Vocabulary

What is “Wall Street meltdown”?

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 will melt. The ice will become water. When you light a candle, the solid wax of the candle melts and becomes liquid wax, running down the candle until it cools and solidifies again.

What about meltdown? Meltdown is a noun, with a technical meaning. A meltdown is an accident in a nuclear reactor in which the fuel becomes so hot that the core of the nuclear reactor melts, with potentially extremely serious (catastrophic) consequences.

What about a meltdown in Wall Street? There are no nuclear reactors in Wall Street, so what can it mean?

Wall Street is a street at the south end of Manhattan in New York City, and is home to the New York Stock Exchange and other leading United States financial institutions (major banks etc). When people talk about a “meltdown in Wall Street” they are using the word meltdown figuratively to mean “a catastrophic event, a disastrous collapse of the American financial system”.

Why do people write 0:00AM? What does it mean?

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 (more…)

Principle or principal?

Here are two more words that sound exactly the same but have different meanings. (more…)

Discreet or discrete?

These two words sound exactly the same but have different meanings (more…)

The Billion Dollar Question

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 British billionaire is still worth more than an American billionaire (slightly more than twice as much at today’s rate of exchange).

Affect or effect?

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 affects the way people think of you.

Effect is a noun, meaning: a change that is the result of something else

  • The cold weather had an effect on my health.
  • Hard drugs can have deadly effects.
  • Her love letters had no effect on him.

As mentioned above, both words can have other meanings as well, and effect can also be a verb (with a different meaning). Just remember that in the sense of “change” as shown above the noun is effect and the verb is affect.

You already speak English

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

toilet

museum

TV

pizza

sandwich

restaurant

city

hamburger

video

Quiz: Collective Nouns

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 __________ of rooms on the top floor.

3. After the concert the __________ clapped loudly.

4. It was difficult to move because there were so many people in the __________.

5. Which navy has the biggest __________ in the world?

6. The casino uses a new __________ of cards for each game.

See Comments for answers.

The Sick Rose

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?

Advice is a noun:

  • He did not accept my advice.

Advise is a verb:

  • The doctor advised her to stop work.

Stationery or stationary?

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?

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?

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 registration number?
  • Its atmosphere is romantic.

100 commonest English words

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
(more…)

Bimonthly

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 months”.


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