Jan
16
2012
0

Why does Spanish have so many little words for “a”, “the”, “this” etc?

spanish-wordsIn English, there is only one definite article. If you want to refer to a particular book, it’s “the” book. If you’re referring to more than one book, it’s “the” books. In Spanish it’s not so simple. Nouns, articles and adjectives must “agree in number”. If one of them is plural, all of them must [&hel[more...]

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Jan
18
2010
0

Were “oranges” once called “noranges”?

Photo by audreyjm529 - CC-BYA frequently-repeated etymology of the fruit that we call an “orange” goes like this: The fruit was not grown in England, and when the dock-hands unloaded the cargo ships they heard the fruit referred to by its Spanish name: naranja. From this it became known as “a norange”, but over time this became “an orange” [&hel[more...]

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Jan
03
2010
2

What are parts of speech?

grammar game“Parts of speech” refers to categories that are used by grammarians to describe how words are used in sentences. English has traditionally been viewed as having eight parts of speech, as follows: Nouns are words that represent persons, places, things or ideas. In the sentence “Life is good,” “life” is a noun. Pronouns are words [&hel[more...]

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Nov
24
2009
1

What do turkeys have to do with Turkey?

turkeySince the bird we know as the turkey originated in North America, it may seem strange that it has the same name as a country that straddles Europe and Asia. But there is a connection between the words. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary and other sources, the word “turkey” as applied to birds dates [&hel[more...]

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Nov
08
2009
2

I say pop, you say soda, what does everyone else say?

Geographic distribution of terms for carbonated soft drinks.Growing up in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, I always referred to carbonated soft drinks as “pop,” or maybe “soda pop.” So I became confused sometime later when I moved briefly to California and was surprised to hear cans or bottles of pop referred to as “sodas” — to me, a soda is [&hel[more...]

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Oct
19
2009
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What is a Pangram?

Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom - CC-BYA pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet. If no letters are repeated, the sentence is a perfect pangram. Perfect pangrams can be rather unsatisfying, because they need to make use of obscure words, abbreviations, slang or proper nouns. Here are a few perfect pangrams: Cwm fjord bank glyphs vext [&hel[more...]

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Sep
23
2009
0

What African and Afrikaans words have made their way into South African English?

Sosatie (photo by chee.hong - CC-BY)If you visit South Africa, you’ll find that English is now the main language for signage, education and tourism. But South African English, as well as being spoken with a distinctive accent, has adopted many words from the Afrikaans language, and from various African languages including Zulu and Xhosa. Here are some of the words [&hel[more...]

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Feb
02
2009
0

What is the worst pun of all time?

Picture of a rabbits whose names make a pun.There are so many bad puns around, it’s hard to pick the worst. But here are some of the contenders: Two oranges go into a bar. One turns to the other and says, “Your round.” Then there’s the mystic who goes to the dentist to get a tooth pulled. But he refuses to take a [&hel[more...]

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Jan
29
2009
1

Why is a blatantly unfair legal proceeding called a kangaroo court?

Picture of kangaroo resting at petting zooAccording to various authorities, including West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, the term “kangaroo court” came from the American frontier of the 19th century. In those days it was common for judges to go from town to town to hold trials, and they gained a reputation of being biased, as their pay sometimes depended on how [&hel[more...]

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Jan
28
2009
1

What is a split infinitive, and why is it bad to ever split one?

Be careful not to accidentally split your infinitives (photo by Abulic Monkey - CC-BY)Many sticklers for grammar insist that it’s very bad form to wantonly split an infinitive. But what is a split infinitive, and what’s the problem? The infinitive is the plain form of a verb, preceded by the word “to”. For example: to be, to run, to have, to eat, to love. One way to look [&hel[more...]

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Jan
26
2009
3

How is the apostrophe used in English?

Photo showing misuse of apostropheToo often, the apostrophe is used badly. English teachers, newspaper editors and just about anyone with a eye for English grammar cringe almost daily when they when they see apostrophes used in plurals (as if I had ended that sentence “apostrophe’s used in plurals”). So the first rule of apostrophes is this: With very, very [&hel[more...]

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Jan
24
2009
9

Which is the best English translation of the Bible?

Photo of Bible by Dottorpeni. CC-BY.The Christian Bible has not only been translated to more languages than any other book, and it also has been translated to English more times than any other. Since very few people could understand the Bible in its original languages — Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic — portions of it have been translated to English ever [&hel[more...]

Jan
14
2009
3

What is the longest English word in common usage?

Dictionary and Glasses (photo by Southernpixel - CC-BY)The longest word in a recognized English language dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, but few people would ever have used that word or heard it spoken. So what is the longest word that is in everyday speech? I wasn’t sure how to define common usage, so I settled on a completely arbitrary criterion: the word needed to [&hel[more...]

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Jan
13
2009
3

What is the longest word in English?

Pile of wordsTo figure out what is the longest word, we need to ask ourselves first what a “real” word is. In scientific usage, you can give chemicals names hundreds or even thousands of letters long by stringing together all sorts of word parts. Also, at least in theory, just as you could have an anti-missile, you [&hel[more...]

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Jan
12
2009
0

Is it practise or practice, license or licence?

Jumbled letters (photo by Laineys Repetoire - CC-BY)What’s the correct spelling of practice/practise and licence/license in every situation? As you probably already know, it depends on where you live, and how the words are being used. In United States English, it’s always “practice” and “license”, whether the word acts as a noun or a verb. An American will practice driving to gain [&hel[more...]

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