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Joe's Cafe


Migrants or Refugees?

As thousands of people from the war-torn regions of the Middle-East (Syria, Iraq…) and North Africa (Libya…) cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek safety in Europe, the European media and politicians struggle to avoid using the term refugees and instead label them migrants. But what’s the difference?

migrants or refugees?


Birds migrate. The verb migrate simply means to move from one region to another. In the case of birds it is to find a suitable habitat (living space) according to the season. In the case of humans, it is usually to find (more…)

Veni, vidi, vici

The Latin phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” was an elegant way of saying “I came, I saw, I conquered”. The Roman general Julius Caesar allegedly first used the phrase c46 BC in his report to the Senate after quickly defeating Pharnaces II of Pontus at the Battle of Zela. Hillary Clinton famously abused the expression on being advised of the murder of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 (“We came, we saw, he died”).

House or home?

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 terraced (in a row, like townhouses all joined together).

  • We are selling our house and want to buy a bigger one.
  • That house used to be brown, but last week the owners painted it white.

A home is the place where you live, especially as part of a family. It could be a house, or it could be a condominium or apartment or flat, or anywhere else.

  • I have to go home. I’ve just remembered that I left my apartment door open.
  • After the hurricane they had to move into a temporary caravan. But already they’ve made it into a real home for the children.

Just think of house as a physical thing, and home is more like an idea.

NB: there is a tendency by real estate agents in the USA to use “home” instead of “house”. So they advertise “Home for Sale” instead of “House for Sale” etc. This is perhaps due to the emotive nature of the word “home”, which may better serve the purposes of commercialism. But we have seen what happens when words lose their meanings.

How many “slugs” do you see here?


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?


How many uses of the word “scale” do you see (more…)

How many waves do you know?


Can you make one sentence for each of the four (more…)

What abbreviations and acronyms do you know?

abbreviationAn 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

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 Microsoft or not, but if it was it made it into my 1995 edition of Concise Oxford Dictionary. For the context that we are discussing, the two words can be defined as:

  • footnote (noun): a note at the bottom of a specific page usually about something on that page.
  • footer (noun): a piece of text or programming code repeated at the bottom of every page.

Footnote: the word “footer” can also be used in combinations such as “six-footer” (a man who is six feet tall) and “right-footer” (a specific kick in football etc).

specially or especially?

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 (more…)

cannot or can not?

People often ask me whether they should write cannot (1 word) or can not (2 words). (more…)