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Joe's Cafe




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.


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.

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.



telephone, phone