Work, the what’s-its-name of the thingummy and the thing-um-a-bob of the what d’you-call-it.
– P. G. Wodehouse
Fortunately, I had all this wreckage to build a space swapping doodah-thingy-whatsit.
– The Sarah Jane Adventures (TV series)
English has several words for a thing or person whose name you don’t know or can’t remember or can’t be bothered to say. For example:
what’s-her-name and what’s-his-name
There are other examples in the
OED and Macmillan Thesaurus and Wiktionary. You can also read about vague expressions.
Compounds are words formed from two (or more) words. For example,
black + board = blackboard.
They can be spelled in three ways:
as a single word:
flowerpot as two words:
flower pot with a hyphen:
So which one should you choose?
A linguist has devised a rule which she says works for 75% of words:
Compound verbs, adjectives and adverbs – use a hyphen (
blow-dry, world-famous, well-nigh) Compound nouns:
3+ syllables – use a space (
bathing suit) 2 syllables:
second part has 2 letters – use a hyphen (
make-up) second part has 3+ letters – as a single word (
You can read more on
My even simpler rule: if you’re not sure, write it as a single word: blowdry, worldfamous, wellnigh, bathingsuit and makeup. Even if it’s wrong, it looks cuttingedge.
Do you know what the preposition
above means? And how it is different from on? What if you needed this information to defuse a time bomb?
Watch this video from Utrecht University:
All Things Linguistic
Zoology is the study of animals. But do you know the meanings of its various branches? Do the quiz!
Open quiz in new window
Some online dictionaries use symbols to show word frequency. The more symbols a word has, the more common it is in English.
Macmillan Dictionary uses 1-3 stars:
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English uses 1-3 circles:
Collins English Dictionary uses 1-5 circles:
Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary labels common words (the Oxford 3000) with a key:
Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary labels some words with their English Profile level (A1 Beginner, A2 Elementary, B1 Intermediate, B2 Upper-Intermediate, C1 Advanced, C2 Proficiency):
The publishers of
TheFreeDictionary have an online game called WordHub.
Make words from the 7 letters before your time runs out.
It is similar to Boggle, which
you can also play online.
Macmillan Dictionary Blog has various sections, such as Learn English and Word of the Day.
Recent topics include:
iWeb Corpus. These are words found on the same web pages as the word Halloween.
Continue reading →
Two days ago we quoted
a letter to The Times from 1968, which described some UEA students as “childishly noisy”, “completely lacking in manners” and “unkempt”.
Oxford English Dictionary has various defintions of unkempt. The one intended by the letter-writer would seem to be:
Of a person’s or (occasionally) an animal’s appearance, condition, etc.: characterized by uncombed or untidy hair; (more generally) scruffy, dishevelled.
Historical Thesaurus lists this meaning under: the world > physical sensation > cleanness and dirtiness > dirtiness > [adjective] > dirty and mean. Words in this category (with the earliest year in which they were recorded) are:
Words with similar meanings include
grimy, tatty, shabby, dowdy and mangy.
You may have noticed how most of these words have two syllables and end in
y. About half of them begin with s. This may be an example of sound symbolism or iconicity.
latest update the Oxford English Dictionary has added over 100 words and phrases connected to film.
20 adjectives relating to specific directors have been included, such as:
Some horror film terms have been added. For example:
For more, see
British people have been complaining about
Americanisms – words or phrases from the United States that have become common in Britain – since the eighteenth century.
For example, nowadays you often hear
train station instead of railway station , fries instead of chips and movie instead of film.
Ben Yagoda’s blog
Not One-Off Britishisms is about movement in the other direction:
Over the last decade or so, an alarming number of traditionally British expressions have found their way into the American vocabulary.
Some Britishisms are
advert, DIY, ginger (a person with red hair) , gobsmacked, Hoover (verb) , kerfuffle, mobile (i.e. a mobile phone) , on holiday, queue, sell-by date, short-listed, snog, straight away, take a decision, twee.
The latest blog post is on