Pretty, pretty Christmas baubles

When I was a boy living in Scone, in country NSW we still had a traditional Christmas along the lines of that which my parents had had growing up in England. This meant two things: firstly, that we sat around at midday on Christmas Day in sweltering heat (we had no air conditioning, see below)...
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How do you tell a robot from an android?

Words for artificial humans

The science fiction (sci-fi) genre has created many near-human creatures. There is a whole vocabulary that has grown to describe human-like things that are not humans: robots, androids, cyborgs, humanoids, and many more. But researching these sci-fi words I found that many of them and the artificial creatures they describe have been around...
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How to dilapidate a castle

When I came across the origin of the word dilapidate I was quite excited. There seemed to be the possibility of a great word of the week story behind it. However the links between the word's origins and its current use are not clear. So … given that there is no proper story about the...
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Understanding zombies

What is a zombie?

In Martinique and Haiti a zombie is the term for any spirit or ghost appearing at night. But the popular view of a zombie is that a bokor or witch-doctor makes the victim appear dead by magic, hypnotic suggestion, or by a secret potion—and then revives them as their personal slave with...
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Groundlings pelting pippins at Hamlet

Academics and teachers ask us to revere Shakespeare as the greatest of English writers but ironically they damage him by creating a false perception that his work is high-brow. Over the many years that I have watched Shakespeare and read about him and his plays, the thing that comes out most clearly to me is...
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Floccinaucinihilipilification and the Eton Latin Grammar

One of the words in contention for the longest word in the English language is floccinaucinihilipilification (pronounce it flahk-si-naw-si-ni-hi-li-pi-li-fi-kay-shên). Words like floccinaucinihilipilification support my idea that word are more than just tools to describe what is around us but that people love to play with language—we celebrate the exuberance of words and use them not...
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