Posts tagged with ‘language’

Oxford commas and other peevery

You may have noticed there was a bit of kerfuffle around th’internet [400 comments on Metafilter, for example] about the news that Oxford University Press were dropping their support for the Oxford comma (which they aren’t). I’m always intrigued by the passion that people bring to this stuff. My feeling about the Oxford comma goes […]

Speaking as a dumbed-down chav…

I am endlessly fascinated by the people who are, by their own account, in a constant state of simmering rage at having to overhear other people’s uncouth language. This comment was in response to an article in the Sunday Times:* Dave Russell wrote: Couldn’t agree more abouyt the dumbing down of the nation. Just listen […]

Verbal ticks and burrs

Peter has an amusing post over at slow reads about a particular linguistic bugbear: For my entire five-year teaching career, most students have addressed me as “Wait,” as in “Wait, do we need to write this in our sketchbooks?” These little verbal tics just don’t bother me, and I offer sincere thanks to whichever deity is […]


BBC NEWS | UK | Wales | E-mail error ends up on road sign A funny thing happens in Wales. ( tags: signs Wales language )

The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker

This is the latest of Pinker’s books on various aspects of language and psychology. Specifically, it looks at what language can tell us about the ways the human mind understands the world. For example, the various tenses available to us might tell us something about the human brain’s inherent models for understanding time. Or different […]


John Cameron and the History of English Football « More Than Mind Games Fascinating essay over at MTMG about a footballer called John Cameron and the early history of English football. ( tags: football history sport ) BBC – Ouch! – Features – What’s your Sign Name? Interesting article about 'sign names' – i.e. the […]


Language Log » Stress in Supreme Court oral arguments Interesting: 'We applied automated measurement techniques to recordings of 78 hours of oral arguments from the U.S. Supreme court, in order to look at the (average) effects on pitch and time of primary word stress, secondary stress, and lack of stress.' ( tags: language ) Boomshine […]


One of the few ways that being in Wales is noticeably different to being in England is the presence of Welsh everywhere. Not spoken Welsh — there was some of that, but not much, at least in the part of Wales I was visiting — but written. Every piece of public information — every road sign, every […]

Marginalia on the word ‘cunt’

In a generally interesting post about Obama, Hillary and all that stuff, Sherry says this: I have to admit it’s true that Hillary Clinton has never been called a nigger but I suspect Barack Obama has never been called a cunt. I think the difference in the way that word is used on each side of […]


Because there’s nothing more restful than a West Country accent. From the British Library collections, listen to a recording from 1956 of Fred Bryant, a retired farmworker from Stogumber in Somerset, talking about making cider. The picture is from the V&A: Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, ‘Apple’ (Malus pumila Millervar), watercolour, 1568-1572.

Politician of the day…

… is Anna Lo, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, about whom I know nothing except that she was on the radio today and has the most extraordinary accent I’ve ever heard. I remember hearing a Swede who had lived in Liverpool for some time, and that was quite something, but I think a […]

This is a CRA.

Found via No-sword, the original pictures used in the wug test. I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article above, but the short version is that these pictures were used to test whether children can apply grammatical rules to nonsense words: can they correctly form a plural (or past tense, or whatever) of a word they’ve never […]

Anglo-Saxon names

Teju has a couple of great posts about names and what they mean (1, 2), specifically relating to Yoruba. Which set me thinking about Anglo-Saxon naming. I have no idea exactly what relationship the Saxons had with their names, and I don’t know what academic work has been done on it—I’m just going on the […]

Birding the dictionary 3

Today we start with the word ‘plover’. plover (‘plʌvə(r)). [ME. and AF. plover = OF. plovier, later L. *plovārius belonging to rain, f. L. pluvia rain; in mod.L. pluvārius pluviārius; cf. Sp. pluvial plover, ad. L. pluviālis rainy, also Ger. regenpfeifer, lit. rain-piper, and Eng. rain-bird.] Belon, 1555, said the birds were so called because […]

Birding the dictionary 2

I’ve been investigating more avian etymologies, looking for things of interest. There isn’t much to say about most bird names, because they’re self-explanatory (oystercatcher, wagtail) obviously onomatopoeic (chiff-chaff), or just dead-ends. For example, checking up on ‘merlin’, the dictionary says: merlin (mɜ:lın). ME. [– AFr. merilun, aphet. f. OFr. esmerillon (mod. émerillon), augment. of esmeril […]

Birding the dictionary

I was watching a dunnock in the garden earlier and it suddenly occured to me that there might be a parallel between the word ‘dunnock’ and ‘ruddock’ – the old name for a robin. And having got that far, I thought maybe ‘dunnock’ derived from ‘dun cock’ and ‘ruddock’ from ‘ruddy cock’. So I got […]

Taboo vocabulary

Commenting on the current controversy surrounding Celebrity Big Brother and a bleeped-out word spoken by one of the contestants, the Telegraph printed this remarkable sentence: Channel 4 was quick to clarify that Jack had referred to Shilpa as a ****, not a ‘paki’. Channel 4 being a bit too clear for the delicate sensibilities of […]

Tender American sensibilities

Via bookofjoe; the OED and BBC are repeating their exercise of inviting the public to try and find earlier citations for various words. It’s a somewhat interesting idea but, having seen some of the last series: the results don’t make for riveting television. What I found interesting was a couple of things from the Washington […]

In which Harry demonstrates his pedantic soul

A local free magazine that came through the door includes a few hundred words of Buddhist-inspired wisdom. The column starts: As a child, were you encouraged to aim for perfection*? The footnote at the bottom of the page explains: The word * ‘perfection’ comes originally from the Greek ‘telios’ meaning ‘completeness’, ‘purpose’ The first thing […]

The Hall of a Thousand Columns

Tim Mackintosh-Smith at a Makdunaldiz in Sharjah: An occasional meaning did rise out of the nonsense. For instance, a child with a wide and poetical vocabulary might be puzzled by his hābī mīl (‘Happy Meal’) – ‘My serpent is an eyeliner pencil’. An enjoyable book, so far. Though I’d suggest you start with Travels With […]

hable despacio por favor

I’ve been trying to learn a little Spanish before going on holiday. I have no illusions that a few weeks of cramming will enable me to walk alongside the Rio Guadalquivir reading Lorca in the original – or even make small talk about the weather – but at least it might give me a starting […]

‘How Language Works’ by David Crystal

I’ve just finished How Language Works by David Crystal, the linguist who wrote the excellent The Stories of English. It’s a slightly odd book to be marketed as popular non-fiction, in that it doesn’t have any central hook. Rather it’s a broad survey of all aspects of language; it reads rather like an introductory text […]

bon any nou…

as they say in Catalonia. Apparently.