Tag: slang

How Bill Murray changed the English language

Bill Murray in the OED

When the Ghostbusters film was released in the mid-1980s it gave us many things: an earworm of a theme tune, an ideal group fancy dress costume, and a chance to appreciate Bill Murray’s wonderfully deadpan delivery of some classic lines. But who would have thought that one of these lines would have such an impact […]

Read more »

Oxford Dictionaries update May 2014

The latest quarterly update to Oxford Dictionaries sees a wide range of words, definitions, and senses added to the dictionary. The words originate in spheres as different as cycling (bikeable) and finance (cryptocurrency), from food (white pizza) to online slang (a very new type of ship). Here is a selection of some of the new […]

Read more »

20 words that originated in the 1920s

The 1920s wasn’t just a period of decadence and flappers in a post-war haze of happiness. While The Great Gatsby drew attention to a world of insouciant pleasure-seeking, the 1920s also saw plenty of words enter the language. Some seem apt for the era, some might surprise, and all twenty selected below have survived for […]

Read more »

Dialect and identity: Pittsburghese goes to the opera

On a Sunday afternoon in November I am at the Benedum Center with hundreds of fellow Pittsburghers watching a performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” It’s the second act, and Papageno the bird-man has just found his true love. The English super-titles help us decipher what he is saying as he starts to exit the […]

Read more »

Functional-shifty characters: what’s wrong with this verb?


Loathsome. Wretched. Horrible. These were the words used on a recent Twitter debate about a new usage. If it had gone on much longer, people would doubtless have weighed in with the other heavy hitters of language criticism: Clumsy! Infelicitous! Abomination! Why or how these new usages merit such opprobrium is never explained objectively. After […]

Read more »

Pencil, walrus, or handlebar? A guide to words for moustaches

As November begins, many a man’s thoughts turn to facial hair. Millions all over the world consign the razor blades to the bathroom cupboard and attempt to grow a moustache for a very good cause. But moustaches come in many varieties, so whether you are barely capable of bumfluff or have designs on the soup-strainer, […]

Read more »

The language of Prohibition-era gangsters: knowing your goons from your gumshoes

model t

Although this blog has already covered a number of the interesting words and phrases associated with the speakeasies of 1920’s and early 1930’s America, the period still has a number of gems. As today marks the anniversary of the conviction of notorious Chicago-based gangster Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, what better reason to revisit some of the […]

Read more »

The rise of the portmanbro

How an abbreviation of brother became a word-forming dynamo For most of its existence in English, the word bro led a quiet and unassuming life. For centuries, it was merely a graphic abbreviation of brother (properly bro.), occasionally put to colloquial use, like sis, to refer to a person’s male sibling. It wasn’t until the […]

Read more »