The Metal Umlaut

You’ve probably seen a lot of umlauts in your lifetime. They’re common in German, and look like this: ö. Those two little dots over a little vowel. English of course also has an identical diacritic, the diaeresis. But I already told you that. What I want to look at today though is the umlaut, and one type of umlaut in particular: the metal umlaut. Continue reading

Duck!

A duck is an aquatic animal, found in freshwater environments around the world.

I probably haven’t blown your mind by telling you that. Nor, I’m sure, will I do so by telling you that to duck is a verb meaning to quickly dip your head. I may, however, surprise you slightly by telling you which word came first.

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Defacing a Flag

I was watching Wales play New Zealand in rugby yesterday when I saw the New Zealand. That reminded me that New Zealanders had voted on changing their flag last year, and I hadn’t kept up with the result of the vote.

Seeing the old flag flying, I knew that they’d obviously voted to keep it, but I was curious for more detail, so I googled New Zealand flag. And that’s when things got really interesting…

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Words I Don’t Know

Why no!, not, in fact, a blank page, but rather a continuation of the theme of what I don’t know about English (though you can expect this to be a very short series of articles). Today I want to have a look at the last book I’ve read: Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. Like most books I read, it was a second-hand copy from my favourite bookshop, and one of the previous owners had underlined a lot of words. I didn’t think too much of this at first: there are often handwritten notes and underlined sections in second-hand books. That’s part of the appeal of second-hand books: the feeling that they’ve already had a full life (it must have been some journey to get from S&S Books in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway, Ireland), and the knowledge that someone else got to appreciate them. This case was slightly different though, because there were just individual words underlined, and no notes in the margins. I soon realised that these words were underlined because the previous reader hadn’t understood them. How did I come to realise this? Because I didn’t know most of them either.

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