English is a language of exceptions, with few concrete rules. When it comes to adjectives, however, there is a very specific hierarchy most English speakers know, instinctively, must be followed to avoid utter confusion. Those rules may be broken only at great risk -- including the risk of derailing one of the greatest literary geniuses in history.... Continue Reading →
Although English is not the hardest language to master (see this post for ten languages that are even harder), it frequently presents problems, even for its native speakers. Consider the problem with writing the sentence, "I never said she stole my money." What meaning are you attempting to convey? There are seven different meanings the... Continue Reading →
The Vatican Bank (officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion) is the only bank in the world that allows the user to select "Latin" as the language of choice. Dominus providebit -- the Lord will provide.
The next time you are in Denmark and see a traffic sign that says, "Fartkontrol", don't be so quick to hold your nose and snicker. It actually is warning you that the speed limit is highly enforced.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) took her responsibilities as Empress of India quite seriously. On her 70th birthday she undertook lessons in Hindustani and got to the point where she wrote in Hindustani in her diaries.
Aristophanes (427 BC – 386 BC) was groundbreaking with his plays. His skills as a satirist and as a keen observer of everyday life led him to give us one of the most revealing pictures of what life was like in ancient Athens. He was not afraid to tackle controversial topics. Plato pointed to his play The... Continue Reading →
You can tell a lot about what concerns people by looking at their language. Eskimos have many words for snow. The ancient Greeks had six words for love. It doesn't take a lot to conclude that these were important things for these cultures. Based on this, one can reasonably conclude that Scots are quite concerned... Continue Reading →
When it comes to studying languages, many turn their attention to the most-commonly spoken languages of the world. Fully 25% of the world's population claim Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, or English as a first language. If you have considered learning a second language, odds are it was one of these. How much time have you... Continue Reading →
There is one word in the English language that changes its meaning and pronounciation, depending on whether it is capitalized: polish. Uncapitalized, polish refers to a substance used to give something a smooth and shiny surface when rubbed in, or the act of making the surface of something smooth and shiny by rubbing it. With a capital, Polish refers to things... Continue Reading →
Why would you need to know about oxyphenbutazone? If you have an interest in medicine, you need to know it as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. If you are a Scrabble player, however, you definitely want to store it away in your memory because it can bring you more points than any other word. Playing under American rules,... Continue Reading →
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Do you know anyone who cuts his or her own hair? If you do, you may properly refer to that person as an autotonsorialist.
All of us have encountered words that give us fits, no matter the level of English proficiency. You could be William Shakespeare himself and still trip up over a relatively-simple word. For non-native speakers, there are a few repeat offenders that consistently give headaches and tongue cramps. According to a survey with more than 5,000 submissions,... Continue Reading →
If you want a chance to use a word that will turn some heads, find something that is bird-like in its appearance and observe its turdiform features.Taking its meaning from the bird family Turdidae, the word refers to anything that resembles any member of that family -- most notably, thrushes. For example, you might compliment a... Continue Reading →
How much do you know about everyone's favorite sailor, Popeye? Consider these fun facts: Popeye made his first appearance in January 1929 in a comics series by Elzie Segar. In the cartoon "Popeye in Goonland" in 1938, Popeye says that he hasn't seen his father since his birth, forty years earlier. That would place his... Continue Reading →