Are idioms that use ‘black’ and ‘white’ offensive?

Our blog posts about idioms are some of the most popular ones for our readers. Recently, we’ve posted two about idioms that use names for colours – the first one was Seeing red and green with envy, followed by Black sheep and white lies.

One of our readers commented on the second post: she wondered whether any of the expressions to do with the colours black and white were racist in origin. We replied, “Your instinct to examine the language is a good one, since there are so many words and phrases that have been used in the past which we now see are offensive. It’s also true that the words black and white can simply be used as names for colours, and they are widely used that way in many idioms. We don’t provide word origins on our website, but any words or phrases that are offensive have the label offensive. And we update the website frequently, so as the language changes, we also change the advice we give about using it.”

After that response, some people asked questions about other idioms that may be racist. Because we take very seriously our responsibility to help people use English accurately and effectively, we think it’s important to say more about this topic. You may want to look back at the Black sheep and white lies post because we will mention some of the idioms from that post here.

Continue reading “Are idioms that use ‘black’ and ‘white’ offensive?”

New words – 6 July 2020

Donald Iain Smith / Getty

virtual being noun [C]
UK /ˌvɜː.tʃu.əl.ˈbiː.ɪŋ/ US /ˌvɝː.tʃu.əl.ˈbiː.ɪŋ/
a computer program that takes the physical form of a human being and uses artificial intelligence to behave in a way that mimics a real person

According to Samsung, Neon is a “computationally created virtual being” which acts and looks like a “real human,” with the ability to “show emotions and intelligence.” Okay. Samsung is vehement in a press release that Neon is not a virtual assistant, helper app, or bot, but rather some kind of artificially intelligent digital “being” which can interact with real people in an unrehearsed and spontaneous manner.
[inputmag.com, 6 January 2020]

myco-architecture noun [U]
UK /ˌmaɪ.kəʊ.ˈɑː.kɪ.tek.tʃəʳ/ US /ˌmaɪ.kəʊ.ˈɑːr.kə.tek.tʃɚ/
the art and practice of designing and making buildings out of fungus

NASA researchers are investigating the potential of mycelia – the nutrient-absorbing, underground threads that make up a fungus’s main bulk – to help construct outposts on the moon and Mars … With the right conditions, say the researchers, they can be coaxed into making new structures, ranging from a material similar to leather to the building blocks for a Mars habitat. The NASA researchers call it myco-architecture.
[earthsky.org, 22 January 2020]

Gigabit City noun [C]
UK /ˌgɪg.ə.bɪt.ˈsɪt.i/ US /ˌgɪg.ə.bɪt..ˈsɪt̬.i/
a city that uses fibre optic technology to provide everyone who lives or works there with extremely fast broadband

The Stirling Gigabit City project forms part of CityFibre’s £2.5bn Gigabit City investment programme to bring full fibre to five million homes and businesses by 2025. … Councillor Scott Farmer, Leader of Stirling Council, said: “We are proud Stirling is well on its way to becoming the nation’s first completed Gigabit City project and believe it is the start of a huge digital opportunity for businesses and residents in the area.”
[cityfibre.com, 24 September 2019]

About new words

Playing up, showing off or letting someone down: phrasal verbs for bad behaviour (1)

Catherine Delahaye/Stone/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

It struck me recently that there are rather a lot of phrasal verbs connected with people behaving badly so I thought this might be a useful topic. In fact, there are so many of them that there will be two posts: this one on children’s behaviour and general bad behaviour and one on more serious wrongdoing such as violence, bullying and dishonesty.

Continue reading “Playing up, showing off or letting someone down: phrasal verbs for bad behaviour (1)”

New words – 29 June 2020

Fly View Productions / E+ / Getty

flexi-schooling noun [U]
/ˈflek.si.ˌskuːl.ɪŋ/
the teaching of children partly at home, usually by their parents, and partly at school

After checking with the local authority, she was able to authorise flexi-schooling as long as her school still “oversaw” Esme’s education. Basically, we had to keep St John’s informed of Esme’s “day off” so they could check she was safe and learning.
[telegraph.co.uk, 21 May 2020]

microschool noun [C]
UK /ˈmaɪ.krəʊ.skuːl/ US /ˈmaɪ.kroʊ.skuːl/
a private school with a very small number of pupils in each class

The push toward smaller, less institutionalized learning environments may also be a boost for the burgeoning microschool movement. Microschools usually operate out of homes or local community organizations and typically have no more than a dozen K-12 students, of varying ages.
[forbes.com, 11 May 2020]

adversity score noun [C]
UK /ədˈvɜː.sə.ti.skɔːʳ/ US /ədˈvɝː.sə.t̬i.skɔːr/
a number of points assigned to a student applying to go to university or college representing their social and economic background, designed to show the university or college what difficulties the student has overcome

The College Board has continually tried to revamp the SAT, attempting last year to introduce an “adversity score” that would take into account factors like a student’s neighborhood environment. The organization later pulled the plug after backlash.
[marketplace.org, 22 May 2020]

About new words

Black sheep and white lies (Idioms with colours, part 2)

Vic Ratnieks/Eye Em/Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

This is the second of two posts that focus on idioms that contain a word for a colour. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at blue, green and red idioms. This week, we’re rather monochrome, looking mainly at idioms with ‘black’ and ‘white’ in them.

The phrase in black and white is sometimes used to mean ‘in writing’, usually in the context of proof: I could scarcely believe it was true, but there it was, in black and white.

Continue reading “Black sheep and white lies (Idioms with colours, part 2)”

New words – 22 June

Adam Hester / The Image Bank / Getty

digital nutrition noun [U]
UK /ˌdɪdʒ.ɪ.tᵊl.njuːˈtrɪʃ.ᵊn/ US /ˌdɪdʒ.ə.t̬əl.nuːˈtrɪʃ.ᵊn/
the process of making sure that using mobile phones, computers etc. is not harmful for your physical and mental health

Unplugging won’t solve the root problem. It’s like doing a juice cleanse – you deny yourself and then you’ll go back online and eat a burger … Instead, think of your digital nutrition the same way you think of regular nutrition: instead of worrying about calories or minutes, concentrate on the quality of what you’re consuming.
[www.telegraph.co.uk, 6 January 2020]

infodemic noun [C]
UK /ˌɪn.fəʊ.ˈdem.ɪk/ US /ˌɪn.foʊ.ˈdem.ɪk/
a very large amount of information that is published about a particular problem, some of which is untrue, therefore making it more difficult to find a solution

The 2019-nCoV outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ – an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
[who.int, 2 February 2020]

phygital adjective
UK /ˈfɪdʒ.ɪ.tᵊl/ US /ˈfɪdʒ.ə.t̬ᵊl/
using a combination of physical and digital elements to sell and market a product

In light of lockdown the idea of ‘phygital’ strategy is being turned on its head. It’s no longer about splicing a digital element into physical experiences. More challenging perhaps, it’s now about bringing real physical connection to digital experiences.
[newdigitalage.co, 29 April 2020]

About new words

From darkness into the light: metaphors of darkness and light

Saranyu Unthiamson/EyeEm/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.’

‘In the midst of darkness, light persists.’

These quotes, from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, perfectly demonstrate the way darkness and light are used as metaphors in English (and many other languages), with darkness suggesting ignorance, evil and unhappiness and light signifying knowledge, purity and happiness. There are many common phrases that exemplify this, and this post will look at some of the most common ones.

Continue reading “From darkness into the light: metaphors of darkness and light”

New words – 15 June 2020

jim Schlett / iStock / Getty Images Plus

super bloom noun [C]
UK /ˈsuː.pə.bluːm/ US /ˈsuː.pɚ.bluːm/
the appearance of an unusually high number of wild flowers in a particular season

NASA has released a stunning series of images of a massive orange poppy super bloom in USA’s Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. The wildflowers have blossomed in such a massive scale that they are now visible from space.
[news18.com, 16 May 2020]

moon garden noun [C]
UK /ˌmuːn.ˈgɑː.dᵊn/ US /ˌmuːn.ˈgɑːr.dᵊn/
a garden that has been designed to be enjoyed at night

Night pollinators such as moths, native bees and bats are attracted to plants in a moon garden with white and pale-colored flowers that are intensely fragrant and produce a lot of nectar. As you walk through the moon garden, you can watch these varied and industrious third-shift pollinators as they go about their important work.
[familyhandyman.com, 14 May 2020]

vegan gardening noun [U]
UK /ˌviː.gən.ˈgɑː.dᵊn.ɪŋ/ US /ˌviː.gən.ˈgɑːr.dᵊn.ɪŋ/
the practice of growing plants without using any animal products

In vegan gardening, you have to be mindful of what you put on your crops. Animal manures used to help plants grow can be contaminated with infectious diseases such as E coli and listeria, as well as persistent herbicides.
[guardian.com, 26 January 2019]

About new words

Seeing red and green with envy (Idioms with colours, part 1)

Flashpop/Stone/Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

Idioms are sometimes easier to remember when they create a vivid image in your mind. The English idioms in this post all contain a word for a colour which might help you to commit them to memory.

Continue reading “Seeing red and green with envy (Idioms with colours, part 1)”

New words – 8 June 2020

Prapass Pulsub / Moment / Getty

cleanliness theatre noun [U]
UK /ˈklen.li.nəs.θɪə.təʳ/ US /ˈklen.li.nəs.θiː.ə.t̬ɚ/
the practice of cleaning public buildings and other places in a very obvious way so that the users of those buildings and places feel reassured about how clean they are

Housekeeping will play a pivotal role for numerous hotels in the years to come, so please consider how you can utilize the concept of cleanliness theatre so guests can see and appreciate all the hard work you’ve done to ensure their safety.
[hoteliermagazine.com, 4 May 2020]

air bridge noun [C]
UK /ˌeə.ˈbrɪdʒ/ US /ˌer.ˈbrɪdʒ/
a flight route between two countries where the covid-19 virus is well controlled, enabling people to travel without having to go into quarantine afterwards

The possibility of going abroad for a summer holiday this year has been ambitious at best, but Brits have now been given renewed hope thanks to the prospect of “air bridges” .
[scotsman.com, 21 May 2020]

double bubble noun [C]
/ˌdʌb.əl.ˈbʌb.əl/
the people from two separate households who are allowed to see each other as part of the gradual easing of restrictions during the covid-19 pandemic

In particular, social bubbles are a way to support Canadians experiencing mental-health issues due to the loneliness of isolation as well as parents who are desperate for help with childcare. But even if you fall into neither of those groups, a double bubble means some long-awaited social interactions.
[refinery29.com, 13 May 2020]

About new words