From the category archives:

linguistics and lexicography

  • 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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  • Surveilling a new back formation

    Posted by on April 14, 2014

    New words are constantly entering English, though only some are destined to stick around or become standard. We might imagine them being made from scratch, and some, such as blurb and quark, were coined this way – by Gelett Burgess and James Joyce, respectively. Far more often, though, new words emerge through modification of existing […]

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  • The words you need: follow the red words and stars

    Posted by on April 03, 2014

    I learned a great new Spanish word last week: tiquismiquis. Its equivalent in English would be something like nitpicker or fusspot. It’s not quite a case of onomatopoeia, but there’s something about the word that matches the referent, and this makes it easier to remember. Next time I come across it, I’ll know what it […]

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  • 248 changes in Macmillan Dictionary’s new update

    Posted by on April 02, 2014

    After a hard day at work — so busy you had to have your lunch al desko — you’re home at last. Time to change into something comfortable (so, maybe not the spray-on jeans today) and settle down to chainwatch your latest box set — perhaps one of those scary Nordic noir thrillers. Well, you […]

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  • False and flying colours in metaphor

    Posted by on March 31, 2014

    Colour has many figurative and metaphorical uses, independent of physics, that can reflect our identity or nature more or less directly. People might show their true colours by making an off-colour remark, or we might say the local colour of a town has brought colour to some event. I want to highlight here a particular […]

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  • As versus so in negative comparisons

    Posted by on March 26, 2014

    Corpus lexicographers are used to basing their linguistic judgements on authentic data, on what people have actually said or written. This approach has led to major advances in the study of language, but what it tends to underplay is what people think of their own (or other people’s) language habits, in terms of correctness or […]

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  • Corpus linguistics in a MOOC – the future of education?

    Posted by on March 12, 2014

    Today’s guest post comes from Tony McEnery, Professor of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, and a leading figure in the world of corpus linguistics. ______________ If somebody had told me that, when I agreed to do a massive open online course (MOOC) for corpus linguistics, I would be crowd-sourcing word meanings from thousands […]

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  • Crawling the Web for new words

    Posted by on February 26, 2014

    Today’s guest post, from Daphné Kerremans of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, is another in our occasional series on developments in language technology (and how they help us produce better dictionaries). Daphné is a linguist interested in the socio-cognitive mechanisms of language processes, specifically regarding the adoption of linguistic innovations by individuals and the speech community at large. She […]

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  • Willy-nilly word development

    Posted by on February 03, 2014

    There’s something about reduplication that makes it pleasing to the ear. Willy-nilly ticks that box and has the added appeal of a complex history. Let’s break the word down first. The verb will originally meant ‘want’ or ‘be willing’, and nill was its negative, from ne (‘not’) + will. Nill’s past tense is nould (just […]

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  • Apocope is not to be dissed

    Posted by on January 20, 2014

    Words are mutable things, subject to constant tugs and tweaks in the everyday trade of conversation. Some drift far enough to become visibly different when written down. There are patterns to these drifts, for example aphaeresis, whereby a word loses its initial sound or sounds (’twas, ’cause, knock, ticket). Sounds are also lost from the […]

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