Stranger Things

Strange can be a strange word. If I asked you to explain it, you’d probably have no problem. It means weird, unusual, not normal. Easy.

Now though, think of words related to strange.

You can probably think of strangely, stranger, and estranged. OK, strangely is the adverb form of strange, but what’s the link with the other two words?

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Can you be Ruthful?

You can of course be ruthless – having or showing no compassion or pity for others. I don’t recommend it, but it’s possible. Logically then, you can be ruthful – being full of compassion or pity of others. Normally when we add the prefix -less to a noun, we can add -ful as well to mean the opposite: careful/careless, hopeful/hopeless, and so on.

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The Funniest Words in the World?

What makes something funny? Feel free not to even try to answer that, because obviously humour, like an earthworm in a snowstorm, is hard to pin down. Some suggest it’s based on minor transgressions, the release of tension, or shedding new light on things we take for granted.  Of course, all of this depends on context and a wide number of variables, and is still going to be subjective even then. If we look at which individual words we tend to find funny though, there aren’t so many variables to consider, and we might be able to find out why they’re funny.

I’m thinking about this because researchers at the University of Warwick conducted a study of what the funniest words in the English language are. They did this by choosing a random sample of 5,000 words, and the asking 800 people to rate them for humour from 1 (unfunny) to 5 (hilarious). Here’s what they came up with, starting with the funniest:

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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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Make & Do

Make and do. To make and to do. Two very simple verbs that you probably never think about (if you’re a native speaker). You probably literally use them every day. Nothing interesting about them really. Just common words that do their job without any fuss, without drawing attention to themselves. Nothing interesting about them at all, is there? Well, you might be amazed to find that actually, I find both words quite interesting indeed.

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Father’s Day

It’s Father’s Day today in many parts of the world. I hope you’re being well treated if you’re one of the men honoured by the day. You really never can have too many pairs of socks. Like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s quite an artificial day, but I don’t mind too much really, as sometimes maybe we need a little push to be grateful. Or to at least express our gratitude.

The word father, like mother, isn’t one we actually use all that much of course, instead preferring works like dad, pop, papa et al. These words, like so many of our words to refer to our mothers, are derived from our first babblings as a child.

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Words for Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know Had Names (Except for “Aglet,” Because Everyone Knows that now)

Estimates vary as to the number of words in the English language (171,476 in current use according to the OED), but for most of us, it’s not really important, as we never use the vast majority of them. But what exactly are these other words? A lot of them are scientific and technical terms we never come across or need to know. But there are quite a few words to describe common situations or objects, that you may not have known had names at all. Such as…

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