Sweltering, torrential and gusty: interesting words for talking about weather.

by Liz Walter

Paulien Tabak/EyeEm/Getty

Most students learn words for weather quite early in their studies. It’s easy to stick with well-known phrases such as sunny day or heavy rain, but there is a lot of more interesting vocabulary associated with the weather, as you would expect for one of the world’s favourite topics of conversation! In this post, I offer some suggestions for expanding your range of weather vocabulary.

Let’s start with temperature. Very hot weather can be described as scorching, sweltering or boiling. If it is the kind of heat that makes you feel as if you can’t breathe, it is stifling or oppressive. At the other end of the scale, we can describe very cold weather as freezing, bitter or even bone-chilling if we find it unpleasant. Wintry weather is also cold, but this is not necessarily a negative description – it can be used for a pleasant snowy or icy day. In between these two extremes, mild is a positive adjective for weather that is not particularly hot but not too cold either. Continue reading “Sweltering, torrential and gusty: interesting words for talking about weather.”

New words – 24 April 2017

Shestock/Blend Images/Getty Images

heartfulness noun [U]
UK /ˈhɑːt.fᵊl.nəs/ US /ˈhɑːrt.fᵊl.nəs/
a type of meditation that involves being aware of your heart, thought to create a feeling of calm

Heartfulness is a simple and effective way to integrate meditation into our daily life. The heartfulness technique shows us to gently turn our attention towards our heart and experience that inner presence for ourselves.
[www.active.com, 03.01.2017]

gratitude journal noun [C]
UK /ˈgræt.ɪ.tʃuːdˌdʒɜː.nᵊl/ US /ˈgræt̬.ə.tuːdˌdʒɝː.nᵊl/
a written record of good things that have happened each day

This isn’t an ordinary diary, but my gratitude journal. I don’t record the seasons or churn through my feelings for profound conclusions. Each night, just before bed, I simply write a list of the three most wonderful things that have happened in the last 24 hours.
[Sunday Telegraph, 21.01.2017]

Buddha diet noun [U]
UK /ˈbʊd.əˌdaɪ.ət/ US /ˈbʊd.əˌdaɪ.ət/
a type of eating plan in which someone eats only during a nine-hour period each day and not at any other time, in order to lose body weight

A new concept from California based on ancient principles in which monks confined eating to a nine-hour window, the Buddha diet is supposed to help you get back in tune with your natural hunger cycle, rather than succumb to constant snacking.
[Metro, 19.01.2017]

About new words

I messed up! (Phrasal verbs for problems)

by Kate Woodford

Bjorn Vinter/UpperCut Images/Getty

Last month we focused on words and phrases that are used to describe problems and difficult situations. This week we’re looking specifically at phrasal verbs in this area. In a week or so, we’ll look at a group of phrasal verbs that describe how we deal with these situations. (Did you see what I did there?)

The machines that we use in daily life can cause problems for us and when they do, we often describe the problem with a phrasal verb. If a machine or vehicle breaks down, it stops working: Her car broke down on the way to work. If a machine or engine cuts out, it suddenly stops working: Without any warning, the engine just cut out. Meanwhile, if a piece of equipment plays up, it doesn’t work as it should: Ah, my laptop’s playing up again! You can also describe a part of the body as ‘playing up’, meaning that it is hurting or not functioning as it should. (In this sense, ‘play up’ can be transitive as well as intransitive in British English.): His knee’s been playing (him) up again. Lastly, a computer system that goes down stops working for a period: The computers went down and we were unable to work for three hours. Continue reading “I messed up! (Phrasal verbs for problems)”

New words – 17 April 2017

Joos Mind/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Ikea effect noun [U]
UK /aɪ.ˈkiːə.ɪˌfekt/ US /aɪ.ˈkiːə.əˌfekt/
the tendency to like something more if you have built or created it yourself

There’s a phenomenon in psychology known as the “Ikea effect”. Putting together Ikea furniture makes people like it more, and what holds true for … Swedish furniture can also be applied to our lives more broadly. When we devote ourselves to difficult but worthwhile tasks, our lives feel more significant.
[Red magazine, February 2017]

catio noun [C]
UK /ˈkæt.i.əʊ/ US /ˈkæt̬.i.əʊ/
an enclosed area outside a house for pet cats

What, cynics may ask, distinguishes a “catio” from a “screened-in porch”? They clearly haven’t seen the catwalks that wind around Dan Reeder’s Seattle house and yard … with, as he wrote on his blog, “everything a cat could want in that place, including a catnip plant.”
[Washington Post, 31.08.2016]

twodio noun [C]
UK /ˈtjuː.di.əʊ/ US /ˈtuː.di.oʊ/
a small apartment with one large room for sleeping and living in, a bathroom, and a kitchen that is shared with another apartment

You will have heard of studio apartments, but you might not have heard of the twodios. The contemporary-looking accommodation is set up like part flat, part university halls … the residents get a private room and en-suite bathroom, no bills and a cleaner. The kitchen is shared between two.
[Metro, 02.05.2016]

About new words

Accept or except? Affect or effect? Spelling words that sound similar.

by Liz Walter

Michelle Patrick/EyeEm/Getty

A reader of one of my recent posts asked for an explanation of the difference between aught and ought. Aught is a very old-fashioned word, found mainly in old literature or poetry. Strangely, it can mean ‘anything’ or ‘nothing’, depending on the context. Ought is both a less common spelling of aught and (much more importantly) a very common modal verb, used in sentences such as: You ought to take more exercise.

In reality, most people go through their whole lives without ever using the word aught, so they are not likely to confuse the two. However, the question made me think about more common words that my students (and also many mother-tongue speakers) often muddle up. Continue reading “Accept or except? Affect or effect? Spelling words that sound similar.”

New words – 10 April 2017


woonerf noun [C]
UK /ˈvəʊn.ɜːf/ US /ˈvoʊn.ɝːf/
a road in which drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and local residents share the same space, and where measures designed to slow traffic have been implemented

Woonerf originated in Holland as a term to describe areas where walking, cycling, playing, and socializing occurred between houses and traffic oriented streets. Woonerfs have since been adapted to more commercialized settings in North America.
[www.urbansystems.ca, 11 January 2017]

pork-chop island noun [C] UK /ˌpɔːk.tʃɒp ‘aɪ.lənd/ US /ˌpɔːrk.tʃɑːp ‘aɪ.lənd/
a triangle-shaped area at an intersection between two roads

The idea behind the design is to allow pedestrians to use the north-, south-, and east-leg crosswalks without interrupting traffic making a westbound right turn. Once pedestrians reach the pork-chop island, they will be able to press a light signal that will make incoming traffic stop for a set amount of time.
[www.independent.com, 15 July 2016]

iceberg basement noun [C] UK /ˈaɪs.bɜːg ˌbeɪs.mənt/ US /ˈaɪs.bɝːg ˌbeɪs.mənt/
a part of a building consisting of several storeys built below ground level

Claridge’s, the luxury hotel, has submitted plans for a five-storey iceberg basement including a swimming pool, gym and wine store. 
[The Telegraph, 07 September 2016]

About new words

Phrasal verbs for reading

by Kate Woodford

Rekha Garton/DigitalVision/Getty

Sometimes we read to find out information and at other times, we read simply for pleasure. We may read the whole of a text or only parts of it. To describe the different ways in which we read, we often use phrasal verbs. This week, then, we take a look at those ‘reading’ phrasal verbs, focusing on the slight differences in meaning between them.

Starting with phrases for reading only parts of a book or magazine, etc., there are a number of phrasal verbs with the particle ‘through’ that describe the action of quickly turning several pages of a book or magazine, looking briefly at the text or pictures:

I was flicking through a glossy magazine.

I flipped through their catalogue while I was waiting. Continue reading “Phrasal verbs for reading”

New words – 3 April 2017

Nadore/iStock/Getty Images Plus

knafeh noun [U] /næ.ˈfiː/
a dish, originally from the Middle East, consisting of layers of pastry and soft cheese, soaked in sugar syrup

London is going crazy for knafeh – a Middle Eastern sweet treat with layers of cheesy pastry soaked in sugar syrup. Try it sprinkled with pistachios at The Barbary or at Arabica Bar and Kitchen.
[Sainsbury’s Magazine, January 2017]

raindrop cake noun [C] UK /ˈreɪn.drɒp ˌkeɪk/ US /ˈreɪn.drɑːp ˌkeɪk/
a translucent Japanese dessert made from mineral water and a type of gelatine

It’s translucent, delicate and fresh-tasting. Meet the raindrop cake, a calorie-free, mineral water-based gastronomic oddity that our friends on the other side of the Atlantic can’t get enough of.
[www.en.vogue.fr, 20.04.2016]

seitan noun [U] /ˈseɪ.tæn/
a substance made of wheat that is used in cooking instead of meat

Also referred to as ‘wheat meat’ or ‘gluten meat’, seitan is high in protein and has a look and texture similar to meat when cooked. This means it makes a better ‘mock meat’ than soybean based alternatives like tofu, and you’ll find it in restaurants as a veggie version of chicken wings.
[www.bbc.goodfood.com, December 2016]

About new words

April fool – the language of jokes and tricks

by Liz Walter


April 1st is known in many Western countries as ‘April Fool’s Day’. The idea is to trick other people, to try to make them believe things that are not true. If you succeed, you shout ‘April fool!’ at the person you have tricked. In honour of April Fool’s Day, this post will look at some words and phrases connected with this custom.

One important thing is to remember that we play tricks on someone (we don’t ‘make’ or ‘do’ them). The tricks are often practical jokes (using actions instead of words), and they are almost always harmless – they are intended to be fun. Other words for this kind of trick are prank or hoax, although the word ‘hoax’ can also be used for more serious, unpleasant tricks in the same way as the words fraud or deceit. Continue reading “April fool – the language of jokes and tricks”

New words – 27 March 2017


beditate verb [I] /ˈbed.ɪ.teɪt/
to meditate in bed

Beditating on waking allows the fight-or-flight response to calm down, thus widening the perceptual field. It’s a kind of turbo rest, and one that you’re not going to get by reaching for your phone, drinking coffee or alcohol, watching television, or even reading.
[The Sunday Times, 08 January 2017]

heli-yoga noun [U] UK /ˈhel.ɪ.jəʊ.gə/ US ˈhel.ə.joʊ.gə
the activity of taking a helicopter to an isolated outdoor location and doing a yoga session there

Sin City is the jumping-off point for heli-yoga, the zen practise [sic] of taking a helicopter flight to an Insta-worthy location, to unfurl your yoga mat and knock out a few sun salutations.
[Telegraph, 26 November 2016]

lagom noun [U] UK /lɑ:ˈgɒm/ US /lɑ:ˈgɑ:m/
a Swedish word meaning ‘just enough’, especially when relating to one’s lifestyle

There’s a new Scandi buzzword in town and its name is lagom – living in moderation, sustainably and heeding the importance of ‘just enough’ … While we’re not ready to give up our hygge-tastic faux fur throw just yet we also like the sound of some lagom-style equilibrium in our lives.
[Metro, 12 January 2017]

About new words