There is no such thing as a true synonym in English. Discuss!

November 25, 2015

by Kate Woodford​
In the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary the word ‘synonym’ is defined as ‘a word or phrase that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or phrase in the same language’. As you might expect, definitions for this word are broadly similar in other dictionaries and yet the italicized phrase ‘or nearly the same’ is often absent. This seems to me an omission. Many words in English have the same basic or overall meaning and yet are significantly different for one or more reasons. Let’s look at the word ‘comprehend’ for example. Essentially, it means ‘to understand something’. And yet we don’t usually say that we comprehend an area of mathematics. We are more likely to say something like this

No one in the government seems to comprehend the scale of the problem. Read the rest of this entry »


Coffee culture

November 24, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
coffee culture
In a study published recently and widely reported in the media, researchers from Harvard University School of Public Health found that people who drink a moderate amount of coffee per day are less likely to die from a range of diseases. Good news for coffee drinkers, who make up an ever-increasing proportion of society.

Seattle, which likes to consider itself the home of coffee, is partly responsible for this growth in coffee drinking around the world, being the birthplace of the Starbucks chain. This is the source of much of the new vocabulary around coffee drinking, which you will now find in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Most of this vocabulary comes originally from Italian, but filtered through the Seattle approach, which involves making you stay on the premises as long as possible. Central to the whole operation is the barista (the person who makes the coffee, an Italian word from bar, meaning a coffee shop). Bring your laptop, settle down, and spend the morning sipping. As well as the traditional cappuccino (which has grown to double or triple the size of the Italian original), on offer we have lattes (even bigger and milkier than a cappuccino), macchiatos (with less milk than a cappuccino, and served in a smaller cup), americanos (with added water to make it less strong) and chais (not actually a coffee, but a tea drink originally from India with milk, sugar, and spices). Variations include decaf (decaffeinated) and skinny (with low-fat milk). If you’re in a hurry, ask for it to go (served for you to drink somewhere else, usually in a paper cup):

Two skinny decaf lattes to go, please!

Read the rest of this entry »


New words – 23 November 2015

November 23, 2015


climatarian adjective choosing to eat a diet that has minimal impact on the climate, i.e. one that excludes food transported a long way or meat whose production gives rise to CO2 emissions

Climate change is not normally on people’s minds when they choose what to have for lunch, but a new diet is calling for people to go ‘Climatarian’ for their health and for the planet.

[http://www.edie.net 16 July 2015]

There are some signs the public is starting to take such advice on board. They include the release of an ‘EatBy’ app that reminds consumers to use up food in the fridge, and a new social network to help people adopt a ‘climatarian’ diet that shuns meat from gassy grazing animals, such as beef and lamb.

[www.huffingtonpost.com 11 September 2015]

agtech noun the harnessing of new technologies for agricultural purposes, often specifically to increase food production in a sustainable way

The Next Food Frontier: How AgTech Can Save The World

[http://techcrunch.com/ 07 September 2015]

What the agtech boom means for Big Food

[http://www.greenbiz.com 30 September 2015]

shade ball noun a plastic ball for putting on the water in order to reduce evaporation and algae levels

Within hours, videos of the shade balls were everywhere. Social media went crazy for the name. The hashtag #shadeballs took off, with one Twitter user writing, ‘If you ever doubted that LA was the home to everything plastic… #shadeballs.’

[www.latimes.com 23 August 2015]

About new words


How to talk about talking (2)

November 18, 2015

by Liz Walter​
talk about talking
In my last post I explained how to use the verbs say and tell. This post looks at some other common verbs connected with talking and explains how to use them correctly.

Speak and talk have similar meanings. In general, speak is slightly more formal than talk. Remember to use the preposition to before the person. With can also be used, but is more common in US English:

He didn’t speak/talk to me at all.

The teacher spoke/talked with the girl’s parents.

We usually use the preposition about before the thing that is being discussed:

He talked about the weather.

She never speaks about her work. Read the rest of this entry »


Happy shopping!

November 17, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
Traditionally in the US, people’s minds start turning towards the holidays after Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November). That’s not your summer holidays, as Brits might understand it, but the December pile-up of religious and secular festivities that represents the high point of consumer spending, not just in the US, but in many countries around the world.

With Thanksgiving out of the way, Americans feel free to concentrate on preparing for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other festivals, as well as the New Year, and that usually involves a heavy dose of spending. The custom dates back a long way, but in the 1970s marketing people introduced the term Black Friday. This refers to the ​Friday after Thanksgiving, when ​shops ​reduce the ​price of ​goods in ​order to ​attract ​customers who ​want to ​start ​their ​gift ​shopping, or, in other words, to kick-start the spending season: Read the rest of this entry »


New words – 16 November 2015

November 16, 2015


yuccie noun young urban creative; someone who wants to be creative and free-spirited but also wealthy

Yuccies – cherish ‘craft’ beer and ‘artisanal’ food, like ‘authentic’ holiday destinations – are hipster versions of yuppies: they want personal success and financial gain while keeping their ‘creative autonomy’.

[http://www.irishtimes.com/ 19 July 2015]


open streets plural noun a plan in urban areas in which certain streets are closed to motor vehicles for a period of time to allow residents to use those streets for walking, bicycle riding, skating, etc.

Open-streets initiatives have taken root in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Portland, Ore., and more that 100 other US cities.

[AARP Bulletin (US magazine) Sept. 2015]

skunk water noun a foul, faecal-smelling liquid that is sprayed on protesters in some parts of the world in order to disperse them

Invented by Israeli firm Odortec, skunk water was first used by the Israeli military against demonstrators in the occupied West Bank in 2008.

[http://www.bbc.co.uk/ 12 September 2015]

About new words


Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)

November 11, 2015

by Liz Walter​
say and tell
Most of us spend a lot of time talking – in fact a recent study showed that the average Brit spends 6 months of their life talking about weather alone! It’s no wonder therefore that we often need to describe that activity.

Unfortunately, simple verbs such as speak, say, talk and tell cause a lot of problems for learners of English. This post looks at two of the most common ‘talking’ verbs – say and tell –  and gives advice on how to use them correctly.

We often use say to report what someone else has said, using a that-clause. You can usually leave out ‘that’:

She said (that) she was thirsty.

He says (that) he’s a friend of yours. Read the rest of this entry »

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