Exclamations, or Less is more

I’m a strong advocate of the idea that less is more. It’s true for so many things in life including language. Never use two words where you can do with one – that’s an approach I wholeheartedly support. And nowhere else does it find its expression so fully as in exclamations!

An exclamation is a sound, word or short sentence that is charged with emotion. For this reason we use them whenever we need to communicate our feelings in a quick and expressive way.

Exclamations have to be short as emotions often catch us completely unawares and our first reaction is usually immediate and spontaneous.

Image from Pixabay

Let’s have a look at some of such expressions which Britons use a lot in their daily conversation.

Surprise, surprise!

You might have heard this one before as it’s found its way – both translated and untranslated – into Russian.

We use it in two ways:

1) with a great deal of irony or even sarcasm depending on the situation, to say that you expected something to happen or to be true (the actual meaning in this case is ‘unsurprisingly’)

As the number of covid cases surged, the government went back on its word and surprise, surprise reintroduced the restrictions.

2) when suddenly appearing in front of someone who wasn’t expecting to see you

Surprise, surprise! I’m back!

Continue reading “Exclamations, or Less is more”

British Christmas: how we celebrate it and vocabulary we use to talk about it

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Christmas is round the corner (=very near in place or time), so let’s see how twenty-first-century Britons celebrate it.

These days the festive season (=the period around Christmas) starts ridiculously early. Christmas-themed shop-window displays make their appearance at the beginning of November, as soon as Halloween is over, or even earlier. Naturally, they go hand in hand (=together) with the arrival of Christmas decorations and posters promoting the idea that it’s time to shop for the main holiday of the year.

Christmas shop-window display at Selfridges in London in 2016
(C) Anastassia Sakharova

Christmas office parties start early too. I remember a few years ago my husband’s employer arranged one in November when it’s cheaper to rent a venue (=place) for the occasion (=event). At my husband’s work Christmas lunch (we’ll talk about it later) is traditionally served in the canteen in the run-up to (=before) the holiday to get the employees in the festive spirit I guess.

Another thing that makes for the Christmas atmosphere is Christmas cards. Despite the advent (=coming) of electronic ones, Britons still send lots and lots of paper ones keeping The Royal Mail (=the British organization which is responsible for collecting and delivering letters and parcels)busy and prosperous. It’s customary to put them on display on the mantelpiece (=a wooden or stone shelf which is the top part of a frame surrounding a fireplace) and other horizontal surfaces or on a piece of string like bunting (=small flags on strings, used to decorate buildings and streets on special occasions).

A Christmas card display

In the UK, Christmas, often shortened to Xmas, has now lost most of its original religious meaning and like other public holidays has been massively commercialized. Christmas Mass (=an important church ceremony)which is celebrated on the night of Christmas Eve (24th December) is often attended by those who otherwise don’t go to church as a sort of entertainment rather than in reverence (=great respect and admiration)for the birth of Jesus Christ. It is though much more common to spend Christmas Eve making the last preparations for the day ahead.

Christmas Day (25th December) is not only the most joyous day of the year in the UK, it’s also the quietest as public transport is not running and pretty much everything is shut (though some pubs and restaurants remain open to serve Christmas lunch as well as some small shops whose owners either don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t want to miss the opportunity to make some extra money while all other stores are closed).

Christmas is a family holiday and in my husband’s family it gets really busy when all his siblings (=brothers and sisters)with their spouses (=husbands and wives) and kids get together. It also means an awful lot of cooking for the hostess, though these days you can order your Christmas food online and have it delivered to your door. Starters and puddings usually come ready to eat, mains require (=need) a little bit more work on your side – you need to pop them in the oven before serving.

Typical Christmas lunch (roast meat and veg, sprouts, balls of stuffing and gravy). Image by Lesley Negus from Pixabay

Britons are amazingly conservative when it comes to Christmas lunch. They don’t mind having the same things year after year – beats me (=I can’t understand or explain it)! There’s some variety in starters, but the mains are pretty much invariably the same – roast meat (more often than not turkey, but beef, lamb, pork, venison (=deer meat), and goose are popular alternatives too), vegetables (roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, sprouts (=a small green vegetable like a very small cabbage), peas), stuffing (=the stuff you normally put inside the turkey but often served on the side) and gravy (=a sauce made from the juice that comes from meat as it cooks, mixed with flour and water). You put a bit of everything on your plate but somehow always end up absolutely stuffed (=so full that you can’t eat any more) so the pudding (the most popular one is probably trifle – a cold British sweet dish made of layers of cake, fruit, jelly, custard, and cream) is often left untouched.

Trifle, a popular Christmas pudding

At 3pm on Christmas Day the Queen’s speech is broadcast but having lived in the UK for ten years I haven’t seen anyone watch it once, which I think is a shame.

Christmas stockings waiting to be emptied

26th December is Boxing Day. Originally it was the day when the rich gave gifts (=presents) to the poor. The gifts were packed in boxes, hence the name. These days people still exchange presents (or, informally, pressies) at Christmas, though no one can be bothered to wait till Boxing Day. In my husband’s family the presents are done after Christmas lunch. The kids, however, start ahead of everyone else with their Christmas stockings filled with sweets and little things. Sadly, they are often inundated (=get too many) with presents and don’t seem to have much appreciation (=a feeling of being grateful)for what they get. Adults often choose not to waste money of Christmas presents for several reasons: firstly, these days in the West most people have everything they need and even more and therefore see no practical reason to stick with (=continue) the tradition; secondly, more often than not Christmas presents turn out to be a disappointment rather than a delight and end up either in the bin or a charity shop more or less right away; and last but not least, some people, in accordance with the true spirit of Christmas, prefer to give the money they could otherwise spend on presents to charitable (=relating to giving help to those in need)causes instead.

This is what British Xmas is like in this day and age. Hope you’ve learnt something new from this post. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a joyful and prosperous New Year.

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.

Continue reading “Abbreviations”

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.

Continue reading “Small but Mighty”

Metre Vs Meter

Meter and metre. Isn’t it the same thing just spelt differently in American and British English? Well, yes and no.

Metre… Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Yes, meter is the American spelling of metre, a unit of length that equals 100 centimetres.

The fence is about a metre and a half high. (Note the British English spelling!)

In British English, however, a meter is a machine that measures something, be it the amount of gas/water/electricity you’ve used or the amount of money you must pay.

… and meter. Image by analogicus from Pixabay

A few times a year Thames Water sends their engineers round to check water meter readings.

As the taxi was moving slowly through the traffic jam, she looked nervously at the meter wondering if she had enough money to pay for the trip.

This is a Pay and Display car park, but as the parking meter is broken you can park free of charge.

Easy, eh?

Enquiry Vs Inquiry

If you look up the word enquiry in the online Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, you’ll see no definition but the following remark especially British English another spelling of inquiry‘. To find out what ‘enquiry’ means, you need to click on ‘inquiry’ in bold type.

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

This is another curious case. Both enquiry and inquiry can mean question, inquest or investigation and be used interchangeably. However, in the UK there’s a slowly growing tendency to use inquiry to refer to the official process to find out about something,

e.g. The villagers are demanding a public inquiry into the fire that destroyed the local school.

whereas the use of enquiry is becoming preferable to mean a question as in

I’d like to make an enquiry about your language courses.

One day enquiry and inquiry are likely to start living their separate lives, but until then you can use whichever you prefer (inquiry is more widely accepted in American English).

Now you know!

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.

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!

Continue reading “15 ways to say someone is stupid”

How to Say Thank You Like a Native

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Thank you is probably the most frequently used word in the UK. Britons pepper their speech with thank-yous so generously that the word has lost much of its meaning having turned into a sort of verbal smile, as in the following example, which is a typical dialogue between a cashier and a customer you’ll hear and get involved into a lot in this country.

– Do you need any bags?

– No, thanks.

– Would you like to pay in cash or by card?

– Card.

– Please insert it into the card reader and enter your PIN. Thank you. Here’s your receipt.

Thanks a lot.

– Have a lovely day! Bye-bye!

Thanks. You too. Bye!

It may sound ridiculous but, if you care what others think about you and your manners, you’d better overuse rather than underuse the magic word. Luckily, there’s actually more than one, so take your pick.

Continue reading “How to Say Thank You Like a Native”

Programme Vs Program

The word programme has several meanings.

The one you’re certainly familiar with is something you watch on TV or listen to on the radio as in What’s your favourite TV programme?

It can mean plan or a series of actions as in

The ambitious reform programme developed by a group of independent politicians got no support from the government.

and 

What’s the programme for tomorrow?

Another meaning is a leaflet that gives information about a play, concert etc.

She collects theatre programmes.

By contrast, program is a set of instructions given to a computer, i.e. All word processing programs these days have built-in grammar- and spelling-checkers.

There’s no such distinction in American English where one spelling program covers all of the above mentioned meanings.