From the category archives:

linguistics and lexicography

  • Can you twig it?

    Posted by on September 15, 2014

    Given how close Ireland and Britain are geographically, standard English has surprisingly few words that originated in Irish (less surprising when politics and social history are taken into account). Examples include banshee, galore, shamrock, and perhaps smithereens. Informal English has a few more, one of which may be twig, meaning ‘realise’ or ‘understand’. But its […]

    Read the full article
  • “Real Grammar” – accept no substitutes!

    Posted by on September 02, 2014

    Welcome to our new series on “Real Grammar”, which kicks off with a quiz. But this is a grammar quiz with a difference. As regular readers will know, all of us who write for the Macmillan Dictionary Blog have consistently argued that most grammar quizzes (and for that matter, most websites dispensing advice on “correct […]

    Read the full article
  • A critique of ‘criticism’

    Posted by on September 01, 2014

    If I told you a mutual acquaintance of ours had criticised your new hairdo, you might well take offence. But if I said I’d be happy to criticise something you’d written, you might infer a different meaning of the word. The related noun criticism  shows a similar dichotomy. The two senses of these words – […]

    Read the full article
  • Broadcast(ed) and forecast(ed)

    Posted by on August 18, 2014

    Children learning language for the first time tend to regularise irregular verbs, saying things like ‘I goed’ instead of ‘I went’ and ‘we runned’ instead of ‘we ran’. If English inflection were more consistent, these utterances would be normal practice, not errors – though it’s worth noting that children may be more aware of words’ […]

    Read the full article
  • Hail-phrase-well-met

    Posted by on August 04, 2014

    I was ploughing through a legal thriller recently (Limitations by Scott Turow) when I came across a line that brought me up short: ‘“Nathan!” George cries, hail fellow well met, as he strides out.’ Hail fellow well met. I’ve been encountering this expression on and off over the years, but never properly examined it. What […]

    Read the full article
  • Get your gas mask on – toot sweet! World War I, and its impact on English

    Posted by on July 28, 2014

    There’s a popular song from World War I about a soldier going off to the front. It starts with the lines: Brother Bertie went away To do his bit the other day (You can hear an original recording here.) “Doing your bit” – taking your fair share of a job that has to be done […]

    Read the full article
  • Why heed the language cranks?

    Posted by on July 21, 2014

    Disputes over English usage are full of familiar items. Split infinitives, sentence-final prepositions, words like [you might prefer such as] hopefully and decimate – the same issues keep showing up, despite convincing arguments that there’s seldom a problem with any of them, leaving aside the question of register. It feels as though these are battles […]

    Read the full article
  • What goes in the dictionary when the dictionary is online?

    Posted by on July 15, 2014

    The familiar question of “how words get into the dictionary” is harder to answer when the dictionary is online. Printed dictionaries have limited space, so we have to be selective. This contributes to the popular view of lexicographers as “gatekeepers” – the people who decide, on behalf of the rest of the population, which words are […]

    Read the full article
  • Tour de Yorks

    Posted by on July 09, 2014

    A couple of weeks ago I finally fulfilled a longstanding wish to visit Haworth parsonage, family home of the Bronte sisters. There is a striking, even surreal contrast between the plain, dark house by the churchyard where those brilliantly gifted women spent much of their short lives and the chocolate-box prettiness of the steep main […]

    Read the full article
  • Laying down the lie of the land

    Posted by on July 07, 2014

    A recent comment by Isobel on my post ‘Who’s the boss of English?’ raised the vexed question of lay vs. lie. I felt this would be worth a post in its own right – not so much to lay down the law as to give the lie to the idea that it’s a simple matter […]

    Read the full article