Posts

What is the difference between a fat and slim chance?

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Best summarised in this joke: you've got two chances fat and slim - and slim has just left town. In other words a slim chance is a remote possibility while fat chance means no chance at all. Cassell's Dictionary of Slang Green's Dictionary of Slang: Three-volume set

Can good writing be taught?

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Not according to one of the best contemporary essayists, Jacob Eptsein: A fter thirty years of teaching a university course in something called advanced prose style, my accumulated wisdom on the subject, inspissated into a single thought, is that writing cannot be taught, though it can be learned—and that, friends, is the sound of one hand clapping. A. J. Liebling offers a complementary view, more concise and stripped of paradox, which runs: “The only way to write is well, and how you do it is your own damn business.” Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing. The first step is to become a slow reader.  Read the full article here

English Language FAQ: The most common spelling errors in English?

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English Language FAQ: The most common spelling errors in English? : "Why are some words so hard to spell? My post for the OUP Global Blog considers recent research into the twenty most misspelt words in Engl..." Practical Spelling (Basics Made Easy) Franklin Electronic Publishers SA-309 Spelling Ace Thesaurus with Merriam-Webster Puzzle solver

English Language FAQ: The most common spelling errors in English?

English Language FAQ: The most common spelling errors in English? : "Why are some words so hard to spell? My post for the OUP Global Blog considers recent research into the twenty most misspelt words in Engl..."

The most common spelling errors in English?

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Why are some words so hard to spell?  My post for the OUP Global Blog  considers recent research into the twenty most misspelt words in English. The Birds and Bees of Words: A Guide to the Most Common Errors in Usage, Spelling, and Grammar Quick Solutions to Common Errors in English: An A-z Guide to Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (How to Books)

What is crowd sourcing?

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A widely used neolgism with an imprecise definition. Crowd sourcing is the equivalent of 'asking the audience' in a radio show. It is a very popular concept in marketing as this example from a furniture design company illustrates: "We figured that consumers would be the best judges for us," he says. Made.com gives designers the opportunity to submit ideas and then asks customers to vote on them. Only the top vote getters are offered for sale. The term crowdsourcing is only a few years old, but the idea's been around for a decade. That's when online T-shirt seller Threadless, a pioneer crowdsourcing website based in Chicago, launched. Last year, according to Forbes , Threadless had sales of $30 million. Since then, companies as diverse as P&G, GE and Anheuser-Busch have used crowdsourcing to percolate product and advertising ideas.  Full Time article here  and a remarkable recent example in education here :

What is 'the groove'? And groovy?

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The groove on vinyl records, particularly the old 78s rpm jazz records of the 20s and 30s. The depth and width of the groove indicated the speed and beat - something later picked up by early rappers like Grandmaster Flash.  Jazz musicians used 'groove' as a term of appreciation and this later became part of pop music culture - the Beatles were famously fond of the adjective groovy. Much later 'groovy' became one of the catch-phrases Austen Powers, a sign that the word had come to symobolise 1960s fantasies of  personal liberation and free love.

What does the term 'ground zero' mean? Where does it come from?

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Ground zero is the point closest to the centre of an explosion. It was first used by the Manhatten Project when planning the nuclear bombing raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a news report from Hiroshima in 1946 as 'that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb, especially an atomic one.". In recent years 'Ground Zero' has become synonymous in the public mind with 9/11 and the attack on the Twin Towers. The term was used by news reporters in the immediate aftermath of the explosion and has stayed ever since. Ground Zero has come to symbolise the heart of the conflict between the west and Al Queda and its Islamist affiliates.  The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Do some words have an upper age limit?

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From my recent post for the OUP Global Blog: Words are like clothes in that there are some that are only really suited to the young. Here are my top ten verbal equivalents of short skirts, low cut trousers and hoodies. These should be avoided by anyone over the age of… well, you decide. Can you guess the ten words? The full list  here : Urban Dictionary: 2011 Day-to-Day Calendar

Why are there so many languages?

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Leading linguist Noam Chomsky poses one of the central question in this short video here . The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics (Oxford Paperback Reference)

Is it bale? Or bail? And what about bailout?

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The word bailout has become closely associated with the idea of financial rescue -    to bail out the banks.  But it has many subtle usages - and two spellings! 1. The literal use of bail/bale is to abandon abruptly as in making an emergency exit from an aeroplane in a parachute.  2. The literal meaning of   to bail out  is to remove water from a leaky boat.  3. It is now more common to use bail   in a figurative/metaphorical sense: The minister has bailed on the government's housing policy ( announced his opposition) . The actor bailed on the script (stopped reading his lines with any show of conviction)  4. 'Bail out' is also used metaphorically but usually with a closer connection to the literal meaning: The pilot bailed out of his plane but not Bob has bailed out on us and gone home. 5. The noun is sometimes spelled as one word: bailout. 6. There is a dispute over the spelling of bail and bale - bail is probably used more frequently but both are allowed b

OMG! Why did the Oxford English Dictionary include OMG?

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Because the OED tries to reflect the language as spoken and written. English is as Richard Lederer pointed out 'the most democratic language in history'.  To learn about the process by which words are selected see this interview with the OED editor. Oxford Dictionary of English Concise Oxford English Dictionary: 11th Edition Revised 2008 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: Sixth Edition

Where does the word tsumami come from?

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Tsunami is a Japanese word combining 'tsu' meaning port with 'nami' meaning wave. This word seems to have replaced the more technical 'tidal wave' in public discussion. More Japanese words in English (with audio) here : Japanese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide