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

Tag: word origins

What makes Christmas merry? A brief history of yuletide adjectives

What makes Christmas merry?

From Happy Easter to Happy Halloween to countless Happy Birthdays, our felicitations hardly vary from one celebration to the next. Christmas is the notable exception, with the dominant descriptor being Merry. We wish our friends a Merry Christmas but a Happy New Year. Is there any difference? Not everyone’s Christmas is merry. Happy Christmas has […]

Sing a song of Christmas

Sing a song of Christmas

A change is not as good as a rest Christmas brings out the conservative in us all, especially in children. This summer we dismantled a ridiculously large stone clad shelf that was built in the sixties to support a weighty cathode ray tube. Now there’s a space beside the fire which would be, I suggested, […]

Ka-ching – all you need is money

Ka-ching – all you need is money

David Mamet once wrote “Everyone needs money – that’s why they call it money”, although he wrote this in a screenplay, and so the words were uttered by a fictional character. Even though this quote of Mamet’s is not overburdened with clarity, it is amusing, and serves as a useful reminder to look at some […]

thunder

Why do we talk about stealing someone’s thunder?

This idiom, defined as using the ideas devised by another person for your own advantage, has a gratifyingly literal story behind it. It is quite rare for etymologists to pinpoint the very first use of a word or phrase. In this case, however, the eighteenth-century actor and playwright Colley Cibber, in his Lives of the […]

Read more »

The Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower

Having undertaken . . . a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends […]

More than just moccasins: American Indian words in English

More than just moccasins

A menagerie of words Most English speakers could easily identify words like tomahawk, moccasin, or tepee as having Amerindian origins (from Virginia Algonquian, Powhatan, and Sioux, respectively), but indigenous American languages have given English many other words which have now become so fully naturalized that their roots often go unrecognized. In fact, fully half of […]

The future of language: South African English in Zoo City

South African English in Zoo City

Earlier this year South African author Lauren Beukes won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction for her second novel Zoo City. It was a big moment for the author as it puts her in the company of illustrious recent winners such as, among others, China Miéville (who has won it three times […]

Our words remember them – language of the First World War

Poppies

In July 1917, after three years of bloody war, anti-German feeling in Britain was reaching a feverish peak. Xenophobic mutterings about the suitability of having a German on the throne had been heard since 1914. The fact that the Royal family shared part of its name, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with the Gotha bombers responsible for the devastating […]

Tweets