Posts Tagged ‘the English language’


May 9, 2019

Tim Hill, an editor for Guardian US, has accused Melania Trump of not using the definite article with an adjective in the superlative degree ( ).

The American first lady was unveiling a campaign BE BEST aimed at supporting children in today’s unstable (“hyperconnected and often unsettling”) world. Mrs. Trump reiterated the name while addressing the audience, but Tim says the omission of THE doesn’t hold up to the rules of the English language. While partially justifying Mrs. Trump by referring to her ethnic roots (the Slovenian language, like most Slavic languages, has no articles) Tim, at the same time, observes that Mr. Trump should have corrected his wife’s grammatical faux pas. Certainly, as a writer representing Britain, Tim Hill has the right to do it in the capacity of a language guardian and to appeal to English classical grammar. On the other hand, he may not know that a couple of years ago, Donald Trump was accused just of the opposite – of USING the definite article with adjectives standing for ethnic minorities, thus homogenizing the groups and separating from the rest of society (see my blog dated May 6). So, in this grammar squabble I’m on the side of the Trumps: their omission of the THE means that EVERYONE is called upon to be the best. And if “everyone” is covered, then the definite article becomes dysfunctional and can be done away with.

And then… why not remember a children’s rhyme about the “degrees”?

Good, better, best,// Never let it rest,// May your good be better// And your better — best


August 3, 2018

Unleash Limitations.


List of idioms:

Bite off more than one can chew = try to do more than one can

Burn oneself out = wear oneself out by using all of one’s energy or strength

Drink like a fish = consume alcoholic drinks excessively

Eat like a horse = eat excessively

Eyes are bigger than one’s stomach = Think that one can eat more than one is able

Lose one’s head = lose control of oneself

Make a pig out of oneself = eat in excess

Run oneself ragged = make oneself excessively tired by trying to do too much work

Spread oneself too thin = become involved in too many activities

Talk until one is blue in the face = talk excessively but not convincingly

Take it easy = avoid hard work; relax



Coach Palmer: Jim, you’ve practiced enough. I want you to take it easy tonight. You know you should get plenty of rest before the big game tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough one.

Jim: I’m too nervous to do anything else, coach. Can’t I stay and work out some more?

Coach Palmer: You are running yourself ragged. Save some of that energy for tomorrow, Jim. If you push yourself too hard, you won’t be any good for the game.

Jim: Okay, coach. You’re the boss.



Monica, a good friend of yours, tries to do many things at once. She does not know her limitations. You see that she is always tired and anxious, and you are worried about her. One day, you sit down with her and try to convince her to slow down. Using the above expressions write out what you would say: (BEGINNING: “Monica, you have to slow down. You can’t do everything that you want to do. You are running yourself ragged…”)


Discuss the following:

  1. Several of the expressions in this lesson compare people to animals, such as “she drinks like a fish,” “He eats like a horse,” and “She is making a pig out of herself.” There are many other expressions in English that compare human traits to animals, such as “wise as an owl,” “sly as a fox,’ and “timid as a mouse.” Are there expressions in your language that compare humans to animals? What are they?
  2. Look at the following sentences. After each one, someone might say, “Be careful, don’t spread yourself too thin.”


  1. I have to take seven courses this semester.”
  2. “I have four meetings scheduled for tonight.”

Think of other sentences like this.

  1. When people “lose their heads”, they become so upset that they lose control and do or say things they later regret. This happens to almost everybody. For instance, if a man breaks all the windows in his home because he had a bad day at work, he lost his head. Talk about a time when you lost your head or when someone you know lost his (or her) head.


August 2, 2018

bees knees

The bee’s knees = excellent; the highest quality.

The origin of the phrase:

Bees carry pollen back to the hive in sacs on their legs. It is tempting to explain this phrase as alluding to the concentrated goodness to be found around a bee’s knee, but there’s no evidence to support this explanation. It is also sometimes said to be a corruption of ‘business’, but there’s no evidence to support that either.

Nor is there any connection with another earlier phrase, ‘a bee’s knee’. In the 18th century this was used as a synonym for smallness, but has since disappeared from the language, replaced more recently by the less polite ‘gnat’s bollock’:

Mrs. Townley Ward – Letters, June 1797 in N. & Q. “It cannot be as big as a bee’s knee.”

‘Bee’s knees’ began to be used in early 20th century America. Initially, it was just a nonsense expression that denoted something that didn’t have any meaningful existence – the kind of thing that a naive apprentice would be sent to the stores to ask for, like a ‘sky-hook’ or ‘striped paint’. That meaning is apparent in a spoof report in the New Zealand newspaper The West Coast Times in August 1906, which listed the cargo carried by the SS Zealandia as ‘a quantity of post holes, 3 bags of treacle and 7 cases of bees’ knees’. The teasing wasn’t restricted to the southern hemisphere. The US author Zane Grey’s 1909 story, The Shortstop, has a city slicker teasing a yokel by questioning him about make-believe farm products:

“How’s yer ham trees? Wal, dog-gone me! Why, over in Indianer our ham trees is sproutin’ powerful. An’ how about the bee’s knees? Got any bee’s knees this Spring?”

There’s no profound reason to relate bees and knees other than the jaunty-sounding rhyme. In the 1920s it was fashionable to use nonsense terms to denote excellence – ‘the snake’s hips’, ‘the kipper’s knickers’, ‘the cat’s pyjamas/whiskers’, ‘the monkey’s eyebrows’ and so on. Of these, the bee’s knees and the cat’s whiskers are the only ones to have stood the test of time. More recently, we see the same thing – the dog’s bollocks.

The nonsense expression ‘the bee’s knees’ was taken up by the socialites of Roaring 20s America and added to the list of ‘excellent’ phrases. A printed reference in that context appears in the Ohio newspaper The Newark Advocate, April 1922, in a piece on newly coined phrases entitles ‘What Does It Mean?‘:

“That’s what you wonder when you hear a flapper chatter in typical flapper language. ‘Apple Knocker,’ for instance. And ‘Bees Knees.’ That’s flapper talk. This lingo will be explained in the woman’s page under the head of Flapper Dictionary.” [an ‘apple knocker’ is a rustic]

Clearly the phrase must have been new then for the paper to plan to take the trouble to define it. Disappointingly, they didn’t follow up on their promise and ‘the lingo’ wasn’t subsequently explained. Several U.S. newspapers did feature lists of phrases under ‘Flapper Dictionary’ headings. Although ‘bee’s knees’ isn’t featured, they do show the time as being a period of quirky linguistic coinage; for example, from one such Flapper Dictionary:

Kluck – dumb person.
Dumb kluck – worse than a kluck.
Pollywoppus – meaningless stuff.
Fly-paper – a guy who sticks around.

One tenuous connection between the bee’s knees and an actual bee relates to Bee Jackson. Ms. Jackson was a dancer in 1920s New York and popularised the Charleston, being credited by some as introducing the dance to Broadway in 1924. She went on to become the World Champion Charleston dancer and was quite celebrated at the time.

It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the expression became popular in reference to her and her very active knees, but 1924 post dates the origin of the phrase






'What's the best job to have when the economy is bad?'


July 31, 2018

'I don't want to burst any bubbles, but I'm guessing it's a typo.'

Typical mistakes made by learners of English are marked with an asterisk (*). Correct variants are in bold type.

(*) An ambulance carried her to the hospital — … took her to the hospital (a vehicle TAKES a person somewhere).

(*) Switzerland has very little unemployment and in this case we are very lucky — … in this respect we are very lucky (in this/that case = in these/those circumstances: “What shall I do if there are no trains” “In that case go by bus.” In this/tat respect = with regard to this/that point or detail: “The film is full of violence and in this respect is unsuitable for children”).

(*) “Take an umbrella in case it will rain” — “… in case it rains” (after IN CASE use the present simple tense for future reference, not SHALL/WILL + VERB.

AmE In case you need more information, please contact me.

BrE If you need more information, please contact me.

AmE In case a woman goes out to work, she shouldn’t have to do all the housework.

BrE If a woman goes out to work, she shouldn’t have to do all the housework.

The usage of IN CASE is acceptable in American English but NOT in British English. Note that IF … can be used in both British and American English.

(*) The cause for the accident – The cause of the accident, but: the reason for the accident.

(*) the higher your qualification, the better your chances to find a job — … your chances of finding a job (chance/s of+v+ing)

Commentary to the picture above: 1. In the word “cow” the letter “r” (should be right after “c”) is omitted; 2. “Burst one’s bubble” = to bring someone back to reality, especially if they are dreaming or fantasizing about something unrealistic (“Look, I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no way you’re getting into Harvard! You are a C student!”)


July 31, 2018


The next few posts in the column SYNONYMS AND ANTONYMS will be devoted to the lexical field “Mental Power; Aptitude.”

Here the first group of words: proficient, adept, skilled, skillful, accomplished, expert. All these adjectives mean having or showing knowledge, ability, or skill, as in a profession or area of study.

PROFICIENT implies an advanced degree of competence acquired through training: to be proficient in Greek or Latin. Antonyms: to be ignorant, to be (next to) a zero (in, at).

ADEPT suggests a natural aptitude improved by practice: became adept at cutting a fabric without using a pattern. Antonyms: to be unskilled, untalented, immature (may also be opposed to SKILLED and SKILLFUL)

SKILLED implies sound, thorough competence and often mastery, as in an art, craft, or trade: a skilled gymnast who won an Olympic medal.

SKILLFUL adds to SKILLED the idea of natural dexterity in performance or achievement: is skillful in the use of drum sticks.

ACCOMPLISHED bears with it a sense of refinement after much training and practice: an accomplished violinist who played the sonata flawlessly. Antonyms: bungling, clumsy, inept (an inept actor, inept performance, a bungling workman, he made a bungle of the case due to inexperience)

EXPERT applies to one with consummate skill and command: an expert negotiator who struck a deal between disputing factions. The closest antonym: green (lacking training or experience: green recruits, green in business).


July 30, 2018

The idea of this column is to demonstrate that not only “long and clever” words (sometimes, with the rich Latin and/or French ancestry) are worth analyzing, but the study of the most common words can be no less exciting.

Some of the most frequent words which were covered in earlier posts are: to be, I, to, for, with, good, of, and.

This time, the focus is on the word NOT.


NOT developed from Old English “nawiht” (“na” = no + “with” = creature, thing). The other line of the development of “nawiht” resulted in the existence of the modern English word “naught” = nothing, zero.

While using NOT in speech, be careful about the following:

  1. Put NOT after the first auxiliary verb or modal, if there is one:

Adrina realized that she had not been listening to him.

  1. In conversation, when NOT is used after be, have, do, or a modal, it is not usually pronounced in full. When you write down what someone says, you usually represent NOT as N’T.
  2. When HAVE is the main verb, NOT is sometimes added without an auxiliary DO, but only in the short forms HASN’T, HAVEN’T, and HADN’T:

You haven’t any choice

The sky hadn’t a cloud in it.

However, it is more common to use the forms DOESN’T HAVE, DON’T HAVE, and DIDN’T HAVE.

  1. You can make a negative sentence more polite or less strong by using REALLY after NOT:

It doesn’t really matter.

I don’t really want to be a part of it.

You can reply to some questions by saying NOT REALLY.

You can also make a statement less strong by putting VERY in front of the adjective:

I’m not very interested in the subject

  1. You can use NOT with SURPRISINGLY  and UNEXPECTEDLY to make a negative comment about a statement.

Laura, not surprisingly, disliked discussing the subject.

  1. You can use NOT at the end of a short reply in order to give your opinion. For example, you can say “I hope not,” “Probably not,” “Certainly not” :

“Will it happen again?” – “I hope not.”

“I hope she won’t die.” – “Die? Certainly not!”

  1. Be careful!

With “both…and…” and other correlatives, parallelism requires that each conjunction is followed by a construction of the same grammatical type. Thus, “She not only bought a new car but also a new lawn-mower” displays faulty parallelism. The sentence is wrong and will be assessed as an error in official tests (TOEFL type), whereas the sentence “She bought not only a new car but also a new lawn-mower” is correct, because both NOT ONLY and BUT ALSO are followed by noun phrases.




July 30, 2018

Extracts from the book by Thomas W. Adams and Susan R. Kuder



List of idioms:

be down in the dumps = be depressed

be in seventh heaven = be extremely happy

be on cloud nine = be extremely happy

be on top of the world = feel extremely good

be out of sorts = be in a bad temper

be tickled pink = be very happy

feel blue = be sad

feel like a million bucks = be in a very good mood

look like one has the weight of the world on one’s shoulders = be very tired and worried

look like one lost one’s best friend = look very unfriendly

walk on air = feel happy and excited


1.Put a plus sign (+) if the person mentioned is happy. Put a minus sign (-) if the person is sad.

  • Steve was accepted at all universities he applied. He is on cloud nine.
  • Jan failed her math exam. She is down in the dumps today.
  • Bob’s parents gave him a trip to Europe for a graduation present. He is in seventh heaven.
  • Mary came in first in a ten-mile race. She is on top of the world.
  • Sue does not feel well today. She is out of sorts.
  • John lost his dog the other day. He is feeling blue.
  • Karen likes her new car very much. In fact, she is tickled pink with it.
  • Rich came back from vacation looking great. He says he feels like a million bucks.
  • Sally lost her job and does not know how she is going to pay her bills. She looks like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.
  • Ken got some bad news in the mail today. He looks like he lost his best friend.
  • Gene found the travelers checks he had lost. He is walking on air.

2.Mark is a very moody person. Some days he is happy and some day he is unhappy. Put H next to the days Mark was happy, and U next t the days he was unhappy.

  • On Sunday, Mark was tickled pink.
  • On Monday, he was feeling blue.
  • The next day, he was walking on air.
  • On Wednesday, he was down in the dumps.
  • On the following day, he was out of sorts.
  • On Friday, he was on top of the world.
  • The day after that, he felt like a million bucks.
  • On Sunday, he looked like he had lost his best friend.
  • The next day, he looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
  • On Tuesday, he was on cloud nine.
  • On the following day, he was in seventh heaven.

3.Jim is the captain of the Jefferson High School basketball team. Walt is the captain of the basketball team at Washington High School. Last week the two teams played each other, and although it was a close game, Jefferson won. Using all the idioms from this unit, write sentences describing how both Jim and Walt felt after the game. Remember to use the past tense. You’ll probably have to recapitulate some basketball terminology too (like: to shoot a ball, to score, a field goal, a jump shot, to steal a ball from the dribbler, to intercept a pass, to block a shot, etc.)






July 30, 2018

mother in the family


A young woman brings home her fiancée to meet her parents. Before, the marriage was only in the air, now the time has come to get into the nitty-gritty of the matter. When the young couple came, the father was having a kip. At this time of the day, he was usually dead to the world. The father had known about his would-be son-in-law’s visit, but preferred not to jump the gun. He took his time getting out of bed, prepared some coffee to perk himself up, and broached the subject.

“So, young man,” he said, “It’s a regular treat to see you at our place. Is you decision to marry my daughter final?”

“I have no second thoughts about it,” answered the youth.

“Please, do not think that your marriage is as good as in the bag. Do you have a man-size job? At least, something in the offing?”

“I am a Torah scholar,” he relied.

“A Torah scholar. Hmm.” the father said. “Will you buy my daughter a beautiful engagement ring such as she deserves?”

“I will concentrate on my studies, and God will provide for us.”

“Admirable, how are you going to support your wife?”

“I will study,” the young man replied, “and God will provide for us.”

“Now, look here,” the father said, “I don’t want you to feel hard done by while you are answering my straightforward questions, but … please, understand, Emma is my daughter… Both of you will be better off even if you just fetch and carry for everyone in the office. At the moment everything in the garden may be lovely, but the times may change…”

The young man didn’t seem to be uptight at all. “In business,” he said, “you are dependent on your boss, and get it in the neck now and then. I want to be free.”

“And children?” asked the father. “How will you support children?”

“Don’t worry, sir, God will provide,” replied the fiancée.

The conversation proceeded like this, and each time the father questioned, the young idealist insisted that God would provide.

Later, the mother asked her husband, “How did it go, honey?”

The man answered, “He has no job, no plans, but the good news is he thinks I’m God.”


July 20, 2018


Typical mistakes made by learners of English are marked with an asterisk (*). Correct variants are in bold type.

(*)I had to stay in my cabinet all day – I had to stay in my office all day.

(*) I called to the fire brigade – I called the fire brigade.

(*) I can not do it – I cannot (or: can’t) do it.

(*) As you can remember,… — As you may remember,… (MAY is used to express possibility. CAN is used to express ability)

(*) There was nobody capable to repair the machine – There was nobody capable of repairing the machine (able + to-Infinitive BUT capable of + v-ing).

(*) Are you going by taxi or by your own car — … in your own car (go by taxi BUT go in one’s own car).

(*) They took a good care of me — … took good care of me.

(*) If you want to lose weight, you’ll have to take care of what you eat — … you’ll have to be careful of what you eat. NOTE: take care of = look after, be careful about = pay close attention to, especially to avoid doing the wrong thing.

(*) Some criminals don’t care of being caught — … don’t care about being caught (care about doing something, NOT of).

(*) The only thing they cared for was how to make money – The only thing they cared about was how to make money. NOTE: care for (formal) = (1) like: “Would you care for another drink?” (2) take care of: “The child was well cared for” (usually adjectival). Care about = be concerned about.

(*) How wonderful it would be to be young and careless again! – How wonderful it would be to be young and carefree again. NOTE: Careless is negatively colored. The opposite of careless is careful: If you weren’t so careless, you wouldn’t have made so many mistakes. The opposite of carefree is worried.


July 20, 2018


While speaking about synonyms and antonyms in English, it would be worthwhile to mention an interesting phenomenon called “auto-antonymy.” The words belonging to this group are also known as “autantonyms,” “contranyms ,“ “antagonyms,””enantiodromes,” “Janus words,” or “self-antonyms.”  This last term (“self-antonyms”) has been selected for our discussion.

A self-antonym is a word with several meanings, two of which are opposed to each other. Example: If we go back to Shakespeare’s English, the word “to let” meant not only “to allow” but also “to hinder, to forbid” because these meanings had developed from two different words: “lettan” (delay, impede, oppress” and “laetan” (allow, let on lease). By the time Shakespeare was writing his “Hamlet,” the forms of the words coincided, which transformed the resulting word into a self-antonym. Cf:

“ …Still am I called.—Unhand me, gentlemen (draws his sword)

By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me.

I say, away!—Go on. I’ll follow thee.

In modern English, this meaning is preserved in the phrase “without let or hindrance” (= without obstruction or impediment): <rats scurried about the house without let or hindrance>

Other languages also have examples of self-antonymy. In Latin “altius” means both “deep” and “high.” Actually, the meaning is “large in vertical dimension.” The German “ausleihen,” like the Ukrainian “позичати,”stands for both “lend and “borrow.”

Here are some modern English self-antonyms:

Appropriate – 1. To give money to, 2. to take something for one’s own use;

Biweekly – 1.  Occurring every two weeks, 2. Occurring twice a week;

To clip – 1. To attach, 2. To cut off;

Downhill – 1. Things are getting worse, 2. Things are getting easier

To draw (curtains) – 1. To open, 2. To close

To dust – 1. To remove dust, 2. To cover with dust;

Fast – 1. Without moving <to hold fast>, <fast asleep>, 2. Moving quickly;

Nonplussed – 1. Baffled, perplexed, 2. Unperturbed (in North America);

To overlook – 1. To miss something, 2. To see something from above;

To sanction – 1. To approve; 2. To penalize;

To screen – 1. To show, 2. To conceal;

A story – 1. An untrue account of events (to tell stories), 2. A factual account of events (a news story);

To strike – 1. To act decisively, 2. To refuse to act;

To table (a bill) – 1. To put (the bill) up for debate – in British English, 2. To remove it from debate – in American English (where British English would have “shelve”);

Transparent – 1. Easy to detect, 2. Invisible.

The above cases are a matter of lexicology. However, in stylistics there is a plethora of examples when a word acquires an opposite meaning as compared to its dictionary status For instance: “Very clever!” — sometimes meaning “foolish.” Or in the dialogue “Would you like to have another cup of coffee?” — “That’s OK,”  which can mean either “yes, please,” or “No, thank you” depending on the situation.

Among the latest self-antonyms, there are also two blends: “coopetition” (= cooperation + competition) and “frenemy” (= friend + enemy)

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