The Canadian blogger and free-lance reviewer James Nicoll created the following epigram on the English language: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."Read More
Before America became a nation, the colonists who arrived to establish the country spoke English. From England. As there was not yet an authoritative source for how to spell words correctly in English, the colonists spoke the English they were used to back home and wrote much the same way, using the way language was written in English literature as a guide, according to this brief mental floss video. The first official written authority on the English language was Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, which served as the trusted reference for English language use in the United States until Noah Webster invented one of his own. Webster reasoned that a new country should have a new language, and thus the first American dictionary was born. Webster's A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1806 partly to solidify America's cultural as well as linguistic independence from Britain.Read More
A friend and I recently traveled to Dublin, where we were struck by how accessible the history and beauty of the city seemed, in a way that was easy to get to know. The people we encountered were friendly and eager to strike up a conversation, and they often did – with what we considered wonderfully melodic Irish accents. Notwithstanding the fact that the spoken language there is also English, however, we were not able to catch the meaning of every word we heard. One evening at a casual local restaurant, one of the waitresses who took our order followed up with what we heard as "no butter?" We were confused because it seemed an unlikely question, to have butter or not, on the dish my friend had ordered. The waitress, on seeing our perplexed faces, quickly clarified with a smile, "no worries!"Read More
One of the recent lessons I gave to my English Language Learners involved English idioms and their origins. An idiom is a saying that does not mean what the words literally express, but rather it has some representative meaning behind the words. Often, the reasons for the meanings of idioms are obscure; in this post, I will try to bring to light a few commonly used idioms and where they come from.Read More
As an English teacher and literature major in college, I am passionate about the English language. I am a self-identified stickler for grammar, and I will correct a text to a friend if I notice it lacks an apostrophe or contains an erroneous punctuation mark.Read More
You find yourself entering your first semester as a graduate student in New York City. For all the hard work reading, writing, and taking entrance exams, you still feel anxious and alienated from your native English speaking peers. Social mixers loom large. Prospects for networking with faculty appear out of reach. It’s as if you gained VIP access to your favorite play only to discover the actors cancelled the show….
Sound familiar? You’re not alone! According to the Journal of Counseling and Development, you and your fellow international students not only experience language barriers, you also contend with “culture shock, social adjustment, and homesickness.” And how can you not? It’s one thing to simply study and keep your head in your books until you cross the graduation “finish line.” It’s quite a different thing to expand your social networks, earn recognition from faculty, and expose yourself to enriching experiences within and beyond classroom walls.
One grammar category that seems to be widely untaught is the names and functions of various verb tenses. For those who have studied a foreign language, the existence of these constructions is not so foreign, but native English speakers rarely learn what the subjunctive – in English – even is, let alone how to use it correctly. The same goes for past perfect and conditional or hypothetical phrases. If you knew what these tenses were called, maybe you would better understand the rules for combining them. If you had known these rules earlier, perhaps you could have used them more often.Read More
After you receive your grade and read your professor’s comments you might have a lot of those “if only” thoughts. “If only I had looked up that concept.” “If only I had taken extra time to proofread that.” “If only I had read the assignment more carefully.” “If only I had started earlier and done more research.” “If only I had realized I was contradicting myself.” “If only I had re-read the class reading before starting to write.” Then suddenly the film of your life starts to run backwards. You are back 4 days before the assignment is due and have all the knowledge you have now! Fantasy, right? Not necessarily. Quite often professors will:Read More
What is a Homophone?
There are many more words in the English language than one might expect, given how similar their pronunciation and spelling can be. They're usually nouns and adjectives, except for those that function as conjunctions or contractions. Once you accept that English contains many pairs or groups of deceptively similar words with different meanings, then you will have a better understanding in sight of how to speak and cite and write the right ones.Read More
Sharing your story in a clear, compelling way is an important skill that will come in handy for the rest of your life, from writing personal statements to presenting yourself in interviews. It’s also a skill that’s not often emphasized in high school and college English classes, where literary analysis is highly prized. How can you hone this skill?Read More