Author Archive

  • Is English going to the dog(e)s?

    Posted by on April 16, 2014

    A few weeks back, our Friday column on Language and Words in the News included a link to an article by Gretchen McCulloch on the grammar of “doge”. Historically, a doge was an elected ruler of Venice, but that’s not the one we’re talking about here. And although the two words are homonyms (both pronounced […]

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  • The words you need: follow the red words and stars

    Posted by on April 03, 2014

    I learned a great new Spanish word last week: tiquismiquis. Its equivalent in English would be something like nitpicker or fusspot. It’s not quite a case of onomatopoeia, but there’s something about the word that matches the referent, and this makes it easier to remember. Next time I come across it, I’ll know what it […]

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  • 248 changes in Macmillan Dictionary’s new update

    Posted by on April 02, 2014

    After a hard day at work — so busy you had to have your lunch al desko — you’re home at last. Time to change into something comfortable (so, maybe not the spray-on jeans today) and settle down to chainwatch your latest box set — perhaps one of those scary Nordic noir thrillers. Well, you […]

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  • Learning about pragmatics: a useful life skill

    Posted by on January 21, 2014

    One of our major themes at Macmillan in 2014 is “Life Skills”, an umbrella term for the professional, academic, and personal skills we all need in order to do well in life. Effective communication is obviously a big part of this. But choosing the language to get your message across involves more than simply cobbling […]

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  • Flashbulb memories, grassy knolls and conspiracy theories

    Posted by on November 21, 2013

    In an article in Prospect magazine titled “What were the causes of 9/11?”, the author, Peter Bergen, notes that the terrorist attacks of September 2001 gave rise to numerous conspiracy theories. Which is not really surprising, when people were struggling “to explain what otherwise appears inexplicable”. Discussing these theories, Bergen continues: The usual suspects have […]

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  • Stories behind Words: rack and ruin

    Posted by on November 13, 2013

    Today’s post was requested by one of our readers, Caroline Batchelder, who asked us to tell the story behind the expression go to rack and ruin. There is a line in Milton’s Paradise Lost (1677) which goes: And now all Heav’n Had gone to wrack, with ruins overspred. Wrack, meaning damage, devastation or destruction, is […]

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  • Stories behind Words: madeleine

    Posted by on November 06, 2013

    In his recent ‘Word roots and routes’ post, Jonathan explored the connections between the word voice and its numerous cognates. He noted that: “Sometimes you hear, see, smell, taste or read something that evokes a certain feeling, emotion or image from your memory or experience.” A famous case of evocation relates to the word madeleine. […]

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  • Stories behind words: loophole

    Posted by on October 30, 2013

    There was a news story in the UK last week about the government’s failure to “close a tax loophole which costs the UK economy at least £500m a year”. A loophole is, according to the Macmillan Dictionary, “something that has been left out of a law or legal document that people can use to avoid obeying […]

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  • Stories behind Words: iconoclast

    Posted by on October 23, 2013

    London’s Tate Britain gallery has a new exhibition called “Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm”, which will explore “the history of physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day”. This invokes the original – now rare – meaning of iconoclast, as someone who broke or destroyed “icons” (or […]

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  • Going mainstream

    Posted by on September 24, 2013

    In 1964, scientists predicted the existence of an elementary particle which could explain why some particles have mass. It later became known as the Higgs boson, and in March 2013 researchers working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known as CERN) announced that they had found evidence which (probably) confirmed its existence. But […]

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