Author Archive

  • Dictionary labels part II: the offensive ‘lunatic’

    Posted by on October 03, 2016

    Last month I began a series of posts looking at style labels in Macmillan Dictionary. These are supplementary tags, like ‘humorous’, ‘impolite’ and ‘old-fashioned’, that help readers understand the nature and use of a word. The first post focused on ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, and this one explores the extreme end of that axis: offensive language. […]

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  • Dictionary labels part I: the very informal ‘bawbag’

    Posted by on September 05, 2016

    In the first of a short series of posts on the labels used in Macmillan Dictionary, Stan Carey looks at how different levels of formality are indicated. A common perception of dictionaries is that they are collections of spellings and definitions. These are certainly major features. You encounter a word you don’t know, or about […]

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  • Word lovers, meet your match

    Posted by on August 01, 2016

    Macmillan Dictionary’s word of the day and phrase of the week features are a match made in heaven for word lovers and English-language learners. One recent phrase of the week – in the middle of Wimbledon’s tennis matches – was meet your match. Matches, matches, everywhere. Where did they come from, and how are they […]

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  • As You Dislike It

    Posted by on July 04, 2016

    Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves is rightly celebrated for its lyrical, experimental style. After each session of writing it, when her mind was ‘agape and red-hot’, she read Shakespeare. Her diary entry of 13 April 1930 reveals the awe Woolf felt at the playwright’s ‘word coining power’ and creative speed, producing words that ‘drop so […]

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  • Blethering about blatherskite

    Posted by on June 06, 2016

    Among the recent additions to Macmillan’s Open Dictionary – crowdsourced through reader submissions – is the colourful word blatherskite. This can refer either to ‘a person who talks nonsense’ or to the nonsense itself: blatherskites talk blatherskite. Blatherskite is a compound in two parts. It was formed by joining blather – a noun and verb […]

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  • Is adverbial ‘deep’ used wrong?

    Posted by on May 02, 2016

    The word deep runs deep in English history. In Old English it served a range of grammatical functions, much like today. It was used as a noun meaning deepness or the deep part of the sea (or other body of water). It was a verb meaning to make deep (= deepen), a usage now obsolete. […]

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  • Much ado about ‘do’

    Posted by on April 04, 2016

    In Act 2, Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio enters the stage and asks: ‘Where the devil should this Romeo be? Came he not home tonight?’ Then in the next act, Benvolio urges his cousin Romeo: ‘Begone! Stand not amazed.’ Both quotations are distinctly Shakespearean – we notice there’s something syntactically different about them […]

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  • There are plurals, and then there’s plurals

    Posted by on March 07, 2016

    Last month I gave an overview of grammatical agreement, also called concord, and explained the difference between two main types of it: formal agreement and notional agreement. In this post I focus on a common phrase that exemplifies the difference: there is, where there is known as a dummy, existential, introductory, or anticipatory subject. There […]

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  • Agreeing with grammatical concord

    Posted by on February 01, 2016

    In a post last month about neither was vs. neither were, Liz Potter looked at hundreds of real-life examples from the British National Corpus and found that neither in singular and plural uses occurred about equally often. Reviewing more recent corpus data led her to conclude that the plural use could be gaining the upper […]

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  • Your new favourite slang

    Posted by on January 11, 2016

    When people peeve about words they hate, the same kinds of words crop up repeatedly, such as business jargon, colloquialisms, and slang. Young people are often the main creators and distributors of these new words and phrases. They may use them to signal group identity, as John E. McIntyre writes, or to express themselves or […]

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