A recent post by Rosemarie Ostler on the OUP blog summarises the historical roots of today’s American dialects. Four main groups of colonists arrived in British North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. They came from different regions, bringing their own dialects: Puritans arrived in Massachusetts from 1629, coming mainly from East Anglia in…… Continue reading Where dialects of American English came from
Which conjunction do English speakers use with the comparative form of adjectives to describe a test applied to 2 nouns in order to select one of those nouns? I have the impression that American English uses, for example, ‘the lower of A or B’ where British English uses ‘the lower of A and B’. I…… Continue reading The lower of one thing or the lower of 2 things?
I once stayed in Manhattan in the Hotel Warwick. The cab-driver who took me there didn’t understand where I said I wanted to go. When I showed him my confirmation, he said ‘Oh, the hotel War Wick’. And at the hotel, the staff also called it the ‘War Wick’, though of course the name was…… Continue reading Take me to the Hotel War Wick
‘This is another error in spaceflight’. This is what I heard a NASA Planetary Scientist saying on the radio one morning recently. She was talking about the previous day’s unexpectedly short maiden flight by SpaceX’s new rocket Starship. The rocket exploded just a few minutes into the flight, so ‘error’ might seem like the…… Continue reading Another error in spaceflight
Learning which preposition to use in a language, and in which context, often involves learning some general rules of thumb (which often differ greatly from language to language) and many detailed rules that typically seem arbitrary. For a small example of this, consider how you talk in English about what you did, will do, or…… Continue reading On the weekend
This morning, I heard a BBC reporter saying on Radio 4’s Today programme that: “Americans are now preparing for another error of divided government.” At first, I thought I understood what the reporter was saying. But then I remembered that some Americans pronounce era in the same way that British speakers pronounce error. The reporter—speaking…… Continue reading Another error
Last month, the English Spelling Society provisionally endorsed a new spelling system which it hopes will ultimately eventually replace the highly irregular system used today in spelling English. The new system is called Traditional Spelling Revised (TSR for short). The Society believes that adopting TSR would help children and students to predict pronunciation from spelling,…… Continue reading New spelling may rool OK?
I recently came across a word that was new to me: contronym. A contronym is a word that is its own opposite. An often-given example is sanction. Sanctioning an action can mean either penalising it or permitting it. Some other examples are: WordOne meaningAnother meaningcleave clingsplitclipattachcut offdustremove dustadd a layer of dustapologystatement of regret for an…… Continue reading Contronyms
In the last couple of years I’ve started hearing the phrase “based off of” instead of the seemingly more logical “based on”. Perhaps this upstart conveys greater dynamism, like some kind of springboard. (I’ve only heard it from Americans.) I tried searching Google Ngram to see how long it has been around but Ngram didn’t…… Continue reading What is this, like, based on?
What do you call the principal shopping street in a town? I’ve always thought of the High Street as distinctively British but Main Street as distinctively American. There are, though, some Main Streets in parts of England. I recently came across some in the north of Nottinghamshire, for example in the villages or hamlets of…… Continue reading Main Street or High Street?