Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Month: March 2020

Pyjamas

What do you wear in bed? Do you sleep in your birthday suit (=naked) or do you prefer to have something on like a nightie (informal word for nightdress), a onesie (an all-in-one item of clothing that covers your body, arms and legs) or pyjamas?

Image by Наталья Данильченко from Pixabay

The word pyjamas derives from the Persian paijama. The original paijama are loose, lightweight trousers with draw-string waistbands worn in Asia by both men and women. In the UK, pyjamas are made up of two pieces – a pair of trousers and a top – and are worn in bed.

For British children, there are lots of pet abbreviations, among them ‘jamas’, ‘p-jays’, ‘jimmy jams’ and ‘jimmies’. They differ between families and whatever word you’re brought up with is correct and the other terms are weird.

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Colour Idioms: Red

This is part 1 of my new series of blog posts on colour idioms and we get started with the colour red.

Red hot

Image from Pixabay

If something is red hot, it’s extremely hot.

Be careful with the kettle – it’s just boiled and is red hot.

Go (as) red as a beetroot

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay

When you go red as a beetroot, you turn red in the face with embarrassment.

Alice went red as a beetroot when I caught her eavesdropping on my conversation with Melanie.

Red-letter day

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

This is an informal expression used to refer to a special and happy day you’ll never forget.

Ann’s husband did his best to make their 10th wedding anniversary a red-letter day for both of them.

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To Grin like a Cheshire Cat

Image by nakedprintpembrokeshir from Pixabay

In chapter 6 of Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland the enigmatic Cheshire cat makes an appearance and the oft-quoted exchange takes place:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where ―” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

They talk on for a little while and then the Cat vanishes

beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.”

It’s very tempting to think that the Cheshire cat is Lewis Carroll’s invention but it’s not. The phrase to grin like a Cheshire cat (=to have a broad smile on your face) was already in use towards the end of the 18th century.

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How to count the uncountable

For starters, what is an uncountable noun? It’s a noun that cannot be made plural and cannot be used with a or an.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Problems often arise when an English learner comes across a noun that is countable in his or her native language, but is uncountable in English. Here are some of such words:

  • advice
  • homework
  • luggage
  • furniture
  • information
  • knowledge
  • research
  • accommodation (as a place to stay; in this meaning it’s often used as a plural noun in American English)
  • evidence

What to do if you need to talk about a particular amount of something that is expressed with an uncountable or a mass noun? You can do so by using quantity expressions before them, e.g.

Let me give you a piece of advice.

Let me give you an advice.

How many items of furniture have been lost in the fire?

How many furnitures have been lost in the fire?

The police found a vital piece of evidence.

The police found a vital evidence.

This brochure provides quite a few useful bits of information about the local area.

This brochure provides a few useful informations about the local area.

She used a blade of grass as a bookmark.

She used a grass as a bookmark.

What shape is a grain of sand, I wonder?

What shape is a sand, I wonder?

Now you know!

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