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!

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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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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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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.

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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In one ear and out the other

I find it very annoying when people seem to listen to you, but when you later get back to what was said, you realize they can’t remember it. In this case we can say that your words went in one ear and out the other.

It went in one ear and out the other

Obviously, this has been happening for thousands of years, as one of the early written uses of the idiom dates back to the times of Ancient Rome.

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