Author Archive

  • Word roots and routes: dict

    Posted by on July 14, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Although say, tell and word are of Germanic origin, like most of the commonest English words, quite a bit of other vocabulary connected with words and with saying is derived from Latin dicere (= ‘say’). To dictate was originally […]

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  • Word roots and routes: sun

    Posted by on June 30, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Sun and son are homophones – they happen to have the same pronunciation, but their spellings are different, and their meanings and origins are unrelated. Germanic, Latin and Greek have all contributed to our vocabulary connected with the sun. Germanic […]

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  • Word roots and routes: moon

    Posted by on June 16, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Throughout the ages, people have gazed at the moon in its changing manifestations, worshipped it, invested it with magical powers or human characteristics, and woven it into myths and stories. In some languages it even gives its name to […]

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  • Word roots and routes: duce, duct

    Posted by on June 02, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Another productive Latin source of English vocabulary is the verb ducere (‘lead’) and its past participle stem duct-. A duke, for example (related words: ducal, duchess, duchy, dukedom), was originally a kind of ‘leader’. Some ‘duct‘ words share the […]

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  • Word roots and routes: scribe

    Posted by on May 19, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. A scribe was someone whose job was to copy documents and books before the invention of printing; the word is now sometimes used humorously to refer to a writer, and especially a journalist. However, English has an extensive set […]

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  • Schwa, syllables and words in different guises – Part 2

    Posted by on May 07, 2014

    When you look up the pronunciation of a word in a dictionary, what you’ll find is the word’s ‘citation form’. This is how the word is likely to be pronounced when uttered in isolation, for example in answer to the question, ‘What’s this word? I can’t read it’, which someone might ask while reading a […]

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  • Word roots and routes: river, stream, canal

    Posted by on May 05, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. In the course of my visits to Britain in the 1990s I noticed that train conductors were starting to use ‘arrive to’ in place of the traditional ‘arrive at’ in their announcements – e.g. ‘We will shortly be arriving to Leeds.’ This usage […]

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  • Schwa, syllables and words in different guises – Part 1

    Posted by on April 23, 2014

    I still remember learning, in my early days at school, that there are five vowels in English: a, e, i, o and u. But I discovered later that this simple account doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, the letter y can also function as a vowel, as in the word sky. And, more […]

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  • Word roots and routes: Easter

    Posted by on April 22, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. The words Easter and east are related not only to each other, but also to orient, origin and aurora. This might surprise you, but the alternation between s and r in related words is quite common – think of was vs. were, for […]

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  • Word roots and routes: water

    Posted by on April 07, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Not surprisingly, in view of the vital importance of the colourless, odourless liquid it refers to, water is not only a frequent word in its own right (as a noun and a verb) but also appears in a large number of compounds. The […]

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