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”

A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)

by Liz Walter

lotsWe often need to talk about amounts and numbers of things, but it is easy to make mistakes with some of the words we need to use. This post will give some useful ways of talking about large amounts or numbers of things and explain how to avoid some common errors.

The first words many students learn for large amounts are much and many. Much is used with uncountable/mass nouns and many with countable nouns:

We don’t have much water.

How many cups are there?

You can read more about countable and uncountable nouns here.

Continue reading “A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)”

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 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
Peoples_word_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.

austeritypageviews

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.

I appreciate that this is hard for you. (Other ways of saying ‘understand’)

by Kate Woodford​
understand_1
Following on from last week’s post on near-synonyms, we’re looking this week at various ways of saying that we understand things. Starting with a very common near-synonym, the verb ‘realize’ is often used for talking about the state of understanding and knowing things: I realize this is difficult for you. It is also used to say that we start to understand something: As she was speaking I suddenly realized that we’d met before. The verb ‘grasp’ also means ‘understand’ but is used to mean ‘to succeed in understanding something’ and is often used to talk about understanding difficult things: It was quite a high-level talk but I think I managed to grasp the main points./She couldn’t seem to grasp the concept. (The noun ‘grasp’ is also used: His grasp of grammar is very impressive for a seven-year-old.)

A phrase which is used for succeeding in understanding is ‘get the gist’. If you get the gist of something spoken or written, you manage to understand the main points though you may not understand or remember the precise details: I think I got the gist of what he was saying. Another such phrase is make sense of. If you make sense of something complicated or unclear, you manage to understand it: I’ve read the paragraph three times now and I still can’t make sense of it! Appreciate’ is used in a similar way. If you appreciate something serious about a situation, you understand it or you understand the reasons for it: I appreciate that this is a very difficult decision for you to make.

As we mentioned in a previous post (There is no such thing as a true synonym in English), ‘comprehend’ is a formal near-synonym for ‘understand’. We comprehend serious, difficult things, usually situations rather than subjects: They evidently failed to comprehend the seriousness of the threat.

An informal word for ‘understand’ that is very commonly used in conversation is ‘get’. It is often used in the phrase ‘get it’: Everyone’s going crazy for him. I don’t get it – what do they see in him? Note that we often say that we ‘get a joke’ when we understand what is funny about a joke. We use this sense of ‘get’ in other phrases too. For example, you might say ‘I get the message’ to someone who is asking you to do something but is saying it in an indirect way, usually because they don’t want to offend you: Oh, I get the message – you want to go without me, right? Similarly, you might say ‘I get the picture’ to a person who is describing a bad situation in a slightly indirect way to let them know that you understand what they are saying: ‘He’s not the most organised person and he can be a bit forgetful.’ ‘I get the picture. I’ve worked with people like that.’

Sometimes it takes a while to understand something. In British English, the phrase ‘the penny drops’ is used to say that you or someone else finally understand what is being said or what is happening: Then I saw them together at Sophie’s party and the penny dropped. I had no idea that they were a couple!

Coffee culture

by Colin McIntosh​
coffee culture
In a study published recently and widely reported in the media, researchers from Harvard University School of Public Health found that people who drink a moderate amount of coffee per day are less likely to die from a range of diseases. Good news for coffee drinkers, who make up an ever-increasing proportion of society.

Seattle, which likes to consider itself the home of coffee, is partly responsible for this growth in coffee drinking around the world, being the birthplace of the Starbucks chain. This is the source of much of the new vocabulary around coffee drinking, which you will now find in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Most of this vocabulary comes originally from Italian, but filtered through the Seattle approach, which involves making you stay on the premises as long as possible. Central to the whole operation is the barista (the person who makes the coffee, an Italian word from bar, meaning a coffee shop). Bring your laptop, settle down, and spend the morning sipping. As well as the traditional cappuccino (which has grown to double or triple the size of the Italian original), on offer we have lattes (even bigger and milkier than a cappuccino), macchiatos (with less milk than a cappuccino, and served in a smaller cup), americanos (with added water to make it less strong) and chais (not actually a coffee, but a tea drink originally from India with milk, sugar, and spices). Variations include decaf (decaffeinated) and skinny (with low-fat milk). If you’re in a hurry, ask for it to go (served for you to drink somewhere else, usually in a paper cup):

Two skinny decaf lattes to go, please!

Continue reading “Coffee culture”

How to talk about talking (2)

by Liz Walter​
talk about talking
In my last post I explained how to use the verbs say and tell. This post looks at some other common verbs connected with talking and explains how to use them correctly.

Speak and talk have similar meanings. In general, speak is slightly more formal than talk. Remember to use the preposition to before the person. With can also be used, but is more common in US English:

He didn’t speak/talk to me at all.

The teacher spoke/talked with the girl’s parents.

We usually use the preposition about before the thing that is being discussed:

He talked about the weather.

She never speaks about her work. Continue reading “How to talk about talking (2)”

Happy shopping!

by Colin McIntosh
happyshopping
Traditionally in the US, people’s minds start turning towards the holidays after Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November). That’s not your summer holidays, as Brits might understand it, but the December pile-up of religious and secular festivities that represents the high point of consumer spending, not just in the US, but in many countries around the world.

With Thanksgiving out of the way, Americans feel free to concentrate on preparing for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other festivals, as well as the New Year, and that usually involves a heavy dose of spending. The custom dates back a long way, but in the 1970s marketing people introduced the term Black Friday. This refers to the Friday after Thanksgiving, when shops reduce the price of goods in order to attract customers who want to start their gift shopping, or, in other words, to kick-start the spending season: Continue reading “Happy shopping!”

Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)

by Liz Walter​
say and tell
Most of us spend a lot of time talking – in fact a recent study showed that the average Brit spends 6 months of their life talking about weather alone! It’s no wonder therefore that we often need to describe that activity.

Unfortunately, simple verbs such as speak, say, talk and tell cause a lot of problems for learners of English. This post looks at two of the most common ‘talking’ verbs – say and tell –  and gives advice on how to use them correctly.

We often use say to report what someone else has said, using a that-clause. You can usually leave out ‘that’:

She said (that) she was thirsty.

He says (that) he’s a friend of yours. Continue reading “Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)”

New peas in old pods

by Colin McIntosh​
pods
One of the ways in which language is constantly  changing is by adding new meanings to existing words. Sometimes the new meaning is clearly based on the old meaning, as is the case with a computer mouse, or a dropdown menu, or an ice cream cone, but other times the relationship between the old and new meanings is less clear, or even non-existent. There is no connection, historically speaking, between nan, a British word for grandmother, and nan (also naan), a type of flat bread in South Asian cooking. The same can be said of rock (meaning ‘stone’) and rock music. They simply happen to have the same combination of sounds and letters, with very different origins.

The oldest meaning of pod, for example, is the one that refers to a part of a plant, usually long and thin, that contains the seeds. Some vegetable pods can be eaten, such as those of green beans (also called French beans and string beans); others, such as peas, contain the edible part, and are usually not eaten themselves. This meaning itself comes from an Old English word meaning ‘cloak’, so it is possible to see a connection between the two meanings – they both refer to protective coverings. Continue reading “New peas in old pods”