Vocabulary

Nothing New in Fake News

Fake Newsfake news (noun): false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting

Thus does dictionary publisher Collins define the term fake news, which they have named as Word of the Year for 2017.

Popularized more by President Donald Trump of the USA than by anyone else, fake news has been used 365% more in 2017 according to Collins. And indeed President Trump has made commenting about Fake News on Twitter something of a hobby.

Trump on Fake News - Twitter (more…)

What’s the Joke?

cartoon

What’s an ATM?
What’s a PIN?
What’s a pedant?
What’s the joke?

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?

Migrants

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?

slugs

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?

scale

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

How many waves do you know?

Waves

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…)

Saying of the Day

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. (more…)

Idiom of the Day

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 (more…)

current versus contemporary

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 (more…)

The King is dead. Long live the King!

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 same captain in the second.  Why wouldn’t both be capitalized? Thanks for your help. I have no rule to follow with this problem.”

It’s a good question, with (quite) a simple answer.

In the case of “King Edward” and “Captain Lorca” we are using (more…)

The R Word

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 words that people don’t like to say. If they need to express that word, they may use the first letter only, and hope that everyone else understands. It also suggests, and this is done partly in humour, that the word is a bad, “dirty” or otherwise offensive word.

So just what is the R word? (more…)

optimum or optimal?

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 investment would produce a modest return at no risk.

Optimum can also be a noun, while optimal has two derivatives:

  • optimally (adverb)
  • optimality (noun)

practical or practicable?

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 park is not practicable. There is not enough space.

Note that there are a few other meanings for “practical”.

presume or assume?

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 (verb):  to take something for granted, to believe it without question

  • I assume you’ll come to my party. (I expect to see you at my party. I will want to know why if you don’t come.)

“near miss”, “cause”

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 hit Mr Bush. They “miss” him, but only just. In fact, (more…)

e.g. or i.e. ?

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 “that is”. (It comes from the Latin id est “that is”.)

  • Not surprisingly, the closest planet to the sun (i.e. Mercury)  has the most extreme temperature variations in the solar system.

When we use e.g. we simply offer some examples or suggestions among many. When we use i.e. we say exactly what we are talking about.

Note that you will often see them written without full stops or periods, thus: eg and ie

Also note that “that is to say” means the same as “that is”.

nosedive

nosedive

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 to finish at $30.

nosedive

Another bank, another bailout

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 bailout mean?

bail someone/something out (phrasal verb): to free someone or something from a difficulty or problem. If you owe a friend $1000 that you cannot pay, and your dad comes along and pays the money for you—then you’ve just been bailed out, your dad bailed you out.

bailout (noun):  financial assistance given to a failing business (or a failing country) to save it from collapse

Right now, governments of the world are taking tax-payers’ money and giving it to banks to bail them out because without the bailout—so the argument goes—the banks would collapse and the whole financial system of the world would come crashing down around our ears.

NB: these are not the only meanings for bail and bail out, but they’re the only ones that matter in the days of Armageddon 🙂

So just how big is a trillion anyway?

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 dollars will do).

What is a trillion? The modern* trillion is a million million (1,000,000,000,000 or 10 to the power of 12).

Just to recap:

  • million: one thousand thousand (1,000,000) [pathetic!]
  • billion: one thousand million (1,000,000,000) [so 20th-century]
  • trillion: one million million (1,000,000,000,000) [a sensible figure to lose]

but wait for it…

  • quadrillion: one thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) [you’ll need this soon for the hyperinflation that’s coming]

* the “modern” trillion is American English and now used in British English. In old British English a trillion was a million million million (1,000,000,000,000,000,000)—a truly handsome figure that even Hank hasn’t managed to get his sticky fingers around yet.


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