August 14, 2017

Macbeth in Modern EnglishFiguratively speaking, an archaism is a language “pensioner” who has got enough vim and vigor to “cultivate his garden” and who is employed by poetry, historical prose, law, science, technology, religion, etc. to do the job of cultivation. An archaism is a feature of an older state of the language which continues to be used while retaining the flavor of its past. Grammar and lexicon provide the chief examples, though older pronunciations are heard from time to time, and archaic spelling is seen.

Among hundreds of others, archaic lexical items include behold (look at), damsel (a young woman), ere (before), fain (rather), hither (toward this place), oft (often), quoth (uttered, said), smite (to strike), unto (toward), wight (person), wot (know), yonder (over there – usually within sight), varlet (a servant), forsooth (in truth, indeed), sire (sir), etc.

Grammatical features include present-tense verb endings (-est, -eth) and their irregular forms (wilt, shouldst, etc.), contracted forms (‘tis, ‘twas, ‘gainst, e’en, ne’ero’er), past tenses (spake, cloth`ed), pronouns such as thou and ye, and vocative constructions beginning with O, which in Middle English glossed the vocative case. (As students in the 1960s, we styled our oath of allegiance to the English language by the opening lines “O English, my love, O English, my bread, O English, my subject… To thee I turn every time…”)

The hunter of archaisms will find them in an unexpectedly diverse range of contexts. Most obviously, they are used in many historical novels, plays, poems, and films about such topics as King Arthur or Robin Hood. Novelists who have used archaic language in a careful way include Walter Scott in Ivanhoe and William Thackeray in Esmond. In poetry, Spenser and Milton were influenced in maintaining an archaic tradition of usage. Children’s historical stories and rhymes also tend to use them (Lucy Locket lost her pocket = …lost her purse). Or let’s take the motto of the Peasants’ Revolt in England in the 14th century: When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? The italicized words in black type delve and spin are archaisms. This rhetorical question was used as an epigraph by the writer Zadie Smith in her novel NM (2012). That’s how archaisms work!

In proverbs, saying and quotations from the past, archaisms give additional weight to the wisdom of these set expressions and thus improve their credibility. Compare the proverb registered in Emanuel Strauss’ Dictionary of European proverbs: “Though thou has ever so many counselors, yet do not forsake the counsel of thy own soul,” or: “Today me, tomorrow thee (something that happens to a person is likely to happen to another who observes it).

Familiar quotations from Shakespeare teem with archaisms. There are quite a few even in a short monologue Polonius delivers to Laertes (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for…

 Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act…

 …Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice

 …Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment…

 Neither a borrower nor a lender be

to thine ownself be true…

If conveyed into modern English, Polonius’ precepts would sound far less unimpressive: The wind is blowing into your sails, and the ship is waiting for you…// don’t say what you think, and don’t do anything without considering it properly// listen to everybody, but speak only to a few// Listen to an opinion of others but don’t be too quick to express yours // Don’t borrow money from other people, and don’t lend money to anybody// be a man of integrity 

Archaisms can be found in religious and legal settings. Rural dialects often retain words which have gone out of use in the standard language. And many older elements, such as thorp (village) and lea (wood) are preserved in place names.



August 14, 2017

ageing languageIn my language blogs I wrote not once about new developments in the English lexicon. As a rule, new words are noticed almost immediately. When they are “born” they are nonce words, i.e. words coined for a single occasion, but when there exist societal trends or events to support their existence, they are recognized by such authoritative dictionaries as the Oxford Dictionary or Merriam-Webster and become full-fledged members of the English vocabulary (cf. the word -gate which is a component of such words as Irangate, Billigate, Camillagate, etc. on the analogy with Watergate, or the borrowing from Russian– sputnik. The latter became famous practically overnight).

It’s more difficult to notice how words are getting “old.” In this regard, a rewarding ground is, of course, slang. Like mayflies, which live only a few days, slang idioms get out of use right before our very eyes due to changing fashions of colloquial usage, the dynamic replacement of generations, the formation of new tastes and preferences – especially among young people, who try to gain a footing in society.

The ageing words are obsolescent words, obsolete words, and archaisms. Lay users of language (which most of us are) lump all of them together indiscriminately, and often avoid putting them into service. However, the approach should be more delicate. My position is that ALL words are our priceless heritage and may be used if not for lively communication, then for understanding our past and present. From this position, drawing demarcation lines between all the three groups of such old words will be helpful.

Obsolescent words are those which are on the way to dying: they are used by fewer and fewer people in fewer and fewer situations. For example, comely is a synonym to “attractive, pretty”, and if you now say “a girl is comely”, people will probably agree but they will classify you as an ”old-timer.” So, comely in this meaning is obsolescent. In the meaning “suitable, seemly” the word “comely” is not used any more (comely behavior), so, it’s obsolete. Obsolete words (meanings) are dead. Very often they are not understood by the majority of language users.

Another recent example of a word becoming obsolescent in one of its meanings is to surf. When the Internet rushed into our lives in the 1990s, the expression to surf the Internet was right on par with to browse the Internet (TV channels could also be both surfed and browsed.) However, when the Web became more important as a source of information, to surf started narrowing its meaning to “to go through the Internet leisurely and casually,” while to browse the Internet began to be functioning more in the meaning “to look for specific information.”

More examples of obsolescent words are dalliance (love affair), ebullience (enthusiasm), to conflate (to come together), to imbue (to infuse), insouciance (light-hearted lack of concern), to lilt (to speak in a cheerful, rhythmic manner), offing (the part of the sea between the horizon and the seashore – although the word is more actively functioning in the idiom “in the offing” = “soon to come”), mellifluous (sweet sounding), ravel (to knit), untoward (unseemly, inappropriate).

Archaisms deserve a special treatment and will be discussed in the next blog.


August 12, 2017

meFirst I found it hard to define what stylistic device was used to create a humorous effect in the jokes that follow. It looked like the closest was onomatopoeia – making words based on sound imitation. However, the term onomatopoeia is mostly applied when it goes about animal noises such as “oink”, “meow”, “roar,” or sounds produced by inanimate objects (a clock – “tick-tock,” a car horn – “beep-beep,” an engine – “vroom,” etc.) In our case, the comic effect is achieved when a reader of the jokes is simultaneously listening to the texts as they are being read, or at least, is reproducing in his sound memory the aural form of word combinations which stand behind the geographical names. Thus, the humor is based on the cooperation of orthography and phonetics, which can be termed as ortho-phonics. I’m sort of proud (:-)) having invented a new linguistic term. Another “innovation” is the verb “to geography” (pronounced “ji-‘o-gre-fai). It’s a nonce word invented only for this particular occasion, and it means to ‘cram the text with geographical names.’ Its logical derivative is “to un-geography.” What the nonce terms are about, the reader may see from the following:


Waitress: Hawaii mister? You must be Hungary?
Gent: Yes, Siam. And I can’t Rumania long either. Venice lunch ready?
Waitress: I’ll Russia table. What’ll you Havre? Aix?
Gent: Whatever’s ready. But can’t Jamaica cook step on the Gaza bit?
Waitress: Odessa laugh! But Alaska.
Gent: Don’t do me favors. Just put a Cuba sugar in my Java.
Waitress: Don’t you be Sicily, big boy. Sweden it yourself. I’m only here to
Gent: Denmark my check and call the Bosphorus. I hope he’ll Kenya! I don’t
Bolivia know who I am!
Waitress: Canada noise! i don’t Carribean. You sure Ararat!
Gent: Samoa your wisecracks? What’s got India? D’you think this arguing Alps
business? Why be so Chile? Be Nice!
Waitress: Attu! Don’t Kyiv me that Boulogne! Spain in the neck!
Pay your Czech. Abyssinia!

Gent (to himself): I’ll come back with my France.



Waitress: How are you, mister? You must be hungry
Gent: Yes, I am. And I can’t remain long either. When is lunch ready?
Waitress: I’ll rush the table. What’ll you have? Eggs?
Gent: Whatever’s ready. But can’t you make the cook step on the gas a bit?
Waitress: Oh, this is a laugh! But I’ll ask her!
Gent: Don’t do me favors. Just put a cube of sugar in my java.
Waitress: Don’t you be so silly, big boy. Sweeten it yourself. I’m only here to
serve you.
Gent: Then mark my check and call the boss for us. I hope he’ll cane you! I don’t
believe you know who I am!
Waitress: Kind of nice! i don’t care a bean. You sure are a rat!
Gent: Some of you are wisecracks? What’s got in you? D’you think this arguing helps 
business? Why be so chilly? Be nice!
Waitress: Attu! Don’t give me that bull on! It’s pain in the neck!
Pay your check, I’ll be seeing you

Gent (to himself): I’ll come back with my friends.



Oh, what did
boys, what did Tenna-see? (Tennessee)
Oh, what did Tenna-see, boys, what did Tenna-see?
Oh, what did Tenna-see, boys, what did Tenna-see?
I ask you men, as a personal friend,
What did Tenna-see?

She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw. (Arkansas)
She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw
She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw
I’ll tell you then, as a personal friend,
She saw what Arkin-saw.
Where has Ora-gone, boys? (Oregon)
She’s taking Okla-home, boys. (Oklahoma)
How did Wiscon-sin, boys? (Wisconsin)
She stole a New-brass-key, boys. (Nebraska)
What did Della-wear, boys? (Delaware)
She wore a New Jersey, boys. (New Jersey)
What did Io-weigh, boys? (Iowa)
She weighed a Washing-ton, boys. (Washington)
Where did Ida-hoe, boys? (Idaho)
She hoed in Merry-land, boys. (Maryland)
What did Missy-sip, boys? (Mississippi)
She sipped her Mini-soda, boys. (Minnesota)
What did Connie-cut, boys? (Connecticut)
She cut her shaggy Mane, boys. (Maine)
What did Ohi-owe, boys? (Ohio)
She owed her Taxes, boys, (Texas)
How did Flora-die, boys? (Florida)
She died of Misery, boys. (Missouri)


August 11, 2017

thepractice2All the jokes that follow are based on some linguistic phenomena: eponymy (joke 1), division of speech into functional styles (2) play on the polysemy of words (3, 6, 7, 10), slang (4, 7), the direct and idiomatic meanings of word combinations (5, 6), jargon (8, 9), homonymy (11), conversion of parts of speech (12). ENJOY:

  1. It is an interesting thought that if the Lords Cardigan and Sandwich had each other’s name we might today have been wearing sandwiches and eating cardigans (a sandwich and a cardigan are named after persons who are in some way or another associated with these items)
  2. A dizzy blonde snuggled up to her escort. “How about giving me a diamond bracelet?” she breathed into his ear.” – “My dear,” replied her companion slowly, “extenuating circumstances coerce me to preclude you from such a bauble of extravagance.” – “I don’t get it,” said the girl. – “That’s just what I said,” was the reply.
  3. There lives one ham actor who is still burning at a Chicago critic’s notice of his performance as King Richard the Third. “Mr. So-and-so played the king as if he were afraid someone else might played the ace.” (“a ham actor” — an actor or performer who overacts; “to play the king” — also: to play the card of king)
  4. Cannibal – “We’ve just captured an actor.” Chief – “Hurray! I was hoping for a good ham
  5. A confirmed woman-hater looked up from the piece of wood he was whittling by the old cracker barrel. “Women wouldn’t be here except for a little misunderstanding,” he snarled. “The Lord came down from the sky one day and asked Adam how things were going. Adam felt a little pernickety that day and he said, “Lord, you ain’t keeping me no company.” – “That’s right”, said the Lord. “Maybe what you need is a nice woman.” Adam turned white at that, “Aw, Lord, can’t you take a rib?” Well, sir, that’s just what the Lord did. The next day Eve put in an appearance and you, fellers, know the rest of the terrible story.” (1. a “cracker barrel” suggests the simple rustic informality and directness thought to be characteristic of life in and around a country store — like “home-spun, cracker-barrel philosophy.” A symbol of talkers who supposedly gathered round it in a country store; 2) “to take a rib” — also: to understand a joke)
  6. A customer told a hardware-store clerk that she wanted a three-quarterinch pipe plug. The man asked, “Do you want a male plug, a female plug or both?” – “I just want to stop a leak,” the woman replied. “I don’t plan to raise them.” (a female plug is a connector with recessed holes which have electrical terminals inside; a male plug is a plug with exposed conductors which can be inserted snugly into a female plug to insure an electrical connection; to raise —  to breed and care for to maturity)
  7. A (with a newspaper) – “It says here that cooks are often decorated in France.” Mr. A – “I sometimes feel like crowning the one we’ve got.” (to crown: 1) to put a crown on one’s head; 2) slang: to hit on the head)
  8. “In God we trust. All others cash” (a notice in a village shop); “to trust — to give credit.
  9. “Do you know that Noah was the greatest financier that ever lived?” – “How do you make that out?” – “Well, he was able to float a company when the whole world was in liquidation.” (to floatto keep financially healthy and stable; to be in liquidation — to go bankrupt)
  10. This is a circular of the Zanesville (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce: “Zanesville is an exceptionally rich city; so rich that every blade of grass has a green back, every bird has a bill, the chimneys have their drafts, every horse has a check, and every ditch has two banks, even our streets are flushed and the lawns get a rake off; every cloud has a silver lining, and every flower in the city has a scent, when you put a five-dollar bill in your pocket you double it, and when you take it out, you find it in creases. Now, do you want to live here or not?”
  11. There were three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. What did they do? – They threw out one cigarette and made their boat a cigarette lighter (also: more light, not so heavy).
  12. A wise man is one who noes a lot (the third person singular of the converted word “no” = “to no”, which is homonymous with “to know”. A similar situation: the ex-Foreign Minister of the ex-USSR Andrey Gromyko was nicknamed Mr. Nyet for his frequent objections to international decisions).


August 10, 2017

ESL lesson adv vocab school slang-2A geography teacher in Savannah, Ga (U.S.A.) gave his students a pop quiz on how they knew school slang of the past. The assignment was a Geography Jumpstart, probably not so much connected with geography proper, but teachers are always trying to find engaging ways to make it fun for students. One dialogue dating back to the 1990s was a street slang conversation between two “homeys” (=close friends):

“Yo, dog. I’m tired of getting punked by the popo for sportin’ my bling-bling. “ – “ True dat! You know they be trippin’ ‘cause our gear is da bomb. I mean all that and bag of chips with us.” Under the text a list of the slang idioms contained in it was given, and the students had to fill in a blank against each idiom with a corresponding “normal” word. Practically, all the students coped with the task: the 1990s were not distant past: yo – you, dog – man, punked – caught, popo – police, sportin’ – showing, bling-bling – jewelry, trippin’ – to overact or getting all bent out of shape over something small, gear – clothes; the bomb – something excellent, bag of chips – a friend (male/female) who “has it all” (is hot, athletic, has a sense of style and has a good personality).

The second dialog was from the 1980s. Only ten years “older”, the conversation was far less understood by the students. However, yours truly put his nose to the grind stone, looked up the slangy words in dictionaries, and here you are: the following text goes with the glossary.

“Like, do you see that barney over there? Can you believe that poser was even trying to talk to me? I mean, gag me with a spoon!” – “Like, for sure, what a dork! He’s like grodie to the max, and we are like bodacious babes. That’s like, really bogus.”

Like — with some teenage girls this word is spoken in between each word in a sentence; a barney – a despised person, socially awkward, boring, unstylish; a poser – who pretends to be someone he’s not; gag me with a spoon! – exclamation that describes displeasure on the part of the speaker due to something being distasteful or otherwise sickening; a dork – someone who has odd interests and who can be himself and not care what anyone thinks of him; grodie – nasty, gross, disgusting; bodacious – (predominantly used during the 1980s ) a combination of the words “bold” and “audacious.” To be bodacious is to be impressive, awesome, brave in action, remarkable, prodigious; bogus – unfortunate, unbelievable, opposite of “excellent.”

The above assignment happened to be uploaded on the Internet and went viral. Many parents said now they understood why American education was in such a dire state, they also said that their children should probably spend their class time doing something more useful and important. But there were also those who said the kids should get some “slang awareness.”

This morning I shared some articles on Facebook which show concern of both teachers and parents about how students speak. No secret that students’ future career may heavily depend on the impression they will produce during their job interviews, or when they go to universities, etc. Campaigns are launched which aim at abolishing certain “unparliamentary” (= rude and abusive) words from school. At some point even political celebrities (David Cameron among them) participated in such campaigns.

For all that, a lot of slang idioms were eventually adopted by the majority of language users and moved from the sphere of being “not appropriate in good contexts” to quite acceptable colloquial idioms. The following school slang is quite safe. You may enjoy it, just the same as the short test after the vocabulary definitions and examples (the key is at the bottom)


American English Slang – School And Studying

1.To “ace a test” is to get a very good grade.

How’d you do on the chemistry test?”

“I aced it!


2.If you “cram,” it means you study a lot in a short period of time.

“Are you going to the party tonight?”

“Nah, I have to cram for my history test.”


3.If you “cut class,” it means you don’t go to class.

“I’m gonna cut math class so that I can finish this project for biology.”

“OK. I’ll tell the professor you’re sick.


4.If you “drop a class,” it means you stop taking that class.

“I’m really stressed out this semester. I’m thinking of dropping a class.


5.To “hit the books” is to study.

“I gotta go hit the books. I have a final exam tomorrow.”

A “pop quiz” is a surprise quiz.

“We had a pop quiz in philosophy class today. I was completely unprepared!”

6.To “flunk” a test or a class is to fail.

“I’ve flunked economics three times.”

“Really? Maybe you should get a tutor.

If a person flunks so many classes that they stop going to school or college, we say they “flunked out.”


7.If you slack off, it means that you get lazy and don’t work hard.

“A lot of students start to slack off near the end of the school year.


8.“Dorm” is short for dormitory – the place where students live.

“How’s your dorm?

“It gets a little noisy on weekends, but in general I like it.”


9.The “quad” is a rectangular area surrounded by buildings on a college campus.

“Where’s Jenny?”

“She’s sunbathing out on the quad.


10.Many students gain weight when they start college. People often say that first-year students (freshmen) gain 15 extra pounds during their first year of school – this is called the “freshman 15.”

“I go to the gym every day so that I don’t gain the freshman 15.”


11.In high school and college, there are names for students in each year:

  • freshman= first-year student
  • sophomore= second-year student
  • junior= third-year student
  • senior= fourth-year student


  1. If someone has or gets a “full ride,” it means they have a scholarship that pays for 100% of their education.

“She got a full ride to the state university thanks to her good grades in high school.”


13.“Senioritis” is when students who are in their last year of college get lazy and stop working hard, because they know that they will finish their studies soon.

“Even the best students often get senioritis just before they graduate.”


  1. If you “pull an all-nighter,” it means you stay awake the whole night, usually studying.

“I had to pull an all-nighter to finish writing my paper for history class.”

  1. Frat” is short for “fraternity,” which is a social organization of male college students. The word for a social organization of female students is “sorority.” These organizations are often called by Greek letters, like Alpha Theta Chi or Kappa Delta, and members are called “brothers” and “sisters.”

“My brother joined a frat his first year of college to make new friends.”

  1. hang in there” – not to give up:“If you hang in there, you’ll get it!”
  2. busted” – caught :“My brother got busted for skipping class.”
  3. to bomb” – to fail, to do horrible: “I bombed the Chemistry quiz this morning.”
  4. “101” – a beginner’s course: “I’m in Spanish 101 this semester.”
  5. “busy work” – worksheets and activities that keep students busy: “Ms Anderson gives us tons of busy work.”
  6. cheat sheet” – a paper with information on it to help a person cheat on a test: “Eric made a cheat sheet for the exam because he was too lazy to study.
  7. A” – the best grade (mark): “I’ve got straight A’s on my report card.”



Question 1

“My ______ room was so small that my desk wouldn’t even fit.”

A  quad
B frat
C dorm
Question 2

“I drink about 10 cups of coffee whenever I have to ___________. It gives me energy.”

A pull an all-nighter
B ace a test
C join a frat


Question 3

“My son has _________ – I’m trying to find a way to motivate him.”

A senioritis
B hit the books
C gotten a full ride
Question 4

“I _______ all of my final exams!”


A crammed
B aced
C flunked


Question 5

“I think I only got two or three questions wrong on the __________.”

A pop quiz
B quad
C freshman 15
Question 6

“Stop ________ – turn off the TV and work on your philosophy paper.”

A slacking off
B acing
C cramming


Question 7

“We should really __________ – I think the tomorrow’s physics test is going to be tough.”

A get a full ride
B pop the quiz
C hit the books
Question 8

“Paul ________ so many times this semester that the professor forgot his name!”

A dropped class
B cut class
C pulled an all-nighter


Question 9

“My parents would kill me if I _________ of college.”

A pulled an all-nighter
B slacked off
C flunked out
Question 10

“It took me until my junior year to lose the ____________.”

A  pop quiz
B  freshman 15
C Frat


Question 11

“It’s not a good idea to put off studying until the last minute and then try to _______ the night before the test.”

A  ace
B  cram
C  flunk
Question 12

“You’re lucky you __________ – it means you’ll graduate without debt.”

A   cut the class
B pulled an all-nighter
C  got a full ride


KEY: 1C, 2A, 3A, 4B, 5A, 6A, 7C, 8B, 9C, 10B, 11B, 12C


August 9, 2017

valentines-cartoons-10-ssFortunately or unfortunately, but learners of English as a foreign language study slang only from afar. As a rule, they acquire their knowledge of English in the formal atmosphere of the classroom, where slang is out of place. Some teachers of English try overcome this difficulty by teaching their students slang idioms, but there are dangers in this practice. Slang changes so quickly that it is likely to be out of date before it reaches the classroom. Besides, the effective use of slang demands a feeling for delicate shades of formality that cannot be expected from anyone who needs classroom instruction. I would compare a native user of slang to a teenager who walks down the steps in a stairwell of a multistoried building, and then decides to slide down the rails of the staircase instead. The teenager knows how to do it, he has done it many a time before and feels quite confident about his downrun-route. A foreigner, however, is an adult person who is quite inexperienced in this type of descent. He may, of course, follow the teenager’s style, but will definitely cut a ridiculous figure and will hardly be a success in his attempt. It would be more befitting if the adult (= the foreigner) simply OBSEREVED the skill of the young man (i.e. , in our case, understood slang and appreciated it for what it is), and walked quietly on. “Make it flat”, my teacher of English used to say.

Being an “adult foreigner”, I’m not likely to catch up with such aspects of slang as its degree of novelty or its permitted intimacy, but as a linguist, I will be able to admire its dynamics and imaginative power. The first group of slang idioms which I’m offering today is military slang. Why military? Because that was my first encounter with colloquial English when I served in the military as a conscript in the 1970s. I took lots of English books with me from the civvy street into the barracks, and collections of American military humor brought color into my soldier’s life. Here are some findings discovered by me on the Internet today.

brain bucket (U.S., Canada) Combat helmet.

camel jockey used to refer to Arabs. Pejorative.

Dead Man Walking (U.S. Army) A person who has a permanent profile (see profile below) which allows him/her to walk two and a half miles rather than run 2 miles as part of the Army Physical Fitness Test.

ASAP – As Soon As Possible: This has become slang in normal speech but in the military it means “immediately.”

First Shirt – First Sergeant (Usually the senior NCO within a military unit)

boot – Someone lacking in experience. A reference to “boot camp”.

on the double – (US Navy, Marines) As quickly as possible; without delay.

blue nose (U.S. Navy, Marines) Anyone who has served above the Arctic Circle.

Cycled (U.S. Navy) or “getting cycled”  In boot camp, the act of being “beat” by your company commanders via strenuous work-out, or “PT” sessions. Cycling normally occurs after a member or the entire company has made an error of some kind either in drilling, training, etc. Cycling has no time limit, it lasts as long as desired by the company commander(s), and it can include any physical training that has been imagined. Oftentimes company commanders will make their recruits put on multiple layers of clothing, while closing windows and turning off fans, etc., in an effort to make it “rain indoors”. Lore states of “rain makers”, company commanders often rumored to be in charge of other units who will make guest appearances at cycles in an effort to achieve the results of “raining indoors”, due to the fact that the sweat from the recruits will cause condensation to build in the room and leak down from the ceilings

GI (U.S.) Always pronounced as initials “gee ai”, coined during WWII it reputedly stands for “government issue(d)”. As a noun, GI refers to a member of a U.S. military service, as in “G.I. Joe”; originally pejorative as it implied that U.S. Soldiers were nothing but interchangeable units (Government Issue(d) Joe) that could be requisitioned like any other supplies. As an adjective, it can be applied to any item of U.S. military materiel or procedure. When used as a verb it means to put into military shape, as in “to GI the barracks”.

get some Navy (U.S. Navy) A verb used to describe a situation where someone has some pain inflicted on them due to something associated to the Navy. (e.g., A Sailor is told that he has to stay past his duty time and do extra duty due to the whim of a higher ranking person – he is “getting some Navy”).

Garatrooper (Canada) used to describe a Soldier who excels in garrison but is lacking where it counts in the field. This term was used by WWII U.S. Army Cartoonist Bill Mauldin “Up Front” to describe those who were “too far forward to wear ties, and too far back to get shot” However the term proved unpopular with the Paratroopers who saw it as a slur on their designation and it never gained popularity with U.S. forces.

G.I. party (U.S. Army & Air Force) A term used to describe scrubbing the barracks from top to bottom. This sort of “party” is seldom, if ever, fun.

grunt (U.S.) Originally, a derogatory term for Army or Marine infantrymen (referencing the sounds made by men carrying heavy gear). This term has become more acceptable over time, and today, most, if not all, infantrymen are proud to be “grunts,” as opposed to other MOSes in the military. Also known as “Ground Pounders.” Although “grunt” is not an acronym, common backronyms include: “Ground Replacement Unit, Not Trained.”

gun bunny (U.S.) An artilleryman – often specifically a cannon crewman. Often used as derogatory and implies simplemindedness because of simple job – “Pull string, gun goes boom”

ID10T Form (U.S.) Idiot form. A non-existent form that ignorant airmen/marines are sent to find. Usually they are new to their unit.

jack (U.K., AUS) Selfish, as in “Don’t be a jack bastard” or “Don’t jack on your mates”. One of the most serious. things a British Soldier can be accused of by his comrades.

K.I.A Killed In Action

KP (U.S., Canada) Abbreviation for the obsolete term “Kitchen Police”, a duty assigned (to other than food service personnel) to perform menial, but necessary, kitchen chores such as dishwashing, serving and kitchen cleaning, oftentimes as a punishment for bad behavior. It has been jocularly backronymed to “Keep Peeling”, in reference to the popular perception of Soldiers peeling potatoes; however, in the United States, current Army regulations prohibit non-food services personnel from food preparation.

Latrine Wisdom (U.S. Military) Jokes and quotes left by military personnel in porta potties and bathroom walls.

LN (U.S.) Acronym for a Local National (pronounced ELL-N). used to describe “friendly” locals who work on Army Bases in Iraq.

Meat shield (Canada) An infantryman

Meathead (Canada): An MP, descriptive of the red berets they wear as part of their uniform .

Ocifer (Singapore) A derogatory term for a conscript officer

On your face (U.S. Army) Do pushups.

Penguin (U.K. RAF) Aircrews term for ground crew. “All flap and no fly.”

Shirt (U.S. Air Force) Respectful term to address an Air Force First Sergeant. For example, “Hey Shirt, got a minute?”

sniper check (Canada and U.S.) A salute rendered to an officer in a field environment, where salutes are normally proscribed because they identify officers to the enemy.

spook (U.S., U.K.) A spy. Used for anyone in the CIA, MI5 or MI6.  In the military, one who deals with the gathering of electronic intelligence.

two digit midget (U.S.) A G.I. who has less than 100 days ‘in country’ left before they rotate back to the U.S.A and/or before discharge. Coined during Vietnam War. See “short”.

short, or short-timer (U.S.) Term coined during Vietnam era to describe personnel approaching the end of their tour and/or term of service. Usually announced in an obnoxious and rowdy manner — examples: “I’m so short I had to parachute out of bed this morning and accidentally landed in my boot!”, “I’m so short I could sit on a piece of paper and dangle my legs over the edge!” Modified into “short-timer” in the modern military era.

six, six and a kick (U.S.) Six months confinement, six months loss of pay, reduction in grade to E-1, Bad Conduct Discharge; formerly the most severe penalty that could be awarded by a special court martial. A special court martial can now adjudge 12 months confinement.

suck, the (U.S.) The field, bad conditions, rotten duty, used to describe the military as a whole. One might say “embrace the suck” to tell someone to stop complaining and accept the situation.

suck it up (U.S.) See “suck, the” above. Similar to “embrace the suck.”

suck thumb (Singapore) Shut up and stop complaining

waste of money U.S.) Derogatory term used to describe a woman Marine, a.k.a. WM

Weather Guesser (U.S. Navy) Slang for a Sailor in the AG (Aerographers Mate) rating. Weather forecasters. Self-explanatory.


August 8, 2017

2017-08-08DIctionary of Slang and Unconventional EnglishCarl Sandburg, an American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author, said that slang is a language which “takes off its coat, spits on its hands and goes to work.” Being generally correct, Carl Sandburg’s definition doesn’t take into account that alongside lower-class slang there’s upper-class slang too, the users of which may be not so willing to ‘spit on their hands.‘ However, even the “classy” characters of P.G. Wodehouse can also be tempted into a “very informal language used by a particular group of people” (probably, I know more about the writer because my daughter is an aficionado and a subtle connoisseur of Wodehouse’s style). Just compare a sentence from Wodehouse’s “Service with a Smile”: “She lugged the poor wench off to Blandings, and she’s been there ever since, practically in durance vile (= in awful confinement), her every movement watched. “In durance vile” is a marker of upper-class slang.

Over time, slang terms either die out from lack of use as groups move on to new terminology, or they may become so popular that they are absorbed into the common language. In this case, everyone understands the terms, and they aren’t likely to be considered inappropriate or poor grammar any longer. This is how language grows and evolves over time, as new words are added to the dictionary while old ones fall into disuse and disappear.

Examples of Old-Fashioned Slang

Some words that were once fashionable are no longer used. For example:

  • The cat’s pajamas: This term was used by flappers in the 1920s to mean that something was exciting, new, or excellent. Though it doesn’t make much sense, it does use vivid imagery. — “That new phonograph is the cat’s pajamas.”
  • Wallflower:This term describes a shy person. It was used for decades in the twentieth century to describe a person — typically a girl — who preferred to stand along the wall instead of participating in a dance. — “You’ll have more fun at the dance if you aren’t such a wallflower.”
  • Don’t have a cow:This term is used to try to calm someone down. It was popularized by “The Simpsons” in the 1980s, and though you might still hear Bart say it in reruns, it’s no longer very common to hear in conversation. — “Don’t have a cow, mom! I didn’t eat all the ice cream.”

Examples of Evolving Slang

Some slang words change their meaning over time, usually across generations. This keeps the word in usage, but can lead to some miscommunication between older and younger speakers. For example:

  • Busted:To your grandparents, “busted” probably meant that something was broken. To your parents, it means getting caught doing something wrong. The latest use? As an adjective to mean “ugly.” — “No, I won’t go out with your little sister. She’s busted.”
  • Ride: Originally a verb for the act of being a passenger in a vehicle, this word also evolved into a noun to describe a car. Most recently, “my rides” can mean sneakers. — “I got new rides to match my favorite shirt.”
  • Hip:Originally “hip” or “hep” meant someone very fashionable in the first half of the twentieth century. It evolved to mean someone into jazz and beatnik culture in the 1940s and 50s, and changed further still into “hippie” to describe flower children of the 60s. Today it’s changed again to “hipster,” meaning a self-aware artsy person. — “My hip grandfather plays the sax, but my hipster brother just makes homemade pickles.”

 Examples of Portmanteau Slang

Some slang terms are created by combining two words into one that has a new meaning. A new word created by combining portions of two existing words is called a portmanteau, and they are very popular as a way to give a new name to a celebrity couple. For example, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were known as “Brangelina” when they were married. Other examples of portmanteaus:

  • Frenemy:This combination of “friend” and “enemy” describes a person who is a little bit of both, perhaps a friend with whom one experiences regular conflict. — “You’d be a lot happier if you stopped hanging out with your frenemy.”
  • Ginormous: This combination of “gigantic” and “enormous” means something very large. — “You could find a parking space more easily is your car wasn’t so ginormous.”

Examples of Modern Slang

Slang is changing all the time, but here’s a list of words that are in use today:

  • Goat: Current usage is actually a compliment, as this is now an acronym that stands for “greatest of all time.” — “I don’t care what you say, because Tom Brady is the goat.”
  • Woke: Slang for “awakened,” as in being made aware of social injustices. — “If you’re so woke, why didn’t you vote?”
  • Basic:A put-down describing someone or something that’s not very interesting or highly evolved. — “Those boys are so basic. Why do they all want to dress the same?”
  • Bye Felicia:A fast way to tell someone to go away. This term comes from the 1995 movie “Friday.” — “No, I will not go out with you. Bye Felicia.”
  • Bae:A term of endearment, usually for romantic partners, but possibly for close friends as well. — “Bae, you’re the best.”
  • On point:Outstanding, perfectly executed.  — “Her accessories are on point. She looks great.”
  • Dead:Overwhelmed, unable to keep up. — “I have two finals and a full work day tomorrow. I’m dead.”
  • Sips tea:Minds one’s own business, as opposed to making a comment or giving an opinion. — “Should I do something about that? No way. Sips tea.”
  • Salty: Angry or bitter about something. —“Why you so salty? I said I would share if I win the lottery.”
  • Fam: A group of close friends. — “I’m going to hang with the fam tonight at the tailgate party.”
  • Throw shade: To insult or say something unkind about someone. — “I can’t believe he said that. He just threw some serious shade.”

Why Do People Use Slang?

Because slang terms are often understood by people only in a certain group, using slang is, above all, a way to show that you “belong.” That is the way to show that you’re “in the swim”, you’re one of the “gang.” You start using terms that others don’t understand, and you can connect with like-minded people who understand just what you mean by using the latest slang terms.

For this reason, slang is often a mark of being “cool,” or at least in the know about something. People who are “in” with a group know the slang, and people who aren’t do not. Slang is, therefore, a way to use language to separate yourself from others. The best example of this is the way each generation of teens uses new slang to separate themselves from their tragically uncool parents.

Eric Partridge, the author of Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937), indicated some more reasons for being infatuated with slang. Slang is used, he wrote, “in sheer spirits by the young in heart as well as by the young in years, just for the fun of things, in playfulness or waggishness… it is used as an exercise in wit and ingenuity, or in humor, … to be picturesque, to avoid insipidity, to take delight in virtuosity.” For me, the words “…by the young in heart…” are particularly prominent in Eric Partridge’s argumentation.” No wonder that when I think of Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young” I unwittingly link it with my attitude to slang 🙂


August 7, 2017

Graffiti (the Singular: graffito) are drawings or inscriptions on walls of buildings or other structures in the streets of modern cities. In most cases, graffiti are placed there illicitly and (intentionally) within public view.  As a genre of subculture, graffiti have existed since ancient times: they were present in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. A great number of graffiti were found during the excavations at Pompeii. The language aspect of ancient graffiti  (inscriptions proper) carry valuable information about the state of languages in the past.  The Safaitic language (a form of proto-Arabic, existing from the first century BC to the fourth century AD) is known only from graffiti scratched on the surface of rocks and boulders in the deserts of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The graffiti on the inner walls of St Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, dating back to the 11th century AD, confirm that the people of Rus at that time spoke the language which is now called Ukrainian, though the official language in Rus, after the adoption of Christianity, was Old Slavonic (or, more exactly, Old Bulgarian).

In modern Ukraine, graffiti are mostly political in character and rather unimaginative (Down with X, Y is a bribe-taker, etc. or there can be some “secret” combinations of figures and letters which only the initiated will understand). But generally, graffiti can contain a great deal of humor and popular wisdom. The same themes recur over the years, as do some of the favorite formulae of the graffiti-writers. For example, there must by now be thousands of variants of the X rules OK structure, said to have begun as a British soccer boast (Arsenal rules, OK?). Here’s an example from a collection of the graffiti: Apathy rules, OH DEAR; Examples rule, E.G..; Einstein rules RELATIVELY, Bureaucracy rules OK, OK, OK. Puns and word-play are popular in graffiti. Another example is the humorous playing with the words of a once popular song Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today. A notice next to a lift read: LIFT UNDER REPAIR – USE OTHER LIFT. The graffiti below the notice ran: This Otis regrets it’s unable to lift today. To fully enjoy the humor, here are the lyrics of the song:

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, mmm
And she’s sorry to be delayed
But last evening down at lover’s lane
She strayed, madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When she woke up and found
That her dream of love was gone, madam
She ran to the man who had lead her so far astray
And from under her velvet gown
She drew a gun and shot her lover down, madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When the mob came and got her
And dragged her from the jail, madam
They strung her up on the willow across the way
And the moment before she died
She lifted up her lovely head and cried, madam

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

Two long-standing graffiti are those of Kilroy and  Chad. Both are of World War 2 origin. Kilroy Woz Here appeared first. Who was “Kilroy” is not exactly known. One theory is that he may have been a Massachusetts inspector who in 1941 was marking the phrase on equipment to show that he had checked it. The American soldiers who were stationed in Europe and on the other continents during WWII and later used to inscribe the phrase Kilroy Woz Here and the corresponding picture on lots of objects they considered proper for this purpose.

In Britain a very similar image (called Chad, not Kilroy) was popular, but the accompanying inscription was different: Wot, No ____? The matter is that due to a shortage of goods and services, rationing was introduced in the war-time Britain. So, the first textual graffiti were “Wot, No bread?”, going on (later) to “Wot, No bananas?”, etc. Jocular inscription on the side of a military glider was: “Wot, No engines?” After the 1945 Labor election victory someone wrote on a wall in the Houses of Parliament: “Wot, NoTories?” Trains in Austria in 1946 featured Mr. Chad along with the phrase “Wot, No Führer?”

After I had a deeper insight into what graffiti were, I felt that no less than a dissertation could be written about them. What with the professional jargon used by graffiti-writers, this blog could be ten times longer. For instance, a piece (short form of “masterpiece”) is a large, complex, and labor-intensive graffiti painting which incorporates the 3-D effect, a fat cap is a nozzle used for filling pieces, a throw-up is a quickly painted graffito, a toy is a an inexperienced graffiti-writer doing poor work, a king (or a queen) is an opposite of “toy.”  Kings are separated into “inside” and “outside” kings. To be a king of the “inside” means you have most pictures inside trains (to “own the inside”), and to “own the outside” means having most pieces on the train surface, etc., etc.

When, upon my first arrival in Britain, I went to see some historic places and came across the graffito “MARK WAS ‘ERE” scribbled on the wall of a medieval tower, I didn’t approve of the fact that Mark had written it in that place. But the fact that Mark had dropped the “h” before a vowel at the beginning of the word, made me remember the peculiarities of the Yorkshire dialect. At that moment it was rather helpful 🙂


August 6, 2017

Make America Quiet Again.A slogan is a concise memorable phrase that repetitively expresses an idea or purpose of an organization or brand and which aims at persuading members of the public or a target group into something. The word slogan came from the Scottish Gaelic and originally meant a “battle-cry, or a rallying cry.” In those days slogans were used as passwords at nighttime to ensure the recognition of a person or in a battle to differentiate friendly warriors from the enemy.

Today, the application of slogans is different. They are forceful and catchy utterances that rally people to behave in a certain way (like to buy a product). With the pragmatic function of stimulating people to perform some action, one of history’s most famous one-liners “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” cannot be a slogan because Neil Armstrong summed up what had been achieved rather than called on people to do something. Of course, the astronaut’s words can inspire many of us for greater deeds too, but it’s already a matter if interpreting what he said.

Marketing slogans are often called tag-lines in the United States or strap-lines in the United Kingdom. On the European continent they use the terms baselines, signatures, claims or pay-offs.

In commercial contexts slogans emphasize the benefits of a product, they are creative and are supposed to evoke something personal and positive among the audience. These three factors are a must for every slogan if the slogan claims to be successful. There’s one secret, though: the slogan will be more liked if the name of the brand is left out of the phrase. On my way to the office I pass a big trade-and-entertainment complex with a huge advertisement of the Swiss watch-maker Raymond Weil on the façade: PRECISION IS MY INSPIRATION. I know that I will never buy the brand: the digital clock on my mobile phone is quite enough for me. But, as a teacher, I value punctuality, the state of precision and accuracy. If the name of the watch-maker had been added to the slogan, it would have limited its scope of application. But without the words “Raymond Weil” I can easily build the phrase Precision is My Inspiration into my philosophy of life – even if I do not buy the watch.

There’s a story behind the unofficial slogan of the computer-product company I work for. In the autumn of 2004 the presidential election in Ukraine was rigged. Partially, it was done through doctoring the data on the central election server. Many businesses and organizations protested on the streets of the capital. Our company demonstrated with the slogan Our Servers Don’t Lie. You may notice the figurative language in this slogan. Other stylistic means can be alliteration and rhyme: Put a Tiger in Your Tank (Exxon/ Esso), or You’ll wonder Where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent. (Pepsodent). Some slogans mimic a conversational style: It’s fingerlickin’ good (Kentucky Fried Chicken), That’ll Do Nicely (American Express), Just Do It (Nike).

Slogans are an essential part of all campaigns – political, safety, protest, health, environmental, and so on. One of the first steps in any campaign is to think up a good slogan, and some companies run regular competitions to obtain fresh ideas from the public or their employees.

Long ago I taught at high school with a highly competitive admission. I asked my students to think of slogans to advertise the school. There were two utterances which I liked: ON TO THE FUTURE AND BEYOND, and TEACHERS TEACH HOW TO LEARN, LEARNERS LEARN HOW TO TEACH.



August 5, 2017

2017-08-05Accountable talkAn American linguist Uriel Weinreich once observed that a word can function on different levels: its semantics (like electricity) can feed ‘an electric door-bell’, but it can also ‘power an elevator.’ The buzzwords presented in my yesterday’s blog ordinarily ‘ring the door-bell.’ Many of them are used ‘en passant’: they are good instruments for connecting sentences and emphasizing certain ideas but they are not the focus of discussion. However, other buzzwords can epitomize concepts which are central for shop talk. This time I’ll leave the sphere of business and move over to education which is rich in didactic innovations that are professionally jargonized. By way of example, here are two buzz phrases that ‘power’ an educational thought in today’s American schools.

  1. Flipped Classroom. The word “flip” in this phrase is based on the meaning “to change or reverse one’s position or attitude.” In the Traditional Classroom students are explained the new material at school and do more practical tasks at home (“homework”). With the new approach, they will first watch a video lecture or an on-line material at home  and do their “homework’ at school being guided and assisted by teachers (shall we call it “class-work” now?). The education process ceases to be teacher-centered and becomes learner-centered.  Advocates of the Flipped Classroom insist that in the flipped-classroom environment students get less frustration with homework, they can ask questions and get immediate targeted answers, the more advanced a student is, the deeper he explores the subject, and students who were absent due to various reasons catch up with their peers faster and easier with the flipped classroom model.

For teachers, a flipped classroom is more demanding than a traditional one. Preparing a good video-lecture is now a much greater responsibility, teachers must not only trust students to come ready for class, but they have to think of some general knowledge tests to determine if students worked at home. But the benefits are that now teachers can assist each student INDIVIDUALLY during the practical work. A video lecture, once prepared, can be reused many a time. Last but not least, the use of e-resources, which is unavoidable with student-centered education, takes a creative teacher away from mundane supervision and makes his work more interesting. Besides, the teacher is now part of students’ blended learning (on-line learning combined with face-to-face counseling).

  1. Accountable Talk. This is a guided classroom discussion based on a given topic. Students are supplied with sentence starters which lead them into “accountability” to learning community (they respectfully ask their peers question, agree or disagree with them), accountability to accurate knowledge (factual argumentation), and accountability to rigorous thinking (the students synthesize information, probe the evidence, challenge each other and build conclusions).

The aim of accountable talk is to help students move from social conversations to academic conversations, to build up the corresponding vocabulary and develop their academic discussion skills. The concept of Accountable Talk was introduced in 1995 by Lauren Resnick, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. I haven’t found any equivalent for “Accountable Talk” in Ukrainian or Russian, but judging from what it is, it may be translated as “керована (структурована, спрямована, аргументована, академічна) розмова.” The definition of ‘accountable’ as ‘clarifiable, capable to be explained’ leads to the Ukrainian variants “розяснювальна, пояснювальна, зясовувальна’. If we take into account such components of meaning as ‘to obey, to submit, to be subject to, to comply with’ which the word ‘accountable’ has, than the suggested translation  may be: ‘підпорядкована розмова (підпорядкована певним питанням – ЗА, ПРОТИ, ЧОМУ, НА ОСНОВІ ЧОГО, висновку А ОТЖЕ…). More about Accountable Talk can be found at or at

Incidentally, the principles of Accountable Talk can be used by teachers of English as a Foreign Language. A similar approach was practiced in the 1970s by Tamara Siryk in Ukraine. Some faults were found with Siryk’s method and her conversational formulas, but at the initial stage they worked quite well: her students spoke English fluently after the first year of learning.

There are many other conceptual buzzwords in American education: higher-order thinking, student engagement, digital literacy (as opposed to computer literacy), Common Core, Bloom’s Taxonomy, etc. My advice is: google them and read about them. It’s interesting.

%d bloggers like this: