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

A-tremble and dimplement: Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the OED

A-tremble and dimplement: Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the OED

Did you know that Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the fifth most quoted woman in the OED’s illustrative quotations? I was tipped off to this rather surprising fact a few days ago, and thought I’d take a look at where she pops up. Amazingly, she is currently quoted no fewer than 1,530 times, starting, alphabetically, with […]

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John Milton: living at this hour?

John Milton: living at this hour?

The freedom of the press is under threat. At Westminster, politicians are making decisions that could severely curtail the ability of writers and printers to publish what they like, when they like. While parliament has all the power to enact statutory regulation and control of the press, there is at least one man ready to […]

a disappearing poet of always: e.e. cummings and his language

a disappearing poet of always: e. e. cummings and his language

Editor’s note: This article has been abridged to remove references to some of Cummings’s more explicitly sexual poetry. Read the extended version of this article here. Caution: contains strong language. October 14 marked the anniversary of the birth of the American poet and artist E. E. Cummings. If you know anything about Cummings, it is probably […]

Dorothy Parker, wordsmith

Dorothy Parker, wordsmith

The wisecracking poet Dorothy Rothschild Parker was the prototypical New Yorker who nonetheless was born in New Jersey, on August 22, 1893. That said, her birthplace was a matter of circumstance—her family was escaping the city heat on the Jersey Shore—and she grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She lived most of […]

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Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

English has a rich vocabulary for rhyme, but names are unstable: in what follows, therefore, alternative names are sometimes provided in parenthesis. Fortunately, however, there is more variation in labelling than understanding, for the basic definition of rhyme as involving two elements (the last stressed vowel + all following letters) creates an obvious structure of […]

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The rain in Spain: rhyming traditions from early China to modern-day rap

The rain in Spain: rhyming traditions from early China to modern-day rap

Rhyme is heard everywhere—because it works. In advertising jingles, football chants, birthday-card greetings, tabloid headlines, political slogans, and catchphrases, rhyme makes the sentiments more powerful and more memorable. If you can’t beat them, join them; Arrive Alive—Don’t Drink and Drive; Dennis the Menace; No More War; hang ‘em and flog ‘em: in all, words are […]

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Higher-cynths, lower-cynths, and Seeze Pyders: why Lear’s ‘nonsense’ language is more than just fun

Edward Lear

You’ve heard of a writer called Lear? His two hundredth birthday’s this year. They called him absurd But he wrote undeterred, That remarkable writer called Lear. If there were no other reason to remember Edward Lear with fondness (and there are, in fact, very many), his popularization of the limerick would be enough. Like so […]

What is a lexicographer?

OED

Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, famously defined a lexicographer as ‘A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge’. He also said, in the entry for dull, that ‘To make dictionaries is dull work’. Of course, his tongue was firmly in his cheek, noted wit that he was (he might also […]

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