Reports

Smuggling In Undeclared Articles

September, 2020 Word Stories

When astronomers refer to the famous Almagest written by Claudius Ptolemy, they may not realize they are repeating themselves. Ptolemy’s “greatest” work (Greek Megistē) was preserved for centuries in an Arabic version called The Greatest (al-Majisṭī). Saying “the Algamest” therefore amounts to saying “the the greatest”. The words discussed in this instalment have all smuggled the Arabic article al- into common English, through various linguistic trade routes.

Regarding Irregardless

July, 2020 Language Matters

The use of irregardless to mean “regardless” is frequently condemned, even though it appears in most dictionaries. This article examines whether there is an argument to be made in favour of its use.

The Wanderwort Foreign Legion

July, 2020 Word Stories

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.

There’s Always Next Week

June, 2020 Language Matters

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.

Isolated Events

May, 2020 Word Stories

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.

Is Is Is an Issue?

April, 2020 Language Matters

“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?

What’s in a Name?

March, 2020 Word Stories

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.

Double Trouble

February, 2020 Language Matters

“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.

Unexpected Relatives for Xmas

January, 2020 Word Stories

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?

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