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Joe's Cafe


Personal blog of EnglishClub founder Josef Essberger - see Menu

When words lose their meaning

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

(Confucius)


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

grapes

“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.)

“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