Vocabulary

Mayday – international distress signal
Josef Essberger
The meaning of Mayday in international communications and how it came to be

PANdemics and Other PANs
Josef Essberger
PANdemic, PANorama, PAN-American and more

Get it?
Josef Essberger
get [something] (verb): receive, contract (a disease); understand – and many more meanings

Farewell to Holland
Josef Essberger
2020 should lay to rest the qualms of many English-speaking people over the exact name of that European country between Belgium and the North Sea—the one that’s famous for being low and flat (below sea-level in places) and for growing tulips. Is it Holland? Or Netherlands (or maybe “the Netherlands”)? We know they speak Dutch, […]

Filler Phrases that Give You Time
Josef Essberger
The fact of the matter is that sometimes you need time to think.

A Light-Year is a Measure of Distance, not Time
Josef Essberger
Superb demo by NASA

Nothing New in Fake News
Josef Essberger
Fake news has been a weapon of war among other things for millennia.

What’s the Joke?
Josef Essberger
What’s an ATM? What’s a PIN? What’s a pedant? What’s the joke?

Migrants or Refugees?
Josef Essberger
Europe’s politicians don’t seem to know the difference between a migrant and a refugee.

Veni, vidi, vici
Josef Essberger
Watch as Hillary Clinton abuses Julius Caesar’s famous words “Veni, vidi, vici” with her own.

House or home?
Josef Essberger
These two words may seem alike but actually they have rather different meanings. A house is a building that people live in. It stands on its own land (unlike, say, an apartment or flat) and often has a garden. It may be detached (not joined to another house), semi-detached (joined to one other house), or […]

How many “slugs” do you see here?
Josef Essberger
How many uses of the word “slug” do you see above? Can you write one sentence for each in the comment box below? illustration courtesy Andy Singer

How many ‘scales’ can you see here?
Josef Essberger
How many uses of the word “scale” do you see

How many waves do you know?
Josef Essberger
Can you make one sentence for each of the four

What abbreviations and acronyms do you know?
Josef Essberger
An abbreviation is something like “Dr” or “Dr.” for “Doctor”, or “Ltd” or “Ltd.” for “Limited”. An acronym is made from the First Letters of other words, for example “NASA” for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration”, or “laser” for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. What abbreviations and acronyms do you know?

footer versus footnote
Josef Essberger
A reader writes: “Is the word ‘footer’, now used in documents and written on one of your pages, a correct English word? I think it was created by Microsoft, and I believe the word ‘footnote’ would be more appropriate.” Let’s try to clear this up. I’m not sure whether the word “footer” was coined by […]

specially or especially?
Josef Essberger
Many people wonder if there is a difference between the adverbs “specially” and “especially”. Even native speakers aren’t always sure how to use them. In some cases they can actually mean the same thing, especially in informal speech. However, for the sake of simplicity, here are the basic differences

cannot or can not?
Josef Essberger
People often ask me whether they should write cannot (1 word) or can not (2 words).

Saying of the Day
Josef Essberger
A saying is a short, clever expression that usually contains advice or expresses some obvious truth. Many traditional sayings are still in general use today.

Idiom of the Day
Josef Essberger
An idiom is a group of words in current usage having a meaning that is not deducible from those of the individual words. For example, “to rain cats and dogs” – which means “to rain very heavily” – is an idiom; and “over the moon” – which means

current versus contemporary
Josef Essberger
These two words are very similar some of the time, but can also be very different. current is an adjective that means “belonging to the present time, happening

The King is dead. Long live the King!
Josef Essberger
I received the following question from Jeanette about using capitals: “I am a writer and always have problems with the following: ‘The king is dead. Long live King Edward.’ ‘She told me Captain Lorca read the book. The captain could read.’ I am referring to the same king in the first sentence, and to the […]

The R Word
Josef Essberger
In these times of apparent worldwide economic gloom and despair emanating from the collapse of the USA’s financial system, you may have heard reference on TV or elsewhere to the R word. What on earth is the R word? Sometimes it is difficult for people to accept facts.  At such times, there may be certain […]

optimum or optimal?
Josef Essberger
Is there a difference between optimum and optimal? As adjectives, they have the same meaning: best; most favourable; most conducive to a good result They both come from the Latin optimus, meaning “best”. Look at these examples: What is the optimum/optimal childbearing age? We need to find the optimal/optimum solution. In our case, the optimum/optimal […]

practical or practicable?
Josef Essberger
Let’s try to understand the difference between these two words. practical (adjective): useful and suitable for a particular purpose I love your kitchen. It’s really practical. Everything is in the right place, and at the right height. practicable (adjective):  able to be done; can be put into practice Your idea about making a new car […]

presume or assume?
Josef Essberger
People are often unsure about the difference between these two words. Indeed, they are very close in meaning. to presume something (verb):  to believe something to be true, but without being 100% sure I presume you’ll come to my party. (I’ll be surprised if you don’t come, but I’ll accept your decision.) to assume something […]

“near miss”, “cause”
Josef Essberger
Today we will look at two different terms: “near miss” and “cause”. We will use a short video to understand their meanings. In the video you will see Muntazer al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, throwing both his shoes at the US president, George Bush Jnr. The journalist throws his shoes quite accurately, but the shoes don’t […]

e.g. or i.e. ?
Josef Essberger
People often confuse these two abbreviations. e.g. means “for example”. (It comes from the Latin exempli gratia “for the sake of an example”.) Some foods are good for us to eat (e.g. fruit, fish, vegetables). Other foods are bad, or should be eaten in moderation (e.g. fatty foods, foods with additives, sugary foods). i.e. means […]

nosedive
Josef Essberger
You may have seen those scary headlines in financial papers, or on TV: “Markets nosedive” What does “nosedive” mean? These two pictures should make it clear. The first one shows an aircraft nosediving. The second one is a chart of a stock that opened at $90 at 9am and then nosedived between 3pm and 4pm […]

Another bank, another bailout
Josef Essberger
So the joke going round the financial centres these days is “You’re not a bank unless you’ve had a government bailout.” The UK, Europe, USA, Japan, now South Korea…they’re all bailing out the banks. To the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars for each region, trillions globally. But just what do bail out and […]

So just how big is a trillion anyway?
Josef Essberger
With all these trillions of dollars that banks have misplaced and central banks are throwing around, it’s getting difficult to keep track of the money. We used to talk in terms of millions, and sometimes billions. But these amounts now seem somehow inadequate, paltry almost. The new paradigm is trillion (preferably in pounds, but even […]

What is “Wall Street meltdown”?
Josef Essberger
The word “meltdown” is being bandied about a lot in relation to the current Wall Street crisis. What does it mean? Let’s look at melt first. Melt is a verb: to melt. It means to change from solid to liquid, usually because of heat. So if you put an ice-cube outside in the sun it […]

Why do people write 0:00AM? What does it mean?
Josef Essberger
Or sometimes they write 0:00PM. Or even 12:00AM. Or 12:00PM. I mean…what do they mean? Is it midnight or noon? I mean, AM means before noon, right? And PM means

Principle or principal?
Josef Essberger
Here are two more words that sound exactly the same but have different meanings.

Discreet or discrete?
Josef Essberger
These two words sound exactly the same but have different meanings

The Billion Dollar Question
Josef Essberger
So how much is a billion? Answer: 1,000,000,000 (one thousand million) Sub-plot: In American English a billion is 1,000,000,000. In British English a billion used to be, and technically still may be, 1,000,000,000,000 (one million million); but in practical usage British English now treats a billion the same as American English does: 1,000,000,000. Nevertheless, a […]

Affect or effect?
Josef Essberger
These two words are often confused. They both have several meanings, but today we will look at their basic meaning of change. Affect is a verb, basically meaning: cause to change; make a difference to The cold weather affected my health. If you don’t study it will affect your exam results badly. How you dress […]

You already speak English
Josef Essberger
Here are some words we use in English that are also “international words” – you see and hear them almost everywhere. So even if you are starting to learn English, you already speak it! Like many words in English, some of these words have been “borrowed” from other languages. hello football telephone, phone hotel taxi […]

Quiz: Collective Nouns
Josef Essberger
Can you put each of these collective nouns in the right sentence below? You must use each noun once only. pack | herd | fleet | suite | audience | crowd 1. The farmer moved his __________ of cows to higher ground to avoid the flood. 2. The President and his staff had a __________ […]

The Sick Rose
Josef Essberger
O Rose, thou art sick! The invisible worm, That flies in the night, In the howling storm, Has found out thy bed Of crimson joy; And his dark secret love Does thy life destroy. William Blake 1757-1827 — So the question is: What is “the invisible worm that flies in the night”?

Advice or advise?
Josef Essberger
Advice is a noun: He did not accept my advice. Advise is a verb: The doctor advised her to stop work.

Stationery or stationary?
Josef Essberger
A stationer sells stationery (writing paper, envelopes and other office materials). You’ll find some envelopes in the stationery cupboard. Stationary is an adjective meaning “not moving”. The car hit a stationary bus.

Practice or practise?
Josef Essberger
In American English “practice” is a verb and a noun: I need more practice before I do the exam. Can I practice my English with you? In British English “practice” is a noun and the verb is “practise”: I need more practice before I do the exam. Can I practise my English with you?

Do I write its or it’s?
Josef Essberger
Actually, it’s very easy. It’s is always short for “it is” or “it has”. It is snowing. It’s snowing. It has finished. It’s finished. It has got 6 wheels. It’s got 6 wheels. Its means “belonging to it” and is a possessive pronoun like “his”. Turn the box on its side, Did you see its […]

100 commonest English words
Josef Essberger
Based on evidence from the billion-word Oxford English Corpus, Oxford have identified the hundred commonest English words found in writing globally: 1. the 2. be 3. to 4. of 5. and 6. a 7. in

Bimonthly
Josef Essberger
Here’s an economical word 😉 It means two mutually-exclusive thing at once: 1. twice a month 2. once every two months In fact, the meaning of “bimonthly” (and similar words like “biweekly” and “biyearly”) is ambiguous. The best way to be unambiguous is to use alternative expressions such as “twice a month” or “every two […]