Picnic Parlance

May, 2022 Word Stories

French haute cuisine is admired around the world, and it’s no secret that words related to good food often come (like haute cuisine) from French. As this month’s Word Stories instalment reminds us, though, many down-to-earth culinary terms are of French origin as well.

Become and Other Words of Change

April, 2022 Language Matters

Let’s take a look at become and other verbs of change, including go, come, turn and get, which have each evolved to describe this central element of our evolutionary world, and have each cultivated individual particularities on the way. Why can we say that dreams come true and things go wrong, but not that dreams *go true and things *come wrong? Now that you’ve gotten curious, read ahead to become enlightened.

The Great Disappearing (and Reappearing) Bear

March, 2022 Word Stories

March is the month when the great bears of northern climates begin to emerge from their long winter’s naps. This Word Stories instalment highlights some surprising ways that bears pop up in the history of the English language, beginning with the fact that the native English word for “bear” has mysteriously gone missing.

Spelling Across the Atlantic

February, 2022 Language Matters

Everyone knows that spelling (and life) are a little different across the pond. But how did these spelling differences come about in the first place? Why, for example, do we add a u to honour in the Commonwealth and spell kerb as curb in North America?

Holiday Visits From the Outlaws

January, 2022 Word Stories

In recent months the holiday gift-giving season has added to the pandemic spike in home delivery. Porch pirates have been working overtime to steal packages left on doorsteps, and reverse porch pirates have been working to stop them. This month’s Word Stories instalment explores the ways that outlaws, heroes and villains have informed the words we associate with piracy.

Feeling Positively Perplexed About Positive and Negative

December, 2021 Language Matters

Out of all the words in the English language that could lead you down a rabbit hole, positive and negative would probably not immediately come to mind. Positive and negative are often roughly equated to “good” and “bad” respectively, but if we dig a little deeper, we discover it’s not always quite so simple. This basic equivalence may work when talking about the optimistic attitude of a friend, or the dismal critical reviews for a new movie, but as we’ll see, scientists, mathematicians and lawyers all have their own distinct takes on the terms. After all, hearing “positive results” in a doctor’s office can be just as wonderful when discussing a new treatment as it might be horrifying when receiving test results.

Where Magic and Medicine Meet

November, 2021 Word Stories

The history of antidotes and elixirs is a world where myth, magic, and medicine intermingle. The 25th anniversary of Antidote seems like a perfect time to explore the ways in which antidotes have fired the human imagination and enriched our language.

Using Contractions: The Long and Short of It

October, 2021 Language Matters

Despite their ubiquity and usefulness, contractions are sometimes frowned upon—especially in formal language or in print. This Language Matters instalment outlines some context to keep in mind when it comes to better understanding and using contractions.

Ping-Pong Words

September, 2021 Word Stories

Every once in a while, a word that gets passed from one language to another can get passed right back, like a ball in a game of ping-pong. This Word Stories instalmnet shines a spotlight on this phenomenon, by showing how the game can be played out between English and French.

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