Author Archive

  • 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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  • Word roots and routes: whole

    Posted by on March 24, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. The word whole has very deep roots, which can be traced back beyond the beginnings of English, and it has close cognates in other modern Germanic languages. The underlying meaning of whole is ‘undamaged’, and therefore complete or entire. […]

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  • Word roots and routes: spire

    Posted by on March 10, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. The saying ‘Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration‘ is attributed to Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, the movie camera and the electric light bulb. I can’t verify those percentages, but I do know that twenty […]

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  • Word roots and routes: tract

    Posted by on February 24, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. In my school maths lessons, one of the weapons I had in grappling with intractable geometrical puzzles was a plastic semicircle called a protractor. I was unaware, then, of the similarity to the much more familiar word tractor. Still less did […]

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  • Word roots and routes: draw, drag, draft, draught

    Posted by on February 10, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Artist Paul Klee famously said that drawing is ‘taking a line for a walk’. The etymology of drawing is different, but equally prosaic: drawing is pulling a pencil across a sheet of paper. The closely-related words draw, drag, draft […]

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  • Word roots and routes: cess, cease, cede, ceed

    Posted by on January 27, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. English has many related words containing the roots cede, ceed, cess and cease, derived from the Latin verb cēdere (go, go away, withdraw, yield) and its past participle cessus. Cede and cease exist as independent words, but this group […]

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  • Word roots and routes: time and tide

    Posted by on January 13, 2014

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Time and tide are another pair of words, of Latin and Germanic origin respectively, whose meanings have taken different routes in their journey towards modern English. The noun tide originally meant time, and this meaning survives in the names […]

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  • Word roots and routes: fall and case

    Posted by on December 16, 2013

    Next in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary. Like tell and count, fall and case are a Germanic/Latin pair which have followed similar parallel routes. Outside my window the wind’s howling, rainfall‘s turning to snowfall, nightfall‘s starting in mid-afternoon, and there’s a serious shortfall of sunshine. It’s […]

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