Posted on 18 March 2020

They're there. We've got you covered for this common grammar mistake

Three of the most commonly confused words are there, their and they’re – and it’s no wonder because they all sound exactly the same when we say them aloud. Words that sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings are known as homophones. Homophones are one of the trickiest areas of spelling, that even autocorrect can get wrong! There can be used a lot of different ways, but most commonly it’s used as an adverb or pronoun to indicate a particular place (The book is up there on the shelf; He comes from there too) or a point in action (I have painted up to there). There can be used more figuratively in colloquial phrases such as so there!, there you go, there you are, etc. Their is used to show possession. Their is one of the possessive adjectives – along with other words like my, our, her, his – which are used to indicate that something belongs to someone, e.g. Their car is green. Their becomes theirs when it is used as a possessive pronoun e.g. The green car is theirs. Remember! Pronouns do not use an apostrophe to show possession (mine, ours, hers, his, theirs), but nouns do (Sandy’s car is green). They’re is a contraction of ‘they are’. Contractions reduce two words to a single one in which an apostrophe shows where a letter or letters have been removed. Here are some hints for when you’re unsure about which of these homophones to use…
  • Is it there? Think about whether you’re talking about the location or place of a person, object, or task.
  • Is it their? Try replacing the word with the possessive form of a noun, such as family’s
  • Is it they’re? Try expanding it to the two words ‘they’ + ‘are’ to see if that still makes sense.
Posted on 6 March 2020

What’s the difference between many, much and a lot?

The word many is generally used as an adjective to describe something that constitutes a large number, or when something is relatively numerous. The reference to ‘number’ here is important, as many is used with count nouns. Count nouns refer to objects that could feasibly be counted, such as: cats, bananas, trees, people, paintings, etc. For example: How many cats do you have? There are many paintings in the museum. Conversely, the word much is used with mass nouns (also referred to as non-count nouns), that is, nouns referring to an object that is thought of as existing in bulk and/or would not usually be counted as individual items, such as: butter, money, water, etc. For example: How much money do you earn? (Compare to: How many coins do you have?) I didn’t put much butter on the toast. Interestingly, and somewhat confusingly, mass nouns can sometimes be used to refer to varieties of the object they refer to and then they can be counted, but in that case they cease to be mass nouns and become count nouns.  There are two New Zealand butters coming onto the market. More often, however, a phrase like ‘kinds of’ or ‘types of’ is inserted.  There are two kinds of New Zealand butter coming onto the market. Much is a bit more versatile, and can be used as an adjective to mean in great quantity, amount, measure or degree (much work); as a noun meaning a great quantity or amount (much of this is true); or an adverb meaning greatly or far (much better, much too fast). The phrase a lot of also means to a considerable degree or a great deal of, and can be used with both count and mass nouns. For example:  They have a lot of cats. I like toast with a lot of butter.  We also see ‘lot’ often pluralised as ‘lots’, though this is still largely considered to be the colloquial form. For example: They have lots of cats. I like toast with lots of butter. So there you have it, the differences between many, much and a lot of. Next up on this front, we’ll get into a lot and alot...  
Posted on 26 February 2020

If words could kill

If you're a fan of horror, fantasy or just plain crime novels, you've probably come across some interesting (and hypothetical) ways to kill people. Speaking entirely figuratively, we've had a look at some of the more obscure and specific words in the Australian English language to do with killing someone. To start with, there are the generic terms for killing, such as murder, slaughter, eliminate and execute. These can be done in a variety of different ways, so their definitions are quite similar. You can also include massacre and butcher in this list of standard terms for general murder. But from here, it's gets a little more interesting – from a lexicographical perspective. One which arguably belongs with the aforementioned group, but which in some ways stands alone is the word assassinate. Meaning 'to kill by sudden or secret, premeditated assault, especially for political or religious motives', while the means of the murder can vary, the fact that it is done suddenly or secretly sets this particular term apart. On the other hand, take, for example, the oft-cited word defenestrate, which means 'to throw (a person) out of a window'. This is not to say that death would definitely occur which is why death by defenestration is more widely known, but it is an interesting and very particular definition (and a favourite word in our podcast on internet slang). A couple of words that go together thematically if not etymologically are excoriate (from Latin) and dismember (from Middle English). Both words have definitions that revolve around the removal or separation of body parts, ending in death. To excoriate is to 'strip off or remove the skin from', and to dismember is to 'divide limb from limb'. Both visceral, fascinating expressions. And then we have some more elemental forms of death. International news coverage brings with it information on these kinds of deaths, usually as a form of death penalty where it is part of the law of the nation. For example, the electric chair is a tool used to electrocute a person to death. And while hanging is the means to the end, the ultimate cause of death might be suffocation, strangulation (and in some rare and obscure cases, to burke, which is 'to murder, as by suffocation, so as to leave no or few marks of violence.' So named for W Burke, hanged at Edinburgh in 1829 for murders of this kind). Other methods used in these situations are to shoot (with a gun) or stone a person to death. And finally, something which stands alone is immolation. While the definition of this word is 'to kill as a sacrificial victim; offer in sacrifice', due to widespread reports of people self-immolating by setting themselves on fire, occasionally, the fiery aspect of this can get confused with the definition of the word. But, like assassinate, the method of murder can vary, but the motive must stay the same. We are tentatively curious about what other words like these may be out there, and aware that in theory, you could put 'death by' in front of any word to create a new and horrifying meaning, such as death by spoon, or death by platypus,  or some such.   
Posted on 23 February 2020

LGBT and the letters in between

In the dictionary, we have entries for many iterations of the acronym that represents the diverse range of the rainbow community. The acronym started as LGB, which stood for lesbian, gay and bisexual. Over the decades, it has been added to many times to become LGBTQIA for which the letters stand for the following words. These abbreviations are sometimes followed by a plus sign (+) to represent inclusiveness of all minority gender identities and sexual orientations. We have also discussed binary and non-binary words for gender on our blog and would love to hear of any words we may have missed.The community is also represented by the rainbow flag, a flag combining six horizontal stripes of colour: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, flown with the red stripe on top as occurs in a natural rainbow; the symbol of the LGBTIQ movement. lesbian a female homosexual. gay (especially of a male) homosexual. bisexual a person sexually attracted to people of two particular genders, especially as of males and females. transgender of or relating to a person whose gender identity is different from their physiological gender as designated at birth. queer (or questioning) a person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, transgender, or otherwise not heterosexual. intersex an individual possessing both male and female physical characteristics. asexual a person who does not experience sexual desire or attraction to others. + including but not limited to ally and pansexual.
Posted on 18 February 2020

Binary and non-binary gender words

The words that we use to talk about gender are always evolving. At the heart of these changes are the differences between the terms binary and non-binary (or enby, one of our runner-up Words of the Year) in relation to gender. The third definition of binary means 'of or relating to a person who identifies as either male or female'. While non-binary in this context, covers all the genders outside of these two identities. Scroll down to find a table of definitions related to this concept. Due to the fluid and changing vocabulary being used in this public discussion, some words have shifted into the mainstream and made their way into the Macquarie Dictionary. While by no means a definitive list, following are some examples of words to do with gender that fall outside of the binary. Something we (and many linguists and lexicographers around the world) have discussed is the usage of they as a gender-neutral pronoun. We had a good chat about it in our podcast, Word for Word, which you can listen to here. But in writing, there are a number of ways to avoid talking about binary gender.  For example, the honorific Mx, which has two meanings. One is as a title prefixed to the name of a person who does not identify as male or female but as a third neutral gender. And the second meaning for Mx is a title prefixed to the name of a person who does not wish to disclose their gender. Another written device is the use of s/he to represent he or she, to avoid being gender-specific. But the most common use for this purpose is they, which can be used in a similar manner. The use of theythem, and their as non-gender-specific singulars (as in a doctor and their patients) has always had currency in spoken English and is now increasingly accepted in written English. This use of they gives rise to the form themself for the reflexive pronoun by analogy with myselfhimself, etc. There are now two meanings for they related to this in the Macquarie Dictionary. The first is 'used with singular force in place of a pronoun such as he or she where the sex of the antecedent is unknown' and the second is 'used with singular force to refer to a person whose gender identity is non-binary or genderqueer.' We would love to hear from you if you know any other gender-related words that should be in the dictionary. Submit your suggestions here. agender identifying as having no gender, whether male, female or non-binary. bigender a gender identity which is two genders, either simultaneously or at different times. cisgender relating to or designating a person whose gender identity matches their physical sex as designated at birth, that is, a person identifying as a female and who has a female body, and a person who identifies as a male and who has a male body. gender fluid of or relating to a person whose gender varies over time, ranging from male to female or any combination of both. genderqueer of or relating to, or designating a person who does not identify as either male or female or who feels that they are a little bit of both, and therefore not fully the stereotype of either gender. theyby a baby raised without a designated gender or stereotypical concepts of gender being imposed, and sometimes without a physiological sex being recorded on their birth certificate. third gender a gender which is neither male or female, but rather one in which a person identifies as both a combination of the two, or as neither, especially in certain non-Western cultures. transgender of or relating to a person whose gender identity is different from their physiological gender as designated at birth.