Make a splash! (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

Every few months on this blog, we read a selection of national newspapers published on the same day and pick out the idioms that we find in the articles and reports. We read the news, the gossip columns and the sports pages and, as with previous posts, include only the most frequent, up-to-date idioms. Continue reading “Make a splash! (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”

Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, grammar schools or renationalized railways? The UK general election.

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by Liz Walter

UK citizens are going to the polls on June 8th to choose their next government. Again.

Yes, we had a general election in 2015, and yes, in theory, we have a five-year fixed-term parliament, so really we should have waited until 2020. However, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, decided that it would be a good idea to call a snap election (one decided suddenly). Since this is a language blog, I won’t speculate on her reasons, but instead concentrate on the language being used in the campaign. Continue reading “Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, grammar schools or renationalized railways? The UK general election.”

Playing second fiddle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

Every few months on this blog, we like to pick out the idioms that have been used in a range of national newspapers published on the same day. As with previous posts, we include only the most frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of idioms that you might read or hear in current English.

One tabloid newspaper reports that a television celebrity who used to be very concerned about what the public thought about her, at 49, ‘couldn’t give two hoots’. To not care/give two hoots about something is to not care at all. Another paper quotes a celebrity as saying that she and her husband are ‘not in each other’s pockets’ since they work away from home much of the time. If two people live or are in each other’s pockets, they are with each other all the time and depend on each other. The same paper describes the meeting of minds that sometimes happens in school lessons. A meeting of minds is a situation in which two or more people discover that they have the same opinion about something. Continue reading “Playing second fiddle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”

He doesn’t pull any punches. (The language of telling the truth)

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by Kate Woodford

Most of us have mixed feelings about honesty. On the one hand, we think it a very good thing. We raise our children to be honest and we look for honesty in our adult relationships. However, most of us also recognise that in some situations, honesty is not so desirable and, in fact, can sometimes cause great offence. It is for this reason that words and phrases for speaking the truth can often be used in different ways. The same word or phrase can sometimes be neutral (=not negative and not positive), sometimes disapproving and at other times, even admiring. Continue reading “He doesn’t pull any punches. (The language of telling the truth)”

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

by Liz Walter

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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.”

I messed up! (Phrasal verbs for problems)

by Kate Woodford

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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)”

Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)

by Liz Walter

Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Pronouns are words we use instead of nouns in order to avoid repeating the nouns. Compare the following:

Laura picked up the book. Laura gave the book to Zalie.

Laura picked up the book. She gave it to Zalie.

We use pronouns when we have already mentioned a person or thing, or when it is obvious who or what they are.

The most common pronouns are personal pronouns – pronouns that refer to people or things. The most important thing to remember about these is that (with the exception of you and it), they are different according to whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence. Continue reading “Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)”

Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016

Veronaa/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Veronaa/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It’s that time again, when publishers reveal the word or words that they believe encapsulate the year. As many readers will know from previous years, we like to base our word on what our millions of users worldwide have been looking up over the course of the year. And what a year it’s been: in June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, causing great uncertainty in the UK and across Europe (even now, the only certainty we have is that Brexit means Brexit); then, in November, after a vicious and divisive campaign, the people of the United States elected businessman Donald Trump as President ahead of politician Hillary Clinton, in one of the most extraordinary political stories of modern times. Add to this the ongoing backdrop of a bloody civil war in Syria, several terrorist attacks around the world and numerous celebrity deaths, and there can be no denying that it has been an eventful and worrying year.

As ever, global events are reflected in the words you look up on our site. So what single word has had the biggest increase in searches over the whole year? Ladies and gentlemen, the Cambridge Dictionary Word of the Year for 2016 is . . . paranoid.

Why paranoid? Searches have risen hugely this year, over four times more than in 2015. We cannot, of course, know exactly why users are searching for a particular word, but it suggests perhaps a feeling that the institutions that have kept us safe can no longer be trusted, that the world feels more uncertain than it did a year ago. When we look at other words that have shown similar increases, we can build a fuller picture: anxiety, chaos; a feeling that societies are breaking down; increases in prejudice, bigotry and bullying; and people feeling nostalgic for what are perceived as simpler times.

But perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom: another word that has seen a big increase in searches is adorable – maybe our users are comforting themselves with videos of cute animals, and trying to think happier thoughts?

The US election in 24 hours of words

Catherine Lane/iStock/Getty
Catherine Lane/iStock/Getty

November 8, 2016, marked the end of one of the most eventful presidential election campaigns in United States history. People across the globe watched closely as American voters turned out to cast their votes for their next president – including the millions of people who use the Cambridge Dictionary to help them understand the language used in the English-speaking media.

The Cambridge Dictionary staff tracked the words that were looked up most frequently in the 24 hours from when the polls opened the morning of November 8 until the morning of November 9. All of the words in this blog post that are linked to definitions in the dictionary were looked up with unusual frequency. The full list is at the end of this post. Continue reading “The US election in 24 hours of words”

What’s in a name?

by Colin McIntosh

Tim Macpherson/Cultura/Getty
Tim Macpherson/Cultura/Getty

When we give names to new inventions, discoveries, places, and a host of other things, inspiration often comes from the names of the people who came up with the inventions, made the discoveries, and so on. In other cases the name can be a tribute to the person in question, even though that person had no hand in the thing’s creation.

The words for these things are called eponyms and many of them have been added to the Cambridge Dictionary. Continue reading “What’s in a name?”