From the category archives:

language change and slang

  • 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 […]

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  • 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 […]

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  • 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 […]

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  • 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 […]

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  • 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, […]

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  • 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 […]

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  • The mutable route of ‘commute’

    Posted by on September 02, 2013

    I used to dread this time of year. Childhood summers in the countryside were so long and absorbing that I virtually forgot all about school; its return every autumn was a rude interruption of my holiday idyll, especially on the first day back. I would struggle to shrug off sleep in the car on the […]

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  • Macmillan Dictionary’s new update

    Posted by on August 19, 2013

    In an earlier post, I mentioned an interview I had with a journalist, many years ago, about all the changes we had made in a new edition of a dictionary I then edited. Predictably, none of the really interesting things we discussed ever got a look-in. What excited the paper was the fact that we […]

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  • The minutiae of Latin plurals

    Posted by on July 08, 2013

    Among the recent entries in Macmillan’s crowdsourced Open Dictionary is the word persona as used in marketing contexts to mean “a fictitious character based on known features of the target audience for a product”. That is, during product development a company might “[create] several personas” with which to check that an item is suitable and […]

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  • Stop asking silly questions!

    Posted by on June 18, 2013

    In my last post I mentioned a Telegraph poll which asked innocently: Does grammar matter? Other, equally unanswerable questions are floating around the media, like Is good grammar still important? (why ‘still’?) and Just how bad is bad grammar? I couldn’t say, lacking any appropriate measure of ‘badness’ – it sounds like something from a […]

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