Author Archive

  • Stories behind Words: avoska

    Posted by on June 19, 2013

    Whenever I go out, I take an avoska with me, just in case I spot something I might want to buy. But first, a little background. Back in the days of the USSR, when Russia was one of fifteen Soviet Republics, there were frequent shortages of consumer goods. So when a particular item arrived in […]

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  • Lost or found in translation

    Posted by on December 22, 2012

    Recently, we saw a lot of searches for the word bumbler. There was a massive spike which lasted about a week towards the end of November. The reason, it turned out, was an article in the Economist magazine about the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou. ‘The country appears to agree on one thing’ wrote the […]

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  • Left, right, left, right.

    Posted by on May 14, 2012

    The Eurozone crisis claimed another victim on 6 May when Nicolas Sarkozy became the eleventh European political leader to lose his job since 2008. His opponent, François Hollande, has become only the second socialist president of the French Fifth Republic. This change of presidency has been seen by some as a “lurch to the left”. […]

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  • Looking up “albeit”

    Posted by on April 30, 2012

    One of the interesting things about English, and other languages too, for that matter, is that a relatively small number of words account for a large percentage of everything we read or hear (or say or write). The most frequent 100 words account for about 45%, and the most frequent 7,500 account for about 90%. […]

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  • Jerry

    Posted by on April 02, 2012

    Here in Britain, we’ve been advised by a government minister to keep a jerrycan of petrol in our garages as a precaution against a proposed strike by the drivers of petrol tankers which threatens to leave most of our petrol stations dry. A jerrycan is a kind of container for petrol, water, or other liquids, […]

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  • Still looking up

    Posted by on January 30, 2012

    Madonna’s recent moonlighting stint as a dictionaries marketing executive is still paying dividends: another thousand people have looked up reductive since we discussed it last Monday, and it’s been the single most looked up word for the last two weeks. If you remember, Madge had said of a Lady Gaga song: “When I heard it […]

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  • Madonna speaks

    Posted by on January 23, 2012

    In 2011, there were 252 searches for the word reductive in the Macmillan Dictionary. So in the 7 days from 13th to 19th January inclusive, we would have expected to see 5. In fact, we had well over 2,000 individual searches for the word reductive. The reason, it would appear, was a comment made by […]

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  • Another apostrophe bites the dust

    Posted by on January 16, 2012

    The weekly roundup on Friday carries a link to a story about the renaming of a well-known chain of British bookstores. It’s Farewell to Waterstones’s and Hello to Waterstones. Losing an apostrophe won’t make any difference to the pronunciation, but nonetheless the name change has been greeted with some outrage by some of the more […]

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  • LOL? But it wasn’t funny

    Posted by on January 09, 2012

    We get a few people looking up acronyms and initialisms used in emails and text messages, but there was a massive surge in look-ups for LOL on 3rd January. In the space of 24 hours, the number of searches went from virtually zero to 1,000, and then just as quickly subsided to former levels. The […]

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  • Grinch and Scrooge bid farewell to 2011

    Posted by on January 03, 2012

    One of the top words looked up over the Christmas period was the word grinch. Most people know the word from the Dr Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas which was made into a cartoon for TV and later a live-action movie. As well as being the name of the fictional character, the word […]

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