Author Archive

  • What does it mean when a word is not in the dictionary?

    Posted by on February 06, 2017

    Sometimes you’ll see a word you’re not sure of, so you look it up in a dictionary – and lo and behold, it’s missing. You may conclude it’s not a ‘real word’, or maybe not even a word at all. But this is premature. Most words that people look up but fail to find in […]

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  • Pearl clutchers, snowflakes, elites and SJWs

    Posted by on January 09, 2017

    In his linguistic review of 2016 last month, editor-in-chief Michael Rundell discussed the rise in people’s use of the word elite and showed how it ‘now seems to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean’. Lane Greene at the Economist reached a similar conclusion, writing that elite is ‘becoming a junk-bin concept used by different […]

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  • Don’t dis this prefix

    Posted by on December 05, 2016

    The prefix dis- is commonly added to words to give them an opposite or contrasting sense. It entered English from Latin dis-, or in some cases from Old French des-. On his affixes website Michael Quinion says the prefix ‘had various linked senses in Latin, such as reversal, moving apart, removal or separation’, or sometimes […]

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  • Dictionary labels part III: literary, humorous, and the rest

    Posted by on November 07, 2016

    This is the third and final post in a mini-series on the style labels used in Macmillan Dictionary. Previous posts looked at the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ and ‘offensive’ labels; this one addresses the others. Aside from labels marking (in)formality, the most common are ‘literary’, ‘spoken’, ‘humorous’, ‘old-fashioned’, and ‘journalism’. These are not absolute categories, of […]

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  • 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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