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

tartan

For auld lang syne: the origins of some Scottish words

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins Scotland has given English many words—some from the Gaelic language, some from Scots, and others reflecting links to further shores. The Scots poet Robert Burns (1759–96) has also weighed in with memorable expressions. After a history marked by conflict, the Scottish and English nations were joined […]

Read more »
couple man woman ballroom dancers tangoing  silhouette

Welcome to Dan’s Class: the language of Strictly Come Dancing

First of all, if you didn’t get the witty wordplay of my title, don’t bother to read on. Dan’s class; dance class? Never mind, this isn’t Strictly Pun Dancing after all. I’m sorry*, I’ll stop now. If, like me, you spend your Saturday evenings with a bottle of red, agonizing over Sophie’s samba or Fiona’s […]

Read more »
movie reel

Origin stories: fictional titles and their lasting impressions

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the language To avoid appearing like simple-minded vessels of superficial consumption, we often try not to let on the extent to which media has come to inform our lives. From the time we are young, we’re encouraged to value real-life experiences over the simulated kind found in […]

Read more »
Turkey dinner

From 1621 to 1863: giving thanks for new words of old

America’s “First Thanksgiving” is often attributed to the early 17th century (1621, in fact) when a small band of Pilgrims gathered with a small band of American Indians to partake together of a bountiful harvest at Plymouth Plantation. This celebration lasted a whopping three days—and it wasn’t called “Thanksgiving”. Only in 1863 was the annual […]

Read more »

Doctor Who, in an Exciting Adventure with the Lexicographers (part 1)

Doctor Who

If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cry of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you? FIRST LEXICOGRAPHER: With this tantalizing question, William Hartnell opened the doors of the Tardis to reveal to its new and rather sceptical crew their first destination in an adventure which […]

Read more »

What the Romans did for us: English words of Latin origin

Latin

An extract from the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins As well as education, wine, roads, under-floor heating, and the fresh water system, the Romans gave us words and phrases. Far from being a dead language, Latin is alive and well, and may be found in a sentence near you. English is full of words of […]

Read more »

A Durrellian Dictionary

By Yani papadimos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

7 November marks the anniversary of Lawrence Durrell’s death. He was an author for readers of dictionaries par excellence. And while that may seem peculiar praise, it also shapes one way of reading the man. Dictionaries have an indexical nature, and the most labour intensive word for a reader is “See…” Durrell tells us he […]

Read more »

Eponymous instrument makers: from Sax to Stradivari

Saxophone

Today is Saxophone Day, a.k.a. the birthday of Adolphe Sax, which has inspired us to think about other instruments that take their name in some way from their inventors (sidenote: for the correct use of eponymous see this informative diatribe in the New York Times). Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) Belgian inventor of the saxophone. Fun fact: […]

Read more »

Tweets