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The Very Unnaughty Noughties

In previous centuries each decade has generally had a label based on its numerical value:

  • 1950-1959: The Fifties
  • 1960-1969: The Sixties
  • 1970-1979: The Seventies
  • 1980-1989: The Eighties
  • 1990-1999: The Nineties (more…)

End of a decade?

A decade? You guessed it - something to do with 10. Several words with “dec” relate to 10, coming from the Greek “deka” for “ten”. A decapod is an animal with 10 legs. A decahedron is a solid with 10 surfaces. A decathlon is an athletic contests with 10 events. Even December - it’s the 10th month (of the ancient Roman year, before they interfered with it). Decimal - no explanation needed. The verb decimate, which popularly means to kill or destroy a large quantity, also has the original meaning: “to kill one person in 10″. And (more…)

Bye Bye Baghdad, we’ve “washed our hands of” you

If you “wash your hands of something” you say that you have no (more) responsibility for something. The origin of this idiom is in the Bible Matthew 27:24: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’” He was speaking about (more…)

Idiom of the Day

An idiom is a group of words in current usage having a meaning that is not deducible from those of the individual words. For example, “to rain cats and dogs” - which means “to rain very heavily” - is an idiom; and “over the moon” - which means “extremely happy” - is another idiom. In both cases, you would have a hard time understanding the real meaning if you did not already know these idioms!

Now you can learn a new idiom every day. Just bookmark the following page and visit it daily:
EnglishClub Idiom of the Day

Current versus contemporary

These two words are very similar some of the time, but can also be very different.

current is an adjective that means “belonging to the present time, happening now”, for example:

  • I like to follow current events.
  • My current job will end next year.

It also means “in common or general use”: (more…)

The R Word

In these times of apparent worldwide economic gloom and despair emanating from the collapse of the USA’s financial system, you may have heard reference on TV or elsewhere to the R word. What on earth is the R word?

Sometimes it is difficult for people to accept facts.  At such times, there may be certain words that people don’t like to say. If they need to express that word, they may use the first letter only, and hope that everyone else understands. It also suggests, and this is done partly in humour, that the word is a bad, “dirty” or otherwise offensive word.

So just what is the R word? (more…)

Optimum or optimal?

Is there a difference between optimum and optimal?

As adjectives, they have the same meaning: best; most favourable; most conducive to a good result

They both come from the Latin optimus, meaning “best”.

Look at these examples:

  • What is the optimum/optimal childbearing age?
  • We need to find the optimal/optimum solution.
  • In our case, the optimum/optimal investment would produce a modest return at no risk.

Optimum can also be a noun, while optimal has two derivatives:

  • optimally (adverb)
  • optimality (noun)

Practical or practicable?

Let’s try to understand the difference between these two words.

practical (adjective): useful and suitable for a particular purpose

  • I love your kitchen. It’s really practical. Everything is in the right place, and at the right height.

practicable (adjective):  able to be done; can be put into practice

  • Your idea about making a new car park is not practicable. There is not enough space.

Note that there are a few other meanings for “practical”.

Presume or assume?

People are often unsure about the difference between these two words. Indeed, they are very close in meaning.

to presume something (verb):  to believe something to be true, but without being 100% sure

  • I presume you’ll come to my party. (I’ll be surprised if you don’t come, but I’ll accept your decision.)

to assume something (verb):  to take something for granted, to believe it without question

  • I assume you’ll come to my party. (I expect to see you at my party. I will want to know why if you don’t come.)

“Near miss”, “cause”

Today we will look at two different terms: “near miss” and “cause”. We will use a short video to understand their meanings.

In the video you will see Muntazer al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, throwing both his shoes at the US president, George Bush Jnr. The journalist throws his shoes quite accurately, but the shoes don’t hit Mr Bush. They “miss” him, but only just. In fact, they nearly hit his head. So we can describe the incident as a “near miss”. When two aircraft nearly hit each other, that is also a near miss.

Now let us turn to Mr Bush’s reaction afterwards (you can read the full transcript below). Mr Bush says that he doesn’t know “what the guy’s cause is”. In this context, the word “cause” means “a principle or movement that you believe in deeply and are prepared to defend or promote”. For example: Mother Teresa of Calcutta devoted her life to the cause of poor and sick people. Muntazer al-Zaidi’s cause is the widows and orphans and everyone killed in Iraq as a result of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Al-Zaidi (translated): This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog. This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.

Bush: So what if the guy threw a shoe at me? … Er, it is one way to gain attention. Er, it’s like going to a political rally and having people yell at you. It’s like driving down the street and have [having] people not gesturing with all five fingers. It’s a way for people to draw, you know, attention…I dunno what the guy’s cause is, but one thing is for certain, he caused you to ask me a question about him.

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