These analytic reviews, which are based on extensive field observation using a computerized study program, are reprinted from the "Cobuild Wordwatch Articles" -- http://www.cobuild.collins.co.uk/cgi-bin/wwatchlook --. You will find useful information about the "Cobuild Project" at the end of this (rather lengthy) page...


 [ain't misbehavin']  [ how is "alright" used?]  ["analyse" or "analyze"?]  [animal names as verbs]   ["any more" or "anymore"?]  [conference and congress] [different from, different to, different than]  [due to, owing to,  or because of]  [firstly or first]  [flammable or inflammable?]  [how is h- used?]  [hardly...when, hardly...before, hardly ...than]  [hot and warm]  [land and country]  [birds of a feather...]  [thesis and dissertation]

ain't misbehavin'

    `Ain't' is used instead of `am not' `are not' `is not' `have not' and `has not' and is identified in the Cobuild English Dictionary as a dialect use. It occurs almost 5000 times in the Bank of English, generally in speech or written representations of speech:

The police came and said they could either search me there or take me to Snow Hill police station. I said, `I ain't going to let you search me.' (British newspaper)

You know you could sort of get anywhere by the train then. Of course it used to be the steam train as well which was nice. That's going back a bit ain't it. Makes you feel ancient. (British speech)

I'm not bothering you, and you ain't bothering me, OK? (American speech)

Ain't you gonna eat some breakfast? (American novel)

    `Ain't' is extremely common in song lyrics and titles - `Ain't she sweet', `Ain't that a shame', `It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing', even `Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma Baby)'. It also occurs in some well-known expressions and catchphrases, for example `You ain't seen nothin' yet' (first spoken by Al Jolson in the 1927 movie The Jazz Singer); `If it ain't broke, don't fix it'; `Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be' (the title of a musical); and so on. In all these cases the standard forms would look and sound extremely strange: try it and see.

    When ain't occurs in more formal contexts it tends to be in the form of the quotation of one of these catchphrases:

A fall in the real rate of interest, it clearly follows, is just what any economy needs. It ain't necessarily so. (British current affairs magazine)

    Ain't's fall into disfavour seems to have occurred comparatively recently. No less an authority than the New Oxford Dictionary of English (published last year) states that the use of ain't was widespread in the 18th century, although it advises against using it in formal contexts today.



How is `alright' used?

    The expression `all right' is sometimes written alright:

The cooking was alright, but far more ambitious than it need have been. (eating out column)

Palmer may be a bit deaf, but he got the message alright. (report of golf match)

    In the past, this spelling was thought to be incorrect. Has it now become acceptable?

    The evidence In the Bank of English, `alright' occurs 884 times (including 101 times in the titles of songs, films, and TV shows). `All right' occurs more than 20,000 times.

    ADVICE: The spelling `alright' has become quite common, but there are still a lot of people who object to it. It is better to write all right:

I spotted the family all right, and very nice they looked. (newspaper article)

Although convinced that they would not like the product, they decided once they had tasted it that it was all right after all. (article about imported foods)



"analyse" or "analyze" ?

    What is the correct spelling of this word? Is it analyse or analyze?

The suitcase contents were analysed at MI5 headquarters. (newspaper article)

A portion of the yolk was analyzed for inorganic constituents. (short story)

A sense of perspective is the best tool when analysing political and social change. (newspaper article)

In the months to come, Mr Reichmann says, a study analyzing the company's investments will be completed. (newspaper report)

    In British English, analyse is generally thought to be correct.

    The evidence In the British parts of the Bank of English, `analyse' occurs more than 4,000 times, `analyze' 455 times. In the American parts, `analyse' occurs 30 times, `analyze' more than 2,000 times.

    ADVICE: The spelling `analyze' may be becoming more common in British English, but many people would regard it as a mistake. In British English, it is better to write analyse.



animal names as verbs

    Animals whose names have become verbs are numerous. Domestic animals include the pig, the dog and the horse, while some of the wild ones are the rat, the ferret, the wolf, the rabbit, the hare (not to mention the snake, the worm, the fox, the ape and the monkey). Most animal verbs have rather negative, or at least not very positive connotations. The bright-eyed quickness and tenacity of the ferret (used for hunting rabbits) has produced a verb that means to find people or information, but other the predatory wolf is understandably associated with gobbling up food, but the faithful devotion of the dog is transformed into a negative characteristic, while the almost silent rabbit has for some reason become associated with mindless chatter:

Stewart looked relaxed, dressed in only jeans and a T-shirt, as he wolfed down three massive bowls of Caesar salad. (Australian newspaper)

Any hint of concealed behavior challenges the entire press to ferret out the truth. (American radio)

He continued to be dogged by fitness problems, however, and retired in 1971. (British newspaper)

Jane was rabbiting on about her current inquiry into computer based maths teaching. (British book)

    The speed of the hare is reflected in a verb meaning to run extremely quickly, while the squirrel's habit of hoarding food for winter has given rise to a colourful verb meaning to save money or goods for later use. It was probably inevitable that the maligned pig should be associated with greed, while the rat is seen as devious and treacherous, the horse as playful and boisterous.

Halting the car with a screech of the brakes I leapt out, hared up the steps to the porch and flung wide the front door. (British book)

A parent may be squirreling away assets to surprise the child with a legacy. (American book)

After the shock I stopped pigging on chips and crisps and ate healthily. (British newspaper)

He leaned forward to examine a photo showing Bella, then aged seven, with her father, then fit and well, horsing about together in the pool at the beach house in East Hampton. (British book)

Most people who experience harassment at work just put up with it because they think they will be blamed for ratting on their colleagues. (British newspaper)

    Of course this is not a one-way traffic. Nominalization, the way in which nouns are formed from verbs by adding an affix, making language more abstract in the process, has been the subject of study in the field of discourse analysis for 20 years or more. Cobuilder: ferreting out information about English



`any more' or `anymore'?

    When do you write any more and when anymore?

    Both forms are thought to be correct when saying that something no longer happens or is no longer true:

No one eats afternoon tea any more. (newspaper article)

Men just don't know what women want any more. (magazine article)

Life isn't so simple anymore. (newspaper article)

James could not look after himself anymore. (newspaper article)

    It is generally thought that only any more is correct when you are referring to an additional amount or number:

Russia cannot afford to lose any more time. (newspaper article)

She had been told that she could not have any more children. (newspaper article)

The country had no need to destroy any more of the Amazon rainforest. (magazine article)

Malaysia has had 230,000 refugees through its camps, and does not want any more. (magazine article)

    It is also thought that only any more is correct in front of adjectives and adverbs, as in the following examples:

It is difficult to believe that a more authoritarian form of leadership would have been any more successful. (newspaper article)

Why should these police be treated any more leniently? (letter to newspaper)

    Only any more is thought to be correct in front of `than':

There are no signs so far that any more than a tiny handful of MPs will express dissent. (newspaper report)

This isn't going to help them any more than it will their customers. (newspaper article)

     The evidence The evidence shows that `any more' and `anymore' are both widely used to say that something no longer happens or is no longer true. But in the British parts of the Bank of English `any more' is five times as common as `anymore', while in the American parts `anymore' is four times as common as `any more'.

    `Any more' is used about 3,500 times when talking about an additional amount or number; `anymore' is used 61 times.

    `Any more' is used 550 times in front of an adjective or adverb (as in the third group of examples above); `anymore' is used just 3 times.

    `Any more than' occurs about 1,300 times, `anymore than' 56 times.

    ADVICE: You can write any more or anymore when saying that something no longer happens or is no longer true. In British English, any more is more common:

Nobody in Boston believes the polls any more. (newspaper report)

Galicia used to be a very poor corner of Spain, but not any more. (newspaper article)

    You should write any more, not `anymore', when referring to an additional amount or number:

She was not asked for any more information. (newspaper report)

Ferguson believes that will be enough to prevent any more incidents. (newspaper report)

    Similarly, you should write any more, not `anymore', in front of an adjective, an adverb, or `than':

But are the women of the 90s any more adventurous? (newspaper article)

He would not say if it was working any better than the old system, or any more efficiently. (newspaper report)

Economic progress is no guarantee of political stability, any more than wealth brings happiness to individuals. (newspaper article)



conference and congress

    What differences in meaning do you know for the words conference and congress, I find it hard to sort out a difference. Could it be that the goal of a conference is to arrive at some kind of result, or conclusion collectively? While that of a congress is just to group a number of topic-related events happening in one place at one time?

    Do you think that two exact synonyms occur in a language? That when there are two words to name one thing they actually imply some difference? Or maybe not?

    These two words are of similar frequency in the Bank of English, but most of the occurrences of `congress' are accounted for by things like the US Congress, the African National Congress and the Trades Union Congress, which are organizations or institutions rather than meetings. (There are hardly any citations for the archaic meaning of `sexual intercourse').

    `Conference' is also used in the names of organizations, though less frequently. When these citations are excluded, along with expressions such as `press conference' and `in conference', `conference' is about ten times more frequent than `congress', and this is the essential difference between them, I think.

    `Congress' is used a lot in the titles of events, and generally has more formal feel to it. A congress is - or would like to be - more important and official than a conference. `Congress' is also closely associated with politics, in formulations such as the Congress of Peoples Deputies and Communist Party Congresses, in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Argentina has announced plans for the first World Congress of Housewives (British newspaper)

...the 17th International Congress of Genetics (British magazine)

...the Annual Congress of the Institute of Physics (British magazine)

The World Congress on Tuberculosis meets today. (US Radio)

    Sometimes, as the writer suggests, a `conference' has a specific aim, notably in the case of `peace conferences' (never `peace congresses'). But on the whole it is a more general term, which is used equally happily as a common noun and in the titles of specific events:

I once went to a conference on improvising in music. (BBC)

The eighth International Conference on AIDS opened in Amsterdam with defiant speeches criticizing the United States. (NPR)

...the 69th annual conference of the German Society for Mammalian Studies. (British newspaper)

    Interestingly in view of the political associations of `congress', the political parties in Britain describe their annual meetings (which took place recently) as `conferences', not `congresses':

The Conservative Party conference has opened in Bournemouth on the south-coast of England with a debate on the family. (BBC)



different from, different to, or different than?

    Do you say something is different from something else or different to it?

This war will be very different from the war in the West.

The 1990s are vastly different to the 1980s.

Japanese politicians are no different from politicians in other countries.

The climate would be no different to an English autumn.

    Can you say that something is different than something else?

His background is a little different than mine.

It's no different than any other campaign I've been involved in.

    The evidence The Bank of English shows that in written English `different from' is much more common than `different to' or `different than'. In the written British parts of the corpus, `different from' occurs in 87.6% of cases, `different to' in 10.8%, and `different than' in 1.5%.

    `Different from' is also more common in speech: in the spoken British parts of the corpus, `different from' occurs in 68.8% of cases, `different to' in 27.3%, and `different than' in 3.9%.

    The Bank of English also shows that `different from' is the most common form in American English; however in American English `different than' is more common than `different to', which is hardly used at all. In the written American parts of the corpus, `different from' occurs in 92.7% of cases, `different than' in 7.0%, and `different to' in 0.3%. In the spoken American parts of the corpus, `different from' occurs in 69.3% of cases, `different than' in 30.1%, and `different to' in 0.6%.

    The Bank of English also shows that `different than' can be used in ways in which `different from' or `different to' cannot be used:

He looked different than he usually does .

My mood is very different than it was yesterday .

The atmosphere was different than I expected .

    ADVICE: Traditionally, different from has been regarded as the correct form, and this is probably the best form to use in writing. Different to would probably pass unnoticed in most conversations.

    Different than sounds strange to most British ears; it is best to avoid this use, as it may irritate some people. There are ways of avoiding constructions like the ones in the last three examples. One way is to substitute from for than and a single word for the clause following than. For example, instead of saying `He looked different than he usually does ', you can say `He looked different from usual ':

Did she seem any different from usual ?

I was feeling quite different from yesterday .

    Instead of saying `The atmosphere was different than I expected ', you can say `The atmosphere was different from what I expected ':

Her words were so different from what he'd expected that he had a hard time taking them in.

The actual incident may have been different from what Maureen remembers .



due to, owing to, or because of?

    If you say that something is due to something else, you mean it happens as a result of it:

Sealink says the delay is due to the late delivery of a new ferry.

Much of the fuss over the report is due to the allegation that it has been deliberately suppressed.

    Due to is not usually used directly after `be' like this. It is more commonly used when an extra part is being added to a sentence, in which an explanation is given for the situation described in the main part of the sentence:

There has been a slight falling off of sales in the past year, due to the recession.

Due to the Doppler effect, the sound is reflected back at a slightly different frequency.

    In the past, this use of due to was thought to be incorrect. Instead of `due to', you were supposed to say owing to or because of:

The figures released yesterday showed income down 57%, owing to a rise in the cost of borrowing.

Because of the freeze, more and more first-year students will need government loans.

    The evidence In the Bank of English, there are more than 1200 instances of `due to' being used when an extra part is being added to a sentence, as in the examples above.

    ADVICE: In modern English, you can use due to when you are adding an extra part to a sentence, to explain the situation described in the main part of the sentence:

Due to their low moisture content, dried beans require an overnight soak in cold water.

Some traders are letting property originally intended for sale, due to lack of buyers.



firstly or first?

    Firstly is most commonly used in contexts like these:

The attraction of foreign currency loans is twofold. Firstly, appli cants are not tied to the interest rate in one country . Secondly, profits are t o be made from dealing in currencies. (newspaper article)

I try to ask myself three questions every year. Firstly, am I learn ing anything? Then, will the bank manager still lend me money? And, finally, is it fun? (newspaper article)

    In these sentences, firstly is operating as a sentence adverb --- that is, it refers to the whole of the sentence it appears in, not just to a verb or adjective. In the past, using firstly like this was considered to be incorrect; it was thought you should use first in sent ences like these. Nowadays, firstly has become acceptable.

    Sometimes, people use firstly as a normal adverb, rather than as a sentence adverb:

The money goes firstly to the landowner, but is soon spread around. (estate owner, quoted in newspaper article)

I will react to that in some detail before Tuesday, but I wish to listen firstly to what my colleagues have to say. (radio interview)

    The general view is that first, rather than `firstly', should be used in sentences like these.

    ADVICE: You should only use firstly to refer to the whole of a sentence or clause:

The concern is two-fold: firstly, that there's a shortage of credit , and secondly that there's a general slowdown in the economy. (radio report )

He believes that repossessions will continue to rise until Christmas, fi rstly because interest rates do not have immediate effect, and secondly bec ause the recession has reduced the earnings of many homeowners. (radio report)

    You should not use `firstly' just to refer to a verb. For example, you should not say `He spoke firstly to the Prime Minister.' In a sentence like thi s, you should use first:

She went first to Frankfurt, where she spoke to our correspondent M att Frei. (radio report)

Easter Island was first settled around AD400 by Polynesians. (b ook review)



flammable or inflammable?

    If an object or material catches fire easily, do you say it is flammable or inflammable?

The fire broke out after flammable substances leaked in a refining unit. (radio report)

A North Sea oil rig was partially evacuated last night after highly inflammable liquid gas escaped into drilling equipment. (radio report)

    The evidence In the Bank of English, `flammable' is used 197 times to talk about things catching fire easily; `inflammable' has this meaning 109 times. `Non-flammable' occurs 20 times, `non-inflammable' twice.

    Every time `inflammable' occurs in the corpus, it has the same meaning as `flammable'. It is never used to mean `non-flammable'.

    ADVICE: It might be a good thing if inflammable were to disappear from the language altogether. It is potentially ambiguous, and the consequences of it being misunderstood could, of course, be very serious. It is always better to refer to objects and materials unambiguously as flammable or non-flammable.



How is h- used?

    We usually use the indefinite article a in front of a word beginning with `h':

Someone sawed through the cable with a hacksaw . (novel)

The plant has a hairy stem. (gardening column)

    However, when the `h' is not pronounced, we use an:

Boycott had been autographing copies of his book for well over an hour . (newspaper report)

He acknowledged that the government had made an honest attempt to deal with a difficult situation. (radio report)

    At one time, it was also considered correct to use an in front of an `h' word when the first syllable of the `h' word was not stressed:

She became an historian before embarking on fiction. (magazine article)

It was an heroic achievement. (newspaper report)

    The evidence The evidence shows that when the first syllable of an `h' word is unstressed, it is still quite common for people to use `an' in front of it, rather than `a'. In the Bank of English, `an' appears at least once in front of no fewer than 90 `h' words with unstressed first syllables.

    `An' occurs more frequently in front of some of these words than others. In the past, it was very common for people to say `an hotel', but the evidence shows that `a hotel' is now much more common. (`A hotel' occurs in 96% of cases; `an hotel' in 4%.) `An' is used most often in front of `historic' (52% of cases), `historical' (28%), `historian' (26%), `habitual' (40%), `horrific' (33%), `hysterical' (33%), and `hilarious' (28%).

    These uses of `an' are less common in American English than in British and Australian English.

    ADVICE: Nobody these days would insist that `h' words with an unstressed first syllable should be preceded by `an' rather than `a'. However, some people still prefer to talk about `an historic town' or `an habitual offender'. Strictly, if you use `an' in front of a word beginning with `h', you should not pronounce the `h'.



`hardly...when, `hardly...before,' or `hardly...than'?

    Hardly, barely, and scarcely are sometimes used to say that one thing happened immediately after another. But do you say, for example, `He had hardly sat down when the phone rang', `He had hardly sat down before the phone rang', or `He had hardly sat down than the phone rang'?

He had hardly settled into his office when Irana came in. (novel)

Carter had hardly left Teheran before demonstrations began in the holy city of Qom. (book about Iran)

Hardly had Mr Gorbachov stopped speaking than he was faced with a dramatic new challenge to his position. (radio report)

    The traditional view is that you should use when or before in sentences like these. Than is thought to be incorrect.

    The evidence In the Bank of English, `when' occurs 212 times after `hardly', `barely', or `scarcely'; `before' occurs 130 times, `than' 54 times. `Than' almost always occurs in sentences where the adverb comes first, followed by an auxiliary verb (e.g. `Hardly had he sat down than the phone rang').

    ADVICE: You can use when or before after `hardly', `barely', or `scarcely' to say that one thing happened immediately after another:

He had hardly settled into his new job when he got the sack due to cutbacks. (magazine article)

He had hardly settled in Cardiff before he was called to Rome to take part in the Second Vatican Council. (obituary)

Barely had I set foot in the street when I realised I was lost. (short story)

Barely had he disappeared down the tunnel before his side drew level. (report of football match)

I'd scarcely had time to have the glass replaced when someone broke in again. (newspaper article)

She had scarcely got downstairs before she heard the smash of glass and the clang of a bucket falling. (novel)

    You can also use than after `hardly', `barely', or `scarcely', provided you begin the sentence with one of these words and follow it with an auxiliary verb and the subject:

Hardly had this process got under way than everything was changed. (magazine article)

Barely had his parachute opened than the plane exploded into a ball of fire. (newspaper article)

Scarcely had I arrived in the capital than my hopes received a boost. (newspaper article)



hot and warm

    In their literal senses, hot and warm both describe temperatures that are higher than normal or average. Hot usually implies a higher temperature than warm.

    Both words - and other words that are related to them, such as hotly, heated, or warmth - can also be used to talk about people's feelings or behaviour.

    Hot and heat are used in connection with aggressive behaviour and feelings of anger, often of an unpleasant kind. Here are some examples from The Bank of English:

He is known for his hot temper and sullen moods.

...the referee, who had already awarded two hotly disputed penalties.

The controversy about funding political parties has generated more heat than light.

One of the councillors attacked a fellow member during a heated debate.

`It's all nonsense,' Robyn said heatedly.

    In contrast, warm and warmth are used to describe emotions that are friendly, caring, and positive:

The soldiers were given a warm welcome by local villagers.

She was a lovely, warm-hearted person who would help anyone.

He shook their hands warmly. `So glad you could come.'

...a relationship of warmth and filial love.

His fairness, personal warmth and clarity of judgment made him an ideal diplomat.

    If you want to know more about hot and warm, see the latest in the series of COBUILD English Guides, Alice Deignan's Guide to Metaphor.



land and country

    A Wordwatcher writes:

    "How can I explain to my students the difference between land and country?"

    I assume you mean the senses corresponding to these definitions from the COBUILD English Dictionary:

A country is one of the political units which the world is divided into, covering a particular area of land.

You can use land to refer to a country or region, when you do not mean any particular country, when you are talking about an imaginary or ideal place, or when you are talking about your own country in an emotional or patriotic way; a literary use.

    Though the two words indeed overlap in some contexts, you can already see that country is more precise and matter-of-fact, and that land is correspondingly vaguer and more emotional. Compare the following Bank of English examples for foreign country and foreign land:

...the papers and permits they need to live and work in a foreign country.

According to the new decree, a candidate can be disqualified for illegally emigrating to or from a foreign country.

Federal officials have been wooing foreign countries, particularly Japan, to get them to contribute to the project.

Matty had an image of the three Halloran children, stranded forever in a foreign land, separated from their father by the vast grey Atlantic.

He's seeking adventure and foreign lands; he doesn't care whom he serves.

It was built for a man named Nakh-Min, overseer of chariots and messenger to foreign lands for the Pharaoh Rameses II.

    Typical contexts of land include the historical, the mythological, and the Biblical:

The bell contains the inscription `Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto the Inhabitants Thereof'.

...the once-drowned lands of Somerset, where the sea was only kept at bay in mediaeval times by the labours of monks along the coast keeping up the sea walls.

Parsifal's fame has come back to Arthur's court and the King sets out to find this great hero in his land.

Around the earth the gods raised a wall against the troublesome giants made from the eyebrows of Ymir. This land within the wall they named Midgard, the Middle Earth

Ruth said these words to Naomi, as she followed her kinswoman back to her native land.

    (One might also mention, in this connection, fixed phrases such as the Promised Land and the Holy Land.)

    In more modern contexts, land often carries overtones of patriotism:

The land to which we have returned is the land of our forefathers and no others have a part in it.

...all that stuff about Germans drawing strength from their beloved land, returning to their cultural roots.

...Warrant Officer Brandao Galvao's brave body, smitten down in the defense of his land and her freedom.

    Note the use of emotive and literary vocabulary such as forefathers, beloved, and smitten.

    Having said that, soldiers `fight for their country', not `their land'. But that's just English for you.



birds of a feather...

For non-native speakers of English: Can you complete the following English proverbs?

Birds of a feather ...

A new broom ...

Don't count your chickens ...

Too many cooks ...

Fools rush in ...

When in Rome ...

For native speakers of English: These `proverbs' have been deliberately chosen for a specific reason. Can you see why? Think how you would use them in natural, spoken English. Can you think of any other expressions that exhibit the same feature?

For everybody: For further guidance, you can consult the new Collins Cobuild Dictionary of Idioms.

The answers to this little quiz little quiz are of course:

Birds of a feather flock together.

A new broom sweeps clean.

Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

    Looking at the evidence in The Bank of English, the striking thing is that the initial phrases, quoted last week, are used rather more frequently than the full proverbs. It is as if our knowledge of the full proverb acts as a kind of shared cultural background which doesn't need to be expressed in communications between native speakers. The initial phrase is enough to trigger the full meaning. Here are some examples:

She and my mother were birds of a feather. You felt something special between them that left you out. (NB: There is also the popular BBC comedy series, `Birds of a Feather'.)

Thirty-four year old Barrie is the new broom in the cosy council corridors.

Mr Clinton wants to show that his new broom reaches into diplomacy too.

Although you should find that everything begins to fall into place, don't count your chickens too soon.

...adopting the fools-rush-in approach.

I'd seen ads for it, you see, and I thought, `when in Rome', and it seemed so much more the thing to do.

    For the meanings of these proverbs and their truncated forms, see the new Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Idioms.



thesis and dissertation

    Two more confusable academic words this week, in response to another Wordwatcher's query.

    Are these terms synonymous? In the academic world is there a significant difference in meaning between thesis and dissertation?

    While the two terms are not entirely synonymous (many would argue that few, if any, true synonyms exist), there is a lot of overlap in the way they are used. `Dissertation' is the more general term, and can apply to an original piece of research done at any level, including a doctorate. `Thesis' is normally used to refer to research done for a doctorate, although it is also used to refer to research done for a master's thesis, especially in American English.

    `Thesis' is much more frequent in the Bank of English than dissertation (3438 occurrences to 691), but a lot of the occurrences are of the other meaning (an idea or theory that you put forward for discussion - of course the origin of the academic meaning.)

    Although individual instutitions may distinguish between, say, a piece of work that contains original research and one that is a review of existing work, there does not seem to be any consistent difference in terms of expected content in the way thesis and dissertation are used. As regards the number of citations, they are surprisingly even:

doctoral thesis - 89 occurrences

PhD thesis - 101 occurrences

master's thesis - 31 occurrences

doctoral dissertation - 108 occurrences

PhD dissertation - 42 occurrences

master's dissertation - 1 occurrence

    There seems to be no difference in the way the two words are used in general English:

He researched much of his doctoral thesis on 19th Century English poetry at the University of Leicester. (Australian newspaper)

She's writing her doctoral dissertation on `The Andy Griffith Show: The Lure of the Electronic Mayberry'. (US radio)

I'm not interested in hearing about the professor's Ph.D. dissertation. (American book)

She wrote her Ph D thesis at Cambridge University in 1950. (British newspaper)



A Brief Introduction to Cobuild

    If you're interested in the English language -- especially if you are a teacher or a learner of English -- then these Web pages are for you. The team at Cobuild works with a huge "corpus" of modern English text on computer to analyse language usage: word meaning, grammar, pragmatics, idioms and so on.

    Cobuild is a department of HarperCollins Publishers, specializing in the preparation of reference works for language learners in English. Cobuild is based at the University of Birmingham, UK, as a unit within the School of English where, since 1980, they have carried out research into corpus-based lexicography. Throughout the 1980s, following the computational corpus-based approach to language analysis developed by Professor John Sinclair, Cobuild built up a large corpus of modern English, software tools to manipulate and analyse the corpus data, and a team of specialist corpus linguists and lexicographers.

    The current corpus, known as the "Bank of English" runs to hundreds of millions of words. At any one time they maintain a core set of texts of a wide mix of text types for their on-going dictionary and other publishing work. The working corpus at present is over 400 million words of English text (including textbooks, novels, newspapers, guides, magazines, ephemera, and 20m words of transcribed natural speech) The corpus has been automatically word-class tagged using their own probabilistic tagging software and, in collaboration with Professor Fred Karlsson and his team at the University of Helsinki, a 200 million word corpus has been parsed.

    Cobuild is part of the Department of English at Birmingham University. They work closely with colleagues in the "Centre for English Language Studies" and the Corpus Research Group. If you want to know more about "data driven learning" and using corpus data in the classroom you will find some excellent material at Tim Johns's homepage: http://web.bham.ac.uk/johnstf/