From the category archives:

language change and slang

  • Get your gas mask on – toot sweet! World War I, and its impact on English

    Posted by on July 28, 2014

    There’s a popular song from World War I about a soldier going off to the front. It starts with the lines: Brother Bertie went away To do his bit the other day (You can hear an original recording here.) “Doing your bit” – taking your fair share of a job that has to be done […]

    Read the full article
  • What goes in the dictionary when the dictionary is online?

    Posted by on July 15, 2014

    The familiar question of “how words get into the dictionary” is harder to answer when the dictionary is online. Printed dictionaries have limited space, so we have to be selective. This contributes to the popular view of lexicographers as “gatekeepers” – the people who decide, on behalf of the rest of the population, which words are […]

    Read the full article
  • Don’t let them bully you!

    Posted by on June 03, 2014

    Readers of our blog will be aware that – despite several decades of serious linguistic research based on the evidence found in corpora – the world is still plagued by self-appointed “experts”, who seem to enjoy lecturing the rest of us on what is wrong with the way we write and speak. Worse still, these […]

    Read the full article
  • Trending, then peaking, then past its sell-by date

    Posted by on April 30, 2014

    Australian scientists have discovered that the more beards there are, the less attractive they become. Their experiment, reported in the journal Biology Letters, found that “women and men judged heavy stubble and full beards more attractive when presented in treatments where beards were rare than when they were common … Likewise, clean-shaven faces were least […]

    Read the full article
  • 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 […]

    Read the full article
  • Apostrophe do’s, dos and don’ts

    Posted by on February 17, 2014

    Every year there’s controversy over the use of punctuation in public places. Often it’s the humble apostrophe causing trouble, and so it was in Cambridge recently when the city council removed the mark from street signs. Unhappy pedants armed with markers set about replacing the missing apostrophes, which were later officially reinstated. One anxious campaigner […]

    Read the full article
  • Is banning slang counterproductive?

    Posted by on November 11, 2013

    In a recent round-up of language in the news, we linked to a story about slang being banned from certain parts of a London school – though as usual in such cases, some of the banned terms aren’t so much slang as simply disliked phrases. Regular readers won’t be surprised that I’m sceptical about the […]

    Read the full article
  • 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 […]

    Read the full article
  • An FYI on acronyms

    Posted by on September 16, 2013

    Last month I described how technological change has led to many entries being revised in Macmillan Dictionary’s recent update. A particular example of how this change manifests is through acronyms and initialisms. It’s worth clarifying the difference between these. Acronyms are new words formed from the initial letters (or parts) of a series of words, […]

    Read the full article
  • Back to black: what goes up can go down again

    Posted by on September 10, 2013

    In his book Physics of the Future, Michio Kaku predicts that computers will be built into so many of the things we use that they will “disappear into the fabric of our lives”. One consequence of this, he believes, is that the word computer itself will eventually die out. Though this seems unlikely, computer is […]

    Read the full article