Punctual words

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Are you a tardy person or a punctual person? I consider myself punctual because I don’t like waiting and I don’t want anyone to have to wait for me. 

The English language has several expressions regarding time--specifically precise, exact time--and some of them are phrasal verbs: on time or on schedule, which mean not early or late but as planned or expected.

  • The concert started on time. 
  • The plane departed on schedule. 

I think idioms are more fun than phrasal verbs so try adding these to your vocabulary.  When referring to an exact specified time, you can use sharp or on the dot after the time to emphasize punctuality. 

  • The conference will begin at 8 a.m. sharp. 
  • Marta never works late. She leaves the office at 5:00 on the dot every day. 

So, what kind of person are you? Always running late or always on time?


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Do you know what brunch is? First of all, it’s a late morning meal eaten instead of breakfast and lunch. Second, it’s a blend of the words "breakfast" and "lunch", and a combination of their meanings. Third, this type of word is known as a portmanteau, which is a new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings.

There are many examples of  portmanteaus in English. Chocoholics ("chocolate" + "alcoholic"), workaholics ("work" + "alcoholic"), and shopaholics ("shopping" + "alcoholic")  are people who, respectively, have mild dependencies on chocolate, work, and shopping instead of alcohol. These are not real dependencies but rather strong tendencies. 

Now that it’s summer, some people take staycations (a portmanteau of "stay" and “vacation”), which is a vacation when one does not travel away from home. I like taking staycations sometimes because I can enjoy places in my city and state that I normally don’t have time to visit during my workdays, such as museums, amusement parks, nature parks, other nearby cities, concerts, or festivals. They’re a great way to save money (no lodging costs and minimal travel expenses), plus there’s no packing, stress, or long airport lines. 

There is no doubt that leisure travel is exciting and educational, but there are some strong arguments for taking a staycation every now and then. 

Have you ever taken a staycation?

In a pickle

Monday, July 9, 2018

Although pickles are small, did you know that you can be in one? It's true  . . . but only for the idiom in a pickle

Pickles are small cucumbers that are preserved in vinegar or a brine (very salty water). They’re usually served with sandwiches or hamburgers, or they can be chopped up into a relish (a condiment). My sister loves pickles although I can take them or leave them.

There are many food idioms in the English language. A piece of cake is an example, and now we can add in a pickle to that list. 

To be in a pickle is when you’re in a difficult, troublesome situation where the solution is unclear or difficult. 

John is in a pickle: he has two dates for the party. 
Now we are in a pickle because we’re out of gas.
I’m in a real pickle because my computer crashed and I need several documents. 
Can you help me? I’m in a bit of a pickle.

Have you ever been in a pickle? 

U.S. Culture: Small Talk

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Are you good at making small talk?

Small talk is when you make polite conversation about trivial or uncontroversial matters such as the weather or sports. It’s also known as chitchat, and it’s the best way to make connections for people who don’t know each other well.

Americans like making small talk while waiting in lines, or in elevators, for example, but small talk skills are also needed at parties, on the job, in class, or anyplace where you don't know others well. I speak with many English learners daily. Typically they are quite proficient in the vocabulary of their work but they lack small talk skills. If you find yourself in the middle of an awkward silence, then try some of these best small talk topics:: 
  1. Weather
  2. Sports
  3. Arts and entertainment
  4. Current news
  5. Traffic
  6. Travel
  7. Work
  8. Hobbies
  9. Whatever holiday is closest
  10. Hometown
  11. Family
Avoid the following worst small talk topics. These are small talk “don’ts”:
  1. Personal finances
  2. Religion
  3. Politics
  4. Complaints
  5. Death
  6. Sex
  7. Weight
  8. Age
  9. Health isues
  10. Relationship and family problems
  11. Gossip

If you’re not experienced at making small talk, try thinking of one thing to say for every item in the “best small talk topics” list. You’ll find yourself making social connections and actually enjoying yourself as you wait in that long line or attend that party, or participate in that international conference. Chitchat and have fun interacting with others.

Word origin: bigwig

Monday, May 7, 2018

Can you guess the meaning of bigwig in these sentences?

Many bigwigs in sports attended the charity event.
The job candidate was interviewed by several bigwigs on the hospital's staff.

A bigwig (one word) is not a large wig or hairpiece. A bigwig is an informal reference to an important person, a VIP, but its name literally originates from the big wigs (two words) that people wore in the past. 

Dating back to the 18th century, bigwig is a reference to the powdered wigs that men wore back then. Rich and important men had larger, more expensive wigs, thus the term for these VIPs was coined (created) .

Some other names for bigwig are heavyweight, notable, big name, dignitary, big shot (informal), big cheese (slang, old-fashioned), and heavy hitter. Try adding bigwig or some of its synonyms to your vocabulary to increase your fluency. 

Poetic License

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Grammar rules, rules, rules — learning languages involves many grammar rules. It may be hard to believe but there are instances when bad grammar is perfectly acceptable. This is called poetic license.

Poetic license (sometimes called artistic license or creative license) allows you to break grammar rules for artistic purposes. It is the liberty to depart from the facts or from the standard language rules to create an effect. 

One way of using poetic license is to change the facts of a story to make it more interesting or captivating. Another example is in song lyrics and poetry. Incorrect grammar is often used by song writers and poets to create a specific mood or character. 

Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog is full of grammatical errors but those errors tell us a little bit about the character (his lack of sophistication, his education level or background, perhaps). Take a look at the first verse of Hound Dog

You ain't nothing but a hound dog
Crying all the time
You ain't nothing but a hound dog
Crying all the time
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

Now, here is the same verse with correct grammar: 

You aren’t anything but a hound dog
Crying all the time
You aren’t anything but a hound dog
Crying all the time. 
Well, you have never caught a rabbit
And you aren’t a friend of mine

I think the difference is striking (quite dramatic) and poetic license was necessary to give this song the right mood. I can’t imagine it any other way, can you?

American Culture: Teddy Bears

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A teddy bear is a soft, plush bear toy that is named after our 26th President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. (Teddy is short for Theodore.)

The teddy bear was created after an encounter between Roosevelt, a hunting enthusiast, and a black bear in Mississippi in 1902. Everyone in the hunting party had successfully hunted a bear, except Roosevelt. His assistants didn’t want Roosevelt’s hunting trip to be a failure so they captured and tied a black bear to a tree, making an easy target for Roosevelt to shoot. Regarding this as unsportsmanlike (unfair), Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear, and news of the event spread throughout the country. 

After seeing a political cartoon that gently mocked the president’s refusal to shoot the bear, a candy shop owner in Brooklyn named Morris Michtom created the stuffed toy. He dedicated it to the president, who gave permission to use his name. Thus, the teddy bear was born. 

Teddy bears look like cute, gentle little bear cubs, which is how the political cartoon represented the black bear. Even now the teddy bear has worldwide popularity. Do you have one?

This is the official cartoon drawn by Clifford Berryman in1902 that satirized Teddy Roosevelt's bear hunt.

(The above photo shows one of the original American teddy bears. made in 1907.)