Top 100 language lovers 2014

May 25, 2014

Language portal is having its annual “Language Lovers” poll. I’ve placed well in recent years but I don’t read much into the results; nor should you. Twitter’s “Follow Friday” is used as a scoring metric, for example, despite being as spammy and arbitrary as it is edifying.

Still, it’s a bit of fun and a fine way to discover new language-related resources. You can vote for Sentence first – or a blog of your choice – in the Language Professionals poll, and if you’re feeling generous you can vote for @StanCarey in the Language Twitter Accounts poll.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog, to which I’m a contributor, appears in the Language Learning Blogs list. There’s good browsing material on all these pages. For more information about the competition, go here. Voting ends on 9 June. top language lovers

May 23, 2013

Language portal is holding its annual competition of top language lovers, and Sentence first is honoured to appear in the Language Professionals category.

Click the image below to see the 100 shortlisted (if that’s not an oxymoron) and vote for Sentence first or another blog of your choice:

Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2013

My Twitter page (@StanCarey) was also selected, so if you’re feeling generous you can vote for me here:

Vote the Top 100 Language Twitterer 2013

Though I placed respectably last year (see the badges in the sidebar), my expectations in these contests are modest; tireless self-promotion is not my strong point. But they’re a good way to find new language writers, and they’re also an opportunity to welcome new visitors.

Finally, if you’re in a voting or browsing kind of mood, there are also polls for Facebook pages and language-learning blogs. The latter includes Macmillan Dictionary Blog, to which I contribute regular posts.

Grammar haiku and a whispering shell

March 8, 2012

Short poems and quick links today. First: a nonsense rhyme from months ago, reposted here lest I forget all about it:

On a day quite fine by the wind-blown brine,
I sit with my friend tranquilly —
A cockle, his heart warms the cockles of mine
As he whispers of life in the sea.

It will make more sense, I hope, alongside the drawing it was written to accompany: ‘The whispering shell‘ by Tegan Moss on her marvellous A Monster A Day blog.


On March fo(u)rth — National Grammar Day in the U.S. — editor Mark Allen hosted a grammar haiku contest judged by a panel of word specialists. The collected haiku on Storify make for a very entertaining browse. This was my entry:

My word, your syntax
stirs the imperative mood:
Let’s coordinate.

Despite, or because of, its shameless innuendo, it was one of the runners-up; the others, the honourable mentions and the deserving winner may be seen on Mark’s blog.


Comments in haiku, rhyming, or monstrous form are especially welcome, and there’s more haiku, nonsense verse, bookmashes and assorted poetry in the archives.

Five-Line Rhyme Time: A Limerick Contest

September 12, 2011

[Note: This limerick contest is now over. See foot of post for updates.]

It’s competition time at Sentence first! All you have to do is write a limerick about language and add it in a comment to this post, and you’ll be in the running for a Kindle or some fine books on language. First, a word about our sponsors.


Sponsoring the contest and supplying the prizes are the good people at Stack Exchange, a community-based Q&A website. At SE, people ask questions, answers are discussed, edited, and voted on, and so the most helpful rise to the top. There are sections on cooking, maths, photography, programming – all sorts of special interests, including:

Click the pic to visit. The English Language and Usage page has a lively turnover of questions on usage, etymology, semantics, pronunciation, dialects, phrases, and other such topics; the FAQ offers a useful introduction. It’s a friendly, informative kind of place. Some example discussions:

Why is q followed by a u?
Why are there inconsistencies in the pronunciation of the alphabet?
What is the origin of ZOMG?
Can doubt sometimes mean question?
Did English ever have a formal version of you?
Origins of the word bug in Software.
Proverb or expression for a situation with two choices, both leading to a different kind of trouble.

Here’s one relevant to our competition:

What is it about English that makes it favourable for writing limericks?

And one that caught my eye from the Science Fiction & Fantasy page:

How does Superman shave?

I think it’s an addictive place to browse partly because whatever one person is curious about, others will be curious about. Try it and see.



And so to business. Lauren, who manages the English Language & Usage page, recently got in touch to propose a contest; I suggested limericks, and now it’s your turn.

Limericks should be of normal length, rhythm, and rhyming scheme, more or less. You probably know the structure well. Wikipedia has the basics, and I’m glad to see it cites Gershon Legman, whose thorough and spectacularly rude two-volume collection I read this year. But do please resist this tradition – keep your compositions family friendly, and ignore Morris Bishop’s characterisation:

The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.

Should your muse linger, you can submit 2–3 limericks – but no more! They should be original, and in English. The theme is language: writing, grammar, usage, style, and so on. Anything language-y or linguistic, so long as it entertains. Rhymes should be close but need not be precise. Inventiveness is encouraged; repeating a rhyme (à la Lear) is not.



First prize is a Kindle, Amazon’s popular e-book reader. I hear they’re all the rage.

Second prize (A) is two new books I haven’t yet read but look forward to reading: Robert Lane Greene’s You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity (praised by Language Hat here); and Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again (commended by John E. McIntyre here).

Second prize (B) is two older books I have read, and to which I often refer: T. P. Dolan’s wonderful A Dictionary of Hiberno-English, described by Tom Paulin as “a pioneering work of scholarship”; and the great Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, which Geoffrey K. Pullum calls “the finest work of scholarship on English grammar and usage I have ever seen.”

Prizes can only be sent to western Europe, continental U.S., and Canada. I’m sorry if that’s a problem for some readers. You can’t enter if you’re related to me or work for Stack Exchange; otherwise, go for it. It’s impossible to be objective about poetry, so if I can’t choose clear winners I’ll narrow it down a bit and pick three at random.

You don’t have to spread the word through social media – or traditional speech or gesture – but I’d love if you did: the more entries, the more fun for all.

Today is Monday 12 September; the deadline is Friday 23 September. Winners to be announced the week after, in an update to this post. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter, if you’re the tweeting type.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!


Update 1: The contest is now closed. Thank you all very much for submitting poems and spreading the word. I’ve had great fun reading the limericks (over 130 of them!), marvelling at their wit and ingenuity.

I’ll make a shortlist of the ones I’m most impressed by and will draw lots for the prizes. Winners will be announced next week. Comments are closed until then.

Some of you will be interested to know that Stack Exchange now has a Linguistics page.


Update 2: So many good limericks were entered, I wish I had more prizes to give. Ten times more. But I’m happy to announce the following three winners:

Second prize (B) goes to Mike Page:

If engaged in a contest with Inuit
in snow-naming, please, discontinue it!
We can hardly compete
Using “slush”, “powder”, “sleet”…
You’ve got to be Inuit to win you it!

for imaginative rhyming and inspired silliness. (Alongside his limerick I must recommend this essay (PDF) on Eskimo words for snow.)

Second prize (A) goes to Lisa Liel:

Grammarians like to explain
That the verbing of nouns is inane
But friending is fine
It’s no different in kind
Than contacting me to complain

More sense in 25 words than you can shake a derivational suffix at. (Note: after the verb contact (in the sense get in touch with) arose in the early 20th century, it was “greeted with open hostility by purists for several decades”, according to Robert Burchfield.)

First prize goes to Paraic O’Donnell:

There was once a pig’s ear of a language,
Romance scraps in a Jerry-built sandwich.
Mostly used for rude jokes,
It became for some folks
Something nothing was seriouser than which.

for fine philological punning and wonderful syntactical funning that made me laugh much longer than I ought to admit.

Congratulations to Mike, Lisa, and Paraic, thanks to Stack Exchange for their generosity, and thank you all again for taking part!

Critical learnings: a competition

May 25, 2011

There’s a competition that might interest you on Macmillan Dictionary Blog today. I’ve written a parody of corporate communication laced with buzzwords, management jargon, ridiculous metaphors and assorted gobbledygook. Here’s an excerpt:

Parties affected downstream are encouraged to utilise their forward thinking hats and realign their tool belts to the non-ongoing contract situation within a short timeframe totality. We anticipate dynamic new overarching metrics of holistic staff wellbeingness at the end of the day. Surfing where the waves are should galvanise a global blue-sky modality that will roll out and trickle down the Monday mood mountain into the value valley.

The challenge (and the fun) for readers is to translate the post into a more comprehensible form of business English. You can do it in a few sentences, or – if your productivity drivers are optimised – in more satisfying detail. Push the editors’ imagination buttons, and you could win a Macmillan dictionary of your choice.