

Latin

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins As well as education, wine, roads, under-floor heating, and the fresh water system, the Romans gave us words and phrases. Far from being a dead language, Latin is alive and well, and may be found in a sentence near you. English is full of words of […]

Read more »
baking

The winner bakes it all: the language of the Great British Bake Off

In 2010, when I started watching a BBC2 programme about baking sponge cakes, I assumed it would be one of the many things which marked me out as a social pariah, along with talking to cats and preferring books to people. Yet this evening the fourth series of the Great British Bake Off is coming […]

Read more »
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 […]

Read more »

Celebrating Russian Language Day

Celebrating Russian Language Day

Pushkin 6 June is UN Russian Language Day, which coincides with the birth of Aleksandr Pushkin (Александр Пушкин), possibly the most well-known Russian poet, and often referred to as the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was exceptional for not only writing about life as it was known, something unusual at the time, but also […]

Why learn Italian?

Florence

“Marjorie!” Sighing with relief, I looked around the rows of old-fashioned single desks, wondering who the unfortunate Marjorie was. Our fierce and flame-haired Italian professoressa was picking on lone students to perform grammatical acrobatics. It was eight o’clock on a dark December morning and my Introduzione all’italiano module was not going well. “Marjorie!” – poor […]

The challenges of learning a language as an adult

iStock_000001932771Medium

Ah, my teenage years! Spandex-clad 1980s rockers on 7-inch vinyl records, Senna and Mansell winning Formula One races, learning to code on a Sinclair Spectrum, and watching The A-Team, Dempsey and Makepeace, or Cagney and Lacey on the TV. Imagine, only four channels! And school. I can’t say I liked school a lot, being a […]

When south is north and right is left

When south is north

Last week I drove north from Oxford for two whole days and arrived at the beautiful south. This is not because I’d done a Francis Drake but because one of the very most northerly parts of the island where I live is called ‘south land’ or ‘Sutherland’. I’d have called it something less confusing but […]

Tweets