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

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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 – 30 April 2018

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goth latte noun [C]
UK /gɒθ.ˈlɑː.t̬eɪ/ US /gɑː.θ.ˈlɑː.t̬eɪ/
a latte (a hot drink made from espresso coffee and hot milk) that also contains charcoal, making it black in colour

Now, finally, there’s a coffee that truly speaks to our inner Morticia Addams: say hello to the goth latte … So why is everyone so obsessed with these darker-than-dark coffees? Well, they’re not just good for your Instagram profile, they could also be good for your gut, too.
[Stylist, 19 May 2017]

egg coffee noun [U, C]
UK /ˈeg.kɒf.i/ US /ˈeg.kɑː.fi/
a Vietnamese hot drink consisting of coffee mixed with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and sometimes butter or cheese

The egg coffee is sweet and frothy, much like having a custard on top of an espresso, but with no hint of egg. The coffee underneath is a familiar espresso, improbably warm while not melting the cloud of egg above it. The cup comes in a small bowl filled with warm water to maintain the coffee’s temperature.
[www.cnbc.com, 11 December 2017]

third-wave coffee noun [U]
UK /θɜːd.weɪv.ˈkɒf.i/ US /θɝːd.ˈweɪv.ˈkɑː.fi/
a trend in coffee retailing that emphasises a high-quality, sustainable product, often roasted and brewed using new techniques

The growth of third-wave coffee is an undeniably good thing, both for coffee lovers and coffee shop owners alike. Coffee’s place in our culinary landscape has been cemented as a legitimate culinary experience as opposed to a simple drink we consume in the morning. The 3rd wave created a market for coffee that entrepreneurs all around the country have tapped to make a living doing what they love — roasting, brewing and serving artisanal coffee.
[www.achillescoffeeroasters.com, 20 June 2017]

About new words

On the other hand… (Words which express a contrast)

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by Kate Woodford

You probably know the English expression on the one hand … on the other hand. It is used in the following way for comparing two opposing opinions or facts about something (note that just one half of the phrase is often used):

On the one hand, Maria has experience, but on the other hand, she doesn’t have the precise skills that we’re looking for.

I don’t really want any more work at the moment. On the other hand, I could use the extra money.

Continue reading “On the other hand… (Words which express a contrast)”

I love coffee/Would you like a coffee? Words that can be countable and uncountable

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by Liz Walter

In my last post I talked about why it is important to know whether words in English are countable or uncountable. However, I didn’t mention the fact that many words can be both countable and uncountable. This post discusses some of the reasons for this.

Continue reading “I love coffee/Would you like a coffee? Words that can be countable and uncountable”

1066 and all that: How to say years

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by Liz Walter

Being able to name a year is a pretty basic English skill, but there are a few things that can make it complicated, and there are a number of differences between British and American English.

Let’s start with the (relatively) easy ones. For years like 1345, 1682 or 1961, we say the first two and the second two digits as if they were single numbers: thirteen forty-five; sixteen eighty-two; nineteen sixty-one.

If the third digit is zero, there are two possible ways of saying the year:

1407: fourteen oh seven or fourteen hundred and seven

1901: nineteen oh one or nineteen hundred and one

Continue reading “1066 and all that: How to say years”

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.”