Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: Expand Your Vocabulary Page 1 of 3

Al fresco: a useful summertime word

British summers can be very disappointing, as it has been this year, but when it’s warm enough, sunny and dry, we just love eating and drinking al fresco, that is in the fresh air, be it in a pavement café, a beer garden at a local pub or the privacy of your own back garden or patio.

I had an al fresco lunch with my colleagues in Hyde Park.

Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

The phrase was adopted from Italian in mid-eighteenth century and has been in use ever since.

Funny enough, in its original Italian al fresco is a slang term meaning ‘in prison’, like the English phrase ‘in the cooler’. So if one day you find yourself in Italy in need of a table outside, to avoid confusion ask for one all’aperto. Unless you speak Italian, of course.

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Beautiful English Words: Part 4

Image by Santiago Matamoros from Pixabay

Here’s another word to enrich your vocabulary and impress your listeners or readers – cantankerous /kænˈtæŋkərəs/.

A cantankerous person is annoyed and tends to argue and complain a lot.

Abandoned by his family and suffering from chronic pain in his joints, the old man became depressed and cantankerous.

I’m not entirely sure what I like about this word. Probably, the pulsating sound of it. As well as its literary feel – you don’t often hear cantankerous in conversation, which is a great shame I think.

But now you can change this! 🙂

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Bag & Baggage

Image by Toocapic from Pixabay

Bag and baggage means ‘with all one’s possessions’.

Originally a military phrase, it was used to refer to the entire property of an army, including the personal belongings of its soldiers.

And one of the sure signs of a successful military campaign is an army returning from war without any in of its property having fallen into enemy hands.

As time passed, the phrase became useful in describing a much wider variety of departures, though all typically associated with a failure or misfortune of some sort.

When Sally caught her boyfriend using her business bank account to pay his gambling debts, she threw him out bag and baggage.

Now you know!

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Abbreviations

Today I’d like to have a look at abbreviations. They’re quite common in everyday English and it’s helpful to be familiar with at least some of them.

But first things first. What is an abbreviation? Well, it’s a word that’s been shortened (=abbreviated) to just a few letters or a word made from the first letters of several words.

So Mr (= Mister), Mon (= Monday) and UK (= the United Kingdom) are all abbreviations.

Note that in modern British English we don’t use full stops in abbreviations.

Those of abbreviations that are pronounced like words are called acronyms. (Articles are usually dropped in acronyms.)

One example is UNESCO /jʊˈneskəʊ/ (not the UNESCO) = the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

FAQ = Frequently Asked Questions

You’re probably familiar with some of the most commonly used abbreviations such as cm (= centimetre), Dec (= December) and LOL (= laugh out loud or lots of love).

Here’s a few more to add to your vocabulary that British people use a lot.

am /ˌeɪ ˈem/ in the morning (from Latin ante meridiem, ‘before midday’)

The train arrives at London Charing Cross at 8.35 am.

ASAP (or asap) /ˌeɪ es eɪ ˈpiː, ˈeɪsæp/ as soon as possible

Please reply to this email ASAP.

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Beautiful English Words: Part 3

The word I picked for today’s post is one of my favourites.

It’s really useful but regrettably uncommon (don’t ask me why, I have no idea).

It’s the word hence.

It can be used to mean ‘for this reason or that is the explanation for’ as in

He hasn’t had any time off work for three months, hence his bad mood and irritation.

or ‘from now’ as in

The referendum on the issue will be held ten days hence.

Notice the position of hence depending on its meaning.

To conclude, I can only join Martin Cutts, author of Oxford Guide to Plain English, in his appeal to the readers to use the word regularly so that it doesn’t disappear.

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The Language of Friendship

Friendships… They enrich our life, provide comfort and support, boost our confidence and sense of belonging. And yet a true friendship is not that easy to find, takes a lot of effort to maintain and can be lost forever with one thoughtless word or action.

Image by Alexas Photos from Pixabay

Obviously, there are loads of words related to the topic of friendship. I’ve picked the ones I think you’ll find most useful – I myself use them a lot and so do native speakers.

Friendship is a kind of magic, don’t you think? You meet a lot of different people but you make friends with only a handful (=few) of them.

By the way, friend is also a verb meaning to add someone as your friend on a social networking website (i.e. Facebook).

– He’s got about ten thousand friends on Facebook! How’s that possible?!

– It’s because he friends every single person he meets.

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Small but Mighty

It’s sometimes said that less is more. That’s definitely the case with interjectionsshort words and phrases that are used to express strong feelings; for this reason David Crystal in his book Making Sense of Grammar calls them emotional noises. And I’d compare them to verbal emoticons.

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

Let’s have a look at some common interjections that you’ll often hear in conversation and see how they can be as expressive as sentences. And when it comes to situations where an immediate emotional response is required, they become indispensable.

Wow!

as in Wow! Your hair looks gorgeous!

As an expression of surprise and/or admiration, wow has crossed many borders sometimes even pushing their equivalents in local languages out of use as in my native Russia where the good old ух ты! seems to have completely become a thing of the past.

Oh!

This two-letter word has lots of uses:

it comes handy as an expression of, I’d say, mild surprise as in

Jenny and Rob have split up. – Oh, I didn’t realise that.

You can also use it to make a more profound emotional impact as in

Oh, no! My mobile’s been stolen!

The company Jack’s been working for has gone bust and he’s lost his job. – Oh, how awful!

We also use it to fill in short pauses and when answering questions to sound less abrupt.

Can you get some milk, bread… oh, and some eggs too?

Do you know that guy? – Oh, yes, we met at the local gym a couple of months ago.

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The language of mistake

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

You will have heard the old saying ‘The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything’. Its authorship is ascribed to various great minds including Theodore Roosevelt. However, who was the first to formulate this idea is of far less importance than its message – it’s OK to make mistakes, it happens to the best of us and, as I mentioned in one of my older posts, we should actually be grateful to our mistakes as they help us to learn.

Let’s have a look at some words and expressions we use to talk about things that went wrong.

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Schmooze

It’s amazing how much meaning can be carried in just one short word. Take schmooze. Deriving from the Yiddish word for ‘to chat’, in English it’s got an extra layer of meaning. Schmoozing often implies not just a friendly chat but one that’s done to gain some advantage for the person who does it and is common at networking events.

An aspiring actress, she spent the entire evening schmoozing with TV producers and film directors.

Someone who’s good at this sort of chatting and practises it a lot can be called a schmoozer.

If you want to make it big in show business, you’ve got to be a schmoozer and a real charmer.

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Beautiful English Words: Part 2

Image by Florian Kurz from Pixabay

Mellifluous is another adjective I love a lot. It’s of Latin origin and literally means ‘flowing with (or as if with) honey’. We use it to talk of voices and music that have a pleasant and flowing sound.

Here’s a couple of examples:

The mother’s mellifluous voice lulled the baby to sleep.

(A tip for novice dog carers) If all else fails, try soothing a stressed dog with the mellifluous sounds of classical music.

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