Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Month: June 2020

10+ alternatives to ‘clever’

In his book ‘How to Be an Alien’ George Mikes writes,

In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently’ as ‘the Englishman is modest’.

I wouldn’t say much has changed in this respect since the book was first published in 1946 – the British code of behaviour still strongly disapproves of any displays of one’s intelligence. In other words, if you’re smart, keep it to yourself.

It should now come as no surprise that the English language (or at least British English) has far fewer words and expressions for ‘intelligent’ than, as we have seen, it does for ‘stupid’. Let’s have a look at them.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

1. Bright is used especially about children and young people (you may have read Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things or seen the film based on the book).

She’s the brightest student in the class and loved by all the teachers.

2. Brilliant means ‘extremely clever’.

Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.

However, it can also be used sarcastically to mean the opposite!

(At the airport) You left the tickets at home?! Brilliant! What are we going to do now?

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On the grapevine

On 24 May 1844 Samuel Morse presented his new invention – telegraph – to congressmen. To demonstrate its ability to speedily transmit information over great distances he sent a message from Washington to Baltimore.

The new means of communication met with great enthusiasm and soon telegraph lines criss-crossed the country.

Image by Conny Griebel from Pixabay

Rumour and gossip have been around for much longer than telegraph and like Morse’s invention have an almost magical capacity to spread information briskly, even if not in a straight line and often distorting the truth beyond recognition along the way. So, shortly after the historic demo, the phrase grapevine telegraph was coined. Over time, the word telegraph was dropped, but the grapevine has remained in the language, just like the social phenomenon it describes.

How do you know Sarah’s expecting a baby? – I heard it on the grapevine (i.e. someone, who heard it from someone else, told me).

Interestingly, the Russian equivalent of this phrase also features a 19th-century invention – the radio – as well as the country’s traditional pinafore dress sarafanсарафанное радио.

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