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Joe's Cafe


Personal blog of EnglishClub founder Josef Essberger - see Menu

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?


Olympics in China

Next year the Olympics will be held in China. I noticed that they will start on 8th August. Then I thought: “Wow! The Chinese are very clever. They’re getting the games in their country on their LUCKY day.” I’m not sure if I’m right but I’m guessing that they engineered the games to start on 08/08/08 (8 August 2008). And for Chinese people I believe the number 8 is a very lucky number. Clever!


CAPITAL CRIME

WHEN I WAS A BOY, I LEARNED TO READ. BUT FIRST I LEARNED THE ALPHABET. AS YOU KNOW, THE ENGLISH ALPHABET HAS SMALL (abc) AND LARGE (ABC) LETTERS. THE LARGE LETTERS ARE CALLED “CAPITAL LETTERS”. GUESS WHICH LETTERS I LEARNED FIRST AS A YOUNG CHILD. SMALL LETTERS OR CAPITAL LETTERS? AND WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE ANYWAY BETWEEN SMALL AND LARGE LETTERS? WELL, I’LL TELL YOU. I LEARNED SMALL LETTERS FIRST. AND THE DIFFERENCE? LARGE LETTERS ARE ALL THE SAME HEIGHT. EXACTLY THE SAME. SMALL LETTERS GO UP AND DOWN. SOME ARE IN THE MIDDLE, LIKE x. SOME GO UP, LIKE b. SOME GO DOWN, LIKE p. THAT MEANS THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES. “SO WHAT?”, I HEAR YOU SAY. SO SMALL LETTERS ARE EASIER TO READ. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SAW A BOOK PRINTED COMPLETELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS? WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY READING ONE? PRETTY DIFFICULT, LIKE THE SOLID BLOCKS OF TEXT IN CAPITAL LETTERS THAT MICROSOFT LAWYERS USE TO MAKE THEIR AGREEMENTS DIFFICULT TO READ. LIKE THIS POST, COME TO THINK OF IT. DON’T AGREE? TRY THE TEST.


Consonant Strings

Normally, every syllable in English must have at least one vowel (or vowel sound). So it’s quite surprising to think that there are words with 5 or more consonants in a row.

Here are a few words with 5-letter consonant strings:

BIRTHPLACE, BREASTSTROKE, DOWNSTREAM, EIGHTHS, MATCHSTICK, NIGHTCLOTHES, NIGHTCLUB, NIGHTDRESS, STRENGTHS, THOUSANDTHS

Here are two words with 6 consonants in a row:

CATCHPHRASE, KNIGHTSBRIDGE

Can you think of any more? There are quite a few.


What is the third word?

Here’s a common puzzle:

Think of words ending in “-gry”. “Angry” and “hungry” are two of them. There are only three words in the English language. What is the third word? The word is something that everyone uses every day. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.


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
Read on »


Longest word in English

The publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary quote “loccinaucinihilipilification” (29 letters) as the longest genuine word, followed by “antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters). According to Oxford, although there are a few other words that are longer, they are mainly technical words or invented for the purpose.

I can now reveal that in fact “smiles” is the longest genuine word in the English language because there is a mile between its first and last letters.


Anagrams

If we take the word DOG and change its letters around we can get GOD. That is an anagram – a word (or phrase) made by mixing up the letters of another word (or phrase). The DOG = GOD example is a very simple anagram. Another example would be CINEMA = ICEMAN.

But the cleverest anagrams are much more complicated and often have some relationship to the original words:

Astronomer = Moon starer
Debit card = Bad credit
Schoolmaster = The classroom
Halley’s Comet = Shall yet come
Punishment = Nine Thumps