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. Continue reading “Do-it-yourselfie”

I learn, you learn, he/she/it learns…

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. Continue reading “I learn, you learn, he/she/it learns…”

How rich is a billionaire?

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. Continue reading “How rich is a billionaire?”

Tree huggers and climate change deniers

by Colin McIntosh​
tree huggers
The climate debate is one that has predictably generated a large amount of new vocabulary, some of it originally specialized scientific terminology that has been taken up by the media and is now common currency. Some of these terms are new additions to the Cambridge English Dictionary.

The two opposing sides in the climate change debate have given each other labels that encapsulate their very different outlooks. Tree hugger is the epithet applied to someone who is very ​interested in ​protecting the ​environment, usually used with a humorous intention by those who disagree with giving it special protection. And tree huggers can label their opponents climate change deniers, i.e. people who refuse to accept that the earth’s climate is warming, or, if they do, that this is due to human influence. Continue reading “Tree huggers and climate change deniers”

Out of Africa

by Colin McIntosh​
out of africa
A recent discovery off the coast of the island of Taiwan, made by local fishermen, is causing scientists to re-examine their ideas about early humans. The skull of a male human, now nicknamed Penghu Man, was found to differ significantly from the skulls of the Homo Erectus species previously known in the area at the same time. Did the new jaw belong to a new species? Or was it the property of an individual of the species Homo sapiens, recently arrived in China from Africa? This is just one of the stream of news stories that appear regularly in the media, reflecting a natural human curiosity about where we come from. This area of popular science has a large literature and a growing readership.

Several new words from the terminology of palaeoanthropology have recently entered the Cambridge English Dictionary, reflecting this increased interest.

Some of these are derived from the Latin word homo, meaning ‘man’ or ‘human’. The word Homo itself is applied to the ​genus (a group of species) that ​includes ​modern ​humans and other ​extinct ​human ​species. Hominin and hominid have had an interesting change in meaning, now reflected in the Dictionary. Previously the word hominid was used to refer to a member of a human species; this meaning has now been taken over by hominin. Hominid is now used by scientists to include all of the great apes, including gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos (a new entry to the Dictionary, reflecting their acceptance as a separate species from chimpanzees), and orang-utan, as well as humans. Continue reading “Out of Africa”

What’s on the box tonight?

by Colin McIntosh​
This question used to be heard frequently in the homes of Britain: the box is an informal British word for the TV. It’s starting to sound old-fashioned now – does anyone still say it? It seems a little strange to call an enormous flat-screen TV, less than a centimetre from front to back, a box. The new world of HDTV (high-definition television) and smart TVs (using the internet to provide content) has generated some interesting new vocabulary, some of it appearing for the first time in the Cambridge English Dictionary.

One thing that has affected the way we watch TV is the arrival of catch-up TV and on-demand TV. No longer do we need to struggle to set the VCR (videocassette recorder, for those too young to remember). Now, thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want. By the way, videocassette recorder was not included in the most recent edition of the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, squeezed out to make room for more relevant new entries. If you miss it, though, you can still find it on Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Continue reading “What’s on the box tonight?”

Hashtag social media

by Colin McIntosh​

Five years ago, social media was around, but had not taken off to the extent it has today, and microblogging was just about to explode. So the terminology of Twitter and Facebook, all of which was absent from the previous edition of the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, has now had to be added to the most recent edition and to the online dictionary.

Much of this new vocabulary is related to the verb tweet, meaning to publish on Twitter. Then there are the nouns tweet (the message) and tweeter (the person who publishes it), and the verb retweet and its abbreviation RT). Hashtag is used to identify the subject of a tweet: #WOTD, read as “hashtag word of the day”, is the daily dictionary tweet from Cambridge. If something is becoming very popular on Twitter, it is “trending”. And if you want to read someone’s tweets, you follow, or become a follower of, that person. Continue reading “Hashtag social media”

Meerkat meme

by Colin McIntosh​
Meerkats are not new to popular culture (they appear in the folk tales of the San people of the Kalahari), but their arrival in the public’s consciousness, at least in the UK and the US, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Meerkats are small, sociable Southern African mammals that live in large family groups and eat insects and small reptiles. Their success with the global public is largely due to the documentary series Meerkat Manor, which was shown on TV between 2005 and 2008 and followed the lives of a group of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert. As a result of this exposure, meerkats have topped polls of the public’s favourite animals ever since. Their popularity increased further when a British-based insurance comparison website adopted them for their TV marketing campaigns. These meerkat puppets, with their friendly appearance, cute names, and Russian accents (why?) became so popular for a time that their catchphrase, “Simples!”, was on everyone’s lips. Now that their retirement from the company’s marketing campaign has been reported, the catchphrase thankfully seems likely to disappear, so there is little risk that it will need to be added to the dictionary, but meerkats have now made an appearance in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Continue reading “Meerkat meme”

Introducing a new author and a new weekly blog post!

by Cambridge Dictionaries Online​

About words

The English language is constantly changing. You know that. But did you know that at Cambridge Dictionaries Online we keep track of the changes?

We continually add new words and new meanings to our online dictionary for learners of English. Some of them are new to English entirely (neologisms), and some are new to our dictionary because they’ve become used much more often – maybe because of political or economic events, social or technological changes, or even a story that has gone viral.

From September 3, a new weekly About Words blog post will reveal how trends and developments in areas as diverse as technology, economics, food, media, fashion, and relationships areas are reflected in the new words and meanings that we have added to the dictionary. Continue reading “Introducing a new author and a new weekly blog post!”

What makes a litter?

by Trevor Bryden

The word litter has a surprisingly wide range of meanings in English. Trevor Bryden illustrates how some of them came about:

Continue reading “What makes a litter?”