Archive for the ‘the English language’ Category


To boldly go…

January 12, 2016

by Colin McIntosh​

to boldly go

Even though we like to complain about our weather, we live on a planet that almost seems to have been created specifically for humans (rather than humans having evolved to suit the conditions). Temperatures are generally moderate, and the worst effects of cosmic rays and radiation from the sun are mitigated by our atmosphere. Scientists call planets that enjoy this fortunate combination of conditions Goldilocks planets – not too hot and not too cold, but just right, as in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where Goldilocks tests three bowls of porridge until she finds the one that is just right. Goldilocks is just one of the new meanings added to the Cambridge dictionary that are connected with space exploration and colonization.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Hot under the collar: idioms to describe emotions

January 6, 2016

by Liz Walter​
hot under collar
Idioms stand out from ordinary language because of their colourful imagery, and they often express concepts in a strong way. However, these characteristics also make them rather conspicuous and difficult to use naturally. In addition, many of them have a slightly old-fashioned feel. This post will therefore offer a selection of emotion-related idioms that are in common current use and which you can feel confident using in everyday speech.

Let’s start on a positive note, with happiness. Someone who is very pleased about something that has happened is over the moon. Someone who is having a lot of fun is having a whale of a time, while someone who has obtained or achieved something that makes them feel very pleased and satisfied is like the cat that got the cream (UK)/ that ate the canary (US). Read the rest of this entry ?


The body beautiful

January 5, 2016

by Colin McIntosh​
The pressure to achieve the perfect body shape is greater than ever before, for men no less than women. At the same time, rates of obesity are at their highest level ever. These two related facts are reflected in some new additions to the Cambridge English Dictionary. Much of the vocabulary relates to our bodies and how we see them.

An objective measure of how overweight or  otherwise we are is given by the BMI or body mass index: a measurement of our weight in relation to our height. But the way we see our bodies ourselves is very often not objective: we may have a body image that is very different from the way other people see us, with the result that we become irrationally unhappy with our appearance. This condition is called dysmorphia, and can lead to body dysmorphic disorder, a mental illness in which a person spends a lot of time worrying about how he or she looks and wrongly believes there are problems with his or her appearance. We look in the mirror and we see something very different from the actual image that is reflected back at us. Read the rest of this entry ?


Since, for and ago: talking about periods of time

December 30, 2015

by Liz Walter​
since for ago
It often seems that small, common words cause the most mistakes, and I certainly hear my students making errors with words like since, for and ago. This post therefore looks at some common errors connected with talking about periods of time and explains how to avoid them.

First, let’s look at the difference between since and for. They are both used to say how long something has been happening, but while since is followed by a precise time or a date, for is followed by a length of time: Read the rest of this entry ?


Look it up!

December 29, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
The British dictionary tradition has differed from the American tradition in various ways, one of which is the treatment of words with a capital letter, like Brazil, Edinburgh, and John F. Kennedy.

British dictionaries traditionally made a distinction between content that was lexical and content that was encyclopedic. Lexical content (words, in other words) was the job of the dictionary, whereas encyclopedic content (countries, cities, dead white men) was the job of the encyclopedia. Nowadays, with the advent of search engines like Google, where all types of information are accessible, people tend not to distinguish between the two, and the internet is simply seen as one huge, amorphous source of information. This obviously has meant a big change in dictionary users’ expectations.

One enormous difference for dictionary makers in the digital age is that we can see what our users are looking up (or searching for, in the new parlance). When Samuel Johnson or James Murray published new dictionaries in past centuries, they had no idea if their users were looking up words they’d added, or if they were looking up words that hadn’t been included. Now we can run regular checks of “words searched for” and “words not found”. Read the rest of this entry ?


Shopping for the festive season

December 23, 2015

by Liz Walter​
shopping festive
With Christmas fast approaching, many of us will be busy buying presents, whether we are Christians or not, so in this blog I’m going to look at some vocabulary connected with gift shopping.

If you are a well-organized person, you will probably want to get ahead by starting your shopping early. That way, it is easier to find bargains, for example by having the time to compare prices or by looking out for special offers. Some people even use the January sales to stock up on items for the following year.

Others prefer to leave everything to the last minute. They may end up paying exorbitant prices because lack of time means lack of choice, and they risk discovering that the items they wanted to buy are out of stock. They will probably also need to find stores that offer a gift-wrapping service, since they are unlikely to have the time to buy wrapping paper and wrap the presents themselves. Read the rest of this entry ?


The generation gap

December 22, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
generation gap
It’s a feature of younger generations through the centuries that they feel the need to give themselves an identity through their ideas, their fashion, their politics, and their language. Leaving aside their language for another post, let’s look at the labels they’ve given themselves, that they’ve given others, and that others have given them, many of which are new additions to the Cambridge English Dictionary.

The Beat Generation, born in the US in the 30s, were probably the trailblazers. Young people who thought that personal experience was more important than accepted norms, they created the pattern for future generations of disaffected youth. Like their British equivalents, the Angry Young Men, the Beats tended to have a literary focus, although the term could also be used with a wider reference.

The boomers, or baby-boomers, born in the baby boom after the Second World War, were the ones who, in Harold MacMillan’s famous phrase “never had it so good”, and they’re still thought of in this way by succeeding generations who had it worse. They’re now being blamed for high property prices, the debt crisis, and impossible university tuition fees. Read the rest of this entry ?

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