Listen up, you guys!

by Colin McIntosh

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Many of the world’s languages have more than one word for “you”. English is unusual in having just one. In other languages there is often a distinction made between singular and plural – i.e., when speaking to one person or to more than one person. For instance, in Mandarin Chinese   is singular and nǐmen is plural. Another common distinction is between informal and formal pronouns (as in  and usted in Spanish).

The distinction between singular and plural has been lost in English. Thou took the role of singular until it fell out of use by the 17th century in most places, and you came to perform both functions. But 21st-century speakers often seem to feel that something is missing in the language, and several substitutes for a plural pronoun have crept into modern English – and now into the Cambridge dictionary. Continue reading “Listen up, you guys!”

Watching the detectorists

by Colin McIntosh

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

You could be forgiven for thinking that old-fashioned hobbies that don’t involve computers have fallen out of favour. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the internet has made it easier for people with specialist hobbies from different corners of the world to come together to support one another in their enthusiasms. This has generated a crop of new words, some of which are now making their first appearance in the Cambridge dictionary.

One new general word that has recently arrived in Britain from the US is hobbyist. This fills a gap in providing a neutral word for an enthusiast of a particular hobby; some of the words used in the past have been less than flattering. Anorak, for example, is used to refer to a boring person who is too interested in the details of a hobby and finds it difficult to socialize with other people. Anorak is used in British English; its origin lies in the typical clothing worn by an outdoor British hobbyist: practical, warm, and able to protect you from the British rain. American equivalents of anorak include nerd and geek, which also had similar unflattering connotations – until it became cool to be considered a geek. Continue reading “Watching the detectorists”

How do you spell a sneeze?

by Colin McIntosh

sneezeNot everything we say forms part of the regular English repertoire of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on. Some can barely even be described as words, since they don’t follow the typical rules of English spelling. What do you say when you want to announce your presence discreetly to someone who hasn’t noticed you come in? In English you would make a kind of throat-clearing noise. Or when you want to express disapproval of something so bad that it doesn’t deserve a comment? You can pull down your tongue quickly from behind your teeth, causing air to be sucked into your mouth and making a kind of high, sucking, clicking noise. These sounds belong to what linguists call paralanguage: not the regular system of words with their semantic meanings, but a system of noises (and also movements and facial expressions) that communicate meaning in a different way.

These non-word noises were never normally written down, mainly because it was difficult to work out how to spell them. How would you spell the throat-clearing noise? Ways have been found of writing them down, though. And some of them are new arrivals in the Cambridge Dictionary. Continue reading “How do you spell a sneeze?”

Just who is driving this thing?

by Colin McIntosh

car_faceDo you remember Herbie the Love Bug? Herbie was a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle car in a string of Walt Disney movies. In typical Disney anthropomorphic style, Herbie goes his own way, falls in love, cries, plays jokes, and generally has a mind of his own.

While the new driverless cars, like those being trialled by Google at the moment, will probably never cry, they will take you places without you having to lift a finger. As with all new technologies, they bring a set of new words and meanings along with them, some of them new to the Cambridge Dictionary. Continue reading “Just who is driving this thing?”

To be honest with you: conversational expressions for giving opinions

by Kate Woodford​

honestTo be honest with you, I’ve never really liked him.

Learners of English often ask us how they can make their English sound more natural and conversational. We at Cambridge Dictionaries Online try to help out by looking at the sorts of words and phrases that native English speakers naturally use when speaking. This week we’re looking at expressions that we often use when giving opinions, especially negative opinions that other people might not like.

Let’s start with two very common ones. The phrase to be honest (with you) and if I’m honest with you are used a lot in speech, coming at the start or end of a sentence in which someone says something negative. (If the opinion expressed is very negative, the speaker might say ‘brutally honest’) To be honest, I’ve never really liked him./To be brutally honest, I don’t think she’s right for the job. A phrase used in a similar way is To tell (you) the truth…: To tell the truth, I didn’t even want to go to the party. These phrases all suggest that you are saying what you really think, even if it is bad. Continue reading “To be honest with you: conversational expressions for giving opinions”

Thank you for the regift!

by Colin McIntosh​

upcycleMillions of tons of waste go to landfill every year, despite efforts to persuade us to recycle more. Of course there is an important green agenda here, but in these recessionary times it makes sense to cut back on waste and unnecessary consumption to save money. These changes in consumers’ habits have brought with them new additions to the Cambridge Dictionary.

One area where people are making changes is in giving presents. Have you ever received a gift from a dear old aunt that you realized straight away you would never wear? Well, someone else might love it! This is the world of regifting:

I regifted Dana those earrings I got from my boyfriend last year. Continue reading “Thank you for the regift!”

The sharing economy: Part 2

by Colin McIntosh​

P2PIn my previous post we looked at some aspects of the sharing economy, made possible by Web 2.0 technology. This time we’ll look at new words connected with the sharing of data and content between users who are not trying to sell anything – or at least don’t appear to be. This type of sharing is sometimes called P2P, or peer-to-peer, although strictly speaking P2P involves a specific type of relationship between computers on a network, ​rather than using a ​central ​server.

At a simple level, this involves pooling resources. For example, if two people live and work near each other, it makes sense for them to find each other through a car-sharing app so that they can save on fuel and effort at the same time as reducing traffic congestion. Continue reading “The sharing economy: Part 2”

The sharing economy: Part 1

by Colin McIntosh​

C2CWhen Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, could he have foreseen how radically it would change our lives? Web 2.0 – a name for all the internet ​features, ​websites, and apps that ​allow ​users to ​create, ​change, and ​share internet content – has brought about a revolution in (amongst other things) the way our economy works. Like most advances in technology, it brings a new set of words with it, and some of these have recently made their appearance for the first time in the Cambridge dictionary. Continue reading “The sharing economy: Part 1”

Megacity life

by Colin McIntosh​

megacityIn 2011 the world’s population passed seven billion, only 12 years after reaching six billion; by 2017 more than 50% are expected to be living in cities. These statistics point to the fact that cities are growing at a phenomenal rate.

Demography is the ​study of ​changes in the ​population of a ​particular ​area, or of the world, over ​time, including numbers of births and deaths, migration, etc. A relatively new science, it has contributed several of the words and expressions newly added to the Cambridge dictionary.

Many of the new city dwellers will be living in a megacity – that is, an urban area of over ten million people. The process of urbanization (the growth of city populations compared to those in the countryside) affects every continent apart from Antarctica. There are currently 35 megacities in the world, five of them in China. Cities grow when the birth rate exceeds the mortality rate (or death rate), or as a result of internal or cross-border migration. Continue reading “Megacity life”

New words – 14 March 2016

silver_splittersilver splitter noun informal someone who divorces in later life

The number of people divorcing in later life has been increasing at a time when divorce rates overall have been falling. What’s behind the phenomenon of the ‘silver splitters’?

[www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34767821 09 November 2015]

lead parent noun in a couple with children, the parent who performs more of the parental duties, usually the one with fewer work commitments

The lead parent is the one who does the school run and has their name down as the emergency contact, while their number two can be more flexible and take on extra responsibility at work because they know everything is being held together at home.

[www.standard.co.uk 12 October 2015]

deputy parent noun in a couple with children, the parent who performs fewer of the parental duties, usually the one with greater work commitments

In last night’s episode of Homeland we met Carrie Mathison the deputy parent. No longer a workaholic CIA agent she appears to have nailed the job/life balance, thanks to a boyfriend who handles childcare when she is working, or kidnapped.

[http://www.standard.co.uk/l 12 October 2015]

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