As short as it is, the verb ‘be’ has a range of meanings and uses that have developed over the last 1,500 years. It is—after ‘the’—the second most frequent word in the English language, and if you’re not afraid to use it, it can help you become a better writer. For National Novel Writing Month, we’ve laid out the various uses of ‘be’, taken from the Story of Be, to help aid you with your writing.
The origin of this mysterious phrase, “nine of diamonds,” has been discussed for over two hundred years. Nor are surveys wanting. I cannot say anything on this subject the world does not know, and I have no serious preferences for any of the relatively promising hypotheses.
From time to time, many of us will have the opportunity to write for a reference work like an encyclopedia or a handbook. The word encyclopedia has been around for a couple of thousand years and comes from the Greek term for general education. Encyclopedias as general reference books came about in the eighteenth century and the most ubiquitous when I was a student was the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In a constantly changing world, it’s only natural that language continues to evolve as well. Words or phrases that no longer apply are phased out and in their place emerges lexicon that better reflect the diversity of gender, race, and sexuality in contemporary culture. From under-privileged children being taught how to read at home with cookbooks, to groups of students who adopt the use of new words to better explain experiences they see in their own communities
Some sentences just sound awkward. In order to ensure clarity, writers need to consider more than just grammar: weight is equally important. In the following extract from Making Sense, acclaimed linguist David Crystal shows how sentence length (and weight) affects writing quality.
There is a good word aftermath. Aftercrop is also fine, though rare, but, to my regret, afterglean does not exist (in aftermath, math- is related to mow, and -th is a suffix, as in length, breadth, and warmth). Anyway, I sometimes receive letters bypassing OUP’s official address. They deal with etymology and usage.
The practice of using punctuation to indicate verbatim speech seems to have had its origins in the diple, a caret-like ancient Greek marking used to call attention to part of a text. By the late 15th century, the diple had been replaced by a pair of inverted commas placed in the left margins to indicate […]
Social conventions determine why we use profane language. The deliberate use (or avoidance) of profanity is often a socially conscious decision: self-censorship may be driven by politeness, while profane language may be used to establish a sense of power. The following shortened excerpt from In Praise of Profanity by Michael Adams takes a look at the connotations behind of profanity and analyzes the social drivers behind its usage.
The Internet has become a key part of modern communication. But how has it influenced language structure? Surprisingly, formal writing remains unchanged. Informal writing, however, has seen an influx of stylistic changes. In the following shortened extract from Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, renowned linguist David Crystal breaks down the grammatical and syntactical evolution of language in the Internet-era.
A century ago, the Russian Revolution broke out in November of 1917, followed by a bloody civil war lasting until the early 1920s. Millions of families were displaced, fleeing to Europe and Asia. One of the many emigrant stories was that of Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy. Trubetzkoy was from a well-known aristocratic family in tsarist Russia, […]
In the online age, a tried and true method of conveying a lot of information succinctly is the “Frequently Asked Questions” portion of a webpage. In the spirit of honesty and forthrightness, we’re naming our contribution to this blog “Infrequently Asked Questions.”
We should pay more attention to paragraphs. I know that sounds obvious, but what I’m fretting about is the advice that beginning writers get to begin paragraphs with topic sentences and end with summary sentences. Such a topic sandwich—filled in with subpoints, supporting sentences, and examples—lends itself to formulaic writing. This strategy of tell them […]
Last week, we looked at the history of the conjunction if, and it turned out that the Dutch for if is of. The fateful question asked “at dawn,” when “Scheherazade” had to stop her tale, was: “Are English if and of related?”
When it comes to punctuation, I’m a lumper rather than a splitter. Some nights I lie awake, pondering to secrets of commas, dashes, parentheses, and more, looking for grand patterns.
The post of 21 June 2017 on the “dwarfs of our vocabulary” was received so well that I decided to return to them in the hope that the continuation will not disappoint our readers. Those dwarfs have a long history and have been the object of several tall tales.
Can grammar be glamorous? Due to its meticulous nature, the study of grammar has been saddled with an undeserved intimidating reputation. Esteemed linguist David explains how grammar is an essential tool for communication. Demystifying the rules behind the English language can allow us to communicate effectively both professionally and casually. In the following excerpt from […]