This post contains a selection of links related to language and words in the news. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting websites related to global English, language change, education in general, and language learning and teaching in particular.
Feel free to contact us if you would like to submit a link for us to include, or just add a comment to the post, with the link(s) you’d like to share.
Language change and slang
Becoming a Grammar Jedi
Robert Lane Greene’s fascinating account of what happened when he was invited to join the American Heritage Dictionary’s Usage Panel.
English words the French simply can’t say
As someone whose name when pronounced by Italians often sounds like a large city in the middle of Yorkshire, I can totally sympathise with number 4. And before anyone complains, there’s a companion piece on French words the English can’t pronounce. Vive la différence!
Improve your English
When Your Punctuation Says It All (!)
There is a very fine line between appearing overeager (too much punctuation) and dismissive (not enough).
Language teaching and resources
Phrasal verbs: myths and realities
Many of you will have enjoyed the posts of Jonathan Marks on our blog. Here are his thoughts on phrasal verbs.
Books, dictionaries, words and language
The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape
For decades the leading nature writer has been collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena – from aquabob to zawn.He’s published them in a book, but you can read about some of them here.
Why Oxford Dictionaries are right to purge nature from the dictionary
Macfarlane was one of the writers who protested about the removal of ‘nature words’ from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Here’s another article on the subject that is rather more sympathetic to the job of lexicographers. The captions are funny too.
World Book Day
World Book Day is an opportunity for kids to have a bit of fun by going to school dressed as their favourite literary characters. Here’s a selection of the best, culled from social media.
10 idioms about books
And here’s Macmillan English’s contribution to the celebrations.
Italian MPs chided for macho language
Speaker of the House of Deputies Laura Boldrini is against the use of the masculine form in Italian articles and noun endings when describing women who hold positions of power. She is urging them immediately to start using the feminine forms of these words during debates and in official documents.
Michael Adams on Phillip Gove’s Innovation With Attributive Nouns
Lexicography nerd alert: it seems that the much-reviled Webster’s Third Editor Phillip Gove was the first to recognise the tendency of nouns to behave attributively, introducing the label often attrib. to the dictionary.
Darling, there’s an elephant in the womb
Re. the so-called ‘split infinitive’, a topic that has cropped up from time to time in this blog.
The description of the ‘Italian MPs chided for macho language’ item includes this sentence:
“She is urging them immediately to start using the feminine forms of these words during debates and in official documents.”
But she isn’t urging them immediately, is she? She’s urging them to immediately start using the feminine forms.
Well spotted, Jonathan. I simply copied the line over from the BBC News website. I don’t know if they have a stylistic prohibition of ‘so-called split infinitives’ or if it’s the personal choice of the writer. But you’re right to say it would be clearer if written as you suggest.
Jonathan, Liz: Thanks for this latest illustration of the idiocy of the “rule” against splitting infinitives. We can add that sentence to the ones in our Real Grammar post on this issue.
It demonstrates that when people shift the adverb leftwards in order to avoid the “sin” of a splitting an infinitive, the result is not only clunky and inelegant, but downright misleading. Of all the peeves that prescriptivists waste their time worrying about, this must be one of the most ridiculous. As far as BBC policy goes, I suspect that they have no objection in principle to split infinitives, but they avoid them simply because, if they didn’t, they would be inundated by complaints from pedants up and down the land. I urge everyone to immediately start splitting infinitives.
The latest BBC Style Guide says: “Split infinitives are not banned. By all means, split the infinitive if the alternative looks ugly – eg: He said his wages were going to more than double.”
The previous edition (PDF) was more extensive: “Is it all right to split an infinitive? There is no grammatical rule which says you cannot do so, but there are grammatical martinets everywhere who get almost apoplectic if they hear one. Sometimes, it is definitely better to split: Can dot.com companies ever hope to fully recover their share values? This sounds much better than moving fully in front of to recover or behind it.The key is not to write anything which is ambiguous or inelegant.”
Then it quotes K. Amis’s unhelpful equivocation: “I personally think that to split an infinitive is perfectly legitimate, but I do my best never to split one in public and I would certainly not advise anybody else to do so, even today.” Pah!