Commenting on developments in the English language
Author: Kate Woodford
I'm a freelance lexicographer and writer, living in Cambridge, UK. I worked for many years on Cambridge University Press’s range of ELT dictionaries and now work with Liz Walter on dictionary and non-dictionary titles. My other interests include fashion, cooking, child-rearing, BBC Radio 4 and the quirks and peculiarities of the English language.
This week we return to animal idioms, starting with the humble – and often irritating! – fly. Though small in size, the fly appears in a surprisingly large number of common idioms. To describe someone who is very gentle and who never offends or hurts others, you might say they wouldn’t hurt a fly:
One thing that we aim to do on this blog is look at the many different ways we express the same thing in English. This week we’re focusing on words that have the basic meaning of ‘obvious’. As you know, near-synonyms can be different from each other in a number of ways. Many of the synonyms that we will look at here are different because of the things that they usually describe and the words that they are often combined with. Continue reading “Glaring errors and patent nonsense: ways of saying that things are obvious”→
Today we’re looking at idioms and expressions from a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. We do this every couple of months as a way of supplying you with up-to-date, frequently used idioms.
One newspaper describes the UK Prime Minister’s plans for leaving the EU as ‘a leap of faith’. Leap of faith refers to the act of believing in something when you have no real reason to believe that it is true or will happen.
In the news pages of a different paper, a journalist remarks that the Prime Minister’s advice to members of her own party will ‘fall on deaf ears’. If a suggestion or warningfalls on deaf ears, no one listens to it.
Another tabloid is confident that the plans for Brexit will succeed and says it will be ‘full steam ahead’ for the UK after the leaving date. If you say it’s full steam ahead in relation to a particular project or piece of work, you mean that it will be started with great energy and enthusiasm.
The same paper also warns politicians that if they oppose the Prime Minister’s plan, they ‘can kiss goodbye to their jobs and their party’. If you say that someone can kiss goodbye to something desirable, you mean they should accept that they will not have it.
Thankfully, Brexit isn’t the only topic being discussed in the papers! The fashion pages of one newspaper feature an article on ‘vegan style’: that is, clothes that contain no animal products, such as leather or wool. ‘Green is the new black!’, it claims. The statement […] is the new blackis used to say that something is now very fashionable. (‘Green’ here refers to clothes made in a way that does not harm the environment.)
On the sports pages of the same paper, it is written that a series of defeats have ‘taken their toll on’ the manager of a Premier League football team. If problems take their toll or take a toll on someone, they cause them harm or suffering.
A sports journalist in another newspaper writes about a football club that has recently criticized another club for using dishonest techniques to improve their game. The journalist describes the first club as ‘getting on their high horse’. If you get on your high horse, you speak or behave as if you are better than someone else when, in reality, you are not.
Still in the sports pages, another writer says a previously successful football team is now looking like ‘a spent force’. A spent force refers to someone or something that does not now have the power or ability that they used to have.
Last month we looked at the language of planning and making arrangements. Sadly, not everything in life goes according to plan (=happens as intended) and it is wise to keep this in mind when making arrangements! This post, then, focuses on planning words and phrases that relate to problems.
A contingency is something that you know might happen in the future which would cause problems and require further arrangements:
Our Cambridge Dictionary Facebook page recently featured a post on portmanteau words or blends. These are words formed by combining two other words, such as Brexit (short for ‘British exit’) and brunch (a combination of ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’).
Some blends have existed for a long time. ‘Brunch’, for instance, originated as long ago as the late 19th century. Others were invented more recently. (Although it sometimes seems as if the word ‘Brexit’ has existed forever, it was actually invented as recently as 2012!) Here we look at relatively recent blends in the English language.
Let’s start with food and eating. The blend flexitarian (=flexible + vegetarian) reflects a recent trend away from meat eating. It refers to a person who eats mainly vegetarian food and only now and then eats meat: On page 5, ten health benefits of a flexitarian diet.
The word mocktail, (=mock + cocktail) which has been around a little longer, means ‘a cocktail containing no alcohol’: Customers can enjoy a range of cocktails and mocktails.
Meanwhile, a person who is feeling a little angry or impatient because they haven’t eaten for a while may now be described informally as hangry (= hungry + angry): Just before lunch, he tends to get a bit hangry.
As you might imagine, fashion has generated blends. Jeggings (= jeans + leggings) are tight trousers made from a stretchy material that looks like denim: I went for comfort – jeggings and a sweatshirt.
Skort or skorts (=skirt + shorts), meanwhile, refers to a pair of shorts with a piece of material across the front that gives the appearance of a skirt: I wear a skort for tennis.
Leisure also has a few recent blend words. In the UK, glamping (=glamorous + camping) refers to a more luxurious and stylish form of camping that involves comfortable chairs and beds, heating, etc: Browse our range of glamping options.
A staycation(=stay + vacation) is a holiday that you take at home or near your home, rather than a long distance away: There’s always the more economical staycation option.
Cosplay (=costume + play) is the activity of dressing as and pretending to be a character from a film, comic book, etc: Cosplay conventions have become big business.
A blend that is often heard in relation to celebrities and other public figures is bromance. This informal term – a blend of ‘bro’/‘brother’ and ‘romance’ – refers humorously to a close, friendly relationship between two men. The apparent bromance between the two leaders has been remarked on in the press.
Continuing with men, the disapproving term mansplain(=man + explain) has emerged in the past few years. If a man mansplains to a woman, he explains something that she already understands: I’ve just had a guy mansplain my own job to me!
Have you heard or read any other blend words recently?
We tell each other things all the time, whether it’s our news, some important information or just interesting facts. This week we’re focusing on the language that we use to describe giving information.
Starting with a really useful phrasal verb, if you pass on a message or a piece of news that someone has told you, you tell it to someone else:
Remember to pass on my message to Ted.
No one passed the news on to me.
The verb relay means the same: He heard the announcement and immediately relayed the news to his colleagues.
Sometimes we pass on information to lots of people. The verb spread is often used for this. It frequently comes before the nouns gossip andrumour:
I hope you’re not spreading gossip, Alice!
He’d apparently been spreading rumours about her around the school.
‘Spread’ is also used intransitively to describe the way that information quickly becomes known by lots of people: So why does fake news spread so quickly?
The verb circulateis also used in this way: News of her retirement quickly circulated around the office.
Another verb meaning ‘to tell information to a lot of people’ is broadcast. People use it especially about information that they would prefer to be private: I’d rather my news wasn’t broadcast to the entire office!
The more formal verb disseminate is also used, but without the negative meaning: One of the organization’s aims is to disseminate information about the disease.
He wouldn’t reveal what was written in the letter.
When asked, she refused to divulge her salary.
They made an agreement not to disclose any details.
An informal phrasal verb with this meaning is let on. If you let on, you tell others about something secret: Please don’t let on that I told you she’s leaving!
Another phrasal verb is blurt out. If you blurt out a secret fact, you say it suddenly and without thinking, usually because you’re nervous or excited: I was supposed to be keeping it secret and then I just blurted it out!