Jan
16
2012
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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 [more...]

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Jan
18
2010
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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” [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 [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 [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 [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 [more...]

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Sep
23
2009
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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 [more...]

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Feb
02
2009
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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 [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 [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 [more...]

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