Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

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Ad lib: two tiny words with a lot of meaning

Ad lib is one of my favourite borrowings, as it says in just two tiny words what English needs a whole sentence to express.

Ad lib (also ad-lib) derives from the Latin ad libitum, meaning ‘to (one’s) pleasure, as much as one likes’, and was originally used to indicate the points within a piece of sheet music or theatrical script where performers could exercise unrestrained freedom of self-expression.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Now we use this phrase as a synonym of the verb improvise, that is to mean ‘to speak or perform in public without preparation’.

I had to ad-lib as I’d forgotten my lines.

He ad-libbed his way through the entire speech.

Ad lib can also act as

  • an adjective: Ann had always been much better at writing than speaking, so when asked to give an ad-lib speech she was completely paralysed with fear.
  • an adverb: He spoke ad lib.
  • and a noun: I’m sorry to say this but your ad-libs sounded anything but spontaneous.
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15 ways to say someone is stupid

Unfortunately, every now and then we all have to deal with people, things and situations that lack thought and/or judgment. To describe them in English, you’d probably use the words silly and stupid.

Staying focused will help you avoid making silly mistakes in the test.

He soon realised that spending all his savings on a new car was a stupid idea.

There’s nothing wrong with these two adjectives but the wonder of English is that more often than not it has loads of alternative ways of expressing the same idea, and lack of intelligence is no exception.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Let’s start with some nouns (please note they’re all informal). We’ve got quite a few for silly/stupid people – take your pick!

1. silly billy

used – often quite affectionately – when someone’s done something stupid

You silly billy! Why didn’t you ask me before you tried to reinstall Windows?! You’ve lost everything!

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Colour Idioms: Black

This is the final part of the mini-series on colour idioms and in today’s post we’ll be looking at idiomatic expressions with the adjective BLACK.

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

Let’s get started with the black sheep. When used idiomatically, this expression means a person who is an embarrassment or shame to their family or any other social group they belong to.

Coming from a family of high-achievers (someone who is very successful in their work), Emily, who dropped out of university and has been unable to get a decent job, is considered the black sheep.

Unsurprisingly, idioms with black, a colour traditionally associated with the dark side of life, mainly refer to rather unpleasant things. Here’s another example of this. When you do something wrong and people notice and remember it you get a black mark.

He got a black mark when his dissertation was found to contain plagiarisms.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

A black eye is what you end up with when someone hits you in the eye (ouch!).

Danny had a fight with his younger brother. He won and his sibling got a black eye.

And to finish on a positive note, a rare exception to the above mentioned rule – the new black. This expression is used to refer to things (and colours of course!) that have suddenly become fashionable or popular. Note that other words can be used instead of black in this idiom.

Pink is the new black – all fashion designers have made a generous use of it in their recent collections.

They say that for generation Z food is the new sex.

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Efficient and effective: not to confuse

Efficient and effective share the first three letters but shouldn’t be confused as their meanings are very different.

Efficient means ‘working well, without wasting time, money or energy’.

My new car is more fuel efficient than the old one was and saves me about £50 every week.

Laura’s the most efficient PA (personal assistant) I’ve ever had: my business life is perfectly organised with every little thing running smoothly.

Effective, on the other hand, means ‘successful, having the right effect or solving the problem’.

These painkillers aren’t cheap but they’re extremely effective – your headache will be gone in seconds.

A string of pearls would look very effective with that dress.

Now you know!

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Colour Idioms: White

This is part 4 of the series of blog posts on colour idioms and today we turn our attention to those using the adjective white.

Image by Mariano iPhotox Luchini from Pixabay

Let’s get started with as white as a sheet meaning extremely pale because you’re sick or experiencing a very strong emotion such as fear or anger.

– You’re as white as a sheet! What’s wrong?

– I think I’ve just seen a ghost!

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Colour idioms: Blue

This is part 3 of the series of posts on idiomatic expressions using colours. Previously, we had a look at some red and green idioms. Today we’ll be looking at the most common expressions using the word blue.

Image by Monionline from Pixabay

Let’s start with feel blue. Chances are you’re already familiar with this one as it’s used a lot. Blue in this informal expression means depressed, or sad and hopeless.

She’s been feeling blue ever since her boyfriend dumped her.

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Colour idioms: green

This is part 2 of the series of blog posts about colour idioms. Last time, we had a look at some red idioms, and today we’ll explore those that mention the colour green.

Image by Public Domain Pictures from Pixabay

Let’s start with have green fingers. This idiomatic expression has nothing to do with Shrek and everything to do with one of the favourite pastimes of British people – gardening. When someone says that you have green fingers, they mean you’re very good at gardening – everything you plant grows and thrives and whether you have a proper garden or just a few planters (a container for growing plants in) outside your window they look healthy and attractive.

My gran had green fingers. Her vegetable garden was her pride and joy and the envy of the neighbours.

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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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