Author Archives


Thinking in Metaphors

“Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish—a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they […]

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

“We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. Language is not simply a reporting device for experience, but a defining framework for it.” Benjamin Lee Wharf, Language Thought and Reality (1956) Whorf was a linguistics enthusiast and through his amateur fascination with language, and under […]

A Lexicographer’s Life

“Language is a wild thing. It is vague and anarchic. Style, meaning, and usage are continually on the move. Throughout history, for every mutation, idiosyncrasy, and ubiquitous mistake, there have been countervailing rules, pronouncements and systems making some attempt to bring language to heel.” Lane Green, Talk on […]

Hate Speech

One of the most terrible things about a national security crisis, real or imagined, is that xenophobic leaders instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of human linguistic cultures. In this section […]


The word “jargon” can be traced to 14th century Old French, but the actual origin is unknown. “Jargon” is derived from the fourteenth century term for “twittering or warbling of birds,” which in turn has the root ‘garg’ from which also stem such words as “gargle,” and “gurgle.” […]

What’s In A Name?

Names, exact terms and labels can serve a valuable purpose for communication in specific contexts. For example, it is good that in an operating theatre a surgeon can ask for a precise tool with an esoteric name instead of relying on vague description.  On the other hand naming, […]


Censorship can be defined as “the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions” (Wikipedia). In the context of taboo, censorship may be used to […]

Insults and Profanity

Perhaps understandably, you may not study the language of insults too much at school! But studying language that cultures find offensive can tell you much about societies. What makes a word rude? Read a selection of the following articles, beginning with Swearing by Bill Bryson, to find out […]


“The van’s load is usually nine per square yard. In Saurer vehicles, which are very spacious, maximum use of space is impossible, not because of any possible overload, but because loading to full capacity would affect the vehicle’s stability. So reduction of the load space seems necessary. It […]

Taboo Or Not Taboo

Societies have developed a plethora of words and expressions to deal with taboo subjects: either to avoid mentioning them at all, or to smooth the rough edges of reality. As you’ve already discovered, religion was one of the first English taboos, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Take the […]