The language of elections

April 22, 2015

by Liz Walter​
On May 7th, citizens of the UK will be going to the polls (having an election) to decide who will form the next government. This kind of election is known as a general election.

The country is divided into 650 areas, called constituencies. Each constituency elects a member of parliament (MP) to sit in the House of Commons, which is the elected lower chamber. The unelected upper chamber is the House of Lords.

In the UK, we use a system called first past the post, where the person with the largest number of votes in each constituency is the winner. In a safe Labour/Conservative, etc seat, where there is a large majority for a particular party, a vote for a different party is therefore essentially a lost vote, unlike with a system of proportional representation, where every vote counts towards the number of MPs a party will have.

Before an election, each party will prepare a manifesto, a document which gives a description of what the party will do if it wins. Politicians will put a lot of effort into their election campaign, often helped by party members or other supporters. Ordinary political activists are often referred to as grass roots supporters or simply the grass roots. Read the rest of this entry »


New words – 20 April 2015

April 20, 2015


dumbwalking noun walking slowly, without paying attention to the world around you because you are consulting a smartphone

He told me dumbwalking probably wouldn’t be a long-term problem.

[www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine 14 July 2014]



tech creche noun a safe where visitors to a place can deposit their mobile phones before exploring that place

The short film sees a young David Attenborough (voiced by impressionist Phil Cornwell) encourage viewers to leave the car at home and store their devices in the Tech Creche, leaving them free to enjoy the region’s majestic woodlands and coastline without digital distractions.

[www.thedrum.com 25 July 2014]

vamping noun the activity of remaining awake late into the night, usually while chatting on social networks

‘Social media is about having agency over your own life and vamping is one way to recapture that,’ said Alice Marwick, an assistant professor at Fordham University who studies the Internet and society.

[New York Times (US broadsheet) 06 July 2014]

Maybe teenage behavior hasn’t changed, whether it has a new name like vamping or not.

[New York Times (US broadsheet) 06 July 2014]

About new words


Byronic, Orwellian and Darwinian: adjectives from names.

April 15, 2015

by Liz Walter​
Becoming an adjective is a strange kind of memorial, but it is often a sign of a person having had real influence on the world.

Science is full of examples, from Hippocrates, the Greek medic born around 460 BC, who gave his name to the Hippocratic Oath still used by doctors today, to Robert Brown, the 19th century botanist who discovered Brownian motion.

In cases where most people know something of the life or work of the person in question, their adjective often takes on a broader meaning. Although Darwinian often simply means ‘as described or discovered by Charles Darwin’, it is also used more generally to describe a fierce competitive situation (in business, for example), in which the losers will be eliminated.

Similarly, if we describe something as Freudian (from Sigmund Freud), we are often alluding to something that inadvertently reveals someone’s true thoughts, as in the phrase Freudian slip. Read the rest of this entry »


New words – 13 April 2015

April 13, 2015


bio-inspiration noun the adoption of patterns and structures found in nature for the purposes of engineering, manufacturing, science, etc.

The MIT researchers actually aren’t the only robotics team to turn to cheetahs for bio-inspiration.

[www.smithsonianmag.com 16 September 2014]


drought shaming noun the public shaming, often through social media, of people or companies guilty of wasting water

All across the state, people are doing their best to conserve water. But, the fight to save water has also given rise to a new phenomenon known as ‘drought shaming.’

[www.bakersfieldnow.com 30 July 2014]

plastisphere noun the discarded plastic that is now a part of our seas, rivers and lakes and, for better or worse, is developing its own ecosystem

Scientists have even coined a new term to describe it: the ‘plastisphere’ is here. In some oceanic areas the plastic is so thick that organisms have begun evolving there, as if it were a new, toxic, ecosystem. Sadly, our precious Great Lakes may not be far behind.

[http://www.thestar.com 02 August 2014]

About new words


I’m so sorry! (The language of apologizing)

April 8, 2015

by Kate Woodford​​​​
From time to time, we all have to apologize (= say we are sorry for something we have done). This post looks at the language of saying sorry and also considers the way that people respond when someone says sorry.

First, then, the apology itself. The phrase ‘I’m sorry’ can be made stronger and more sincere by adding ‘so‘ or ‘really‘: I’m so sorry we’re late./I’m really sorry about last night. Note that people who are apologizing often say a little more at this point, either to explain why they did what they did, or to say why they are sorry:

I’m really sorry I said that. I was just so upset at the time.

I’m so sorry I said those things. I know I really upset you.

Often the phrase should have (or shouldn’t have) is used here:

I’m so sorry I didn’t let you know. I should have called you.

I’m really sorry, William. I shouldn’t have blamed you like that. Read the rest of this entry »


New words – 6 April 2015

April 6, 2015


nanorobotics noun the use of extremely tiny components (measuring a nanometer or less) to make robots

Nano-robotics is gaining importance in the field of industrial robotics. It is gaining momentum in health care and other niche markets.

[www.mmtonline.in 03 July 2014]


glass cockpit noun a part of a vehicle filled with computer screens from which the vehicle is controlled automatically, partially or entirely by computer

We have estimates of a glass cockpit in our cars being fairly soon.

[WNYC: Lenard Lopate Show (culture and society, interviews) 30 September 2014]

We already have a sort of glass cockpit, at least in some higher-end vehicles that have adaptive cruise control.

[WNYC: Lenard Lopate Show (culture and society, interviews) 30 September 2014]

screen scraper noun a piece of software that extracts character-based information from other applications and presents it in a more user-friendly format

I was just wondering if I could use some of that data and lacking an API I wrote a little screen scraper that collects name, date and GPS coordinates.

[http://cryptoforest.blogspot.co.uk/ 07 July 2014]

About new words


I won’t tolerate it! Replacing formal words with phrasal verbs.

April 1, 2015

by Liz Walter​
When you are using a language, it is important to understand if a word is formal or informal, so that you can use it in an appropriate way. You might hear people saying dosh for money, or spud for potato, but they wouldn’t write those words in a formal essay. Similarly, a lawyer’s letter might include very formal terms such as heretofore or pursuant to, but nobody uses them in speech or informal writing.

Learners sometimes have problems with this issue when they try to avoid phrasal verbs by using a single word verb instead. This is particularly true when they have a similar word in their own language, for example tolerate in English and tolérer in French or tolerar in Spanish. Although the meaning is the same, tolerate is a more formal word in English. In speech, we would be much more likely to say put up with: I don’t know how she puts up with his behaviour. Read the rest of this entry »


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