bric-a-brac english

Archive for the ‘VOCABULARY’ Category

The way we move (Verbs for walking and running)

In usage, VOCABULARY on March 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Stroll and saunter, dash and dart.
All the different ways of walking and running in English!

About Words - Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

by Kate Woodford​​​​
This week we’re looking at interesting ways to describe the way that people move. Most of the verbs that we’ll be considering describe how fast or slow people move. Others describe the attitude or state of mind of the person walking or running. Some describe both.

Starting with verbs for walking slowly, if we stroll, we walk slowly and in a relaxed way, usually for pleasure: They were strolling along the shore, holding hands. The noun ‘stroll’ is also used: We went for a stroll down near the river. (The adjective ‘leisurely’, meaning ‘relaxed and without hurrying’ is often used before the noun: We were just enjoying a leisurely stroll in the sunshine.) A slightly less common verb with a very similar meaning is saunter: He sauntered by, without a care in the world.

View original post 332 more words

Choose a better verb!

In VOCABULARY on July 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Using the right verb+noun combinations. A nice post from the Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog.

Choose a better verb!.

via Choose a better verb!.

An astronaut’s guide to life on earth

In VIDEO, VOCABULARY on January 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Chris Hadfield became famous when he performed David Bowie’s Space Oddity… in space! Watch the video here. Click subtitles for lyrics.

You can also check out his YouTube Channel.

Hadfield was Commander of the International Space Station, where he recorded the video.

Back on earth now, he has recently released a book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

In this video, he explains which skills were crucial to him during his time as Commander of the International Space Station, and which he deems important in his daily life back on earth. This video is part of the Macmillan Life Skills campaign.

So, life skills. What does an astronaut have to say about the skills you need to be successful in life?

First, he associates core (basic, standard) education with competence, or being competent (the ability to do something well / being able to do something well) [0:30-0:44]. But then he adds the “other things that will really make the difference”. Listen out for these key words [0:45-1:35]: communicate, prepare, visualise (related to vision, visible – form a picture in your mind).

The next life skill he discusses is the ability to prioritize: to put things in order of importance, to decide what is the most important thing that needs your immediate attention – your first/top/main priority. [1:41-3:05]

In the final part of the video [3:07-end] he focuses on what he calls soft skills (hint: hard skills are the more “traditional” skills that are taught in schools, tested and proven by diplomas, certificates, etc.). Find out what skills he has in mind  by listening for these key words: problems, learn, team, situation, attitude (the way you think and feel about something and the way you behave as a result).

Do leave a comment and tell us what for you are the most important skills for success in life. Do you think we need different skills to succeed in our personal and professional lives? Do you have any tips on how to develop those skills?

Running on empty: liquid fuels

In VOCABULARY on January 20, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Liquid (not solid – water, wine, soup are liquids) fuels (stuff that is burned to produce energy) keep most cars going.

They include petrol (UK) / gas (US) and diesel (oil). When your car is low on petrol/gas, you can fill up at a petrol/gas station. If you don’t, you’ll be running on empty and your car will soon stop moving. The container where petrol/gas is stored on your car is called the tank.

The word petrol comes from petroleum – the oil we get from under the ground.

Gas is short for gasoline. Of course, the word gas also means “a substance that is neither solid nor liquid,” eg. oxygen. Natural gas is another type of fuel in gas form that we get from under the ground and is often used for heating our homes, cooking, etc.

Petroleum/oil and natural gas are fossil fuels. Fossils are the remains of living things buried underground for a very long time. They allow us to know what ancient living things that have disappeared looked like (read more and see pictures of fossils here). Petroleum and natural gas are called fossil fuels because they were formed from parts of plants or animals that remained buried under the ground for millions of years.

Learn English: monthly topic Macmillan Dictionary

In VOCABULARY on January 20, 2014 at 4:41 pm

A vocabulary resource from the Macmillan Dictionary blog, with posts focusing on a particular topic each month. So far there’s been sports English, holiday English, travel English, family English and culture English.

Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect to get from a week’s worth of topic content:

A red word a weekred words form the core vocabulary of the English language. There are around 7500 red words in the Macmillan Dictionary and these are the words that are vital to know because they are the most commonly used.
An example red word from October: elder

A black word a week – black words form the rest of the dictionary and are the thousands of other words in English that are less common and therefore fall outside of the core vocabulary.
An example black word from October: extended family

A phrase (or phrasal verb) a week – a phrase is a group of words that are used together in a fixed expression. A phrasal verb combines a verb and an adverb or preposition.
An example phrase from this month: cut the cord

A relevant list of synonyms and related words from the thesaurus – the thesaurus is a great place to get lost in for a while if you are studying English.
Example thesaurus content from October was a list of words used to describe babies and included words like bouncing, fussy and cranky.

Bonus content – this can include relevant BuzzWords, Open Dictionary entries, collocations, usage notes and more.
Example bonus share from October: the BuzzWord family balancing

Learn English through our monthly topic | Macmillan.

Animal Groupings

In VOCABULARY on April 13, 2013 at 8:33 am

Cattle, birds, wolves, sheep… Animals are often found in groups, and English uses different words for different animal groupings. Many of them have interesting figurative uses as well. Here are some of them:

a group of birds (or aircraft) flying togethera flight of geese/swans

sheep, goats, birds (and people – a flock of tourists)

  • a Christian congregation or group of believers is often referred to as a flock (their pastor/vicar/bishop, etc. being their shepherd).
  • [verb] To move or come together in large numbers
    Hundreds of people flocked to the football match.

a large group of animals that live and feed together
a herd of elephants/cattle/goats

  • when used of people, it normally has a negative meaning:
    to follow the herd (to do sth just because other people do it)
    herd instinct (when people act like everyone else without considering the reason why)

group of animals born together
a litter of kittens

dogs, wolves; also, disapprovingly, people (a pack of thieves)

fish & sea animals

insects; a large group of people moving together
(also, verb: to move together in a large group)

Flock, drove, herd, pack refer to a company of animals, often under the care or guidance of someone.
Flock is the popular term, which applies to groups of animals, especially of sheep or goats, and companies of birds:
This lamb is the choicest of the flock.
A flock of wild geese flew overhead.
Drove is especially applied to a number of oxen, sheep, or swine when driven in a group:
A drove of oxen was taken to market.
A large drove of swine filled the roadway.
Herd is usually applied to large animals such as cattle, originally meaning those under the charge of someone; but by extension, to other animals feeding or driven together:
a buffalo herd; a herd of elephants.
Pack applies to a number of animals kept together or keeping together for offense or defense:
a pack of hounds kept for hunting; a pack of wolves.
As applied to people,
drove, herd and pack have a negative meaning.


In VOCABULARY on December 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Oxford Dictionaries have a very interesting blog about words, obviously, and other language features. In this post they explain the origins of some popular expressions. Here’s the origin of the words bankrupt/bankruptcy:

Does the word ‘bankrupt’ come from a literal breaking of a bank?

Not exactly, although the theory is on the right lines. In the sixteenth century, moneylenders or traders used to conduct their business on benches outdoors. The usual Italian word for such benches was banca—hence today’s ‘bank’. A banca rotta was a ‘broken bench’.
In his dictionary of 1755, Samuel Johnson noted the common legend that when a money-dealer himself became insolvent, his table was duly broken as a sign to others. Whether or not this was true, banca rotta, which morphed into ‘bankrupt’ in English, was definitely used figuratively to mean someone who had gone out of business—and indeed the modern sense of being ‘broke’ comes from that very same origin too.

[words in red type are links to Oxford Dictionary definitions]

The Italian rotta comes from the Latin rupta < rumpere [to break].

From the same root, English got rupture [verb=to break suddenly; noun=the act of breaking (literally & figuratively)] and erupt (=to break out):

  • If the artery ruptures he could die.
  • The rupture with his father was absolute.
  • Violence erupted
  • a volcanic eruption


In VOCABULARY on November 27, 2012 at 9:08 pm

This is a short introduction to the language of crises [krai-seez] plural of crisis [krai-sis]. Crisis is a Greek word (krisis). The same Greek root has given a number of words to English: A critic  is someone who writes reviews and expresses opinions (positive or negative) about the quality of films, books, restaurants, etc. Α critic’s work is called criticism, especially when it’s about works of art. But, more generally, criticism also means expressing a negative judgment or opinion about something. When you do that, you criticise [krit-i-saiz]. A criterion [krai-teer-ee-uhn] is a standard you use to judge or make a decision about something (What are the criteria for selecting the winner?). If a situation is critical, it is very serious or dangerous.

The crisis everybody is concerned about these days is the eurozone crisis (the eurozone is the group of countries that use the Euro). This is a (sovereign) debt crisis, which means that certain countries owe so much money that they find it very difficult to pay it back. When a country cannot repay its debts, we say it defaults on its obligations [di-fawlt, also noun].

  • sovereign (adj.) [sov-(e)rin] = belonging to a state/government
  • owe (pronounced like the letter “o”) = when you have to pay back money someone has given you
  • debt [det] (silent b here) = the money you owe others

A sovereign debt crisis starts with large (budget) deficits [buhj-it def-i-sit]. A country runs a budget deficit when it spends more money than it receives. Then, it needs to borrow [bor-oh] (this is what you do when you ask your bank to give you some money which you then pay back over a period of time; the bank lends you the money). Countries often borrow by issuing bonds (a bond is an official paper which promises that the government will pay you a certain amount of money on a certain future date). Bonds carry interest (the money you will receive is more than the money you paid to buy them). The interest rate is a percentage (2%, 3%, etc.) that tells you exactly how much more money you will receive. In some cases, such as bank loans, interest rates can be variable (the interest rate can increase or decrease while you’re repaying the loan) or fixed.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is an organisation that gives loans (lends money) to countries with debt problems. It usually gives this money in tranches [tranche, rhymes with “branch”] (portions or parts of the total amount).

Budget deficits and sovereign debt are measured in relation to a country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – the total of goods and services produced by a nation during one year (a simplified definition). So, if a country has a GDP of 100 billion and a deficit of 1 billion, it’s running a 1% deficit. If its debt (the total amount of money it owes) is 120 billion, its debt is 120% (of GDP).


In Uncategorized, VOCABULARY on November 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Bees buzz. If a bee has ever flown near you, you know what buzz means. (The word is a verb and a noun). We also use this word to describe the sound other insects make when they fly, and we use it to talk about any low, continuous, humming sound (e.g. machines, an aeroplane, people talking).

hum = the sound you make when you “sing” without opening your mouth; also a verb.

If you’re a basketball fun, you know that characteristic sound that marks the end of a game. That’s a buzzer. If a player scores a basket a few milliseconds (millisecond = 1/1000 of a second) before the buzzer goes off, that shot is a buzzer-beater. In some TV quiz shows, contestants have to quickly press a button when they think they know the right answer; that’s a buzzer too.

Because bees are such active and energetic little creatures, buzz as a verb also means to be busy, full of activity, excitement, energy. (The place was buzzing with excitement.) Charles Dickens first used the adjective abuzz to describe a place that is full of activity and noise. And if all this activity and excitement is inside your head, because it’s full of thoughts or ideas, you can say that your head/mind is buzzing. Mine is, right now.  And I must add that writing this post gives me a buzz – I’m excited about it! Completely buzzed-up (but only in the sense I’ve just explained, not because I’ve drunk too much or taken drugs).

If you say you’re going to buzz off, you’re ready to leave. And if you tell someone to buzz off, you want them to leave you alone – but don’t use this expression if you don’t want to sound rude. If you do tell someone to buzz off and then you regret it, you might want to give that person a buzz (a phone call) and apologise.

Finally, if – as I hope – a lot of people read this post and start using it all the time, buzz might become the next buzzword.

In season

In VOCABULARY on November 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Fruits and vegetables of late autumn/early winter:

cauliflower [KAW-li-flou-er], broccoli [BROK-uh-lee]

lettuce [LET-is]

cabbage [KAB-ij]

pomegranate [POM-i-gran-it]

persimmon [per-SIM-uhn]



quince [kwins]