cn u txt?

by Colin McIntosh

Acronyms speech bubble
LadyDart/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty

The advent of social media has seen a huge increase in the use of informal abbreviations, many recently added to the Cambridge Dictionary. We have always had abbreviations, of course. Well-known examples include IOU (for “I owe you”), used to give an informal written guarantee that you will pay back a sum of money, and x for a kiss, for example at the end of a letter.

The fact of using a small screen or keyboard to write means that we look for even more efficiency in how we write. Email communication first introduced a few, often semi-formal abbreviations, which are now often used out of context in speech in a playful or ironic way:

Fyi (= for your information), my weekends are for relaxing, not clearing up your mess!

Our anniversary is still May 12, afaik (= as far as I know)! How could you forget? Continue reading “cn u txt?”

European Union – in or out? The language of the UK’s referendum

by Liz Walter

Credit: Getty
Dem10/iStock/Getty Images Plus

On June 23rd, Britain will decide whether or not to remain part of the European Union (EU). I’m more than happy to bore friends with my own views on the subject, but the purpose of this post is simply to highlight the language of the debate.

The precise question we will be answering is: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’, and the answer will be decided in a referendum (a national election in which each person has one vote). All citizens of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth (countries that belonged to the British empire in the past and still have a close relationship with the UK) currently living in the UK can vote. In addition, UK nationals living abroad can vote if they have been on the electoral register (official list of people entitled to vote) in the last 15 years. Continue reading “European Union – in or out? The language of the UK’s referendum”

Bottoms up!

by Colin McIntosh

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Have you heard the one about the vineyard in Scotland? It has never produced a drop of drinkable wine. Not a joke but, sadly, a true story. Wine from Chateau Largo, in Fife, was described as “undrinkable” – by its owner. Despite global warming, Scotland’s climate is not yet ready to make it the world’s next wine-producing region.

The wine world has expanded, though, and this is reflected in some new arrivals in the Cambridge dictionary. In the days when Britain’s national drink was tea, back in the 1950s, British oenophiles (wine connoisseurs) considered themselves lucky if they could find a decent claret (the English word for wine from Bordeaux, now somewhat old-fashioned), and the definition of wine was a drink from France. Not surprisingly, most wine-related vocabulary came from French. Wine was produced in chateaux; a waiter in a restaurant who specialized in wine was a sommelier; extra-dry champagne was described as brut. In the 1960s, tastes started to spread to Italy, Spain, and Germany; and then the revolution started. The New World (the Americas and, in a wine context, Australia and New Zealand) started to supplant Old-World wines, and some of the vocabulary began to change. A wine-producing farm in an English-speaking country is called a winery; instead of a bouquet (the characteristic smell of a wine), tasters can talk about the nose. Table wine is used in preference to vin de table. Continue reading “Bottoms up!”

Surprise, surprise!

by Kate Woodford

surprise
Credit: Getty

Life is full of surprises, so they say. Sometimes the surprises are welcome and sometimes not, but however we feel about them, they are a fact of life. This week, then, we’re looking at the language that we use to talk about things that we are not expecting, and the way that we react to these things.

Something that happens suddenly, happens quickly, often when you are not expecting it: I don’t remember anything about the accident – it all happened so suddenly. Other ways of saying ‘suddenly’ are the phrases all of a sudden and all at once: He was walking along perfectly happily and then, all of a sudden, he collapsed./All at once, there was a loud crashing sound. Continue reading “Surprise, surprise!”

Capital M, small c, capital I…

by Colin McIntosh

camel
Credit: Getty

ABBA, iPad, e e cummings, Schadenfreude: a strange list of words, but one thing they have in common is an unconventional approach to capitalization.

English speakers assume that having small letters and capitals is a natural state of affairs, but many languages, including classical Latin and languages with non-alphabetic scripts, don’t have such a distinction. The Romans had one style for inscriptions in stone, which gave our capitals, and another for handwriting, which gave our small letters, but they were never combined in the same text. Gradually, capitals were introduced into normal text to emphasize, for example, nouns, proper names, and the first word of the sentence.

English no longer capitalizes all nouns, whereas German does. For this reason German nouns borrowed into English are often written with a capital letter. Examples in the Cambridge dictionary include Schadenfreude, a feeling of pleasure when something bad happens to someone else, and Realpolitik, a type of politics that is decided more by the urgent needs of the country than by moral principles. This rule is often ignored for German words that are more integrated into English, like rucksack and strudel. Continue reading “Capital M, small c, capital I…”

Phrasal verbs for everyday actions.

by Liz Walter

Credit: Getty

I have written several posts about phrasal verbs, including an introduction to what they are and how to use them. However, I realised today that I have never written about some of the most common phrasal verbs there are – ones that we use to talk about actions that take place every day.

You will almost certainly find that you know some of them already, and it is worth learning any that are new to you because they are all extremely common, and most of them have no one-word equivalent.

The first thing that happens every morning is that we wake up. We can also say that we wake someone up:

I woke up at 7.30. (In US punctuation, write the time as 7:30.)

My Dad wakes me up at 6 a.m. every day. Continue reading “Phrasal verbs for everyday actions.”

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!”

It’s Terrible! (Words that mean ‘bad’)

by Kate Woodford

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Some of you may have read a recent post here on words and phrases used for saying that things are good or great. This week our mood is a little less positive and we’re exploring the language that we use for saying that things are bad.

We’ll start with some very frequent words that can be used to describe most things that are very bad, (‘bad’ in this case meaning generally ‘unpleasant or causing difficulties’). The adjectives awful, dreadful, terrible and appalling are all commonly used for saying that something is very unpleasant. The weather was absolutely awful./I’ve had a dreadful cold./We had a terrible time./The way they treated her was just appalling. Continue reading “It’s Terrible! (Words that mean ‘bad’)”

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”

Avoiding common errors with the word enough.

by Liz Walter

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Enough is a very common word, but it is easy to make mistakes with it. You need to be careful about its position in a sentence, and the prepositions or verb patterns that come after it.

I’ll start with the position of enough in the sentence.

When we use it with a noun, it goes before the noun:

We have enough time to complete the work.

Do we have enough pens for everyone?

We have time enough to complete the work.

When we use enough with an adjective or an adverb, it goes after the adjective or adverb:

Is this coat big enough for Tom?

Can you get there quickly enough?

Is this coat enough big for Tom? Continue reading “Avoiding common errors with the word enough.”