Archive for the ‘the English language’ Category


Protest the cuts!

November 3, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
protest the cuts
Thirty years ago this phrase would have been meaningless to most British people. Not that 1980s trendy lefties were shy about expressing their opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to shrink state spending. It’s just that they would have said they were protesting against the cuts, rather than protesting the cuts. The transitive use of protest was reserved for phrases like protest your innocence. Now phrases like this are all over the media, imported from the US thanks to the recent exposure given to movements like Occupy Wall Street protesting (against) corporate greed and shady banking practices. The usage has recently spread to the UK, and has been taken up particularly by commentators in the media, no doubt helped by the fact that it makes sense to have a single, global (and shorter) hashtag on social media.

This fluidity in grammar patterns associated with verbs is not new. British English traditionally used the infinitive with to after help. The Royal British Legion says comfortingly but somewhat staidly:

We can help you to manage your debts… and deal with unexpected expenses

whereas the more dynamic-sounding says:

We can help you sell your house fast! Read the rest of this entry ?


Paul Heacock – an obituary

October 30, 2015

by Cambridge Dictionaries
Paul HeacockIt is with extreme sadness that we announce the death of Paul Heacock, Publishing Manager of ELT Dictionaries and Grammar and occasional contributor to this blog. Paul died on October 17, 2015, from pneumonia related to ongoing treatment for cancer. He was 59.

Paul was hired as a contractor by the Press in 1992 to work on the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, and became a full-time staff member in 1994. Working first under Sidney Landau, and then leading the division, first alongside Liz Walter and then as sole director for Dictionaries, Paul expanded Cambridge’s range of dictionaries and grammar resources for learners of English. An “early adopter” of technology before there was such a term, Paul drove the digital management of dictionary assets, the development of the Press’s extensive corpus holdings, the development of English Profile, and the integration of corpus research into Cambridge ELT (English Language Teaching) products.

Paul produced the first CD-ROM published by the ELT division, for the Cambridge Dictionary of American English. He was instrumental in forging the partnership with IDM, our technology partner in CDO, in the development of Cambridge Dictionaries Online and did his utmost to ensure its success as the number-one dictionary site for learners across the world. Through licensing partnerships he published some of the earliest mobile apps to come from the Press. Somehow, in all of this, he managed to find the time to write a number of books, including Which Word When? and The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words. And, of course, to play on the Cambridge University Press softball team, which won the league title in 2004. Read the rest of this entry ?



October 29, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​

The past couple of years have seen a dramatic rise in the use of the word selfie, a word which won the accolade of ‘word of the year’ two years ago, beating onesie and twerking to the top spot.

The word selfie is an abbreviation, obviously. But an abbreviation of what? Self-taken photograph? Self-portrait photograph? Has anyone ever called it that? Does it matter? In every corner of the globe, within a very short space of time, the selfie has taken over the world. The idea of the selfie is not new: Rembrandt painted almost a hundred of them; the Turin Shroud may be one of the earliest. But it is only with the rise of the smartphone and the ability to upload photos instantly to social media that it has become ‘a thing’. New technology demands a new word – otherwise how would it be possible to market it?

The must-have accessory for the selfie-snapper is the selfie stick. Living in Cambridge, I constantly risk injury when walking around the centre from tourists trying to perform the feat of extending a selfie stick while at the same time squeezing themselves into the frame of their smartphones. Several serious injuries have been attributed to the use of the selfie stick, and they have now been banned from many places, including festivals, nightclubs, and museums. In one case, though, it actually saved someone’s life, when it was used to drag a drowning teenager to safety off the coast of Massachusetts. Read the rest of this entry ?


I’ve known Sara for years (Talking about friends)

October 28, 2015

by Kate Woodford​
Our friends are important to us so we tend to talk about them. And what sort of things do we say? We might talk about how strong a friendship is. If we say that we are close to someone, we mean that we know and like them a lot: I’ve known Sara for years – we’re very close. / She’s very close to her brother. You might instead describe someone as a good friend (of yours): Paolo’s a good friend of mine. You could also use the phrasal verb get on (UK) / get along (US), meaning ‘to like someone and have a good relationship with them’: I like James – we’ve always got on / gotten along.

Sometimes we talk about how a friendship started. You may say that you met a friend through another person: I met Alice through a work friend of mine called Lucy. (The friend who introduced you – a friend of two people – is known as a mutual friend). Perhaps you were at a party and you started talking with someone although you didn’t know them. For this, you could say you struck up (= started) a conversation: We were both waiting to get a drink and struck up a conversation. If you liked the person immediately, you could use the informal phrase hit it off: Jamie introduced us at a party and we hit it off immediately. Of course, as we spend more time with a person, we gradually learn more about them. To describe this process, you may say that you get to know someone: He seemed so nice. I thought I’d like to get to know him. / We worked together on a six-month project so I got to know her quite well. If you have known someone for a long time, you might use the phrase to go back a long way: Claire and I met at college twenty years ago so we go back a long way. Read the rest of this entry ?


I learn, you learn, he/she/it learns…

October 22, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
I learn you learn
The Cambridge English Dictionary is constantly being updated and expanded to reflect the interests of our users. One area of particular interest to our users is that of English Language Teaching (ELT), and a number of ELT terms have recently been added to the dictionary.

We’ve added some of the words that learners of English might be puzzling over in their quest to find the best way to achieve proficiency. There are the acronyms:

  • EAP (English for Academic Purposes: the ​teaching of ​English to ​speakers of other ​languages who need ​English to ​study at a ​college or ​university);
  • ESP (English for ​specific/​special ​purposes: the ​teaching of ​English for use in a ​particular ​area of ​activity, for ​example, ​business or ​science);
  • ESL (English as a Second Language: the ​teaching of ​English to ​speakers of other ​languages who ​live in a ​country where ​English is an ​official or ​important ​language);
  • ESOL (English for ​speakers of other ​languages: used, ​especially in the UK, to refer to the ​teaching of ​English to ​students whose first ​language is not ​English, but who are ​living in an English-speaking ​country).

Then there are the methods and materials: elicitation, pairwork, realia, cloze tests, classware, and graded readers. Read the rest of this entry ?


We’re making headway! (Idioms and phrases used to talk about progress)

October 21, 2015

by Kate Woodford​
As part of our occasional series on idioms used in or in relation to business, we look today at the important area of making projects happen – getting projects started, making progress with those projects and, as sometimes happens, failing to make progress.

Starting at the beginning, if a plan gets or is given the go-ahead, permission is given for it to start: Plans for a new building at the university have been given the go-ahead. Another idiom which means much the same is to give the green light to something: The council has given the green light to the new development. You can also say that you get a project off the ground. If you get a project off the ground, you manage to make it start successfully: A lot more money will be required to get the project off the ground. Similarly, to start/set/get the ball rolling is to start to make something happen: Once we have permission for the project, we can start the ball rolling. Meanwhile, if a project is in the pipeline, it is being planned, though has not yet started: We have a number of projects in the pipeline, though none are due to start immediately. Read the rest of this entry ?


How rich is a billionaire?

October 15, 2015

by Colin McIntosh​
How many is a billion? The answer may seem obvious, but the use of this word can lead to confusion. In the UK and Ireland the word traditionally meant the number 1,000,000,000,000 (a million millions), which is called a trillion in the United States. A billion in the United States is considerably smaller: only 1,000,000,000 (a thousand million). The system used in America is called the short scale, whereas that formerly used in Britain and Ireland is called the long scale. Read the rest of this entry ?

Cambridge Conversations

Commenting on developments in the English language


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,547 other followers

%d bloggers like this: