In the news this past week: a grammar guru solves the world’s grammar problems on the streets of New York City; Jonathan Franzen gets Twitter’s knickers in a twist with his rules for aspiring writers; how Calvin Harris has managed to keep his accent; and Glosso is listed among 5 best blogs for language learning … Continue reading
With Bohemian Rhapsody becoming the second-highest grossing music biopic of all time, Freddie Mercury and Queen are back in the news and on the airwaves. There’s a word in the chorus of “Killer Queen” (“Mercury’s piano-led paean to a Moët-quaffing courtesan”*) that I’ve only just realized I’ve been hearing wrong all these years. And I had always assumed Freddie knew something I didn’t when he sang the French loan word. How could I have been so wrong? Continue reading
English is littered with diminutives — commonly abbreviated words — in standard usage. Phone, bike, fridge, gym, typo, photo: they’re all diminutives* in that sense. Sometimes we add a suffix after butchering a word to give it an even more informal feel: think comfy (comfortable), cardie (cardigan), telly (television), and even brolly (umbrella). OK, admittedly those are all British colloquialisms: we Brits [see?] are more prone than our neighbors across the pond to add weeny appendages back in once we’ve sliced off the fatty syllables. (And see Glosso’s earlier post: “I’ll take that with a side of small words.“) But wait: there’s a country that’s even more inclined to hypocorism (yes, that’s what it’s called) than English-speakers on either side of the Atlantic. G’day Aussies! Continue reading
I guess we all learned something new yesterday, thanks to a certain headline … Continue reading
There might be trade war brewing over steel and aluminum. But another trans-Atlantic war has already been raging for a couple of centuries over one of those heavy metals. Which came first: American aluminum or British aluminium? Continue reading
“Stand well away from Platform 4. The approaching train is not SHEDuled to stop at this station.” So pronounces the Very British voice actor Celia Drummond, who happens to be the the voice of London’s Jubilee and Northern tube lines, as well as of some of the other British transport systems. But is this the “correct” pronunciation of the word schedule? Or do Americans come closer to the way the word was pronounced in its original language? Continue reading
This post is republished on the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s first televised Christmas message, broadcast in 1957.
As many of us tune in today to hear (or watch) The Queen delivering her Christmas message to her subjects around the world, some of us might be focusing less on the words she speaks and more on the way she says them. Every year my ears delight in the music of her voice itself: her plummy accent — the quintessential example of received pronunciation, or what we used to refer to as “BBC English” — harks back to an earlier age when Englishmen and women, especially those in the upper echelons of society, spoke very differently. (Scroll to the end of this post to watch the Queen’s first televised Christmas message, broadcast in 1957, and a speech given by her second oldest grandson earlier this year.) Continue reading
A Brit in San Diego might be forgiven for wondering what the sign hung on the children’s theater’s box office actually means. Who will call whom at 5.30? Or is it a note to Will (missing a comma), asking him to call at 5.30? Continue reading
*This post has been updated and revised to reflect the many comments suggesting my original post was misinformed.
When I’m back in Blighty, I stay at my family home in Magdalene Road. Try asking a taxi driver to take you to “Maudlin” Road (as the name Magdalene is historically pronounced in the UK), and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare — even by those London cabbies who’ve aced The Knowledge. You are actually more likely to hear that increasingly dated pronunciation when you visit Cambridge, whose Magdalene College sounds more like Maud than Magda. The same is true for its sister college in Oxford — which is spelled nearly the same way but without the final “e”. Which pronunciation — if either — is correct: the “maudlin”-sounding Cambridge and Oxford colleges, or the more modern three-syllable “MAG-duh-lin” that you’ll hear nowadays in most other parts of England? Continue reading
I’ve always thought the word “mid-Atlantic” is such a strange misnomer: doesn’t it conjure up images of boats tossing on vast ocean waves with no land in sight? But that’s just me, it seems: most people think of Katherine Hepburn or Cary Grant — and that’s because the term is most commonly used to describe an accent. Continue reading