Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: vocabulary Page 1 of 2

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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Conscience Vs Consciousness

The words conscience and consciousness can cause a good deal of confusion, due in some measure to the similarities in their spelling and pronunciation, so let’s have a proper look at them.

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

Conscience /ˈkɒnʃəns/ can mean one of the two things:

the part of your mind that tells you whether what you are doing is morally right or wrong; i.e. we can call it our inner moral compass.

I knew I’d done nothing wrong and so I told him the truth with a clear conscience.

If you’ve done something you shouldn’t and know it, you probably have a guilty or troubled conscience.

Steve’s guilty/troubled conscience made him tell Anna he’d been cheating on her.

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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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Freelancer: from a warrior to a nomadic employee

Image by Dorota Kudyba from Pixabay

What springs to your mind when you hear the word freelance? The usual suspects are likely to be ‘work’ and ‘self-employed’. Quite rightly so, as to freelance means being your own boss when it comes to choosing who to work for and for how long. In other words, unlike others who stick to their jobs for years and years, freelancers move from employer to employer selling their expertise to those who offer the best pay.

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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.

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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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Media or Mediums?

The noun medium is of Latin origin and has been part of the English language since the 1580s.

If you look it up in a dictionary, you’ll see that it has two plural forms – media, which is in line with other Latin borrowings such as, for example, datum – data and bacterium – bacteria, and mediums.

Languages are mediums (=means) of interaction and communication.

You certainly know that we refer to all the people and organisations providing information and news for the public, i.e. newspapers, radio, TV, etc., as the mass media and never the mass mediums.

The mass media is often referred to as the Fourth Estate.

Notice that the (mass) media is now often used as an uncountable noun with a singular verb, though Bernard C. Lamb, President of the Queen’s English Society, argues that is ‘wrong, wrong, wrong!’ He also insists mediums should only be used for people who claim to be able to communicate with the dead.

After his father died, he spent a small fortune on mediums trying to find out if his late parent was happy in the afterlife.

So if you want to speak impeccable English, you’d better listen to Mr Lamb. Besides, I think it’s the easiest way to remember when to use media and when mediums.

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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.

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How to Say Hello and Goodbye Like a Native

The very first thing you learn to say in any new language is, without doubt, how to greet people. And there’s a good reason for that – you can’t possibly strike up (=start) a conversation without saying hello first. Well, technically speaking, you can, but we don’t do that in polite society (=educated and well-mannered people).

Image by GimpWorkshop from Pixabay

Hello is a universal greeting – it works at any time of day and in any situation, especially with people you don’t know well and older people.

Hello Mrs Smith. How are you today?

It’s also the word we use when answering the phone.

Hello. – Hi Jenny, it’s Katy. – Oh, hi Katy!

Hello there can be used to address either one person or a group of people.

Hello there! It’s ages since I last saw you. How have you been?

We also use it rather informally when writing to someone whose name we don’t know (or can’t remember!). For example, you want to buy something on Ebay but have questions to ask the seller. Hello (or Hi) there is a perfectly acceptable way of starting your message.

Then, there’s hi, which these days is by far the most popular greeting among native English speakers as it’s friendlier and less formal than hello. It’s used both in conversation in informal writing, i.e. emails and text messages, with family and friends, colleagues and clients, people who do things for us, such as shop assistants and waiters, and so on. The only restriction in its use is the age difference – don’t say hi to anyone who’s much older than you, unless you’re on intimate terms with them as I am with my parents-in-law, for example.

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