See you on the march! (The language of protests)

Hero Images/Hero Images/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

On September 20th, four million people across the globe expressed their concern and anger about climate change by demonstrating (=gathering or walking in a public place to show their opinion). We thought this a good time to look at the language of demonstrating.

First up, the verb protest is a synonym for ‘demonstrate’: Employees are protesting against the cuts. In US English especially, ‘protest’ is often used transitively: Students protested the laws. A phrase that is frequently used, especially in newspapers, to mean ‘protest’ is take to the streets: Millions took to the streets in the largest environmental protest in history. Continue reading “See you on the march! (The language of protests)”

Primaries, caucuses and superdelegates: the language of US presidential elections

by Liz Walter

Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty

On November 8th, Americans will choose their 45th president. This post aims to explain the system – which is complex to say the least! – and in particular to explain the often baffling vocabulary connected with it.

The reason that US elections seem to go on for an incredible length of time is that they have two distinct phases: first a protracted period of selecting presidential candidates for each party and then the election itself. Continue reading “Primaries, caucuses and superdelegates: the language of US presidential elections”

Brexit idioms

by Kate Woodford

Andrew Linscott/iStock/Getty
Andrew Linscott/iStock/Getty

Every two or three months on this blog, we look at the idioms being used in a range of daily newspapers in the UK. This week, we thought it might be interesting to look specifically at the idioms used in relation to the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union, (Brexit). As ever, we have only included frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of phrases that you are likely to hear or read in other places.

One newspaper reports that since the referendum, events have been moving with lightning speed (= extremely quickly). Possibly the most dramatic of those events was Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement the day after the election that he would resign. This, said one newspaper, fired the starting gun on (= started) his party’s leadership contest. In another newspaper, a journalist writes that he wants there to be a general election in Britain. However, he adds that a general election may only be a sticking-plaster solution for the nation’s very serious, long-term problems. A sticking plaster is a way of dealing with a problem that is only temporary. Continue reading “Brexit idioms”

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”

The words of 2012

by Paul Heacock

As the year winds to a close, it is once again time for the staff and contributors to Cambridge Dictionaries Online and its blog, About Words, to sort through the year gone by and highlight the words and phrases that rose to prominence. In one way or another, all of these strike us as emblematic of 2012.

The new year brought some typical words to the fore, with resolution and prosperous making meteoric jumps in the number of searches for each. But many of our visitors must have had a romantic start to the year, because cuddle also became a very popular word to look up.

The second month of 2012 brought a more sober frame of mind, with words like bailout, hostile, grim and fail all getting huge upticks in searches on CDO.

In April, the phrasal verb give up made a sudden appearance at the top of our most-searched-for list. It was the only top 50 appearance for the term all year, and seems odd coming in springtime. Perhaps the searches were in reference to the financial turmoil, or to the tradition of giving up something for Lent, or to news reports in the US that month showing what people were willing to give up in order to have access to the Internet. Continue reading “The words of 2012”

The Embattled American Dream

By Hugh Rawson

The candidates in the 2012 American presidential election disagree on many issues, but when you come right down to it, much of the contest revolves around different interpretations of the American dream and what, if anything, the government should do to help people make that dream come true.

Continue reading “The Embattled American Dream”

Political Geography

By Hugh Rawson

Incensed over what it views as a Western-Arab plot, Iran on Thursday threatened to sue Google for deleting the name Persian Gulf from its online mapping service and leaving the body of water nameless
– The New York Times, May 18, 2012

The poor Google mapmakers. They were caught in the middle of a political controversy and wound up with a “nameless” compromise that couldn’t have satisfied anybody.

The Iranians have always insisted that this body of water between Iran and Saudi Arabia be called the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, the Saudis and other Arab states prefer to think of it as the Arabian Gulf or, simply, The Gulf. This is an old dispute that flares up from time to time. In 2010, it led to the cancellation of the Islamic Solidarity Games – the Olympics of the Muslim world, in effect. Because Iran, the host nation, insisted on using Persian Gulf in promotional materials about the games and on medals for events, the Arab states declined to participate. Of course, Iran itself is a relatively new name (since 1935) for the country that used to be known as Persia. To the outside observer, it is a wonder that the former Persians haven’t insisted on calling this strategically important body of water the Iranian Gulf. Continue reading “Political Geography”

21st century protest: new methods, new words

by Liz Walter

What would Gandhi have made of glitterbombing? This form of protest – a curious mixture of the high-spirited and the serious, the comic and the aggressive – consists of throwing handfuls of glitter at whoever has caused the protester’s anger. Glitterbombing has been aimed mostly at those accused of homophobia, and most of the recent US Republican presidential candidates have now been glitterbombed at one time or another. The tactic has also been used by Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Another, rather more benign, form of bombing is yarn bombing, a protest not against bankers or politicians, but against drabness and dreariness. Also known as knit graffiti, it involves leaving knitted objects such as toy animals in public places, or wrapping anything from road signs to cars to telephone kiosks in brightly coloured knitted covers. Started in Texas, the craze was brought to London by a woman called Lauren O’Farrell, who re-christened it yarnstorming, not liking the connotations of the term ‘bombing’. O’Farrell took up knitting as a means of distraction while undergoing cancer treatment, and celebrated her all-clear by tying an enormous scarf around the lions of Trafalgar Square. Continue reading “21st century protest: new methods, new words”

The words of 2011

by Paul Heacock

As the year draws to an end, we make lists: Best Movies of the Year, Favorite Sports Moments and Key Political Events appear in national and international publications; Top Sales Reps or Most-Viewed Intranet Stories show up on corporate websites and in newsletters; many people even send out letters to friends and family detailing their personal “top events” of the year. Lexicographers, too, like to sift through the year’s work, and usually proclaim a Word of the Year. But we felt that a single Word of the Year was too limited. Continue reading “The words of 2011”