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

Tag: Oxford English Corpus

Mr_Mrs

What are ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ short for?

  The abbreviations Mr and Mrs are in common use, and are straightforward to pronounce when we see them written down:  an approximation would be ‘mister’ and ‘missus’. But what are they abbreviations of? We seldom, if ever, write them out in full – and most of us probably never stop to think what the full […]

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It’s all about the nuance – synonyms and the Oxford English Corpus

It’s all about the nuance

There are few words that share an exact set of definitions – it is almost a guarantee that there will be some subtle differences between one word and its synonym.  Sometimes these nuances are so subtle that they can be difficult to articulate fully in a definition, and only become apparent through examining usage. Oxford […]

Participles, and how not to dangle them…

Dangling kitten

True confessions time: back in the dim and distant days when I first embarked on lexicography, I was tasked with drafting potted biographies of famous people. In trying to be succinct, I had a rather bad habit of writing in the following vein: ‘Born in Russia, his most famous opera is …’ The problem stems […]

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A quest for agreement over collective nouns

Agreement

I’d like to begin with a quick mental workout. Do you know which of the following sentences, both found in the same British online newspaper in 2003, would be considered incorrect according to standard British and American usage, and why? Colchester police has also queried the proposal. Colchester police have launched a new tough approach […]

An interactive guide to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary

An interactive guide

The Concise Oxford Dictionary is 100 years old! To celebrate the centenary of this bestselling dictionary we have created a fascinating interactive tour charting the history of this landmark publication. Explore our interactive guide to discover the story of a dictionary that has been a trusted guide to English for millions of people, and has faithfully recorded how our […]

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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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Shifted meanings: marriage

Just married

Last week New York became the sixth state in the US (and the largest so far) to pass legislation that would allow same-sex marriage. The law was promptly signed by the Governor, and should be in effect within the month. It is fairly common knowledge that the word gay has changed its meaning over the […]

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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 […]

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