Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
For the 25 years I have taught classes in business writing, I have heard and rejected a few myths. And I have learned and applied some important truths. Don’t let yourself be fooled by false rules that others may follow. Recognize and apply what makes sense.
Is each of the five statements below a truth, a myth, or a mix of both depending on the situation? You decide. Read More…
From snow to jade, if you are struggling to describe a color or you just want to broaden your vocabulary.
(Although the blacks seem all the same to me.)
At various moments in its life, a word will hop languages, change meanings, travel through sinister moments and land in pleasant ones. But no matter how many times it’s superimposed, and how far it gets from its original source, a word doesn’t let go of its memories easily. Here are 11 modern English words with socially insensitive origins.
1. Hysteria (n.) – a wild, irrational eruption of fear or emotion
Hysteria begins in the womb, or so thought the medical scholars of the 1610s, who named the condition after the Latin hystericus, meaning “of the womb.” Those who’ve studied the Victorian era, or read The Awakening in high school, may know that the go-to prognosis of the time for just about every female’s symptom from the occasional hissy fit to chronic seizures was a pesky wayfaring uterus. The condition was thought to be caused by sexual frustration and cured by intercourse or pelvic massage, the latter often performed by physicians and midwives. When doctors finally got fed up with the tedious task in the late 19th century, the personal vibrator was created to take their place. Read More…
Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression‘ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of “contronyms”—words that are their own antonyms.
1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty on.’
2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English ofersēon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’) “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’
3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)
4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.
6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).
7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning ‘to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange,’ “trim” came to mean ‘to prepare, make ready.’ Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: ‘to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance’ or ‘to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of.’ And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?
8. Cleave can be cleaved into two “homographs,” words with different origins that end up spelled the same. “Cleave,” meaning ‘to cling to or adhere,’ comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. “Cleave,” with the contrary meaning ‘to split or sever (something), ‘ as you might do with a cleaver, comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: “cloven,” which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”
9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. “Resign,” meaning ‘to quit,’ is spelled the same as “resign,” meaning ‘to sign up again,’ but it’s pronounced differently.
10. Fast can mean “moving rapidly,” as in “running fast,” or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in “holding fast.” If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first. The adverb took on the sense ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly,’ a meaning that spread to the adjective.
11. Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in “to turn off,” but also ‘activated,’ as in “The alarm went off.”
12. Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in “The company weathered the recession,” or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: “The rock was weathered.”
13. Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ (an unsightly view).
14. Help means ‘assist,’ unless you can’t help doing something, when it means ‘prevent.’
The Oxford Dictionary Online is a warehouse of over 600,000 words. Despite this large arsenal, we continue to coin, clip, and blend new words into existence, and the Oxford folks pump some of these new words into their dictionaries. Here are some more recent additions with their official definitions.
1. Bling (n): Expensive, ostentatious clothing and jewelry.
2. Bromance (n): A close but non-sexual relationship between two men.
3. Chillax (v): Calm down and relax.
By Onna Nelson, University of California, Santa Barbara
1. English red
The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word for red, reudh, remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, showing up in English red, Spanish rojo, French rouge, German rot, Icelandic rauðr, and Welsh rhudd. Not only did it lead to these words for the color itself, it also led to red-related English words like ruby, rust, and rubeola.
2. English black
The PIE word bhel evolved into many modern words meaning “white,” including Spanish blanco, French blanc, Italian bianco, and Portuguese branco, as well as white-related words such as bleach and blank. So why does the English word black look so much like all these other words for white? Well, bhel also referred to anything bright, like fire, and the result of fire is blackened, charred remains. Hence, black.
3. English green
The PIE word ghre-, meaning “to grow,” is another root which endured the centuries. What grows? Green stuff! Grhe- gave us many modern words meaning “green,” including English green, German grün, and Icelandic grænn, as well as the English words grow, grass, graze and herb.
4. Portuguese red and purple
As languages add color words to their lexicon, the colors a word refers to can get shifted around. Portuguese roxo, related to the same PIE word reudh, used to mean red and red-related colors, including pink, orange, and purple. When the bright red pigment vermilion was imported from China, Portuguese began using vermelho to refer to red, and pushed roxo aside to refer exclusively to purple.
5. English purple
Purpura is the Latin name of a particular kind of shellfish which, when ground up, produces a bright purple dye, which in turn was taken from the Greek word porphura to describe the same sea creature. The word purpura later began to refer to the dye, and eventually the color of this dye. This dye was very expensive, and purple was considered a color of royalty throughout Europe. When this dye was exported to England, the word purple was imported into English as well. Today “purpura” is used by medicos to describe purplish discolorations of the skin.
6. English pink
Lots of fancy color words come from flowers or fruits: violet, periwinkle, lavender, lilac, olive, eggplant, pumpkin, and peach, to name a few. In English, pink used to refer exclusively to a flower called a pink, a dianthus which has pale red petals with fringed edges. “Pink” the verb, meaning to cut or tear jaggedly, has been in use in the English language since the early 14th century. Eventually, English speakers forgot the name of the flower, but preserved the word for the color.
7. Japanese blue and green
Over two-thirds of the world’s languages have a single word for both green and blue, known as grue in English. In Japanese, aoi historically referred to grue. When Crayola crayons were imported, green was labeled midori and blue was labeled aoi. New generations of schoolchildren learned them as different colors. But traces of grue remain: Japanese still refers to “blue” traffic lights and “blue” apples with aoi.
8. Kurdish and Russian blue
In Russian, the word for dark blue is sinii, and in Kurdish the word for blue is šin. In Neo-Aramaic, a central hub of trade, the word for blue is sǐni, and in Kurdish the word for blue is šin. In Arabic, a central hub of trade, the word for ‘Chinese’ is sini. The words for Chinese and blue became synonymous due to the popular blue and white porcelain china commonly traded in the region.
9. Spanish yellow
Amarillo, or “yellow,” is a diminutive form of the Spanish word amargo, which comes from the Latin word amarus, meaning “bitter.” So how did “little bitter” come to be synonymous with “yellow”? In the Middle Ages, medical physicians commonly believed that the human body had four humors. The “bitter humor” referred to bile, which is yellow.
10. English orange
When oranges (the fruit) were exported from India, the word for them was exported too. Sanskrit narangah, or “orange tree,” was borrowed into Persian as narang, “orange (fruit),” which was borrowed into Arabic as naranj, into Italian as arancia, into French as orange, and eventually into English as orange. The color of the fruit was so striking that after borrowing the word and the crop, English speakers eventually began referring to the color by this word as well. Before oranges were imported in the 1500s, the English word for orange (the color) was geoluhread (literally, “yellow-red”).
|Beleaguer||To exhaust with attacks.|
|Brood||To think alone.|
|Bucolic||In a lovely rural setting.|
|Bungalow||A small, cozy cottage.|
|Chatoyant||Like a cat’s eye.|
|Conflate||To blend together.|
|Cynosure||A focal point of admiration.|
|Dalliance||A brief love affair.|
|Demure||Shy and reserved.|
|Denouement||The resolution of a mystery.|
|Elision||Dropping a sound or syllable in a word.|
|Elixir||A good potion.|
|Eloquence||Beauty and persuasion in speech.|
|Embrocation||Rubbing on a lotion.|
|Epiphany||A sudden revelation.|
|Erstwhile||At one time, for a time.|
|Ethereal||Gaseous, invisible but detectable.|
|Evanescent||Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.|
|Forbearance||Withholding response to provocation.|
|Gambol||To skip or leap about joyfully.|
|Gossamer||The finest piece of thread, a spider’s silk|
|Halcyon||Happy, sunny, care-free.|
|Harbinger||Messenger with news of the future.|
|Imbrication||Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.|
|Imbroglio||An altercation or complicated situation.|
|Imbue||To infuse, instill.|
|Incipient||Beginning, in an early stage.|
|Ingénue||A naïve young woman.|
|Inglenook||A cozy nook by the hearth.|
|Inure||To become jaded.|
|Labyrinthine||Twisting and turning.|
|Lagniappe||A special kind of gift.|
|Lagoon||A small gulf or inlet.|
|Lilt||To move musically or lively.|
|Lissome||Slender and graceful.|
|Lithe||Slender and flexible.|
|Moiety||One of two equal parts.|
|Mondegreen||A slip of the ear.|
|Nemesis||An unconquerable archenemy.|
|Offing||The sea between the horizon and the offshore.|
|Onomatopoeia||A word that sounds like its meaning.|
|Palimpsest||A manuscript written over earlier ones.|
|Panacea||A solution for all problems|
|Panoply||A complete set.|
|Pastiche||An art work combining materials from various sources.|
|Petrichor||The smell of earth after rain.|
|Plethora||A large quantity.|
|Pyrrhic||Successful with heavy losses.|
|Ratatouille||A spicy French stew.|
|Ravel||To knit or unknit.|
|Riparian||By the bank of a stream.|
|Ripple||A very small wave.|
|Scintilla||A spark or very small thing.|
|Seraglio||Rich, luxurious oriental palace or harem.|
|Serendipity||Finding something nice while looking for something else.|
|Summery||Light, delicate or warm and sunny.|
|Susquehanna||A river in Pennsylvania.|
|Talisman||A good luck charm.|
|Umbrella||Protection from sun or rain.|
|Vestigial||In trace amounts.|
British slang is a niche of its own, evolving and transforming and adapting from city to city and from year to year, just as the English language itself has done. While American slang has become nearly universal with the influx of TV shows, films, and other media filling the screens of a significant majority of the media-viewing global population, there is so much more available once you dig beneath the surface of British slang terms and can discover some real gems beneath the surface.
So, if you’re an aspiring Anglophile looking for some new lingo to help fuel your love for all things British, or you just fancy seeing what kind of words the British find themselves using their day-to-day, check out our thirty best British slang terms for you to start using and incorporating into your vocabulary immediately…
‘Mate’ – one of the commonly used terms of endearment and affection in British slang terms. Used when you are talking to a close friend, and is often easily substituted for the American ‘buddy’, ‘pal’, or ‘dude’.
For example, ‘Alright, mate?’
2. Bugger All
‘Bugger all’ – a British slang term used to be a more vulgar synonym for ‘nothing at all’.
For example, ‘I’ve had bugger all to do all day.’ Read More…