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’?

[ 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.

[ 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.

[ 12 October 2015]

About new words

Renaissance man, Renaissance woman

by Colin McIntosh​

mona lisaRenaissance man has become a way of referring to a man who does many different things very well:

He’s a ​writer, ​politician, ​musician, and ​athlete – a ​real ​Renaissance man.

The origin of the expression looks back to the Renaissance, the ​period of new ​growth of ​interest and ​activity in the ​areas of ​art, ​literature, and ​ideas in ​Europe during the 15th and 16th ​centuries. The period has given us several art terms and words related to culture, some of which are new to the Cambridge dictionary. Several of them are from Italian, the language of the country that is often considered the cradle of the Renaissance. Continue reading “Renaissance man, Renaissance woman”

Peak beard has been reached

by Colin McIntosh​

beardBy definition, the most cutting-edge fashions cannot be too popular. Being different from the rest of the herd is what marks out the true trendsetter, and once the trends he or she has espoused become ubiquitous, he or she needs to move on to the next new thing. In this bewildering world of change, the Cambridge dictionary is there at the cutting edge to bring you the latest trends in the English language.

Anyone who has lived in or visited a city in the western world over the past five years cannot fail to have noticed the bizarre popularity of beards. Whereas before beards were derided by fashionistas as the province of grandaddies, now a cult has grown up around them. But their very ubiquity is now their downfall. We have now, it seems, reached peak beard: the tipping point where their popularity means that they are no longer an indicator of being in the vanguard. Continue reading “Peak beard has been reached”

Look it up!

by Colin McIntosh​
The British dictionary tradition has differed from the American tradition in various ways, one of which is the treatment of words with a capital letter, like Brazil, Edinburgh, and John F. Kennedy.

British dictionaries traditionally made a distinction between content that was lexical and content that was encyclopedic. Lexical content (words, in other words) was the job of the dictionary, whereas encyclopedic content (countries, cities, dead white men) was the job of the encyclopedia. Nowadays, with the advent of search engines like Google, where all types of information are accessible, people tend not to distinguish between the two, and the internet is simply seen as one huge, amorphous source of information. This obviously has meant a big change in dictionary users’ expectations.

One enormous difference for dictionary makers in the digital age is that we can see what our users are looking up (or searching for, in the new parlance). When Samuel Johnson or James Murray published new dictionaries in past centuries, they had no idea if their users were looking up words they’d added, or if they were looking up words that hadn’t been included. Now we can run regular checks of “words searched for” and “words not found”. Continue reading “Look it up!”

Shopping for the festive season

by Liz Walter​
shopping festive
With Christmas fast approaching, many of us will be busy buying presents, whether we are Christians or not, so in this blog I’m going to look at some vocabulary connected with gift shopping.

If you are a well-organized person, you will probably want to get ahead by starting your shopping early. That way, it is easier to find bargains, for example by having the time to compare prices or by looking out for special offers. Some people even use the January sales to stock up on items for the following year.

Others prefer to leave everything to the last minute. They may end up paying exorbitant prices because lack of time means lack of choice, and they risk discovering that the items they wanted to buy are out of stock. They will probably also need to find stores that offer a gift-wrapping service, since they are unlikely to have the time to buy wrapping paper and wrap the presents themselves. Continue reading “Shopping for the festive season”

The generation gap

by Colin McIntosh​
generation gap
It’s a feature of younger generations through the centuries that they feel the need to give themselves an identity through their ideas, their fashion, their politics, and their language. Leaving aside their language for another post, let’s look at the labels they’ve given themselves, that they’ve given others, and that others have given them, many of which are new additions to the Cambridge English Dictionary.

The Beat Generation, born in the US in the 30s, were probably the trailblazers. Young people who thought that personal experience was more important than accepted norms, they created the pattern for future generations of disaffected youth. Like their British equivalents, the Angry Young Men, the Beats tended to have a literary focus, although the term could also be used with a wider reference.

The boomers, or baby-boomers, born in the baby boom after the Second World War, were the ones who, in Harold MacMillan’s famous phrase “never had it so good”, and they’re still thought of in this way by succeeding generations who had it worse. They’re now being blamed for high property prices, the debt crisis, and impossible university tuition fees. Continue reading “The generation gap”

Money for Old Rope! (Money idioms)

by Kate Woodford​
Continuing our occasional series on idioms that relate to the world of business, we look this week at phrases that express something about money.

There are a number of phrases relating to making money (and not all are admiring). A cash cow is a product or an area of a business that a company can rely on because it always makes money. The money made is often used to support other business activities: The credit card had become the bank’s cash cow. A person or company’s main way of earning money may be described as their bread and butter: They provide legal advice for companies – that’s their bread and butter. In UK English, a way of earning money that is very easy, needing little effort, may be referred to as money for old rope or money for jamA lot of people assume that buying and selling property is money for old rope. Similarly, on hearing about an easy job that earns a lot of money for someone else, someone might say humorously, Nice work if you can get it! Eighty pounds an hour for rubbing someone’s shoulders? Nice work if you can get it! Continue reading “Money for Old Rope! (Money idioms)”

Scots wha hae!

by Colin McIntosh​
Scotland has been called various things over the centuries, not all of them complimentary. Called Caledonia by the Romans, Scotia by the medieval Latinists, and Alba by the Picts and Gaels, Scotland continues to refer to itself by all of these names, depending on whether the situation calls for stirring patriotism, sentimental poetry, or down-to-earth realism. Perhaps the low point was reached after the union with England in 1707, when Scottish supporters of the union called their home country “North Britain” in an attempt to downplay Scotland’s cultural uniqueness. What would William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) have made of it?

Scotland is effectively a trilingual country, speaking Gaelic, the dominant language in the Middle Ages, Scots, the dominant language in the Early Modern period, and a distinctive Scottish variety of English, Scottish English, increasingly dominant since the union with England. Each of these three is still spoken today and each has had an impact on the speech of all the people of Scotland, as well as the English spoken by the world at large. Continue reading “Scots wha hae!”

The People’s Words of 2015

by Alastair Horne​​​​​
austerityHere at Cambridge, we’ve been busy looking at actual searches in our online dictionaries to find the people’s Words of the Year. We’re committed to reflecting real-world corpus evidence in our dictionary entries. That’s why we’ve been looking for the words that have been searched for far more than expected – words whose searches have ‘spiked’.

So, which words spiked most often – and most sharply – in 2015? Which words did our dictionary users around the world search for far more than expected? And which of these words have we chosen as the People’s Word of the Year?

As we looked through the data for 2015, it became clear that there could only be one possible option. No other word was searched for as often, and as regularly, as this one. On five separate occasions this year, one word topped our weekly list of searched-for words; for the year as a whole, one word was way out in front for searches. And that word was ‘austerity’.

See what other words made the People’s Words of 2015

Seven years on from the global crash that did so much damage to the world economy, ‘austerity’ is still the word our dictionary users keep searching for. With elections across Europe all focusing on tough economic decisions, searches for ‘austerity’ saw a small initial spike in January, during the Greek elections, before much larger peaks in May, June, and July during and after the elections in Britain. A further, smaller, spike came in September, around the time of the Portuguese elections, and searches remained higher than usual for the rest of the year.


Austerity wasn’t the only instance of politics influencing the words that people searched for. When British Prime Minister David Cameron controversially referred to migrants in Calais, France as a ‘swarm,’ his choice of vocabulary attracted not only criticism from refugee groups, but also a great many searches for the word on Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Similarly, when searches for ‘horse-trading’ peaked in March, the cause was another election, this time in India, when one party accused another of ‘horse-trading’ – making agreements to benefit both sides – after a vote had failed to deliver any party a majority.

All of our words of the year have stories behind them, and one of the most unexpected spikes of 2015 was also a little embarrassing. When a coding error on Cambridge Dictionaries Online mistakenly mixed up the audio recording of the word ‘Pennsylvania’ with the definition for ‘Parmesan’, we suddenly found ourselves going viral, as sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed attracted the attention of Pennsylvanian residents and Italian cheese lovers alike. We swiftly fixed the error, and searches for ‘Parmesan’ are now back to normal levels after their brief moment in the spotlight.

Sport and popular culture also continue to be a major influence on searches. When Brazilian footballer Neymar was accused of ‘showboating’ in the final of the Spanish Copa del Rey in May, annoying opponents by showing off his skills, football fans turned to Cambridge Dictionaries Online to learn the meaning of that term. And searches for ‘compos mentis’ surged earlier in the year when Madonna reassured fans around the world that she had received the all-clear from medical staff following her embarrassing and painful tumble at a music awards ceremony.

So, what do we learn from this? We’ve learned once more that you’re inquisitive types, you users of Cambridge Dictionaries Online – you’ve got a keen desire to understand the world about you, and to improve your English while you’re doing so. And we’ll be happy to be here for you again in 2016. We wish you all the best over the holiday period, and if you’d like to find out more about the words of this particular season, we’ve got a special treat for you here.