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Language has fascinated since I was knee-high to … erm, a knee.

More recently, Oxford University Press commissioned me to revise Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, a book that language professionals take as the bible of how to use English correctly.

Since then, the book has reprinted several times.

Alexander McCall Smith was kind enough to call my book Damp Squid: the English Language Laid bare ‘irresistible’.

On behalf of Collins Dictionaries or Oxford University Press, I have given talks and seminars all over the world (China, Mexico, Spain, Belgium, Croatia, etc.), and delivered training courses on clear writing for professionals.

When not ‘wording’ for clients, I blog on topics such as where words come from or who was brilliant enough to get one named after them.


  1. I don’t know which side of the pond you live on, but here in the States there’s an evolution of American english that continues apace and is driving me batty. It is the usage of nouns as verbs, as in: “I was journaling for hours last night.” Some of the more recent atrocities: scrapbooking, tabling (handing out printed information in public from a table top), portraitizing. Just a few days ago I encountered “collaging.”
    Have you professional linguists coined a term for this? (Please don’t reply it’s “verbing” or “verbizing.”)



    1. Hello, William (or Bill?), and thanks for your comment. I’m on the British side of the pond. In principle, I suppose English speakers can make almost any noun a verb if the need arises and the context requires it. There are several terms, but none of them specifies nouns to verbs, which is why I suppose ‘verbing’ is so handy (I hadn’t come across ‘verbizing’ before). conversion: the process that takes a word which is normally used in one part of speech and uses it in another without adding any kind of affix. It also affects e.g. nouns from verbs, ‘a swim’. This process is also called reclassification; and functional shift, the latter because it changes the syntax of the word.

      It is such a common and established process that we don’t notice it all around us in words we use all the time. As a simple example, I am commenting (1599 in the OED) on your comment (around 1400 in the OED). Historically, that verb is an example of this kind of conversion. I have to say that I find the use you describe of ‘tabling’ rather odd, since that verb already has a distinct meaning; as for ‘portraitize’, apart from being hideous, it is more than conversion, since it adds -ize to the noun. I hope this answers your question.


      1. Thank you, Jeremy. Most illuminating. We must all accept, I reckon, that we live in a world constantly in flux. But regarding the easy embrace of noun to verb conversion I remain, for the time being, unconverted.
        There’s another issue with American language that I’m interested to know your opinion about, and whether it’s happening on your side of the pond, too. In addition to your scrutiny of the written and spoken word, do you pay much attention to the evolution of the way people actually talk? Here in the States a speech pattern has emerged that almost everyone I know (over 40) finds annoying. I’m referring to the creeping proliferation of “uptalk.”
        Uptalk is the name given by professional linguists (who cannot seem to resist a punchy portmanteau) to the habit of changing the pitch of a word in a declarative sentence – either at the end, or midway, or both – that makes it sound like a question or uncertainty when it is not. Normal: “She made it sound like a question.” Uptalk: “She made it sound like a…question?” Double uptalk: “She made it sound?…like a… question?”
        Linguists who have studied the pattern found that it’s most prevalent among girls and young women, but listen closely and one can hear it appearing in nearly every demographic, including professional broadcasters who ought to know better than trying to sound like teens or twenty-somethings.
        Recently I heard a radio interview with an associate professor from a local college. Her speech lilted with so much singsongy uptalk it was difficult to determine whether she was answering questions or auditioning for a role in a musical.
        Is it happening there, too?



      2. Hi Bill,
        Yes, it is happening here. I am too old to associate much with the age group among whom it is prevalent, but I have certainly heard it. And I have even noticed female friends in their fifties using it, which is disconcerting. I suspect it is here to stay. I can’t say that I have noticed it being used by broadcasters, though. Could that be because their role is generally to assert forcefully?

        Where it comes from seems to be debated, but it has been around for quite a while. The article I give you the link to suggests it may go back to the 1960s, and has some interesting quotes from various linguists, including Pinker:

        There is also this entertaining article, in which the parallel use of the question mark is writing is parodied:

        Best regards, Jeremy


  2. Thank you once again, Jeremy. I’m now more educated about the phenomenon, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to the ear. When I hear someone speaking with frequent uptalk it reminds me of hearing a poem read aloud or recited badly.
    Before signing off, let me recommend (if you haven’t already read it) an entertaining little booklet by the late author, columnist and polemicist Alexander Cockburn, titled: Guillotined: Being a Summary Broadside Against the Corruption of the English Language. It was the last publication he worked on before his untimely passing.
    Guillotined! is a collection of commentaries by Cockburn and many readers of CounterPunch (the political website he co-founded) in which they inveigh against the hackneyed words, phrases and usages they find vexing. They are woven together with the leitmotif of the early, bloody days of the French Revolution. To quote the infamous prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville: “There are certain words which have counter-revolutionary potential, in the sense they have the power to debase and coarsen common speech by thoughtless and repeated use.”
    Cockburn and his readership tribunal subject the accused to swift and merciless judgement. Like the “justice” of those terrible days, the majority are condemned and must take that fateful ride in a tumbril to La Place de la Revolution where the tricoteuses have taken their seats and “the ministers of Sainte Guillotine are robed and ready.”
    It’s not up to the standards of academia, but it’s an amusing read. Disclosure: I have an item in it, too.
    It’s available only through the website.

    A pleasure corresponding with you.
    I have the honor to be…etc., etc.


  3. Is the photo at the beginning of this blog from your garden? If it is, it’s gorgeous! And if it isn’t, it’s still gorgeous! Just discovered your blog. I’m sure I’ll have some English grammar question for you at some point. Until then, I will just lurk around, reading others’ comments and your responses.


    1. Hi, Nancy

      Thanks for reading the blog and for your message. Yes, indeed, the picture is of our garden. To be precise, of the garden we had in our last house in Somerset, before we moved back to Scotland, where, sadly, the climate, being several hundred miles further north, does not favour most of the plants I planted in Somerset! Yes, it was gorgeous, which is why I keep the image: to remind me of a lost Eden. Come to think of it, I have several other images, so I could rotate them. By all means, do please raise topics that I could blog about. Meanwhile, kindest regards! :-).


  4. A Gardener’s Travels was shown as your blog, but now I’ve found the other one. Thanks!

    Incidentally, the title of your first blog reminded me of a book I recently worked on: A Gardener’s Journey published by Editions Xavier Barral. It is about the French gardening genius Pascal Cribier, is a beautiful, lavishly illustrated volume, and a work of art in its own right. Here’s a link to the original French edition. The translated edition is available from, I discover. It really is an inspirational and beautiful book. (I fear this sounds like crass marketing; I’m only trying to share my enthusiasm for a volume I’m proud to have helped with.) Kind regards, J


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