From the category archives:

linguistics and lexicography

  • Pearl clutchers, snowflakes, elites and SJWs

    Posted by on January 09, 2017

    In his linguistic review of 2016 last month, editor-in-chief Michael Rundell discussed the rise in people’s use of the word elite and showed how it ‘now seems to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean’. Lane Greene at the Economist reached a similar conclusion, writing that elite is ‘becoming a junk-bin concept used by different […]

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  • Merry Christmas from the Macmillan Dictionary team

    Posted by on December 24, 2016

    One of the quintessential elements of a British Christmas is the singing of carols, an activity that has retained its popularity despite the general decline in religious observance. From the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast around the world from King’s College Cambridge to groups gathered in shopping centres, town squares and on village […]

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  • The year “elite” changed its meaning: a linguistic review of 2016

    Posted by on December 07, 2016

    It’s been a busy year. In 2016, the US elected a new president, while Britain voted to leave the European Union – and both events left a big linguistic trail. Brexit had already been in Macmillan Dictionary since 2013, but in June its meaning changed, from referring to the (unlikely) possibility of Britain exiting the EU, […]

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  • Don’t dis this prefix

    Posted by on December 05, 2016

    The prefix dis- is commonly added to words to give them an opposite or contrasting sense. It entered English from Latin dis-, or in some cases from Old French des-. On his affixes website Michael Quinion says the prefix ‘had various linked senses in Latin, such as reversal, moving apart, removal or separation’, or sometimes […]

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  • Seachangers, salad days and skim milk

    Posted by on November 28, 2016

    In her third and final post about the links between the language of Shakespeare and the language of today, BuzzWord author Kerry Maxwell shows how the Bard’s metaphors live on in modern English. _____________ In Australian English, the word seachanger has in recent years become the catchy new way to describe a person who shuns […]

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  • ‘Net migration’: when does a term move from policy into the press?

    Posted by on November 21, 2016

    Our latest guest post looks at the fascinating topic of the language used to talk about migration. Will Allen is a Research Officer with The Migration Observatory and the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), both based at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the ways that media, public opinion, and policymaking […]

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  • Quoting Shakespeare – of icebreakers and idioms

    Posted by on November 09, 2016

    In the second of her posts about the links between the language of Shakespeare and the language of today, BuzzWord author Kerry Maxwell considers the Bard’s role in coining idioms we use without a second thought. _____________ English is a language rich in idioms and fixed phrases, language forms that trip unconsciously from the tongues […]

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  • Dictionary labels part III: literary, humorous, and the rest

    Posted by on November 07, 2016

    This is the third and final post in a mini-series on the style labels used in Macmillan Dictionary. Previous posts looked at the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ and ‘offensive’ labels; this one addresses the others. Aside from labels marking (in)formality, the most common are ‘literary’, ‘spoken’, ‘humorous’, ‘old-fashioned’, and ‘journalism’. These are not absolute categories, of […]

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  • Dictionary labels part II: the offensive ‘lunatic’

    Posted by on October 03, 2016

    Last month I began a series of posts looking at style labels in Macmillan Dictionary. These are supplementary tags, like ‘humorous’, ‘impolite’ and ‘old-fashioned’, that help readers understand the nature and use of a word. The first post focused on ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, and this one explores the extreme end of that axis: offensive language. […]

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  • Dictionary labels part I: the very informal ‘bawbag’

    Posted by on September 05, 2016

    In the first of a short series of posts on the labels used in Macmillan Dictionary, Stan Carey looks at how different levels of formality are indicated. A common perception of dictionaries is that they are collections of spellings and definitions. These are certainly major features. You encounter a word you don’t know, or about […]

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