From the category archives:

linguistics and lexicography

  • Gwyneth Fox remembered

    Posted by on March 04, 2015

    Sad news for all of us who have worked on the Macmillan Dictionary: our former colleague Gwyneth Fox has died after a short illness. Gwyneth’s sudden death came as a tremendous shock to everyone who knew her. She had been retired for only five years and seemed to be full of energy and in excellent […]

    Read the full article
  • On behalf of this fossilised phrase

    Posted by on March 02, 2015

    We often refer to something being done on behalf of someone, but the word behalf appears only in this set phrase and variations on it. In other words it’s not linguistically productive, so it can be described as a fossil. But what is a behalf, and where does it come from? On someone’s behalf, etymologically […]

    Read the full article
  • Real Grammar Quiz, Question 6: Is it OK to use “they” when referring to a singular person?

    Posted by on February 18, 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    Real Grammar isn’t about the made-up or outdated “rules” which some people try to make us follow.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 […]

    Read the full article
  • Numb-headed numbnuts, ninnies and Numskulls

    Posted by on February 16, 2015

    Macmillan’s crowd-sourced Open Dictionary is a great place to keep an eye on new words and niche vocabulary. It has a marvellous variety of novel phrases, slang, specialist terms, vogue words, regionalisms and other items not used often enough or widely enough to be considered core vocabulary – though any that shift towards mainstream use […]

    Read the full article
  • Refuting allegations of incorrectness

    Posted by on February 02, 2015

    A common bugbear of language critics is the use of refute to mean ‘reject’. A politician might claim to refute allegations of wrongdoing, meaning reject or deny (but not disprove) them. Or a news organisation might phrase the politician’s denial that way; both are common sources of the usage. But because refute traditionally means ‘disprove’, […]

    Read the full article
  • Your favourite portmanteau words

    Posted by on January 27, 2015

    Today is the 183rd birthday of the English mathematician, logician, photographer and clergyman Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. If you’re wondering why such an obscure figure deserves to be celebrated, I should quickly add that Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was the author of the children’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through […]

    Read the full article
  • #Blacklivesmatter and words of the year

    Posted by on January 19, 2015

    The final, and foremost, Word of the Year selection in language lovers’ winter calendar is the American Dialect Society’s, which took place in Portland earlier this month. With no clear front-runner for its overall WOTY, it was open to surprises – like last year’s winner because. And a surprise duly occurred: the word of 2014 […]

    Read the full article
  • Real Grammar Quiz, Question 5: Is it OK to use impact as a verb?

    Posted by on January 14, 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 […]

    Read the full article
  • Accent prejudice in the mainstream

    Posted by on January 05, 2015

    The rules of TV-watching change at Christmas, with the result that even a habitual tube-avoider like me can end up seeing shows like Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year. I didn’t expect it to contain material of any great sociolinguistic interest, but it did, and it wasn’t good. On at least three occasions […]

    Read the full article
  • Are you feeling Christmassy?

    Posted by on December 24, 2014

    In countries where Christmas is celebrated, the population probably divides fairly neatly into those who love Christmas and revel in every aspect of the festive season, and those who actively dislike it. I suspect there aren’t many who can take it or leave it. The patron saint of those who shun Christmas and everything to […]

    Read the full article