Author Archive

  • #Blacklivesmatter and words of the year

    Posted by on January 19, 2015

    The final, and foremost, Word of the Year selection in language lovers’ winter calendar is the American Dialect Society’s, which took place in Portland earlier this month. With no clear front-runner for its overall WOTY, it was open to surprises – like last year’s winner because. And a surprise duly occurred: the word of 2014 […]

    Read the full article
  • Accent prejudice in the mainstream

    Posted by on January 05, 2015

    The rules of TV-watching change at Christmas, with the result that even a habitual tube-avoider like me can end up seeing shows like Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year. I didn’t expect it to contain material of any great sociolinguistic interest, but it did, and it wasn’t good. On at least three occasions […]

    Read the full article
  • Anti-multiple-hyphen tendencies

    Posted by on December 22, 2014

    A leading story in Irish current affairs this year has been the government’s controversial creation of Irish Water, which will charge people for their use of water, and the ensuing nationwide protests. The outcry is about much more than the water charges – there is deep, widespread anger about how the country is being run […]

    Read the full article
  • Flat adverbs are exceeding fine

    Posted by on December 08, 2014

    We can do something quick or do it quickly, go slow or go slowly. But though we can do something fast, we don’t do it fastly – this is not a word you’re likely to hear from a native English speaker. How come? Fast, slow, and quick all belong to the set of adverbs in […]

    Read the full article
  • The vogue for banning words

    Posted by on November 24, 2014

    I’m not a fan of banning words. Even moist. For one thing it’s impossible, so I should say I’m not in favour of attempts to ban words either, even when those attempts aren’t serious. It strikes me as futile and rash, a casual shot at censorship motivated by capricious dislike of a word that perhaps […]

    Read the full article
  • Overall, there’s nothing really wrong with it

    Posted by on November 10, 2014

    Some words may seem harmless but attract prolonged disapproval from critics. One such word is overall, in its use both as an adjective meaning ‘considering something as a whole, rather than its details or the different aspects of it’ (the overall result), and as an adverb – usually a sentence adverb – meaning ‘when everything […]

    Read the full article
  • Mildew all around me, and other mondegreens

    Posted by on October 27, 2014

    Misheard song lyrics have been in my head again. Kerry Maxwell’s BuzzWord article on creep as a combining form reminded me of the memorably rude example ‘I drove all night, crapped in your room’ – instead of crept. Then a Twitter friend mentioned ‘Poppadum Creek’, a surreal misanalysis of Madonna’s lyric ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, and […]

    Read the full article
  • Enthusing about freedom of usage

    Posted by on October 13, 2014

    Writing about back-formation earlier this year, I said that enthuse – a verb back-formed from enthusiasm – occupied a grey area of acceptability. This area is worth mapping in more detail, since much of what people say about enthuse applies to other words and usages, and offers insights into what Macmillan Dictionary calls real grammar. […]

    Read the full article
  • The wacky world of ‘wack’ and ‘whack’

    Posted by on September 29, 2014

    Imagine you’re involved in a project outdoors, busy doing your whack of the work, and suddenly you get a whack of a branch, or you whack your leg off a gate. That would be totally wack, right? Or is it whack? If the semantic tangle of these words leaves you feeling a little out of […]

    Read the full article
  • Can you twig it?

    Posted by on September 15, 2014

    Given how close Ireland and Britain are geographically, standard English has surprisingly few words that originated in Irish (less surprising when politics and social history are taken into account). Examples include banshee, galore, shamrock, and perhaps smithereens. Informal English has a few more, one of which may be twig, meaning ‘realise’ or ‘understand’. But its […]

    Read the full article