Knee-high to a grasshopper: words and phrases that mean ‘young’.

FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Over the last couple of months I’ve written about words and phrases for being old or old-fashioned, so now it’s time to look at the opposite. I’ll start with expressions connected with being young.

We often describe very young children as small or little: There were lots of little children at the show. A small child sat alone in the corner. However, to talk about someone’s younger brother or sister, you always need to use little, not ‘small’: That’s Brad’s little sister.

Continue reading “Knee-high to a grasshopper: words and phrases that mean ‘young’.”

New words – 18 June 2018

3DSculptor/iStock/Getty Images Plus

space fever noun [U]
UK /ˈspeɪsˌfiː.vəʳ/ US /ˈspeɪsˌfiː.vɚ/
a medical condition in which an astronaut’s body temperature is higher than usual because of the effects of weightlessness

“This space fever, as we may call it, has potential implications for long-term space flights in terms of astronauts’ health, wellbeing and support,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports.
[, 6 January 2018]

space gene noun [C]
a part of the DNA in the human body that undergoes significant change when the person is in space

Scientists are looking for what they’re calling a “space gene.” By sequencing the RNA in the twins’ white blood cells, researchers found more than 200,000 RNA molecules that were expressed differently between the brothers. It is normal for twins to have unique mutations in their genome, but scientists are “looking closer to see if a ‘space gene’ could have been activated while Scott was in space,” according to NASA.
[, 1 February 2017]

space sculpture noun [C]
UK /ˈspeɪsˌskʌlp.tʃəʳ/ US /ˈspeɪsˌskʌlp.tʃɚ/
an object made from a heat-resistant material launched into space as a piece of art

An artificial diamond is set to light up the night sky as part of a new art project. Orbital Reflector is a ‘space sculpture’ constructed of a lightweight material similar to Mylar. It is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX rocket in 2018, and its creator says once it inflates 350 miles above Earth, it will be visible with the naked eye.
[, 29 September 2017]

About new words

The group of death and the underdog (The language of the World Cup)

ViewApart / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

With the FIFA World Cup just one day away, we thought you might like to brush up on (=improve what you know about) your tournament vocabulary.

Let’s start by getting up to date. The qualification phase ended in November 2017. In this period, the various countries’ national teams played against each other in order to qualify for (= succeed in getting into) the tournament. From a field of 211, a total of 31 teams qualified, ‘field’ here meaning ‘all the people or teams in a competition’. As always happens, the host nation (= country where the World Cup takes place – this year, Russia) qualified automatically. The resulting 32 teams were put into eight groups of four teams.

The next phase – the ‘tournament phase’ or ‘group stage’ – will kick off in Moscow on June 14th when the host nation will face Saudi Arabia.  During the month that follows, all the teams in each group will play against each other. The two top-scoring teams from each group will then go through to the next phase and the bottom two, sadly, will leave the competition. During this phase, people often use the expression ‘the group of death’ to refer to a group that stands out because it has more talented teams than any other. This year may be a little different, however, as many of the teams that would usually be considered the favourites to win, for example Italy, Chile and Cameroon, did not qualify for the tournament.

The 16 finishers of the group stages will now enter the second and final stage of the World Cup – the knockout stage. In the first round, the winner of each group will face the runner-up of another group and the winners of those matches will then go through to the quarter finals.  In this nail-biting phase, teams are knocked out (= removed from the tournament after a defeat). The two losing teams of the semi-finals will take part in a playoff in order to decide third place. In the knockout stage, if a match ends in a draw (=equal points), two 15-minute periods of extra time are played. If the score is still level, a penalty shoot-out decides the winner, each team taking turns to have a set number of kicks at the goal.

So who do you hope will lift the World Cup trophy on July 15th? Is it the defending champions (= team who won the last tournament), Germany, or one of the other favourites to win? Perhaps you’ll be supporting the underdog (= team least likely to win) or one of the debut (= first time) nations, Panama or Iceland. Whoever you support, have a fabulous World Cup!

New words – 11 June 2018


workleisure noun [U]
UK /ˈwɜːk.leʒ.əʳ/ US /ˈwɝːk.liː.ʒɚ/
a fashionable style of clothing that is as comfortable as leisurewear but also formal enough for wearing to work

Simply put, workleisure is office-appropriate clothing that feels like your favorite yoga pants. Think comfortable and stylish.This game-changing wardrobe category is made of technical, durable materials. You can expect incredibly stretchy, low-maintenance fabrics cut into flattering work/dinner/happy hour-appropriate pieces.
[, 20 November 2017]

schmoo noun [C]
a jumper without a hole for the head to go through, intended to be wrapped around the wearer’s shoulders

August is always silly season, but the fashion industry doesn’t always join in with such humorous abandon. We haven’t even gotten to the schmoo yet. The what? Oh, it’s a jumper – minus the traditional hole for your head to go through – designed to be worn over the shoulders for extra warmth. “It’s like a child’s security blanket,” schmoo inventor Michael Kors said after his New York show in which they debuted.
[The Pool, 17 August 2017]

drouser noun [C]
UK /ˈdraʊ.zəʳ/ US /ˈdraʊ.zɚ/
an item of clothing comprising a dress attached to a pair of trousers

You know how sometimes you can’t make up your mind about wearing a dress or a trouser? Now, you can wear both at the same time. Yes, a hybrid clothing item consisting of the two is now a trend. Don’t confuse it with putting on a skirt over a pair of pants though. The drouser, as it is termed, is one garment by itself. Just have a look at the designs by Elie Saab for the Spring 2017 Haute Couture runway.
[, 25 February 2017]

About new words

It’s nowhere near as good: modifying comparisons

serdjophoto / E+ / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about how to form comparatives and superlatives. However, there are many occasions when we don’t simply want to say that one person or thing has more or less of a particular quality than another: we want to say how much more or less they have. That is when we need to modify our comparisons.

The most common way to talk about big differences is by using the word much: My pizza’s much bigger than yours. This book is much more interesting. We use far or a lot in the same way: My new computer is far smaller than my old one. It’s a lot less expensive to travel by bus. Very much or a good deal are slightly more formal: He seems very much happier now. Her new job is a good deal more demanding.

Continue reading “It’s nowhere near as good: modifying comparisons”

New words – 4 June 2018

NikkiZalewski/iStock/Getty Images Plus

astral divorce noun [C]
UK /ˈæs.trəl.dɪˈvɔːs/ US /ˈæs.trəl.dɪˈvɔːrs/
a type of therapy session during which someone is helped to move on from a past relationship that is still causing them unhappiness

Astral divorces are a “cutting of ties and contacts” with a past relationship and are performed by psychics. The aim is to rid you of old, residual energy from an ex that may be holding you back and to help move you into a new phase of your life, ready for love again.
[Sunday Times, 10 September 2017]

LAT noun [U]
abbreviation for living apart together: a type of close romantic relationship where the partners choose not to live together

Recent research demonstrates that there are other ways of establishing long-lasting, high-quality relationships without committing to marriage or living together. However, U.S. society has yet to recognize LAT as a legitimate choice. If more people—young and old, married or not—saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache.”
[, 9 February 2017]

stashing noun [U]
the practice of not telling anyone about the person with whom you are in a romantic relationship

Stashing is a super fun dating trend in which someone is dating someone else, but has decided to hide them away from everyone in their life … A victim of stashing is hidden from every other part of the stasher’s life – from their tagged photos to their casual chats with their parents. Why? Because that way, they’re able to pretend that they’re not really dating the person they’re stashing, meaning they can justify getting with other people, doing whatever they fancy, and being generally inconsiderate and awful.
[Metro, 19 August 2017]

About new words

A glimmer of hope (The language of hope)

Marko Nikolic / EyeEm / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

For many of us, spring – the season of new beginnings – is a time of great hope. With the flowers and trees in bloom and the temperature rising, it’s a time for feeling positive about the future. With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at words and phrases related to hope.

Starting with the verb ‘hope’, people sometimes emphasize how much they hope for something by saying they hope and pray that something will happen: I just hope and pray that she’s well enough on the day to take the exam. If you say you hope against hope that something will happen, you very much hope for it, although you know it is not likely: We’re just hoping against hope that the police catch the burglar.

The noun ‘hope’ features in a few useful phrases. If you pin (all) your hopes on someone or something, you depend on that person or thing to bring success, usually when everyone or everything else has failed: We’re pinning our hopes on the new technology. If you don’t hold out hope that something good will happen, you don’t expect that it will happen: Few people hold out any hope of finding more survivors. Meanwhile, a glimmer of hope or ray of hope is a very slight sign that something good might happen in the future: Do these sales figures offer a glimmer of hope for the company?

The adjective hopeful means ‘feeling hope’: He’s fairly hopeful that they can reach an agreement. It can also mean ‘giving feelings of hope’: There are one or two hopeful signs that the situation is improving. We use the adjective positive in a similar way: We’re seeing some very positive developments. When a future situation is hopeful, we sometimes describe it as brightThings are starting to look brighter for the UK economy. / She has a bright future ahead of her.

The adjective optimistic describes someone who is hopeful about the future and believes that good things will happen: I remain optimistic about the future of humanity.  People sometimes describe themselves as cautiously optimistic about a particular situation, meaning that they are mainly hopeful but accept that there will be difficulties: I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the company. The adjective bullish describes someone who feels hopeful that something will be successful and expresses this in a very definite way: The team’s coach was in a bullish mood when we spoke. Finally, a formal word for ‘hopeful’ is sanguine: She is less sanguine about the prospects for smaller companies.

We trust you are feeling hopeful this week.






New words – 28 May 2018

Hero Images/Getty

parennial noun [C]
a parent who is a member of the millennial generation, born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s

Parennials spent their formative years steeped in personal technology. As a result they’re “high-information parents,” said Rebecca Parlakian, the program director for Zero to Three, an organization that has been studying new parents since 1977. “The good news is that parents know more about child development than ever before,” she said. “Google is the new grandparent, the new neighbor, the new nanny.”
[New York Times, 4 November 2017]

monster parent noun [C]
UK /ˈmɒn.stə.ˌpeə.rᵊnt/ US /ˈmɑːn.stɚ.ˌper.ᵊnt/
a parent who is excessively authoritarian and over-protective, and who tends to interfere in their children’s education

The monster parent has become a worryingly prevalent archetype in Hong Kong, and the problem appears to be worsening, experts say … Dr Ian Lam Chun-bun, associate professor and associate head in the department of early childhood education at the Education University, acknowledged that the stereotypical monster parent was becoming increasingly common. “I think it is a phenomenon that is intensifying in Hong Kong,” he said.
[South China Morning Post, 22 July 2017]

daddymoon noun [C]
a holiday taken by a man who is about to become a father, as a supposed last chance to relax with friends before the birth of his child

He found out about the concept from his buddy, J. C. Simbana, who went on his own daddymoon in Las Vegas last year, before the birth of his son. “Obviously baby showers are something that are in place and have been done for a while,” Mr. Simbana, 41, said. “I was looking for a way to celebrate with my friends, this transition in my life.”
[New York Times, 30 October 2017]

About new words

Out of the blue (Words and phrases for unexpected events)

PeopleImages / DigitalVision / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

Many of the things that happen to us are expected or even planned but some are not. Some of these unexpected events are welcome while others are less so. In this post, we take a look at the words and phrases that we use to relate events that happen when we are least expecting them.

Starting with a really useful idiom, something that happens out of the blue is completely unexpected: Then one day, out of the blue, she announced she was leaving. Two very useful, less idiomatic, phrases with a similar meaning are all of a sudden and all at once. Both mean ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’: All of a sudden, she collapsed. / All at once there was a loud crashing noise.

An event that catches/takes you by surprise shocks or confuses you because it happens suddenly when you are not prepared for it: The strength of the storm caught many residents by surprise. A similar expression is to catch someone off guard: Her remark caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond. The expression to catch/take someone unawares has a similar meaning, but sometimes has the additional meaning of ‘to embarrass someone because they are not prepared’: A gust of wind caught me unawares and scattered my papers everywhere.

Someone or something that comes out of nowhere or from nowhere appears suddenly and unexpectedly: Suddenly, out of nowhere a huge, grey dog bounded up to us. A similar expression is out of thin air: I hadn’t seen him approaching. He seemed to appear out of thin air.

A phrase that people sometimes use after reporting a sudden and unexpected event is just like that. It emphasizes how shocking the event was: That afternoon, he left the house and never returned, just like that.

Moving on to single words, bad things (for example, earthquakes, disasters and tragedies) strike when they suddenly and unexpectedly happen: Halfway through the flight, disaster struck. / The earthquake struck at 3 o’clock in the morning when most people were fast asleep.

If you spring something on someone, you suddenly and without warning  announce it: I’ll give you warning of any tests. I won’t just spring them on you. Things that spring up, suddenly and unexpectedly start to exist: Cafes and other small businesses keep springing up along this street. Another phrasal verb in this area is turn up. Unlike many words and phrases in this post, this has a positive meaning! An opportunity that turns up becomes available unexpectedly: This job turned up just when I needed it.


New words – 21 May 2018

Chin Ping, Goh/Moment/Getty

monkey dumpling noun [C]
a group of macaque monkeys standing very close together in order to stay warm

When temperatures drop, macaques often huddle together to pool their body heat, forming what’s known as a saru dango, or “monkey dumpling.” This behavior is common among the 23 species of macaques, all of which form complex matriarchal societies. It is especially important for Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), which live in colder climates than any other primate aside from humans. On frigid days, their need for warmth clearly outweighs their desire for personal space.
[, 29 June 2017]

starballing noun [U]
UK /ˈstɑː.bɔːl.ɪŋ/ US /ˈstɑːr.bɑːl.ɪŋ/
the phenomenon where starfish curl themselves into a spherical shape and get carried along the seabed by tidal currents

Researchers at Plymouth University observed the species Asterias rubens rolling along the seabed with arms curled into a spheroid shape – a phenomenon they’ve termed “starballing”. It is not yet known whether the technique is a deliberate one that helps the otherwise slow-moving species to change their location, but some were recorded raising a single arm into the water column prior to moving as if to test the conditions.
[The Press and Journal, 13 April 2017]

dog manor noun [C]
UK /ˈdɒg.mæn.əʳ/ US /ˈdɑːg.mæn.ɚ/
a luxurious shelter for a dog to sleep in outside

Our customers and their dogs typically live indoors so we see our dog manor as an extra that gives a pet more comfort – it is the dog’s own house that has all the comforts of an indoor living room, making the whole experience of staying outdoors more fun and enjoyable.
[, 13 June 2017]

About new words