Joe's Cafe


Personal blog of EnglishClub founder Josef Essberger - see Menu

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, Read on »


Smiling Moon

What can it mean? The Moon is smiling over Thailand. Here are two pictures I took tonight 1st December around 7pm in Bangkok.

Smiling Moon over Bangkok

Smiling Moon

Have YOU have seen a smiling moon? What do YOU think it means?!


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


New dollar bill

To support the bailout of AIG, Lehman, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac the US Treasury Department has issued a new one dollar bill…

New dollar bill


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.


Willful panic

Watching CNN (or one of the other cable channels endlessly broadcasting the end of the world as capitalism knows it) I heard one of the “expert commentators” describe last Thursday’s sell-off on the London Stock Exchange as “a bloodbath – sheer, unadulterated, willful panic”.

What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with “willful panic”? Please add your answers and comments.

(“When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.” Confucius)


College Entrance Exam

Time allowed: 1 minute

College Entrance Exam

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Answers to College Entrance Exam

That’s OK, I didn’t pass either 🙁


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”.


7 of my Favourite Quotations

A “quotation” is usually a short text – perhaps one or two sentences – written or spoken by one (usually famous) person and often repeated or at least known by others. Here are 7 of my favourite quotations, arranged (loosely) from humorous to serious. Have a look at them and try to understand them. You may know some of them already in your own language. Do you agree with Read on »


How do you use the Internet?

How do you use the Internet? What do you do? How often? Why? Do you mainly use the Internet to play games, find friends, learn online, shop online…? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet? Do you have any tips and suggestions you would like to give others?


Morality Test

This test only has one question, but it’s a very important one. By giving an honest answer, you will discover where you stand morally. The test features an unlikely, completely fictional situation in which you will have to make a decision.

Remember that your answer needs to be honest, yet spontaneous.

Please scroll down slowly and give due consideration to each line.

THE SITUATION

You are in England, York to be precise.

There is chaos all around you caused by a hurricane with severe flooding.

This is a flood of biblical proportions.

You are a photo-journalist working for a major newspaper, and you’re caught in the middle of this epic disaster. The situation is nearly hopeless.

You’re trying to shoot career-making photos.

There are houses and people swirling around you, some disappearing into the water.

Nature is unleashing all its destructive fury.

THE TEST

Suddenly, you see a man in the water.

He is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken down with the debris.

You move closer… Somehow, the man looks familiar…
You suddenly realize who it is… It’s Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the UK! You notice that the raging waters are about to take him under forever. You have two options:

You can save the life of Gordon Brown or you can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, documenting the death of one of the country’s most powerful men!

THE QUESTION

Here’s the question, and please give an honest answer…

Would you select high contrast colour film, or would you go with the classic simplicity of black and white?


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 Read on »


Principle or principal?

Here are two more words that sound exactly the same but have different meanings. Read on »


Discreet or discrete?

These two words sound exactly the same but have different meanings Read on »


Some seek knowledge

“Some seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge – and that is curiosity. Some seek knowledge that they may be known to have knowledge – and that is vanity. Some seek knowledge that they may give to others their knowledge – and that is charity.”

Bernard of Clairveaux
Saint Bernard of Clairveaux was a French abbot of the 12th century.


I shall not pass this way again

I expect to pass through this world but once;

any good thing therefore that I can do, or any

kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature,
Read on »


April Fool’s Day

April 1st is called April Fool’s Day in English, and it’s a day when people play jokes on other people. They can be small, personal jokes or tricks, or big “industrial-size” hoaxes by newspapers or television channels like the BBC. Read on »


Swiss Spaghetti Harvest Hoax

Below is probably the most classic April Fool’s Day hoax of all time. On April 1st, 1957 the BBC ran a short programme about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland, showing spaghetti growing on trees. Many people believed the programme and phoned in to ask how they could grow their own “spaghetti tree”.

Read on »


I wish I loved the Human Race

I wish I loved the Human Race;

I wish I loved its silly face; Read on »


How many words in Shakespeare?

Several sources claim that Shakespeare used nearly 30,000 different words in his works. However, we need to ask what we mean by “different words”. Is it reasonable to count go and going and gone as three different words? If we count go and going and gone as one word (GO), then Shakespeare used fewer than 20,000 “different words”.


What is it?

Riddles are short poems or texts that ask a question that seems difficult to answer. The following famous riddle by Catherine Fanshawe is talking about something, but what is it? Read on »


Best holiday

Tell us about the best vacation (holiday) you’ve ever taken. Where did you go? Why did you like it?



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