Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: Expand Your Vocabulary Page 1 of 2

Enfant terrible: more than just an ill-mannered child

Last weekend my husband and I went to the supermarket to do our weekly shopping and witnessed yet another unasked for and very unwelcome performance by a badly-mannered child, whose typical reaction to not getting what he/she wants is to throw tantrums.

Image by gfergu1 from Pixabay

You could call a kid that embarrasses his elders a terrible child, or you could use the French expression enfant terrible /ˌɒnfɒn teˈriːblə/ instead.

When the term first arrived in English in the mid-19th century, it was used to refer to unpredictable children who blurted out outrageous remarks that embarrassed their elders. By the 1930s, an enfant terrible could be anyone – regardless of their age – whose unconventional or shocking behaviour scandalised mainstream society.

Since his debut in the 1970s, he’s been the enfant terrible of British pop music.

These days the phrase is also often applied to young, successful newcomers who shock or scare old-timers with their new approaches, easy successes, or disregard for tradition.

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Beautiful English Words Part 1

There are certain words in English, as well as the other languages I speak with varying degrees of fluency, that I find absolutely irresistible.

Be it the sound or the meaning, I fall in love with them and, even if it’s not a very commonly used word and I don’t often get a chance to use it myself, my inner linguist rejoices every time I encounter one of my favourites in conversation or writing.

So I thought I’d like to share these beloved lexical gems of mine with you.

Image by Rocapurpura from Pixabay

And the word I’d like to start with is gobsmacked. It’s pronounced /ˈɡɒbsmækt/ and means so surprised or shocked that you can’t speak.

This UK slang word is made up of gob, meaning mouth, and the past participle of the verb smack, meaning hit.

Here’s an example of how it’s used:

I was absolutely gobsmacked when a distant relative I’d never met had left me a fortune.

Hope you like this word as much as I do. And even if you don’t, try to memorise and use it in conversation – that’ll make you sound more native-like.

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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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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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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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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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A murder of crows and other collective nouns for animals

You certainly know that a group of dogs or wolves is called a pack, sheep as well as birds gather in flocks, and when camels get together they form a caravan.

Unlike, for example, my native Russian, the English language has a unique collective noun for an impressive variety of living things (not all of them are commonly used though).

A conspiracy of lemurs. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

You are likely to find many of them surprising, weird or downright hilarious – clearly, vivid imagination was not in shortage in mediaeval times these lexical gems are said to date back to.

And notice how precise some of them are as to highlight the main trait of the animal in question.

Here are my favourite twenty:

  • a sloth or sleuth of bears
  • a gang or obstinacy of buffaloes
  • a murder of crows
  • a parade of elephants
  • a business of ferrets
  • an army of frogs
  • a tower of giraffes
  • a band of gorillas
  • a troop or mob of kangaroos
  • a conspiracy of lemurs
  • a leap of leopards
  • a pride of lions
  • a labor of moles
  • a family of otters
  • a parliament of owls
  • a pandemonium of parrots
  • a prickle of porcupines
  • an unkindness of ravens
  • a crash of rhinoceroses
  • a stench of skunks

Aren’t they beautiful?!

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