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Joe's Cafe

Joe's Cafe

Personal blog of EnglishClub founder Josef Essberger - see Menu

Meeting the eye

“There is less to him than meets the eye.”

(Tallulah Bankhead)

The normal expression is “there is more to something/somebody than meets the eye”, meaning that the thing or person is deeper than surface appearances suggest.

Arguing with a woman

“Arguing with a woman is like trying to fold the airmail edition of The Times in a high wind.”

(Lord Mancroft)

The Times is a newspaper. It used to be large format (ie, it had very large pages). The airmail edition was printed on very thin, light-weight paper.

Advice on reviewing books

“I never read a book before reviewing it. It prejudices a man so.”

(Sydney Smith)

Do come again

“You must come again when you have less time.”

(Walter Sickert to Denton Welch)

When words lose their meaning

“When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom”


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? Read on »

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)

The Winepress


“You don’t have to be French to enjoy a decent red wine,” Charles Jousselin de Gruse used to tell his foreign guests whenever he entertained them in Paris. “But you do have to be French to recognize one,” he would add with a laugh.

After a lifetime in the French diplomatic corps, the Count de Gruse lived with his wife in an elegant townhouse on Quai Voltaire. He was a likeable man, cultivated of course, with a well deserved reputation as a generous host and an amusing raconteur.

This evening’s guests were all European and all equally convinced that immigration was at the root of Europe’s problems. Charles de Gruse said nothing. He had always concealed his contempt for such ideas. And, in any case, he had never much cared for these particular guests.

The first of the red Bordeaux was being served with the veal, and one of the guests turned to de Gruse. Read on »

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.)