From the category archives:

linguistics and lexicography

  • The double superlative

    Posted by on May 26, 2015

    Round about this time of year, I eagerly await the nominations for the Idler magazine’s Bad Grammar Awards. Not because I necessarily agree that their nominations are actually examples of bad grammar (indeed sometimes they’re examples of bad spelling or punctuation), but because they tend to show up the gulf between the preoccupations of professional […]

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  • ‘Mx’ – a new gender-neutral title

    Posted by on May 25, 2015

    Most people find that they fit readily into one of the common titles Mr, Ms, Mrs or Miss, even if they consider them unnecessary. Ms as a female equivalent of Mr – a title that does not mark marital status – is little more than a century old but is now thoroughly established in standard […]

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  • Being an archaeodialectologist

    Posted by on May 21, 2015

    We are pleased to welcome back to the blog David Crystal, the renowned linguist, writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster. Professor Crystal’s new book The Disappearing Dictionary is published on 21st May by Pan Macmillan. ___________ In the days when I edited The Cambridge Encylopedia, this is how my archaeology contributor defined his subject: ‘the study of […]

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  • This ever-changing language in which we live in

    Posted by on May 11, 2015

    In a recent post on double negatives I said we make allowances for non-standard grammar in song lyrics – or most of us do, most of the time. But some lines still give us pause. One source of frequent dispute is the Paul and Linda McCartney song ‘Live and Let Die’, famously used in a […]

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  • Don’t shoot the messenger

    Posted by on May 04, 2015

    In a previous post, I tried to show that it is perfectly natural and acceptable to say he shot dead his girlfriend as well as he shot his girlfriend dead, in spite of the fictional Professor Pedanticus’s claim that the use of the first pattern by the BBC is not only very annoying, but has […]

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  • Litotes is no small matter

    Posted by on April 27, 2015

    In a recent defence of double negatives I mentioned litotes in passing; this post will look at it in greater detail. Since the word is more often read than heard, and its appearance may mislead, we should start with pronunciation. Litotes has three syllables and is normally pronounced either /laɪˈtəʊtiːz/ ‘lie-TOE-teez’ or /ˈlaɪtəʊtiːz/ ‘LIE-toe-teez’, with […]

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  • Ain’t nothin’ (grammatically) wrong with no double negatives

    Posted by on April 13, 2015

    When Mick Jagger sings that he ‘can’t get no satisfaction’, there’s no confusion over what he means – we know he’s not saying he can get some satisfaction. In a different context, ‘can’t get any satisfaction’ might be better, but we give singers poetic licence when it comes to grammar. We should, anyway. But we […]

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  • Grammar at cross purposes

    Posted by on March 30, 2015

    A recurring theme in Macmillan Dictionary’s Real Grammar series is the difference between actual rules in English grammar and misconceptions or ill-founded assumptions about what constitutes such a rule. Some of the issues addressed, like split infinitives and singular they, are familiar from decades or even centuries of usage debate; others, like bored of, are […]

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  • Real Grammar Quiz, Question 7: should I say “different from” or different to”?

    Posted by on March 24, 2015

    Real Grammar isn’t about the made-up or outdated “rules” which some people try to make us follow. As we said in the introduction to this new series from Macmillan Dictionary, Real Grammar is based on the evidence of language in use. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing you blog posts and videos that give evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions about grammar and […]

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  • Is ‘invite’ acceptable as a noun?

    Posted by on March 16, 2015

    Last week a friend told me to expect ‘an invite’ to something. This was unremarkable in the context, but I know people who would insist on saying invitation even when it might sound inappropriately formal. Invite is a word whose use as a noun seems destined to always raise hackles. For some people it depends […]

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