Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A Literary History of Word Processing

The conditions of production of a text can affect that text, and changes in the technology of writing have changed the styles in which things are written. The actual book under discussion here isn't due out till 2013, but there's food for thought in the article.

A Literary History of Word Processing

Saturday, 17 December 2011

New 'comments' system

I was starting to get a bit of spam on the comments for the PLB, and no-one was using the comments system for actual discussion, so I'm trying out another feedback system: 'reactions'.

To use this, you just tick a box by the response you feel fits best.  Initially the choices are 'funny', 'cool', 'interesting' and 'useful'.  You can choose more than one. :)  Let me know in person or on the Facebook page if you have any other suggestions.

English grammar in context - for iBooks

English grammar in context - for iBooks
I just rediscovered this in my iBooks collection. Other ebook readers which can handle the standard .epub format should be able to read it too, though it's got some snazzy features that might not work. 

The material in this short, free, electronic book from the Open University bridges our work on grammar and introduces some of the issues we'll be learning next term at AS; good revision material therefore for A2s, too. 

Check out this collection on iTunes U:

Cover Art

English grammar in context - for iBooks

13 Ratings

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Crystal's Encyclopaedias

Whilst I'm on books, here's the Crystal encyclopaedia of the English language. There's also the encyclopaedia of Language, which covers a wider range of languages, and includes child language acquisition; that one's in its third edition and has extra chapters on Internet language too.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
David Crystal
£30.00 £21.92

Making Sense of Grammar

The companion piece to Rediscover Grammar, this fatter book has the advantage of exploring how the grammar matters, giving examples of usage and contexts and dealing with some pragmatic issues about grammatical usage. So, useful for your A Level studies in giving you ideas about what grammatical frameworks are applicable where.

Making Sense of Grammar
Prof David Crystal
£18.99 £18.04

Rediscover Grammar

The book I've been waving at students this week. Pricier than I remember - but that makes it a great Christmas present, right? It's educational, mum. 

This one is the more concise, just giving clear explanations of the full range of English grammar - far more than I could deliver in class. This'll last you through the second year and into university.

Rediscover Grammar
Prof David Crystal
£18.50 £16.74

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric

This marvellous page hyperlinks a range of classical rhetorical terms and explanations,with examples of each. The links on the left are most useful - organising and classifying the approaches to speechifying in a range of well-crossreferenced ways.
An exploration of rhetoric isn't only useful as a way into thinking about discourse structures, sentence structures and semantic tricks – though the terms aren't ones we need to know at A Level – but also a way to think about structuring your own writing and presentations.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

First 10 Pages

This one's of most use if you've got an interest in Literature - this blog seeks to read and analyse the first 10 pages of a range of books, and comment on the language and approach used to open the novel.  Cool stuff.

Monday, 5 December 2011

English as a Global Language

Whilst we're at it, here's a nifty page covering the range of Englishes across the world and commenting on the appropriacy of English to serve as a world lingua franca. 

The History of English - English as a Global Language

How New Words Are Created

A natty little page of word formation techniques for your revision pleasure. Looks like an interesting site of language change in general, too. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Collection of Children's Project Writing

Nice find from Vicky in A2: A collection of children's written projects from four years, sourced from a school in Lancaster.  They date from mid-90s but have been updated.  A good set of example texts to use in a project or to analyse when we're studying child language development. Includes scanned images and transcripts, and some markup of grammar too.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Grappling Grammarians

Review of a book about the history of grammar rules and prescription - most relevant to A2 students when their research project is done, so pop back and read it later. They did get cross about their linguisticals.

Grappling Grammarians

Phonemic chart and app | Onestopenglish

Here's a new free web-based clickable phonemic chart, and for the Appley among you, a free iOS app, based on Adrian Underhill's excellent phonemic chart design - the one we use in class.
There's a paid version of the app too - which adds test words and activities. Worth a couple of quid...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


This database collects words with their lexical relationships. There's a clickable dictionary with hyponyms, hypernyms, synonyms, and other lexical relationships. You can even get a hypernym tree which builds all the way up to 'existence' or 'entity'. Click the bottom link for info about the page, or try this link for a test example: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?o2=&o0=1&o8=1&o1=1&o7=&o5=&o9=&o6=&o3=&o4=&s=Test&i=7&h=1100000010000000000000000#c

Lost Generation by Jonathan Reed

Clever poem that plays with sentence structures. In particular it uses nested sentences and conjunctions very carefully.

Monday, 7 November 2011

BT's All Talk site

I was a little cynical about this at first, but the activities and ideas seem interesting. This website has several activities to encourage students from 14-19 to explore their langauge use and local dialectal usages. its style is a bit 'GCSE' but the content is relevant for A2s and interesting for AS too. See what you think at the link below.

All Talk

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A sign of the Times’s? (grammarphobia.com)

This issue came up in both AS and A2 classes this week. Even professional publications meet difficulties deciding on a rule in some cases, and there's disagreement at the top. 

This doesn't, of course, mean you can ignore all rules of apostrophes. ;)

A sign of the Times's?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

S#*@ scientists say (boingboing.net)

Scientific language is full of technical terms that sound like everyday terms - and so can be seriously misunderstood when scientists speak in public. (Compare 'subject' or 'particle' in linguistics.)

S#*@ scientists say

Saturday, 15 October 2011

From Riddle to Twittersphere

The prolific David Crystal has another book out - looks like a readable approach to the history of English. Details in the article, including the full list of words he picks out.

From Riddle to Twittersphere: David Crystal tells the story of English in 100 words

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How not to represent accents...

The Australian had to apologise rapidly for this basically racist representation of the speech of an Irish airline boss. The respelling is pretty broad even at the start - and when you come across the 'dialect' idioms later on, you realise this isn't your normal (or acceptable) reporting...


Friday, 7 October 2011

Why Concrete Language Communicates Truth

The article stretches the concept of 'concrete' a little with verbs, to favour active over passive form for example, but this is still convincing stuff. 

Why Concrete Language Communicates Truth — PsyBlog

Thursday, 6 October 2011

TAPoR text analysis tool

For A2s to consider: got loads of text you'd like to analyse?

The awesome TAPoR website has tools that will give you word counts, frequencies, charts and more to enable you to manage very large amounts of data, like many magazine articles or speeches, or entire movie scripts.

It doesn't do the thinking for you, but it helps expose interesting patterns by showing you them in a pretty way.  More on this to come in class, but have a play - try putting the PLB address into the Your Web Page text box and choose Explore with Voyeur.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Poster Presentation from Sussex Uni

Found this in the UofS library: the focus is to find whether rhyming in children's books helps children to learn new words, or to follow the plot. The results are perhaps surprising.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos - low light and a mini camera. Let me know if you're interested and I'll aim to return with a better one. Or go and visit the library yourself - it is awesome.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Giving an academic conference paper

From the doctoral blog at University of Sussex - some advice on presentations. For A2s.


Monday, 26 September 2011

Editing tips for designers

For the verbose among you seeking concision. Also, a good example of why you need to know all those technical terms. 

Editing tips for designers

What song titles teach us about headlines

Not entirely convincing - doesn't really get round to headlines - but an interesting set of commentaries. 

What song titles teach us about making headlines stand out

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Accent Meme

I'm not sure of the source of this, but I know the British Library were running a research project which aimed to gather data on at least some of these questions.  Many won't make sense, because in this form, there are some American cultural touchstones that aren't familiar in the UK.  Nonetheless, 'aluminium' appears here in its UK spelling, though 'theatre' and 'pyjamas' follow the US pattern - which makes me suspect that this may be an adaptation and extension from an original UK idea.

From Dossy's Blog, a version of the meme:

Here’s the idea: record yourself saying the following things and answering the following questions. Then compare your accent with your friends. Fun for all! :)


  • Your name and/or username
  • Where you’re from
  • The following words: Aunt, Roof, Route, Wash, Oil, Theater, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting Image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pajamas, Caught, Orange, Coffee, Direction, Naturally, Aluminium, Herbs.
  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house? [on the night before Halloween?]
  • What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you say to address a group of people?
  • What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?
You'll find Dossy's recording there, and it'll be easy to look for others.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Analytical Essay

We've linked to i love english language already on the PLB, but can I direct your attention to the following page? Half the battle in the exam is writing your essays tightly.

Fry's Planet Word

Stephen Fry is, of course, a national treasure; and also, conveniently, a fan of language and linguistics. This TV show starts Sunday and runs for 5 episodes which cover a range of language issues, beyond just English. Set your recorder, log on to iPlayer, or even actually watch it on good old live telly. Fry's Planet Word

Linguistics: How, Why, How and What with David Crystal

A Walk in the WoRds: Linguistics: How, Why, How and What with David Cry...: If you have ever wondered what inspires a person to study linguistics and what exactly linguists do, this episode of "Meet the Author" with David Crystal will enlighten you.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Septic's Companion

A dictionary of British slang, aimed at Americans. See stuff you didn't know was special, and incidentally illuminate your knowledge of things American. (I was never quite sure what 'bangs' were, till I saw the entry for 'fringe' here.) Prize if you guess why it's called The 'Septic's' Companion before looking it up.

The Septic's Companion

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

English@Park on Facebook

You don't have to be a member of Facebook to view the English@Park content, though if you are, you'll receive updates on your News Feed and can post to the wall, make comments, etc.  Don't worry, I'll update FB less than the Park Language Blog, so you won't be inundated with geek posts.  Share the love.

If you prefer the PLB, and want to be notified when it updates, you can subscribe to posts by email at the bottom of this page.  Most things I'll post here first, with selected material going to the FB page.


An American writer bemoans the invasion of British lexis and idioms into US English. The figures aren't quite on his side, but it's an interesting view from the other side. 

Britishisms: cataloging how they're infecting American English.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

TED video: What we learned from 5 million books

Perkily eccentric presentation of some of the joys of Google Ngrams, as discoverable in the Language Links section. 

Monday, 19 September 2011

Happy Birthday Smiley!

September 19th is not only famous for being international Talk Like A Pirate day. :-)

Sept. 19, 1982: Can't You Take a Joke? :-)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Archie Out of Context

Archie is a classic, clean-cut, 50s American comic strip.  But with a bit of language change, and divorced from context, one's innuendo-fuelled imagination can run wild.


The depressing tale of Johann Hari

Johann Hari is a smart political commentator and a successful journalist... or at least, he was until a few weeks ago. This interesting but antagonistic piece explores how journalistic shortcuts and plagiarism are costing him his reputation, if not his career, and contains some implicit advice for budding interviewers.

The depressing tale of Johann Hari


26 years in the making, DARE has produced its final (fifth) volume ready for release in 2012. Then they can start on supplements, presumably, to bring it up to date. 

Go to the '100 entries' page for an interesting sample of kooky dialect terms. 


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

CyberGrammar Homepage

Awesomely useful site. Deborah Myhill has been researching grammar teaching, and I came across her site here whilst trying to track down the research paper and lesson plans. Haven't actually found them yet, but this is a great little revision and extension site.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Best Job Ever: Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl

'Grammar Girl' is a commenter on common problems in English usage, with an American slant, rather than strictly grammar; but with friendly writing and lots of interesting little problems. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Is Miliband morphing into Blair? A voice coach writes ...

An older article, but interesting.... 

Is Miliband morphing into Blair? A voice coach writes ...

Why Some Languages Sound Fast

Only partly about English, but a great little study which tries to figure out why we tend to perceive foreign languages as sounding 'fast'. (It's about syllable speed vs information density.)

Slow Down! Why Some Languages Sound So Fast

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Yod-Dropping in American Accents

How come Americans say 'nooze' instead of 'nyews'?

Yod-Dropping in American Accents

Dolphins call each other by name?

Read the article for the details of what's behind that headline. Do you think the claim is borne out?

Dolphins call each other by name

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Poems are a form of texting

Okay, she's pushing it a bit; but both are forms of communication within strict limits which require conciseness. She'd be on firmer ground with tweeting, I think. And it's certainly so that lyrics and rap have connections with poetry - though a skilled lyric is less requirement for success than a musical hook or two.

Carol Ann Duffy: 'Poems are a form of texting'

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Reading for pleasure

Much educational achievement is based on what you do 'extra', 'for pleasure'. How can a government 'encourage' this? If it's for pleasure, it needs to be self-motivated, not imposed by an institution. 

Governments could remove tax from ebooks though. And keep libraries open. 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Chris Herron Design: The Hell Brand Project

Lots of fun with graphology: Chris Herron imagines 'rebranding' Hell. There's some semantic fun with the tag lines he comes up with for the 'new hell' concept too.


Friday, 26 August 2011

Steve Jobs Vs. Tim Cook: Words Of Wisdom

Interesting little frequency analysis and discussion of speeches from Apple's old boss and their new one, using Wordle to illustrate. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Secret Language Code

The grammar of what you write may reveal more than the message you intended...

The Secret Language Code

Friday, 12 August 2011


A social worker comments on the use of this word to describe rioting youth. 


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

It's or Its? (bristol.ac.uk)

Yeah. Get this one right. It's a doozy. Hint: your iPhone will never let you write its without an apostrophe, and it's wrong. 

It's or Its?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Five New Areas Of London Named

Here we have neologisms that are chosen to sound as if they're historical. 

As the commenter notes in this article, some of them do arise from pre-existing site names. But the etymologist - the historian of linguistics - might hope for names that reflect the times. The BBC report on the same story lists some more contemporary and perhaps appropriate names - I liked 'Dog and Bike' as an appropriately present-day name.

Five New Areas Of London Named In Olympic Competition

Sunday, 31 July 2011

NYTimes.com’s most looked-up words for 2011

Interesting to see what words most people don't know; but the thrust of the article is that the words tend to have such negative connotations. 

Is this because the world is a miserable place? Or the NY Times' outlook is sour? Or, more positively, that we know more difficult happy words than we do sad ones?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

An Uh, Er, Um Essay

Looks like it's not so great to be umless... Sometimes filled pauses are useful for more than just buying you thinking time.


N-grams and terrorism

What's being tracked here? Language, culture, or history? 

Google Ngrams viewer is a powerful tool, though its results are prone to error and open to interpretation. As the writer notes at the end of the article, this is just 'playing around' rather than hard data. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Top 12 Internet Acronyms?

Here's an interesting, and I dare say typical, collection of 'Internet acronyms'. 

For a starter they're not all strictly acronyms, but we'll let that pass. The context given is a teenager communicating with a parent - but as the article dimly concedes, not all these terms are appropriate for a teenager to use. 

Whilst BFF is young-girl talk, several of these are from online PC games played predominantly by young boys (and not-so-young men). Many are from rather older discussion boards used by significantly older engineers, techies and computer scientists. 

There's a tendency to treat 'internet' language as if it's one thing. But just like 'I found it on the internet' is about as specific as 'I found it in the world', so 'internet language' is increasingly as unhelpful a term as 'people language'. 

Top 12 Useful Internet Acronyms

Video: Typography about language

Wise words by Taylor Mali. 

Typography about language by Ronnie Bruce

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The 'Grammar' of Comics

Actually, it's more the graphology and style guide of comics, but this is still a very well-observed description of comics' linguistic conventions.

Blambot Comic Fonts and Lettering

Friday, 15 July 2011

A Guide To Potterisms

I'm sure you'll be familiar with these. Are they crossovers into everyday life?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Million-dollar manuscripts

Oxford's Bodleian library just bought an unfinished manuscript of an unpublished novel by Jane Austen - for a very large sum of money indeed. This is perhaps of more literary than linguistic interest - but at this site, you can read facsimiles and transcripts of Austen's writing, which reveals the corrections and editing Austen went through when drafting. It's also a good example of early 19th-century English, for A2 study. 


Jamaican Patois (And English Schwa)

Learn a likkle about Hinglish ere. The link through to jumieka.com looks promising too. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What does your email say about you?

Overpunctuated, or underpunctuated? First person or third? Each suggests attitude, gender and more...

What do we infer about people from the style of their e-mail messages?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Article: "Project Nim" Reveals a Scientific Scandal

This documentary, coming out soon, focuses on a controversial experiment that seeks to explore the core of what language is... but not necessarily very successfully. 

Newspapers and briefcases - vestigial words?

We still talk about 'web pages' and 'cover art' for digital-only media.  I've read people being berated for talking about the 'ship date' of a software download. (Though even physical media may not ever be distributed in an actual ship.) Do we still 'dial' a number?  Or just call a contact?

Newspapers and briefcases: vestigial words in today's English

Sunday, 10 July 2011

How to spell +1ed

I wish Google hadn't made the decision they have: the apostrophes are just going to encourage more people to use them where you don't need them, and confuse everybody. 

How to spell +1′d (or is it +1ed?)

People Read Web Pages in an F-Shaped Pattern

So you'll read this first paragraph more or less in full. 

And only so much of this one. 

And then

Just the



What’s the Most Beautiful Word in the English Language? - GalleyCat

I'm a fan of 'pillow'.

Friday, 8 July 2011

What A Beautiful Shade of #EB5248

Cool article on the names people give to colours - and a website that gathers them. 


When a cartoon character says "£&@#ing hell!", those have been called 'obscenicons'. They've been evolving for a long time...

More on the early days of obscenicons

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Famous first words

How to start a piece of journalism, according to some linguistic analyses of the openings of broadsheet articles...

OMG, xprts r all cybr tok is koo

Good article on language change and attitudes - prescriptivism vs descriptivism. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Revision Book for English Language

Just logging on the blog the revision book required for all AS and A2 Language students.

Revision Express AS and A2 English Language
Mr Alan Gardiner
£14.99 £7.72

Monday, 4 July 2011

Apostrophe Catastrophes

Lol's and ROFL's about apostrophe's.*

Apostrophe Catastrophes

*All of these are wrong, though some people use the first two, misleadingly. 

Verbs that Aren't

When is a 'doing word' not a verb? This article covers those words and phrases that look like they ought to be verbs, but grammatically aren't. 

The Different Kinds of Verbal Phrases in the English Language

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Speech is a messy business

More on tidying-up and representation vs plagiarism in journalism. Interesting insights into professional writing practice. 

Speech is a messy business, as Johann Hari, um, knows

Friday, 1 July 2011

Daring Fireball: On Attribution and Credit

There have been a couple of stories in the press/'blogosphere' about giving credit for the sources of info and quotations recently; this post explains some thinking about one of them. I hope the (lengthy) post gives you enough background to make sense of what happened. If you're serious about being a journalist, here's an example of why everyone needs to be serious about sources. :)


What's an easy method to make people more likely to trust what you say?

Spoiler: it's using concrete nouns. There are some other interesting details here too. 

I've certainly found the opposite: some very unconvincing statements from companies and government groups that use lots of abstract nouns to say very little. 

What's an easy method to make people more likely to trust what you say?

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The History of the English Language in Ten Animated Minutes


The History of the English Language in Ten Animated Minutes

(Sent from Flipboard) <- also awesome. 

The Stories of English

Just testing an Amazon link, really; but this is excellent background reading for the A2 year, covering the history of a variety of Englishes - all you need for Section A of the A2 exam. :)

The Stories of English
David Crystal
£12.99 £7.55

Semicolon Appreciation Society

This really exists. You can buy a T-shirt. 

Or rather: This really exists; you can buy a T-shirt. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


By popular demand: a Facebook Page to go with this blog. Share and enjoy.

Vintage Ad Sexism

I'm almost loath to post this, but it's such a goldmine of loaded language, I can't resist. It's certainly funny - but at least in equal parts scary, that this seemed okay not so long ago. Things are subtler today, but keep your eye out for assumptions in advertising language now. 

Monday, 27 June 2011

Park Magazine Blog

Added a link to the Park Magazine Blog in the Language Links, for ease of reference. Here you'll find articles by students from the Activities days and the Moving On Programme.

Also, as requested, here's a direct link to the example Task 1 Article on iLearn.

How to Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points

Good set of tips, with links for further detail.


How Search Engines Impact Life as a College Student


Doonesbury on How Search Engines Impact Life as a College Student

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Terminology - Website and App

Terminology, for iOS devices, looks cool for all your subjects, including English Language. Alongside a definition, it gives hypernyms, hyponyms, synonyms, antonyms and more. Handy.


There's a companion website which appears to do the same thing online, and it looks like the aim is to make all this well-integrated and easy to use as possible. Try it here.

Friday, 24 June 2011

i love english language

A number of diligent student researchers in the MOP have come across this blog during their googletreks. I can't quite track down who the author is, but the earliest entries suggest that it's the blog of an A Level Language student, taking an older version of the exam - and it seems to have blossomed into an ongoing language blog.
Perhaps the author is at university studying language now. Perhaps that love of English Language just never dies... Either way, they've collected quite a source of relevant material, which is well worth a trawl through.

It's going in the language links section in the sidebar.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Force Will Be With You

BEST OF LUCK to my A2s taking their big exam tomorrow!


Expect the unexpected; go for range; remember that the absence of a feature is a feature.

Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

Great opening line. 

Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

A do or a don’t

Would you 'do' a sandwich?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Language acquisition

Andrew Moore's useful overview of Language acquisition.

If you haven't come across AM's Universal Teacher site via Blackboard, do give it an explore. The exams info is out of date now - the author passed away - but it's still a great resource for theory, explanation and examples/exercises across the range of English subjects.  For AS students doing MOP as well as revising A2s.

Endowed by their Creator with certain WHAT?

I'm not the only one who gets carried away with Google Ngrams charts to solve a conundrum. 

This article looks at the transition between the word 'unalienable' and 'inalienable' in the US Declaration of Independence. Is it lexical change, or just modernisation of spelling?

Endowed by their Creator with certain WHAT?

Monday, 20 June 2011

California English and the "Gay Accent"

Looking for a research project idea for A2? This article ends with a challenge...

Unmapped Words: Portmanteaus

Or 'blendings' to you and me. Nice collection of 'em. 

Unmapped Words: Portmanteaus | Wordnik ~ all the words

Sane English

The subtitle of this lengthy but packed article was: "Can a native speaker of English make mistakes?"  A provocative question, which leads the article to explore prescriptivism, descriptivism, and a history of language change, as well as some resources for 'correct English'.  For A2s, and budding A2s alike.  

Sane English

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Here’s why you really need to master the parts of speech

Great article. An interesting companion piece to the earlier one about Shakespeare's conversion of parts of speech, too. 

Business writers, here's why you really need to master the parts of speech

See also a companion piece from the same site on the readability of the same extract discussed here.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Being Wikipedia, this doesn't all make perfectly lucid sense, but the sentence is one of those pleasing/annoying puzzlers that get you thinking hard about language. 

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

He Words Me

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Ten Principles of Effective Writing - F.L. Lucas on Style

Found this recommended in a much, much longer article about a different book on style. Be thankful for my mercy.


Friday, 17 June 2011


Even Doctors dig their slang. A selection of creative coinages from the British Medical Journal:

There's actually a whole world of language to be explored in hospitals - field-specific lexis, word roots and morphology, pragmatics (politeness, euphemism), 'bedside manner' - any one a potential research project. ;)

Article: Father's Day words

A bit early, but consider it a reminder. 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Epicene Pronouns

The who? The huh? Epicene means 'gender-neutral' - so it describes the pronoun you want, which English doesn't have, when you want to refer to a person of either gender instead of saying 'he or she' in full, or calling a person 'it'.

Here's a list compiled by Dennis Baron of all the proposals that have been made over the last hundred years or so for a pronoun to serve this purpose. You'll notice none of them have caught on. (My favourite is h'orsh'it.)


Between you and me, the answer to this conundrum is undoubtedly to say 'they', which everyone does anyway. If anyone tells you this is hard to understand or leads to terrible ambiguity, point out that no-one has had trouble with the plural/singular 'you' since 'thou' died out.

Explore The Lexical Web

We demoed something like this in class way back when - but this is a nice slick version. Bung a word in the search box and watch as related words emerge and dance around it, organising themselves in a 2D diagram. You can even get a dictionary definition of each. 

An online thesaurus and dictionary of over 145,000 words that you explore using an interactive map.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Selling Like Hot Compounds

This is the kind of geek discussion we have in our house.

I complained about the fact that people have started to write 'selling like hotcakes'.  What's a 'hotcake'?  When I were a lad, we always said hot cakes, two separate words.  This was met by an indignant insistence that 'hotcakes' is how everyone says it, and that's always been true.  'Tisn't!  'Tis!  Right: off to Google Ngram Viewer, and we'll settle this once and for all, with Linguistic SCIENCE.  Stand back.

(Ngram Viewer searches the archive of Google Books for a word or phrase, or several, and charts their frequency over the years.)

First search: "like hot cakes" [in blue] vs "like hotcakes" [in red], default search, 1800-2000:

She was right!  It's 'hotcakes' these days! Language change has beaten you.  Ah, but only recently, I protested. Let's take a closer look, from 1900 before which the 'hotcakes' variant doesn't exist, and we'll extend it to 2011 (actually the most recent data is from 2008):

Wait!  Lookie there!  'Hot cakes' has made a final resurgence in the last few years!  In protest against those misguided fools compounding the word!  Now who would do a thing like that?  I blame the Yanks.  In Ngrams, you can search American English only, and here are the results:

Well, that's clear.  The compounded version is winning in the States, and has been for about a Young Person's lifetime.  But:  If you're British, this is the picture:

A clear, and consistent, win for warm confectionery deployed in simile separately, in these Isles.

So if you're selling something 'like hotcakes', you're not being stupid, just American.  And if you sell it like 'hot cakes', you're not being a fogey, just British.  Who wins?  SCIENCE.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Today's Editorial Meeting

Plotting stories for 'Fuse' magazine with copies of fresh-off-the-presses SQ for inspiration.

Free British Library App

For iUsers. The British Library do another app too, with more treasures from the history of language. 

Free British Library App Brings Beautiful, Old Books to the iPad

When did Americans Stop "Talking British?"

With a focus on accent, John Wells explores the evolution of American English. 

When did Americans Stop "Talking British?"
Via @accentdialectuk

Monday, 13 June 2011

Article: Why is 'chav' still controversial?

Why is 'chav' still controversial?

(Sent from Flipboard)

At The Coal Face of Journalism

Students brainstorming story pitches at the editorial meeting for activities week 'magazine-in-a-day', today.

Featured: Corey SQ brandishing a copy of the mag.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

How to use cartoons to practice English pronunciation - JimStroud

A bit oblique, but an interesting use of animation skills to reflect on the pronunciation of words, which illustrates some of the relationships between different vowel sounds. It's a little naïve linguistically: it's only illustrating five vowel sounds for example, when we know there are many more than that; and the example words don't accurately represent the mapping of sounds to mouth images... see if you can explain how, using your phonetic skillz.


How to use cartoons to practice English pronunciation - JimStroud

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Stephen King's 6 Tools for Writers

Neat summary of tips from King's 'On Writing'. The title should read His (or Her) Toolbox, of course...

Stephen King and 6 Tools Every Writer Should Have in His ToolBox

Friday, 10 June 2011


William, my nephew whose language development A2s have been privileged to hear, is now in his first year at school. Here he's signed his name on his auntie's birthday card. He started it a bit too far right, so he's carried on... above the first four letters. CLA writing development analysis -- go!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Check out Introduction to English Linguistics II

If you do the Apple thing, check out this collection on iTunes, from the marvellously German Prof. Bergs.  Don't worry if they're all speaking Deutsch at the start of some of these, Bergson switches to English and he's pretty lucid. See also the link to ELLO in the sidebar.
Cover Art

Introduction to English Linguistics II

ELLO: Language Birth

ELLO, ello. (I like this site.) Here's a nicely packaged portal into pidgin and creole languages - you can just read the summary pages, or go into the details and examples. Em i gutpela, savi?


How to Run an Editorial Meeting

Ahead of Monday and Tuesday's magazine-in-a-day activities, take a glance at how editorial meetings work. We'll be starting our day with one of these. The context here is public radio in the US - but the same principles apply.


Updated 2014 with a new link. Original link:


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

11 Secret Meanings Behind Punctuation in Text Messages

Remember kids: Punctuation is not Grammar. But it can be telling bit of graphology, as in the following - not entirely serious - article. 

11 Secret Meanings Behind Punctuation in Text Messages | Underwire | Wired.com

Humans wired for grammar at birth

A green alien called Glermi teaches kids the artificial language 'Verblog', thereby supporting Chomsky's innateness hypothesis. In a world where you also do Wug tests, this is not weird.


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

England's regional accents: Geordie's still alreet | The Economist

Accent regions of England... And predicted changes by 2030. Language variation and change -- two for the price of one. You can't say fairer than that, A2s.

Full article at http://www.economist.com/node/18775029, with added Sheryl Kerl references.

Hamlet and the region of death

There won't be much literature on this blog, but every now and then some will come along. This article is about 'quantitative literary studies' - for example, analysing Hamlet by looking at who has adjacency pairs with who, and seeing what networks of conversational interaction occur. It leads to some interesting conclusions about the play's structure and characters....

Hamlet and the region of death

The Value of Wikipedia

Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)

 on Twitter
"Wikipedia is a great place to start researching and the worst place to stop - Dan Gillmor #PDF11"

True, true, true. 

Monday, 6 June 2011

Words we don't say (swisscheeseandbullets.com)

Not just cliché-avoiding sage advice for journalists, but a lesson in register and mode too - 'words we don't say' being both a warning not to use the lexis, but also pointing out that these are written forms not usually uttered by non-journalists. 

Words we don't say

Library Amnesty Week

Your chance to get off scot-free*, book-hoarders!

Library Amnesty Week

For this week only, we will be holding an amnesty week in the Learning Centres.

We will not charge fines on any items returned before 5pm on Friday 10th of June. No questions asked!

*See http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/scot%20free.html. Or is it http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=scot&searchmode=none?

Good Luck - We're all counting on you.

BEST OF LUCK to my AS students taking their exam today!
Watch your timings, keep a checklist, don't leave anything blank. :)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Halliday and functions

The more I read of Halliday, the more I realise how central he is to those who set the A Level exams.

This page is quite 'difficult', but it uses a lot of ideas we've met in the first year. You can skim most of it, and don't worry - it's university-level stuff. But do stop at this diagram:

It organises speech functions in a useful way: you're either Giving something, or Demanding it when you speak; and it's either Information (statement, question) or Goods/Services (offer, command). And either you're the one Initiating these functions, or you're Responding.

Using these categories to classify a conversation can help reveal the Field, the Function and the Tenor of the discussion, reveal who's in power, and more.


Scientist Captures 90,000 Hours of His Son's First Words

I mentioned this research to my A2s: impressive stuff at the cliff face of research into child language acquisition (and caregiver speech). 

MIT Scientist Captures 90,000 Hours of Video of His Son's First Words, Graphs It

Exam doctor's top tips

Eep! Big day tomorrow for AS students. Triumph with exams science!


Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Language of Love: Word Usage Predicts Attraction

Grammar words, too, not just words like 'coffee', 'fit' and 'phwoar'. Told you it was worth knowing your grammar words. 

As the article points out at the end: Is this convergence, or subconscious awareness of someone who 'speaks your language'?

The Language of Love: Word Usage Predicts Romantic Attraction

Words of 1911

This looks like a good one to follow. Dave Wilton has started a series of blog posts listing words coined in each year, starting at 1911. The lists are always surprising - sometimes how old a word is (eg, photocopier), and often how young it is (eg, brassiere). 
PS Cheers for the Facebook shares! ;)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Centuries of Advice & Advertisements

Historically funny.

Centuries of Advice & Advertisements

Facts About Phrasal Verbs (dailywritingtips.com)

We only did phrasal verbs very briefly in the AS year, alongside idioms, but they're worth knowing about and recognising. 

This link gives a few examples and some interesting titbits about their usage. It's aimed at learners of English as a second language - for whom phrasal verbs are notoriously tricky. (How does 'pick up' get to mean 'learn', 'receive on a radio set', 'improve' and 'meet for a sexytime at a nightclub'?) 

Facts About Phrasal Verbs

Actually, "STFU" is an Initialism, Not an Acronym.

Lulz. For when you're sick of all the nitpicky details. 

McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Actually, "STFU" is an Initialism, Not an Acronym.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Naipaul test: Can you tell an author's sex? | Books | guardian.co.uk

Lots of posts today. Try the The Naipaul test: Can you tell an author's sex? By what criteria will you do so? How do you separate the gender of a character from the gender of the writer creating it?

A Diagram for Graceful Prose

I might try this kind of diagramming next time we do syntax. It looks like fun*.

*Special English teacher's definition of 'fun'. 

A Diagram for Graceful Prose

The Metaphorical Terrorist

Semantics isn't just for literature. 

Shakespeare: the metaphorical terrorist

Coaching the active voice

Budding journalists need to know what the passive is -- and avoid it. 

Strictly, the last two examples given here aren't passive voice; though they are avoiding the direct, active, simple sentences recommended by the editors. 

Coaching the active voice

Bee Season brings out spelling reformers

Spelling reformers in the 21st century facing the same problems spelling reformers always have done. A2s will recognise the arguments. 

This article fails to mention Webster, who represents an important exception to its claim that spelling reformers are always ineffectual. Is Webster so fundamental for American observers that he's beneath notice?  Or has the article writer dun goof'd?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

This may interest you: British 'Euphemisms'

Pop quiz: according to politeness theory, what are 'The British' doing here?

This may interest you*

18 Seriously Cool Bookshelves

This isn't strictly to do with language, but you'll need somewhere to store all your fervent reading matter, right?

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Books for Thought-Provoking Reading

Okay, so it's not summer... yet. But, as students of the English Language, you should read anything and everything you can lay your hands on. 

Of this list, I'm currently reading The Information, which just happens to include an interesting chapter on early printers and dictionary makers, the names of whom my A2s will recognise. It's got some cool stuff on codes and the transformation of the world by communications technology too. 

The list ends with Kurt Vonnegut, of whom you should read everything, because he's funny and clever and fun and wise. 

10 Essential Books for Thought-Provoking Summer Reading

i love english language

i love english language collects a range of links, blog posts (usually copying across the whole article rather than just linking), accounts of elements of grammar, pages on language theory, and much more. Worth following.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Grammar Rock!

He started shoutin' out in-ter-jec-tions!   Busy prepositions, always on the march!  On the top is where you are... over the rainbow...  And many, many more.

All your favourite Grammar Rock is in this playlist, along with some other short vids to help revise word classes and grammar stuff.  


Sunday, 29 May 2011

I Read Where I Am

Articles about reading, its history and nature, with some interesting graphology and a striking style. Mainly for A2s, I guess, but interesting for anyone. Try any of the articles on this blog. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Kate Middleton Tops Gaga for Top Fashion Buzzword

The Language Monitor has been tracking the frequency of usage of phrases in the fashion press, and compiles an annual report, which you can find on this page. We see a bunch of eponyms, some blendings, compounds, and a menagerie of other word types. I particularly liked* 'meggings'.


*By 'liked', I mean loathed. And if you ever see me wearing any, please punch me until I stop.

The Case for Forensic Linguistics

I was looking for forensic linguistics links, and there's a whole load of them; but often they're rather academic - or the meat is hidden away, because they want you to take a paid course.
This BBC article gives a neat case study - using some concepts you'll recognise. Try Wikipedia's Forensic Linguistics page as a follow-up - if you haven't already. There are lots of links to cases and YouTube videos of lectures there. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7600769.stm

Friday, 27 May 2011

Article: Web Makes Keeping Up Tough for Slang Expert

You can't make a slang dictionary quick enough these days. 

(Also fun: the interactive guess-the-slang widget on the left of the article.)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

5 Kudzu Words...

What's Kudzu? According to Darlene here at Grammar Divas, a kind of creeping weed that wheedles its way into your world. I guess it means more as an image to her than it does to me, but her discussion here, of everyday 'spoken' words that find themselves in a first draft and weaken the written style, shows how paying attention to those little grammar words can reveal a lot about the nature and quality of a piece of writing. 

5 Kudzu Words That Creep Into Your Writing

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Mistake That Bugs He & I

Okay, so I tend to agree with the argument made here... but hang on a moment. It's far from watertight. 

So fine, it'd be stupid to say 'me tend to agree'; which does seem to lead to the conclusion that 'Jim and me tend to agree' should be wrong, and it ought to be 'Jim and I tend to agree'.


But who's to say that 'compound subjects' don't follow different rules? They're not exactly the same as singular ones; they're plural. It'd be equally silly to say 'Jim and I is right', or 'Jim and I am right' - it's 'Jim and I are right', right?  (Or is it 'Jim and me are right'...?)

Have a read and see what you think.