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
Nepal’s rural hills are famous for the all-night songfests in which conversational dohori and other folk songs are sung, much more so than the Kathmandu Valley. But there are a few places in the capital city and surrounding valley that also have long traditions of gathering and singing at religious festivals.
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.
When the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was first published in 1941, it all seemed so simple. It was taken for granted that a quotation was a familiar line from a great poet or a famous figure in history, and the source could easily be found in standard literary works or history books. Those early compilers of quotations did not think of fake facts and the internet. “Fake facts”, or perhaps more accurately misunderstandings, have been around in the world of quotations for a long time.
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.
Singular versus plural. What feel(s) like failed relationships…. The dilemma is as old as the hills: English speakers have always felt uncertain about the number after what. An exemplary treatment of this problem will be found in the old editions of H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the entry what 2).
I keep returning to my sheep and rams because the subject is so rich in linguistic wool. Last time (see the post for 11 October 2017), I looked at the numerous etymological attacks on sheep and came to rather uninspiring results.
This is a sequel to the previous post of 4 October 2017. Last time I mentioned an embarrassment of riches in dealing with the origin of the word sheep, and I thought it might not be improper to share those riches with the public.
Animal names are so many and so various that thick books have been written about their origins, and yet some of the main riddles have never been solved.
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.
Cognates and borrowing once again It has been known for a long time that the only difference between borrowing and genetic relation is one of chronology. Engl. town once meant “enclosure,” as German Zaun still does. Russian tyn also means “fence.” There is a consensus that the Russian word is a borrowing from Germanic because […]
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.