Express Yourself

Two people aiming flashlight at each other at night on the street.
Photo: Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images

If you studied French at school, you may recall the mild culture shock that comes with learning the second-person pronouns. Tu and vous both translate as “you,” but can’t be used interchangeably. Provided you’re speaking to one person, you have the rather dicey task of assessing how formal you should…

Express Yourself

Dimly lit desk with an open notebook with pencil illuminated by a lamp.
Photo: Grimvr/Flickr

There are a handful of dates in history that mark watershed moments for the English language. The year 1066: the beginning of the Norman Conquest of Britain, which would introduce a wealth of French borrowings into what was then a purely Germanic tongue. The year 1590: Shakespeare’s first foray into…

(Lindsey Turner / flickr)

In some of the world’s languages, the meaning of a word can change depending on how many times you say it. Repeating a singular noun can make it plural, as in Malay, where “batu” means stone, but “batu-batu” means stones. …

Girl making finger-guns at the camera, standing in front of a screen showing gameplay from ‘Space Invaders’
(Andre Hunter / Unsplash)

Imagine—or cast your mind back to—sitting an exam designed to test your knowledge of irregular past-tense verbs in English. The exercises might look something like this:

  1. Emily was so musical as a child. She ____ [teach] herself to play the piano.
  2. There was a crash of thunder, and then a…

(Lili Kovac / Unsplash)

If travel restrictions have eased and the hospitality sector has reopened where you live, you might have already gotten reacquainted with the jargon of Airbnb listings. …

(Mark Turnauckas / flickr)

One of the realisations we come to as children encountering a foreign language for the first time is that the relationship between the words we use every day and their meanings is mostly arbitrary. To a young monolingual speaker of English, tree might seem like the only name one could…

Hand holding a coffee cup with a first name scribbled on it
(Alex Moiseev / Unsplash)

According to the Social Security Administration, “Karen” saw one of the most dramatic decreases in popularity among baby girls’ names in the US between 2019 and 2020. No prizes for guessing why. Dictionary.com reports that the slang usage of the name, referring to an “obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist”…

(Markus Spiske / flickr)

I recently chanced upon this entry in The Oxford English Dictionary:

alphabetism, n. Prejudice or discrimination resulting from a person’s position on a (notional) alphabetical list; [specifically] discrimination against people whose names begin with letters from the latter part of the alphabet.

One of the sample quotations, taken from a…

A hand holding a pen and a line of Georgian text with one word missing.
(Hunter Peddicord / flickr)

There’s a pretty big summer event coming up, during which representatives from all over the world will congregate in one city and go head-to-head in various competitive activities to win gold, silver, or bronze medals. It was supposed to happen last year but got postponed due to the pandemic. …

Giles Watson / flickr

Halfway through a number entitled “Beautiful Girl” from Singin’ In The Rain, the song-and-dance breaks down into a fashion-show-slash-infomercial during which the announcer rattles off a few rhyming epigrams describing the chorus girls’ attire. One of the models appears wearing a sporty minidress and holding a racket behind her head…

Clare C.H.

M.A. in English Linguistics and Literature. clarech.carrd.co

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