Halloween Related Langauge

Halloween: something of a ‘hallmark holiday’ celebrated on the 31st of October and related to the Celtic fire festivals that marked the turning of the seasons. It’s a time of ghosts and goblins and tricks and treats. This post looks at some of the language to do with Halloween.

Ghost: someone who is very stealthy or almost invisible can be described as a ghost. “Ghostlike Tom slipped out of the house behind his father’s back.”

Knowing where the bodies are buried: If you know someone’s secrets in a way that gives you power over them you can be said to know where the bodies are buried.

Ghost can also be a verb for something that is there/running but only just. Also used in electrical engineering, to describe a very low current. “The lights were off but there was enough light ghosting from the computer under the desk for Karen to see the door.”

Scaredy Cat : someone who is easily frightened and/or very timid. “Don won’t come swimming tonight; he’s a scaredy cat.”

Zombie: Someone who’s very tired/almost asleep or walking/doing something without paying attention. “Don’t be a zombie in the seminar; it’s your chance to ask questions.”

Witch’s Brew: describes a mixture of things that are unpleasant/unidentifiable. “The wine that they served with the dinner was a real witch’s brew. I wonder where they got it.”

Ghost town: somewhere very quiet and/or deserted. “Claire’s party was a ghost town; she really shouldn’t have held it on a Monday night.”

Vamp: while this is a clipping of vampire, vamp can also be used to describe someone (usually a woman) who is deliberately and overtly sexy.

Drop dead gorgeous: Normally dead people aren’t used as examples of beauty, but if someone is drop dead gorgeous they are very attractive.

Be the devil’s advocate: an idiom meaning to argue one side of a situation, not because you agree with it but to facilitate the argument.

Jack-o-lantern: a pumpkin (or other gourd or even some root vegetables) carved with a face and with a candle inside it. Traditionally used to scare away evil spirits now used to advertise a house that is participating in trick-or-treat.

image: wikimedia

image: wikimedia

Skeleton in the closet: to describe a secret that somebody wants to keep secret use ‘a skeleton in the closet’. “I know Simon’s got a skeleton in the closet. But, he knows mine as well.”

Trick-or-treat: the call of children dressed in costumes when knocking on doors around their neighbourhood.

Someone walked over my grave: an idiom meaning when you had a bad feeling or shock. “Seeing him after all this time. It was like someone walking over my grave.”

To give someone enough rope (to hang themselves): an idiom used when describe a situation where someone could but does not intervene until a situation has become serious and usually someone will suffer.

To dig your own grave: when you have done something obviously stupid, that you knew at the time was stupid. You dig your own grave. “Taking your new girlfriend to the pub where your old girlfriend works was really digging your own grave.”


Ode to Poetry

First things first. This is not technically an ode. A favourite form of Keats, but not I confess of mine. Play with various forms, you’ll find one you like. I did consider writing it in couplets and/or iambic pentameter /, but time and craft got away from me and today is is national poetry day so here goes, in prose.

Via wikimedia

Via wikimedia

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day is “make like a poet” and as that link tells you you don’t have to be a poet to make like one. Reading them is often enough, although writing can be a challenge it is one that is not without benefits.

Ok you’re asking “why?”. Or at least I’m guessing those of you still reading are wondering why when we struggle with essays and reports in a second language should we tackle poetry in that language. If any of you who think “I don’t even like poetry in my language” are still reading… well just give me a few more lines. I’ll answer.

Poetry is playing with language and will help you develop a feel for and intuitive awareness of nuance in language (semantic and structural nuances). One of the writing issues post-graduates bring to me most often is they have more and richer data than they have word count for. Well flexing your language practice through a little recreational poetry can and often does make alternate, sometimes much more concise structures more readily available. In short: more info less words.

Another issue that comes up even in post-graduate writing is lexical and syntactic variation. Repeating the same pattern again and again; this is a problem because our brains love novelty and repetition puts them to sleep. Do you really want to bore your reviewers? Again: poetry to the rescue.

One of the tasks that forensic linguists are frequently asked to do is to pass judgment on whether two or more pieces of writing have the same author, and it’s one that we can often be more confident with the response. Everyone gets stuck into well worn groves when speaking and writing. It’s part and parcel of how we use language to encode messages. We do it the easy way. Poetry doesn’t. That’s why we (well almost everyone) has a (possibly grudging) respect for poets. We recognize that what they do with language is challenging and creative.

Harold Pinter one of the great British play writers of the 20th century observed that “In English we speak in iambic pentameter” and if you allow for different roles sharing this it’s startling how much of Pinter’s work conforms to this. Shakespeare is one of the best known English writers and even more of his work observes this convention. However, both knew when to break this rule for the effect of surprising people.

So how can you use poetry to help you. Well don’t write sonnets when asked for essays. Poetry is language development and play but is not suited to all genres so try to stop it creeping overtly into your papers.

If you want to try out any of the forms above…. follow the links. One of my favourites follows. I think what is particularly effective is how the poem plays with our expectations only to deny them.

Haiku:  3 lines 5 syllables 7 syllables then 5 again. (3,5,3 if you want to be purist and hard-core)Originally a Japanese form but its brevity means they can be produced fairly quickly. And, if you can get it across in 17 syllables then you probably won’t have a problem with word count.

Here’s an example from Stephen Fry

To make a poem

with only seventeen syllables

is very diffi-