15 October 2015

World Dictionary Day

To celebrate World Dictionary Day, October 16, test your spelling skills with the Haggard Hawks Spelling Bee! 

Click PLAY in the box below, and you’ll be given 50 English words, five of which are spelled incorrectly. You have just two minutes to select as many of the correctly spelled words as you can, but be careful—pick one misspelled word, and it’ll be game over...  

Good luck! 

12 October 2015

#MyFavouriteWord 2015

It’s that time again...

October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year marks the anniversary of the birth of Noah Webster, one of the English language’s foremost lexicographers. As you can probably imagine, Dictionary Day is something of a highlight of the HaggardHawks calendar, and alongside a few other developments in the pipeline this month, it’s time for the return of #MyFavouriteWord.

If you’ve been following the @HaggardHawks Twitter feed for a while, you’ll know that this time last year the call went out for everyone to write down their favourite word, take a picture of it, and tweet it using the hashtag #MyFavouriteWord (spelled with or without, as Webster would have preferred, the U in favourite). The response was superb: your words were not only written down, but calligraphed, photoshopped, collaged, put together using Scrabble tiles, and even embroidered.

All the pictures were collected together and uploaded to the HaggardHawks Tumblr page in one enormous gallery of people’s favourite words—and this year, we’re doing it all over again.

So at any time in October feel free to write, type, print, draw, paint, cross-stitch, tattoo, 3D print (or whatever your preferred medium might be) your favourite word, and tweet a picture of the results to @HaggardHawks, with the hashtag #MyFavouriteWord. Entries will be retweeted every so often  in the weeks to come, but again all of the words received will be added to the Tumblr page to build on our gallery of beautiful, meaningful, brilliant words.

7 October 2015


The word cocktail is a bit of an etymological puzzle: originally only used as a nickname for an animal that rears up when irritated, by the late 1700s it had become another word for a horse with a “cocked” or shortened tail. How it then made the leap to alcoholic mixed drinks in the 1800s is, however, a mystery. 

One theory claims it’s to do with the drinks making you feel energised and sprightly, like an energetic horse, while another suggests it’s to do with cocktails being popular at the races. Alternatively, the two meanings could be entirely unrelated—one very plausible explanation is that cocktail might actually an anglicized version of the French coquetier, meaning “egg-cup”, which was perhaps once used to measure out quantities of spirits.

The names of individual cocktails are often just as problematic, and often it’s difficult to track down the histories of individual names. The margarita, for instance, is various credited to Marjorie King, a former Broadway dancer; the singer Peggy (i.e. Margaret) Lee; and Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a former German ambassador to Mexico. Even then, margarita is the Spanish word for “daisy”, and so it might instead take its name from an earlier drink known as the “tequila daisy”.

Equally, no one is quite sure why a sidecar is called a sidecar (although one story claims that it was invented in Paris just after World War I by an American Army captain who could often be seen being driven around the city in a motorcycle sidecar). The highball is another mystery: originally a straightforward mixture of Scotch and soda water, it’s thought that its name it refers to the drinks’ popularity in the bars on early steam locomotives. The train’s coal-powered boiler would be fitted with a pressure gauge with a floating ball inside it, so that when the train was going at its fastest speed, the pressure gauge would be “highballing”.

Some cocktails famously take their names from the places where they were invented. So while a sling is a general American name for any sweetened and flavoured drink made from a spirit base, the Singapore sling was invented in the early 1900s at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. A classic daiquiri cocktail—essentially a mojito without the mint—is named after the village of Daiquirí on the southeast coast of the island; legend has it that the drink was invented by local American mining engineers in the early 1900s when they ran out of gin and had to use the local rum instead. (Mojito, incidentally, is thought to derive from mojo, the Cuban Spanish name of a type of sauce or marinade made with citrus fruit—so a mojito is literally a little mojo.)

But what about a Manhattan? Well, although accounts of the event are debatable, legend has it that the Manhattan cocktail was specially invented for a banquet hosted by Lady Randolf (mother of Winston) Churchill at the trendy Manhattan Club in New York in the late 1800s. The name Manhattan was, however, already in use long before then as the name of a different drink from the modern Manhattan cocktail—so, if the story is true, it was probably the success of Lady Randolf’s banquet that popularised the recipe used today.  

A Manhattan made with Scotch rather than Canadian whisky, incidentally, is a Rob Roy. It was originally invented at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1894 to celebrate the Broadway premiere of an operetta loosely based on the life of the Scottish folk hero Rob Roy.

Other more straightforward etymologies like this one include julep, which was borrowed into English from French as far back as the 1400s to refer to a sweet-tasting or sweetened drink, but has its earliest origins in the Arabic word for rose-water, julab. The mimosa takes its name from the mimosa plant, Acacia dealbata, which produces bright orange-yellow flowers the same colour as mixed champagne and orange juice. 

Piña colada means “strained pineapple” in Spanish, a reference to the drink’s fruity base, and maitai means “good” or “nice” in Tahitian. The pale orange-red colour of a classic Bellini cocktail reportedly reminded its inventor—Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Venice’s famous Harry’s Bar—of a similar colour often used in paintings by the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.

And when it became popular in the late 1800s to introduce liqueurs into cocktail recipes, the older more basic recipes that omitted them—and in particular this classic mix of whiskey and bitters—became known as “old fashioned” cocktails. Hence an old fashioned is a straightforward mix of Bourbon or rye whiskey, Angostura bitters, sugar.


2 October 2015


Since the first HaggardHawks post for BuzzFeed went up last week, it’s been viewed more than 300,000 times and, incredibly, has boosted the Twitter account past the 13,000 followers mark—so you can now pit your wits against the fourth HaggardHawks Quiz… But of all 53 language facts cherry-picked from the Haggard Hawks fact book for BuzzFeed, one has attracted far more attention than all the others put together: 

This fact actually went up on the Twitter account a few months ago (bonus fact: nothing rhymes with month either), and caused quite a stir back then too. But in the comments section over on BuzzFeed, the same debate has been sparked all over again:

So. Does nothing really rhyme with carpet? Exactly what does it take for two words to be classed as rhymes? And just how rare are unrhymable words anyway?

Well, as some commenters quite rightly pointed out, determining whether or not two words rhyme depends of course on your pronunciation, and what kind of rhyme you’re looking for. As a benchmark, rhyming dictionaries understandably limit themselves to one standard accent of English, and to finding only the most accurate and most straightforward form of rhymes, known as ‘perfect’ or ‘full’ rhymes—otherwise they’d be overflowing with words, pairs of words, and entire phrases that almost-but-not-quite rhyme with one another.

British English rhyming dictionaries tend to use standard Received Pronunciation as their basis, but naturally things are different elsewhere—that’s why American English rhyming dictionaries, based on General American pronunciation, will tell you that nothing rhymes with iron (pronounced /aɪərn/, with a noticeable R sound), aside from derivatives like gridiron and andiron, while British dictionaries (which give the pronunciation /ʌɪən/, without a heavy R) will quite happily tell you that it rhymes with a whole clutch of words, including the likes of lion, Ryan, O’Brien and Uruguayan. (Note to self: write a poem later about a Uruguayan lion named Ryan O’Brien.)

Regardless of your accent, however, seriously—nothing rhymes with carpet

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, for two words to form a perfect rhyme, the final stressed vowels in both words and all the sounds following them have to be identical. In the case of carpet (RP: /kɑːpɪt/, GM: /kɑɹpɪt/), the stressed vowel is the ar sound in the first syllable, which means that any word or words that we can safely say rhyme with carpet have to end with the full combination of sounds /-ɑːpɪt/, or /-ɑɹpɪt/. And in English, there just isn’t anything else that works.

Pet is too short (and is pronounced /pɛt/, not /pɪt/ or /pət/). While trumpet, armpit, basket, pulpitmarket, parapet, and all the other suggestions being thrown back and forward in the comments section don’t follow the same pattern, and so don’t quite fit the bill. Almost-but-not-quite rhymes like these are often labelled ‘slant’, ‘half’, or ‘imperfect’ rhymes, but by definition the consonants in a slant rhyme should remain the same, while the vowel sound varies (like hand and bend, or rhyme and Rome); market, trumpet and basket all just take too many liberties.

By far the best suggestion here is tar pit, which appears to match all of the phonological criteria required. The trouble is that both the Oxford English and Merriam-Webster Dictionaries list tar pit as two separate words—and if separate words are required to form a rhyme, then it’s no longer classed as a perfect rhyme but a ‘mosaic’ rhyme. After all, we could just as easily claim that car pit, star pit, sitar pit, or Jordanian dinar pit rhyme with carpet if we’re not fussed about ‘mosaicking’ words together.

There are, of course, lots of different forms of rhyming, and some intrepid poet will no doubt at some point have used the word carpet and quite happily (and successfully) rhymed it with armpit or parapet. (In fact, the stories behind two undeterred writers’ attempt to write a poem about a carpet and rhyming story about oranges are explained in Word Drops.) But so long as we’re drawing the line at perfect rhymes based on a standard pronunciation, then it’s true—nothing rhymes with carpet.

But just how rare are unrhymable words? Well, although a lot of words you might think have no rhyme actually do, the problem with limiting ourselves to perfect rhymes—which require the stressed vowel and everything after it to rhyme—is that the further back from the end of a word the stressed vowel is located, the more troublesome finding an appropriate rhyme for it becomes. 

So while a handful of monosyllabic words—like month, scarce, gouge and ninth—contain such a tricky combination of sounds that nothing else matches them, in polysyllabic words, as the stress shifts further and further back in the word (to the penultimate syllable, as in carpet, neutron or penguin, or even the antepenultimate, as in animal, dynamo or citizen), the rhyming element of the word (–arpet, –ynamo, –itizen) becomes longer and more complicated, and the chances of finding a perfect match for it diminishes. So potentially there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of unrhymable words in English—of which carpet is just one.

Now then. There once was a lion named Ryan. Whose passport was stamped Uruguayan...