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

US Supreme Court

How do British and American attitudes to dictionaries differ?

For 20 years, 14 of those in England, I’ve been giving lectures about the social power afforded to dictionaries, exhorting my students to discard the belief that dictionaries are infallible authorities. The students laugh at my stories about nuns who told me that ain’t couldn’t be a word because it wasn’t in the (school) dictionary […]

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‘Left’: a reliable U.S. political term

The word ‘left’ has invited learned commentary, not least in Anatoly Liberman’s blog ‘The Sinister Influence of the Left Hand’. As Liberman shows, by reputation the word suffers in comparison with the ‘dexterous’ word ‘right’. Origin of the term ‘left’ Those on the political right are happy with this, and contribute to the process. The […]

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Beltway buzzwords – inside the jargon on Capitol Hill… and beyond (part 2)

Washington DC map

Following on from yesterday’s blog post looking at the language used to describe the people of Washington D.C, from staffers to POTUS, Lorna Shaddick continues to explore the jargon of the Hill with lame ducks, slug lines, and Beltway Bandits. Filibuster: from pirates to politics With so many people on the Hill involved in the […]

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Beltway buzzwords – inside the jargon on Capitol Hill… and beyond (part 1)

Capitol building

A move to Washington D.C as a journalist requires several things. Alongside your plane ticket, map of the city, and Congressional press pass, you’ll also need a knowledge of the myriad terms used on ‘The Hill’ (as all locals call the Capitol), where staffers and wonks mingle with lobbyists and of course the lawmakers themselves… […]

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Woman – or Suffragette?

Woman - or Suffragette?

In 1903, the motto ‘Deeds not Words’ was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst as the slogan of the new Women’s Social and Political Union. This aimed above all to secure women the vote, but it marked a deliberate departure in the methods to be used. Over fifty years of peaceful campaigning had brought no change to […]

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The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher’s linguistic legacy

The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher's linguistic legacy

The debate around Margaret Thatcher’s political and social legacy will no doubt continue for some time yet. But what of her linguistic legacy? Did she leave her mark on the English language? Iron Handbags It’s fair to say that Margaret Thatcher’s linguistic legacy lies more in what others have said about her and her politics […]

Unpresidential presidential quotations in the OED

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The Oxford English Dictionary is founded upon millions of quotations, which trace the history of each word starting with its earliest recorded use. America’s presidents are well represented among the authors of those quotations; after all, they are influential speakers and writers whose words are painstakingly recorded and preserved. Presidential quotations often turn up in […]

If Obama had been Lincoln: 10 lines from Obama’s Second Inaugural Address that wouldn’t have been used in 1865

Abraham Lincoln

When writing his screenplay for the film Lincoln, playwright Tony Kushner used his copy of the Oxford English Dictionary to check for possible anachronisms, seeking to impart the flavor of 19th-century English to the script. How much has the vocabulary of English changed since Abraham Lincoln’s presidency? About 25% of the OED’s entries are for words […]

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