Reports

Words That Like to Talk About Themselves

January, 2021 Word Stories

Autological words are words that describe themselves—as opposed to all the heterological words that don’t. The adjective pentasyllabic is autological, for example, since it has five syllables. Monosyllabic, on the other hand, is heterological, since it has far more than one. 

Like, What’s up with Like?

December, 2020 Language Matters

The use of like is widespread in colloquial speech, yet it still viewed negatively, even by those who use it. How then, is like used in everyday language? And why do so many people dislike it?

Peace and Quiet

November, 2020 Word Stories

When people decide to take a little rest for the sake of their health, they often say they’re looking for some “peace and quiet.” The association of noise with unrest can be found throughout the English language. This Word Stories instalment explores the longstanding linguistic contradistinction between peaceful quiet and unsettling noise.

Is the Year an Argument for Change?

October, 2020 Language Matters

Invoking the year is a punchy, concise way to advocate for improvement, but despite its frequent use, it is sometimes criticized for promoting a nonuniversal belief that progress is inevitable and for being a lazy substitute for more rigorous argumentation. So, is it time to move on from it?

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.

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