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The ‘epic’ endemic: what’s the next new buzzword?

I’m not that old but I can remember a time when using the word ‘epic’ was only acceptable if you were describing work by Brecht or the film ‘Ben Hur’.

Not only does ‘epic’ now top a number of online surveys about annoying words but, when combined with the word ‘fail’, it is one of the most overused hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

However, it’s a much maligned word and  (more…)

Brevity is key to meaningful writing

The English language is astonishing. From 26 simple characters, we’ve arranged the alphabet in over a million ways to create words that convey meaning, express our thoughts and influence others.

These same few building blocks were used by giants of literature like Dickens, Shakespeare or Austen, but their output is as original and unique as they were.

The Greeks used to  (more…)

Word play for extra traffic

I once worked in a call centre where I overheard one of my colleagues explaining to his client why a shipment of components had been delayed; apparently the cargo ship had been hit by a tycoon.

Whilst it turned out I was the only one amused by the image of Bill Gates being torpedoed at freighters in the Indian Ocean, we’ve probably all used a malapropism, mondegreen or spoonerism to someone else’s entertainment.  (more…)

Heteronyms: Words that try to fool their readers

With English containing a lot of homophones (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings), even people proficient in the language can often slip up and mistake a ‘there’ for a ‘their’, or a ‘your’ for a ‘you’re’. It’s just the sort of thing that grammarians pounce on though, particularly if such errors are made on a business website or social media page.

A slightly less common, but still prevalent, occurrence in English is  (more…)

Four great adjectives with literary origins

Literature boffins love to explain that the fairly well-established name Wendy was popularised by Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie, or that the word ‘malapropism’ comes from the loquaciously clumsy character Mrs. Malaprop, who appears in the 1775 play The Rivals written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but what about the great adjectives for which we have the names of authors to thank?

Here are some of the most  (more…)

Four words that seem to be mocking themselves

Language has created many onomatopoeic words over the years, meaning ones that sound like the noise they describe. Examples might include the splashing of water, the quacking of a duck or the crackling of a dodgy phone line. It doesn’t take an etymologist to work out the origin of these words.

Other times though, the words used to describe things seem so implausible and ridiculous, you would wonder what sort of brain could possibly  (more…)

Five chess terms to have entered wider usage

Chess is a simple yet detailed game that acts as a metaphor for battle, power and hierarchy, so it’s perhaps little surprise that many of the terms used in it often crop up away from the chessboard.

If you want to keep your use of the English language two moves ahead, consider dropping in a couple of the following terms  (more…)

Six body part adjectives

With many parts of your body, you can tag a ‘–y’ suffix to the end and make them into an adjective. Often, this is very literal, such as a person with a lot of hairy is ‘hairy’, an intelligent person is ‘brainy’ and somebody with a husky voice might be described as ‘throaty’.

It’s not always that simple though. What if we want to describe somebody with a big nose? We can’t call them ‘nosy’, as that has (more…)

Making a hash of hashtags

It’s almost difficult to remember what we used the hash (#) sign for before Twitter came along. Traditionally denoting a number, while also appearing as one of the keys on a phone, the symbol is now most readily associated with the social media phenomenon of ‘hashtagging’. This is the idea of creating trends by bracketing a number of tweets or posts under one short phrase.

Recent examples on Twitter have included  (more…)

Five everyday adjectives with no obvious root

Often, it’s easy to make a noun into an adjective in English simply by adding a ‘–y’ suffix to it, although you often need to double the final letter or snip an ‘e’ off the end. Examples could include something offering plenty of fun being ‘funny’, and anything rich in taste being ‘tasty’.

This might lead you to think that you can simply take any adjective ending with ‘y’, remove the suffix and find the noun from which it was formed, but  (more…)

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