The Year of the Rooster is upon us!

It’s the Lunar New Year, and many traditions mark the new year now rather than January 1st. Each year in the Chinese lunar calendar is represented by an animal and since this year is the year of the Rooster why don’t we look at some bird related language. Previous lunar new year posts: here and here.

Birds of a feather (flock together): This idiom simply means that people with similar tastes and interests often group together even subconsciously. Just look at the first class of any of the first year modules and you can see some of the more visible divides already taking place.

Get (have) your ducks in a row: An idiom with a built in verb phrase. If someone has their ducks in a row they are well organised and ready to move to the next step.

ducks

photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks. Ducks In A Row via photopin (license)

Worth (their/his/her) scratch: This idiom is a value judgment on an individual. If somebody is worth their scratch they are good to have around, (even if you don’t like them). This probably comes from chickens scratching for food in farmyards.

Up to scratch: Similar to the above this is a judgement either good enough or not. Something that is up to scratch is good (enough) if not then it needs work. Example: “I used to be fluent but my French isn’t really up to scratch anymore.”

A scratch player: (isn’t really bird related but I doubt I’ll now do a post with scratch in it) is someone who is a reliably good player in almost any condition. This originally comes from golf where a scratch player would be expected to play to par (the rating of the course) on any course, this has been extended into all sorts of activities including video games where you can watch YouTube videos of ‘scratch gamers’ completing levels etc.

Sing like a bird: this comparison means someone sings well, beautifully.

Sing like a canary: this one means that the person tells people (often authority figures) about things they shouldn’t (in the view of the speaker). Example: “We were going to have a surprise party for my Mother’s birthday this weekend but Tommy sang like a canary and now she knows everything.”

canary

photo credit: dominique cappronnier Girl in cage via photopin (license)

Pecking order: this idiom refers to authority and/or seniority. If you are higher up the pecking order you come first or are more important. Example: “Final year students typically come higher up the pecking order because of the importance of NSS results”.

Beak: this is the term for the hard nose/mouth part of most birds but it can be used to talk about someone’s nose. Example: “keep your beak out of my business and we’ll get along fine.” Also used as adjective beaky meaning with a big nose (now rare), Example “you’ll know Tom when you see him, he’s beaky”

On the wing: this is a slightly old fashioned term meaning while flying, “to take a bird on the wing” was used in hunting to talk about killing birds in the air. If something is on the wing it is moving or in process and/or hard to reach.

To wing something: means to do it without much preparation. Example: “Toni was ill yesterday so I had to wing the sales talk for Simon. I think it went fairly well.”

A feather in your cap/hat: This idiom refers to an achievement or attribute that you can be proud of. Example: “Public speaking is often frightening, but being able to give a talk is a feather in your cap to many employers.”

Chicken: When used as an adjective this means that a person is easily scared or frightened. Example: “Don’t be such a chicken; everything will be fine.”

A chicken and egg problem: this idiom refers back to the logic puzzle what comes first the chicken or the egg? If you have a chicken and egg problem you may know that two things are related but you’re not sure which affects the other directly?

chick-egg

photo credit: Evelio Sánchez Hay alguien ahí? via photopin (license)

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Gambling and Chance in English

Games of chance (otherwise known as gambling) have a long history in many languages, but sticking with English, let’s look at some of the language used both in and out of gambling that comes from games of chance.

Ante: In a card game the ante is the small amount put in by each player at the beginning of the round. This collectively forms the “pot”.

Ante-up: usually used as an imperative verb to ask all players to put into the pot at the beginning of the turn. (Pony up is another variant that can be used a little bit more widely; “There’s a raffle at our street-party and we’ve all been asked to pony up a prize.”)

piggybank

photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

Penny Ante: most commonly used as an adjective to describe something with low stakes; also used derogatorily about people. “Ron talks a lot about the environment but he’s essentially penny-ante, he’ll never do anything serious about it.”

Show your cards: Normally, at the end of a round all players still ‘in’ (playing) show their cards to discover who wins. Also used metaphorically to describe the moment you reveal your thoughts/plans. As a moment this can be described as ‘the reveal’. “Don’t show your cards before the reveal, you never quite know what the others will be thinking or doing.”

Hold your cards close to your chest: A wise piece of advice for gamblers but metaphorically this includes people who don’t normally (or easily) show what they are thinking. “I think Donna will support us, but she keeps her cards close so it’s hard to be sure.”

Wear your cards on your sleeve: (also wear your heart on your sleeve) if you do this people around you know what you think and feel about things. “It’s been observed in the run up to the referendum this week that Leave voters are more likely to wear their cards on their sleeve than those voting remain.”

Dealing from the top/bottom of the deck: If you’re dealing from the top of the deck you are doing things the accepted (normal way). Metaphorically it’s also used to describe honesty and openness. “We need some advice on this why don’t we ask Susan, she always deals from the top of the deck.”

Having a card up your sleeve: If you literally have a card up your sleeve you are cheating in any normal game of cards. However, metaphorically it can mean having a back-up plan or an extra idea or two in case things don’t go as planned. “New teachers often find having a card up their sleeve is a good idea as some lessons may not go as planned or hoped.”

card up sleeve

photo credit: sh13 flush via photopin (license)

To follow suit: to do something similar, predictable or accepted. In a standard deck of cards there are four suits, Clubs, Aces, Hearts and Diamonds. In many games you have to follow suit if you can.

Not playing with a full deck: If you say someone isn’t playing with a full deck you are calling them stupid, (or at least) not having all the relevant information.

Trump: Some cards can be said to trump others because they are more powerful, or flexible or more valuable within the rules of the current game. Typically the trump cards are the jokers, (also called wild cards) but in many games the trump can move around depending on other factors.

To come up trumps: When something works much better than could have been predicted or expected. “The accidental over-order of umbrellas really came up trumps when it rained every day for a month.”

To trump something/someone: This indicates a victory over or dominance somehow. “Mark felt he was the obvious choice for the new manager; he’d been there a long time and had covered the role when the last manager was ill. However, Claire’s energy, enthusiasm and ambition trumped him.

 

Flagging Flags

Recently New Zeeland has opted to keep the “Union Jack” in its flag; prompting this article from the BBC. Which by the way misses out some significant flags: the Red and White Ensigns flown by merchant and Royal Navy

red_white_ensign_pin_Royal Navy National Museum

Red and White Ensign Pin from The Royal Navy National Museum

respectively both incorporate the Union Jack this omission might be thought ok as they are only used on British Ships but what about Ontario,

ontario via wikimedia

Flag of Ontario via wikimedia

or the other provinces… in fact arguably only 3 of the provinces or territories are free from British imperial influence in their flags. But surely, if they include American States they should include Canadian Provinces?

Singapore Flag_of_the_British_Straits_Settlements_(1874-1925).svg viawikimieda

Flag of Singapore via Wikimedia

What about Singapore but as this shows Great Brittan has a habit of leaving their flag around the place. But this is getting beside the point. With that in mind let’s look at some of the uses of the word Flag in English.

“to flag something”: this is often used in meetings and other discussions to either draw attention to something important or to note that something requires attention at a later date. This might also be “to flag something up”. Microsoft Outlook uses ‘flags’ to tag items in the inbox that you want to follow up. Example: “Before we finish I’d like to flag the date of the next meeting with you”

“to raise a red flag”: is a metaphor meaning something gives you a warning, or justifiably makes you wary or nervous. Example: “I’m not sure I trust him, something about this just raises a red flag for me.” Interestingly the Red flag is also a socialist anthem “keep the red flag flying”.

“to raise the white flag”: is traditionally a sign of surrender or wish to parlay in war/conflict but can also be a metaphor for giving up. Example: “I’d rather we go away as a family for the holiday but I raised the white flag when Toby threatened to stay home by himself.”

“black flag” traditionally the mark of pirates at sea but also a noted punk band.

Black Flag Band

Black Flag band from their website

“to fly a flag at half-mast”: is a sign of mourning for the death of a significant and public person, this metaphor has gotten stretched and can include use indicating someone seems sad or distracted. Example: “What’s wrong with Claire? She’s been walking around at half-mast all morning.”

“to run something up the flagpole and see who salutes”: a metaphor for mentioning an idea or plan publicly to see who and or how many people respond well (or negatively) to it. Example: “I wasn’t convinced about the new models but we ran it up the flagpole for some key customers and the response was very good.”

“A chequered flag”: of black and white squares is traditionally used in racing for the finish of the race. As a metaphor someone waving the chequered flag indicates the end of something. Example: “I didn’t miss the whole thing I got there in time to see the chequered flag”.

“to wave the flag for something” and/or “to be a flag bearer for something”. These metaphors indicate strong (and genuine) public support for something. Example: “Simon will always wave the flag for change, even if he doesn’t understand the underlying issues”.

“a flag of convenience” literally this is when a ship is registered somewhere or flying a flag of somewhere that it has no real connexion to. Metaphorically someone may fly a flag of convenience to display loyalty they don’t actually have. Example: “Kevin’s only flying a flag of convenience here; he doesn’t really believe in our cause and will desert us at the first opportunity.”

“a flag of courtesy” when in another nations waters ships fly flags of courtesy to show they are aware of their position and willing to abide by that nations laws and regulations.

 

 

 

 

 

50 Adverbs to avoid in academic writing

Adverbs are often first on my list when editing down to a word count.

Learning, Teaching and Leadership

Most academic writing is strengthened by eliminating adverbs. To emphasize a point, provide more evidence to support it. Avoid unnecessary words and in particular, adverbs. Instead, choose more precise verbs.

An adverb modifies or describes:

  • A verb (e.g. He runs quickly.)
  • An adjective (e.g. His writing is extraordinarily descriptive.)
  • Another adverb (e.g. He runs extraordinarily quickly.)

Often, but not always, adverbs in English end in –ly. Here are 50 adverbs that I have seen in academic papers that you can eliminate and your writing will be better for it:

  1. Adroitly
  2. Amazingly
  3. Awesomely
  4. Badly
  5. Basically
  6. Carefully
  7. Clearly
  8. Completely
  9. Convincingly
  10. Deftly
  11. Desperately
  12. Dexterously
  13. Effortlessly
  14. Extremely
  15. Faithfully
  16. Fundamentally
  17. Generally
  18. Goodly
  19. Honestly
  20. Inherently
  21. Instantly
  22. Interestingly
  23. Narrowly
  24. Naturally
  25. Nearly
  26. Necessarily
  27. Obviously
  28. Precisely
  29. Previously
  30. Preposterously
  31. Quite
  32. Really
  33. Relentlessly
  34. Simply
  35. Spectacularly
  36. Successfully
  37. Suddenly
  38. Surely
  39. Truthfully
  40. Ubiquitously
  41. Unequivocally
  42. Ungodly
  43. Unnecessarily
  44. Unquestionably
  45. Utterly
  46. Unwittingly
  47. Usually
  48. Very
  49. Widely
  50. Zealously

Often, when writers make a conscious choice to eliminate adverbs…

View original post 79 more words

Frost

Frost – in one sense it’s weather. As what happens to dew when the temperature is cold enough to freeze it. But, there are a number of interesting linguistic and cultural features using “frost” or a derivative in English.

Jack Frost – an anthropomorphic nature spirit; a representation of winter with a number of spin offs from beer to cartoon characters , and films to games. You might say – “watch out for Jack Frost tonight” – if you think it will be cold.

Jack Frost wikimedia

image via wikimedia

Frosted – adjective used in baking. When there is a thin layer of something (often sweet) on the top or even outside of a baked item. The layer is thinner than icing but more than just a glaze. The cupcakes were frosted with crystallised sugar.

Frosting – noun used in baking. See frosted.

Frost Nixon – a 2008 film directed by Ron Howard. This is a fictionalisation from writer Peter Morgan of the interviews between David Frost (a British journalist and presenter)and Richard Nixon (a former US president with a mixed reputation following the Watergate Scandal).

Touch of frost: expression meaning that there is some frost but not a hard frost.

Hard frost: a very severe frost, many gardeners dread predictions of a hard frost once the spring growth has started. It can be very damaging for many plants.

A frosty reception/welcome: a greeting but without the normal and/or expected warmth. We got a frosty reception at the hotel; despite booking on their website it appears they were closed for renovations so we had to stay somewhere else.

Touch of Frost  – TV programme. Starring David Jason as the eponymous Detective Inspector Jack Frost a determined if not always organised police detective.

A frosty smile/look: When someone looks unfriendly or even hostile despite outwardly seeming normal. I’m not sure we should leave Dave and Simon alone. Dave gave Simon a really frosty look when he arrived I think he’s still upset over losing the poetry prize to him.

Frosty the Snowman – A kid’s song often sung in winter or even as a non-religious Christmas song.

Frostbite – the name for the medical condition where part of your body (starting with the skin freezes. Fortunately, this is very rare in the UK but can be a serious danger in countries that get more severe winters.

Frost Maiden/Queen: a woman who is or seems frightening and/or intimidating and/or unapproachable because of manner, but also one who is logical and unemotional at all times. I’m aware that she seems like a bit of a frost maiden at first; but trust me she’s really very nice just a bit shy around people she doesn’t know. You might be surprised to find that this is a case of sexism in English but there is no male equivalent.

Happy 100th birthday to the Women’s institute (gendered language in English)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the WI (Women’s Institute)  in the UK. This very stereotypically British organisation was actually originally founded in Stoney Creek Ontario in 1897.

Our local branch is just outside the Historic Roman and Saxon cities of Winchester.

WI House from Google Streetview

In Honour of the centenary let’s look at gender in the English Language.

English is less inflectional and less gendered than many other European languages. However, there are some areas where English is still quite gendered and one area is our pronouns.

He/She/It (the 3rd Person):

It’s annoying when students assume that because someone is an academic, and a professor that they are male. Especially as more and more women are staying in academia longer and more successfully. Keep in mind that the only person to ever win two Nobel prizes in different fields was Marie Skłodowska Curie.  So claims that “language hasn’t caught up yet” and “it’s only a recent phenomenon” are hollow and puerile.

There remains some debate about how to talk about lone (or hypothetical) individuals of neutral or neither gender. Using “he” is problematic because the person may or may not be a “he”. Statistically speaking in the UK despite the fact that slightly more male children are born than female this indefinite person is more likely to be female.  Using “she” is just as problematic. Historically, there was a bias towards using “he” but switching to “she” is overcompensating and when traditionally masculinity, roles, and identity are undergoing changes already this could only worsen the impact for many.

If you find “(s)he”, “she or he”, and “he/she” or my personal bête noir “it” awkward, clumsy and generally lacking in style and flair. You wouldn’t be alone. There have been numerous attempts to insert a gender neutral third person singular pronoun into English. The fact that there have been so many attempts should tell you something; they failed. Whether it is “X” “Xe” (incidentally this would be pronounced ‘she’ by speakers of some languages) “ ‘e” or even the Greek letter sigma “∑”. None of them were widely adopted, remained persistent within certain groups, or even consistently applied within the originating academic disciplines and/or schools of thought.

The problem is inventing a new word isn’t easy. Inventing a new word in a closed syntactic category is next to impossible. One thing all the examples above lack is pronounceability. A novel word needs to be pronounceable or it won’t catch on. Another is that English already has words which (in almost all situations) meet this need. What is this magical expression you ask “they”. Yes traditionally they and there are associated with plural 3rd person usage. But, English would not be alone in using a plural for a singular in certain situations. Additionally, this use is already fairly widespread and in most situations does not introduce any ambiguity.

Consider this sentence. “Sam said they’re still coming this morning but they’d be late; they have to drop their children off at school.” We don’t know in this case whether Sam is short for Samantha or Samuel (or perhaps just Sam. But, we do know who “they” and “their” refers to.

Women’s / Men’s magazines:

The glossy press is one area where gendering is still particularly strong. But, both the terms “men’s magazine” and “women’s magazine” are quite dismissive. Perhaps this is because they are being defined by their target audience and assumptions about them as a group rather than their content.

Chairperson:

We’ve probably all heard the joke that “90% of chair people are women” the punch line is that “it’s still only 10% of chairmen that are chairpersons”. Chairperson is one of the terms thought of collectively as political correctness and perhaps because of this not as widely used as it might be. In academia there was already fairly wide use of “Chair” as a role before chairperson became common. However, this remains persistent Google has 24 million hits for chairperson, and 249 million for chairman (more than 10 times as many) so we still have a lot of work to do. And that’s not all, there is still a huge pay gap.

Marginalisation through child terms:

Women are still much more likely to be called girls, than men are to be called boys. Where men are collectively referred to as boys it’s usually an affectionate closeness. While this does cover some uses of girls the term is applied much more broadly.

Personnel Access Conduit Sealing Device:

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

This is the politically correct term for what was historically referred to as a “Man Hole Cover”. So perhaps correctness can go a bit far. When nobody knows what you mean any more; you’re not using language effectively.

Street Etiquette

By Street Etiquette I don’t mean how to politely address teenagers, or gang member in their hoods… or do I?

Walking with my family (including pushchair) yesterday evening we were chatting while walking along a narrow piece of pavement (side walk) beside a fairly busy road. We were already single file with the pushchair leading, when a man coming the other way stopped us. Just before he stepped off the pavement to go round us – “Don’t say thanks or anything!” he said aggressively.

I like to think that I’m a polite person. Certainly I normally do thank anyone who makes way for me, especially if I’m being so inconsiderate to have a baby in a push chair taking up so much space with a large object with a small but limited turning circle. I freely admit that I do occasionally not see someone, or not see them in time. But, this was not one of those cases. It seems that the man wanted to be thanked before they actually did anything, or had even signalled their intention to do something.

It’s possible that they thought thier action or at least intent was clear. Or perhaps they had been having a really bad day and were in a very bad mood. Perhaps they wanted to start a fight? (Who picks a fight with families pushing babies in prams? But, that’s another post.)

In general, when would you thank someone who, stood aside for you, held a door etc.?

My feeling is that I would normally do this after, promptly but after the action. Yes, there are exceptions, somebody clearly signals they will do something that will take them out of range of thanks for example. But, maybe I’m wrong. Even within languages and countries manners change from place to place and from time to time.