Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: English vocabulary Page 1 of 2

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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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?

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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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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!

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Electric or Electrical?

The adjectives electric and electrical are easy to confuse as they are very close in meaning. Close but not identical. So what’s the difference between them?

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

We use electric to talk about things that need electricity to work, e.g. we say an electric guitar, an electric kettle, an electric car.

We bought a new electric cooker.

Electric is also used in an electric atmosphere (=full of excitement).

The atmosphere in the exam room was electric.

On the other hand, electrical is used to refer to electricity-powered things in general as well as people whose job is to make or repair them.

This supermarket sells not only food but also clothes and small electrical appliances such as kettles, coffee machines and toasters.

We need a certified electrical engineer to rewire the house.

Hopefully, next time you need to choose between electric and electrical, you’ll have no trouble picking the right one.

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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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Very or absolutely? Expressing degree with adjectives

Why is it OK to say This house is very big but not This house is very enormous?

Well, there are two types of adjectives – gradable and non-gradable.

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Gradable adjectives refer to qualities that have different degrees. For example, big, cold, tasty, tall, boring and pretty are all gradable adjectives because something can be a bit / rather / slightly / extremely big etc.

Non-gradable adjectives describe qualities of extreme or absolute nature. As enormous already means ‘very big’, why would you use another very to emphasise it?

Now, with gradable adjectives we use grading adverbs such as a bit, slightly, hugely, extremely and very.

I’m a bit tired.

This film is hugely popular.

It’s extremely cold in Antarctica.

She’s very angry.

With non-gradable adjectives we use non-grading adverbs such as absolutely, completely, perfectly, simply, almost and mainly.

I’m completely exhausted.

His plan is simply unthinkable.

It’s absolutely freezing today!

She was absolutely furious.

Now, there’s one particular phrase which is perfectly grammatical but annoys me a lot when I hear people say it. It’s very beautiful. The problem here is, I guess, a simultaneous use of two extremely overused words. With so many synonyms and near-synonyms available, it’s really easy to add variety to your speech. Please pick and choose!

It’s absolutely/truly/simply/incredibly/stunningly/unbelievably beautiful.

It’s nice/pretty/attractive/lovely/gorgeous/stunning/charming.

Hope you’ve found this post useful.

Want to speak English like a native? Then consider taking online lessons with me!

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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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