Words are tireless soldiers of fortune. They go where they’re needed, and they’ve been known to follow the money wherever it leads. Sometimes these wandering words fit in seamlessly when they land in a given language. Other times, they’re unlike anything else in the local vocabulary—just ask anyone who’s tried to find an English rhyme for the Wanderwort orange. This instalment discusses three colour-related wanderers that are known for giving English poets a hard time when it comes to rhyme.
Next Thursday has two possible interpretations: the soonest Thursday in time, or the one after that. This article will look at this conundrum and suggest how to avoid confusion.
In these exceptional times, this month’s words are never far from our thoughts. Not only do they dominate the news cycle, but they are an inescapable part of daily life: returning travellers are instructed to quarantine, parts of the world have imposed curfews, while almost all of us are being encouraged to isolate.
“Double is” is widely regarded as non-standard, meaning that it should be avoided in formal contexts. Still, since its usage is so widespread, it is worth examining how it came to be in the first place. How did this needless doubling of a word entrench itself so firmly into our spoken language?
As our regular readers will know, the relationship between our selected words is not always obvious. Even so, this month’s offering may appear particularly perplexing.
“Theo is a friend of Jane’s.” This phrase is unremarkable to most English speakers. However, on closer inspection, the sentence actually contains a somewhat unusual feature. It contains two possessive markers, the preposition of and the enclitic ’s, which might seem redundant or unnecessary. The double genitive has had English grammarians scratching their heads for centuries. How did it enter the language? What are its functions and uses? This article will answer these questions and shed some light on this peculiar feature of the English language.
The festive season is drawing to a close. As in previous years, gifts were exchanged, cards were sent, and people were scolded for using the abbreviation Xmas. Criticisms of Xmas are manifold: some simply advise against using it in formal contexts, while others object more strongly, describing it as an attempt to secularize the holiday by replacing the name Christ with an “X”. Is there any truth to this last charge?
Much ink has been spilled on the subject of the construction try and followed by an infinitive. Grammarians have long debated whether it is correct or whether it is to be eschewed in favour of try to. In his 1926 work A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Henry W. Fowler says, “Try and is an...
Our last instalment of Word Stories, with its focus on divine attributes, was all goodness and light. Now, as the days of late autumn get rapidly shorter, we, too, find ourselves in gloomier territory, turning our attention to darker matters.