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When words become weapons

You’ve heard the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”, but did you know that lexicographers have been known to coin words with the sole intention of catching people out?

For the 2005 edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary, the word ‘esquivalience’ made an appearance. According to the dictionary, it’s a noun meaning  (more…)

Three words made popular by The Simpsons

I have to admit that a disturbing amount of my cultural knowledge stems from a particular American TV programme that’s been on our screens for the last 25 years. Whenever I’m trying to think about whether what seems like a very British phrase is ever used by Americans, I always find myself asking “has Homer ever said that?”

A whole generation has grown up with The Simpsons, and it’s even  (more…)

Key learnings for typists

The ultimate aim of anyone who regularly word processes is to get to know where all the keys are without looking at the keyboard, but is there any particular reason why we use the layout that we do? Why not just have keys in alphabetical order?

The keyboard layout with which  (more…)

Three everyday words invented by William Shakespeare

There are some academics who would argue that Shakespeare was more a poet than a playwright, what with his 154 sonnets and every one of his plays being written in iambic pentameter (lines of 10 syllables with every second syllable being stressed). What is beyond doubt, though, is that the bard had a way with words.

Shakespeare didn’t limit his words to the ones in 16th and 17th Century usage, though, as he was happy to  (more…)

What does the English language have against pigs?

Whether we talk of cat-like reactions, wolfing down food or being as blind as a bat, it’s clear that the associations we make with animals affect the language we use, but are these connotations always fair?

One creature that always seems to get a raw deal here is the pig. There are at least four expressions that compare negative human behaviour to  (more…)

Getting set for definition

Of all the words we English speakers use, which one do you think is recognised to have the most different ways of using it?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the word that boasts this honour is ‘set’, with a staggering 464 definitions.

That might surprise  (more…)

Five words with unusual properties

English speakers use words so freely that they sometimes barely register the letters that go into forming them. When they do, there are often factors about them that cause surprise.

Here are five words that you may never think of in the same way again once  (more…)

New words in the frame

No doubt at some point you’ve taken a photograph of somebody or something and found that something else in the photo has, deliberately or otherwise, made itself the centre of attention.

The ‘photobomb’ – the act of ruining a photograph by making an unplanned appearance in it – gained extra media coverage during  (more…)

Five X-rated adjectives

When you first learn the alphabet and you start to look at illustrated books to do with it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that xylophones and x-rays are everyday household items. With so few English words beginning with X, it’s hard for publishers to find something visual enough for kids to connect with the  (more…)

Three things called something different wherever you go

English is the most widely spoken language in the world, but that’s not to say that all of its speakers can always understand each other. Even in a fairly small country like Britain, little pockets of it develop their own ways of speaking, often oblivious to the fact that it’s unique to them.

Somehow, people all around the UK have settled upon their own peculiar little words for certain things. Here are  (more…)

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