Monday, December 19, 2011

catch up (to), catch up (on), and catch on

Here are a few headlines from current events.

Can Romney Catch up to Gingrich in the Polls?

Yes I can! Yes I can! Catch up on my sleep, that is...

Meatless Mondays Catch On, Even With Carnivores

We learn the verb "(to) catch" fairly early when learning English. But there's more! We have several two-word verbs that use "catch".  There is "catch up". (Furthermore, this two-word verb requires a preposition "on" when the direct object is stated.)  And there is also the two-word verb "catch on".

It's important to know the difference between "catch up to", "catch up on" and "catch on". Two-word verbs, if you recall, hold a unique meaning that is more than the sum of the two words (the verb + the preposition).

The three headlines above link to news articles. Read each article and get a sense of what these words mean, and how each one is different.

Then try these three sentences, also from the internet:
Each verb is used once. 
  • catch on
  • catch up to
  • catch up

1)   I'm busy now... Let's ________ later.
2)   All of his bad deeds _____________ him.
3)   Solar energy is finally _____________.

Let's get your feedback.  Enter your responses in the comment box below.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

kinda sorta

In the world of Twitter and text messaging, where people shorten words to use as few slots as possible, many words look quite different from what they really are. Thank you becomes Thanks which (for some reason) becomes "Thankx" even though thankx has the same number of letters as the actual word thanks

Where people are trying to learn a new language, these modifications don't really help one to write or read correctly or to distinguish between standard English and slang. And this could make a big difference when you're writing an academic paper, apply to a school, or trying to get a good job.

Another example is "kinda". The actual words are "kind of".  Seen on the blog: He looks kinda sleepy.  --> He looks kind of sleepy.  I'm kinda hurt. --> I'm kind of hurt.

Another example of the same sort is "sorta".  The actual words are "sort of" I was sorta checking you out --> I was sort of checking you out That sorta sounds weird. --> That sort of sounds weird.  (Better would be "That sounds sort of weird.")

Then it doubles up: Note the preponderance of Kinda sorta in Twitter!

So just a word of warning to those using Twitter to learn English: Read books, read books, read books. That's where you're going to learn whether you're picking up slang or whether you're learning good solid English.

You may want to send us comments on any other words that you're not sure of whether they're correct or whether they're shortened for slang or Twitter or text messaging.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Baby Boomer(s): The Word

In Japanese, it's " ベビーブーマー" - pronounced "baby boomer".  In Italian, it's "babyboomer". In Hebrew, it's "בייבי בומר" (pronounced baby boomer".  In Spanish it's "baby boomer". In Russian it's "бэби-бумеров".  But all of these are merely transliterations of the English word, "baby boomer". And none of these languages can get a sense of what the word really is saying!

The key here is the word "BOOM". 

What does "boom" mean?  A "boom" is a loud and deep and sudden noise. When something large and heavy falls, the sound it makes when hitting the ground is "boom". 

In economics, there is a term "boom" when the economy is healthy and strong - an economic boom. Then there's a "boom and bust", which refers to when everything is going well, then it suddenly goes "bust" - and crashes.

So that's the background. The "baby boomer" generation refers to those born after WWII, when servicemen returned home, started families and had children. Suddenly there were many babies, and these babies are referred to as 'baby boomers". Their effect on American life and the economy was like a big "boom".

Babies born between 1946 and 1954 are referred to as baby boomers. There was a sudden need for housing, for schools, for automobiles, for jobs, everything to serve these new young families.

We are hearing the term baby boomers now because people born in 1946 are now 65 years old and are entering retirement, and are placing a new type of demand on the economy.

How do you say "baby boomer" in your language? How did these "boomers" affect life in the 1940's and early 1950's? How are they affecting and influencing life now?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


There are Occupy Wall Street movements in cities all over the United States. What does this movement represent? And what about the word, "occupy"?

At its simplist, it means to take up space.  You see signs on bathrooms in airplanes, "Occupied". That means, basically, that somebody is in the bathroom and you have to wait your turn.

Also we see it used to refer to filling up time, such as "This job is occupying all of my time." This sentence from Craig's List refers to some speakers that are for sale: "These ...speakers ... don't occupy much floor space, and are quite slim and elegant looking."

It is also used in the geo-political sense, referring to a hostile takeover of land: Germany occupied France, etc.  We see it as a noun: German's occupation of France began in May 1940 and ended in December 1944.

In the "Occupy" movement, it has much of this sense, though presumably without the hostility and with a sense of it being a popular movement ("the 99%"), and not an external and hostile takeover from a foreign group, but also an occupation of ideas and social change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Email Etiquette - an oxymoron?

Email Etiquette - Does it even exist?  Is this an oxymoron?

Etiquette refers to rules of socially acceptable behavior.

Some people begin their emails without addressing the addressee.  These people begin the body of the email without writing an introduction such as,  "Dear Cavey" or "Dear Mr. Crockett", etc.

Many people end their emails without signing off. That is, they end their email abruptly, without adding their name at the end of the email. I always like to include "Thank you" or "Yours" and then my name, but others don't write even this.

Many people would like to bring etiquette back into emails, so that people writing emails follow the same etiquette as regular letter writers.

Others think that the whole idea of writing emails is to save time and thus they support eliminating introductions and salutations.

If you have any thoughts about this, we'd like you to share them with us.

Thank you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yoga and Learning English

Has it ever occurred to you that there is a relationship between yoga and learning English?

Most people are very self-conscious when they learn a new language. When they are speaking, they are self-conscious about how they sound, about whether they are making grammatical mistakes, and whether the other(s) can understand them, and more.

Some worry about sounding stupid. 

Worrying about how you sound almost seems to be an intrinsic part of learning another language - because you want the other person to understand you. 

In a yoga class, the teacher says, "Don't look at the person next to you."  In a yoga class, the teacher tells the class to "have your own practice".  The teacher tells the students, "Don't think about how you look, or whether you look beautiful or as good as the person who you've seen in the yoga magazines."

I think there is something here for anybody learning English, or learning any other language.

When you are trying to speak, do you focus on the negative and worry so much about how you sound, or whether you are making mistakes, that you can't get the words out?

Learning a language and making grammatical mistakes go hand in hand.  It takes a while to learn the new system, and the old (your native language) keeps wanting to impose itself on the new.  It takes a long time to learn the new system, and to develop a separation between your first language and your next language.

And if you are learning English (or any other new language), feel good about your undertaking this very worthwhile and rewarding experience.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

alcholics, workaholics and other "-holics" in our lives

It appeared in the word "alcoholic" - the suffix "-ic", which meant "of or pertaining to" tagged onto the noun "alcohol" to mean somebody who drinks alcoholic in excess, somebody who has an addiction to alcohol.

Then from the word "alcoholic", the last letters "-oholic" or "-aholic" started tagging along with other nouns when the reference was to an addiction to that thing or activity, an excessive need or urge for that thing: We saw it with the noun "work" - "workoholic", referring to a person who works all the time, who has an addiction to work, or to working. 

A really popular term is "chocoholic". Can you figure out what this person loves to eat?  In this case, of course, the suffix ending is placed not on the whole noun "chocolate" but on the first syllable, "choc".  Choc + oholic.

Next we have the term "~oholic" after the verb "(to) shop" and this person is a "shopoholic".   A shopoholic could end up ruining his/her or the family's budget due to the uncontrollable urge to shop and this could create marital woes as a consequence.

Also in this group, we begin with the noun "food" so that somebody who has an obsessive urge to eat now can call himself a "foodaholic". 

There are a few new ones that derive from some addictions in the world of electronics and cyberspace:  Somebody who can't stop being on the computer is a "computeraholic". 

People who can't stop blogging now have a word to describe themselves: blogaholics.

A new word "loveaholic" has appeared in the Urban Dictionary - and so the suffix "~aholic" now can latch onto the noun "love" - and we have a word for a person who loves to love, whose urge to love or be loved is at the level of an addiction.

Can you think of any new words in the English language that fit this pattern? Have you seen any in the news? If you haven't, just wait. There are plenty of addictive behaviors these days.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm good

Maybe I'm just dating myself with this blog, but I remember conversations like this:

One friend says:  "Would you like something to drink?"
The other friend says, "No, thank you.  I'm not thirsty."

Today, the conversation would go something like this:

"Would you like something to drink?"
"No, I'm good."

Or I remember this: Two friends are out at a restaurant:

"Would you like a few of my french fries?"
"No but thank you anyway"

Now this conversation would go something like this:

"Would you like a few of my french fries?"
"No, I'm good."

I first heard my daughter say this, and of course I asked her,  "What does this mean, you're good? I didn't ask you if you're good or bad; I asked you if you'd like me to share my french fries with you."

I may be old fashioned, linguistically, but I want somebody to say "No thanks, I'm not hungry" or "No thank you; I'm fine with what I'm having."

Like I said, this probably dates me... but if you're ever out having a bite to eat with somebody and they ask you, "Would you like anything else to eat?", you can say, "No thanks, I'm good" or you can answer, as somebody from my generation would, "No thank you.  But thanks for asking."


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Do You Call a Person from.......

One of the first sentences you learn to ask and answer, when you're learning English, is "Where are you from?"  Suppose the answer is "I'm from the United States."

Ah, one thinks... You're an American.

What if the answer is "I'm from New York?"  You're a New Yorker.

If you're from Texas, you're not a Texaser, but a Texan.

From California? He's a Californian.

On the opposite side of the country, from the Sunshine State - Florida? A Floridian.

Somebody's from Maine?  He is a Mainer.

Just south of Maine would be a person from New Hampshire, but he's a New Hampshirite.

New Mexico?  He's a New Mexican.

From Connecticut?  Well, maybe that state's name has too many syllables to have a compact expression.  It would probably be a Connecticuter, but that's so long that I'm not sure that anybody actually ever uses that expression!

How about cities where people are from?

Somebody from San Francisco? No, not a San Franciscoan, but a San Franciscan.

I'm originally from Philadelphia; that makes me an original Philadelphian.  But now I live in Boston. Does that make me a Bostoner or a Bostonian?  That makes me a Bostonian now.

A person from Chicago would be a Chicagoan.

How about regions of the United States?

Here you have a southerner, a northerner, a midwesterner, a New Englander... 
Do you see a consistent pattern within the English language?

Well, if you do, please write to us and tell us what it is!

And meanwhile, if you want to try to answer the question, "What do you call a person from.... (name of city), please send us a comment message!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Say "Yes" in English

Today I telephoned a bicycle shop and asked, "Can you fix my bike tire? It has a hole in it." 

"You bet", answered the voice on the other end.

"You'll do it while I wait?"

"You bet" said the voice, a second time.

Hmmmm.   I thought about the non-native speaker of English who knows the phrase "Yes" but doesn't know how many other ways we have of saying the same thing! And on the telephone, this can present a challenge. Is this person saying yes, or no?

There are many ways of saying "YES" in English, and we don't teach these in English classes. We don't teach which are formal and which are informal.

Yeah, for example, is very informal.  NEVER say Yeah in a job interview unless you want somebody to show you where the door is. Yes is appropriate whenever you want to make a good and positive impression.

Certainly is a very upbeat affirmative response.  For example, you may ask a potential employer the question, "Is it okay if I give you a call in a few weeks to see if you've received my resume?", and the response "Certainly" would indicate that you are more than welcome to do so.  It is a green light.

Another popular way of saying Yes is "Of course". This is similar to certainly and implies an enthusiastic answer in the affirmative.

There are also regional differences.  The southern states often answer, "Yes, Sir" and "Yes, Ma'am" to men and women, respectively. Consider this very respectful, very deferential.

So these are a few ways in which Americans say Yes. 

Do you know of some others? Share them with us!!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

I want to speak English FLUENTLY

Somebody might ask you, "What other languages do you speak?"  Or you might be asked, "What languages are you fluent in?"

What is this word "fluent" anyway?

You know the verb "to flow"? Well, the root of the verb "to flow" is at the root of the adjective "fluent". When you speak a language fluently, like a river, it flows naturally when you are speaking.  You ability to understand others flows naturally and smoothly. 

Use each word once (fluency   fluently   fluent)  and fill in the blank for each question directly below.  Post your responses in the comments form, and we will respond:

Are you ____________ in English? Do you speak any other languages ____________?  Is ____________   in English a goal of yours?

When your words flow naturally, correctly and smoothly, you are fluent in that language. Is that your goal?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

transitive and intransitive verbs: (to) take off

I hate the way English teachers describe the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb. They - me included - say that "a transitive verb is a verb that takes an object." Now excuse me, but unless you're an English teacher, you probably don't know what that means.

It takes an object? Where does it take the object to? It takes an object to the movies?

So here is a little example, to help explain this concept:


My husband is standing by the front door at 7:00 a.m., and says, "Okay, honey, I'm going to take off."

What he means is that he is about to leave.  He is using the two-word verb "to take off" to mean "to go out".  The sentence ends, I say "Good bye; call me when you get to work" and he turns around and walks out the door.


It has been raining all day, and my husband returns from work, and comes in the front door. He is standing in the hallway and starts walking into the home. I call to him and say, "Honey, don't forget to take off your shoes!!!"

Now in the way in which I am using it, this two-word verb "to take off" is transitive:  He asks "To take off what???" and I call "your shoes". So the object of the verb "take off" is, in our situation, his shoes.

There are many verbs in English which, in some cases, are intransitive and in other cases are transitive.

An English sentence with an intransitive verb can be as short as two words: He left. It requires the subject of the sentence and the verb. An English sentence with a transitive verb must be at least three words long: The subject of the sentence, the verb, and the object of the verb.

This is an important concept:  We will show you more examples in future blog posts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So You Think You're Fun or Funny?

Do you know the difference between "fun" and "funny"?  Did you have a lot of fun or Did you have a lot of funny?  Did you think "The movie was very funny" or "The movie was very fun"?

Take the following quiz:  Write either "fun" or "funny" in each blank, as appropriate:

  1. Yesterday we went sledding. It was a lot of _________.
  2. That movie was really _______.  I couldn't stop laughing.
  3. We had a really ______ time.  Thanks!
  4. You and I never have any ______ anymore.
  5. He's always laughing at his own jokes; he thinks he's really ______.
  6. We had the most ______ at Disney World.
  7. That sledding was the most ______ I've had in ages!
  8. That joke wasn't ________ at all.

The simple fact is that "fun" and "funny" have clearly different meanings. 

Something that is funny is something that makes you laugh.  A person may be funny (i.e. this person makes you laugh), a movie or book may be funny (i.e. the book or movie made you laugh), or a joke may be funny (i.e. the joke makes you laugh).  Notice in the sentences below that "funny" is an adjective (and the noun it describes is in blue):

  • That movie was really funny.  I couldn't stop laughing.
  • He's always laughing at his own jokes; he thinks he's really funny.
  • That was a really funny book.
  • That joke wasn't funny at all.

Something that is fun provides amusement and enjoyment.  The word "fun" is generally used as a noun.  It is a non-count noun.

  • On weekends, I like to relax and have fun.
  • We had the most fun at Disney World.
  • You and I never have any fun anymore.

  • That sledding was the most fun I've had in ages!

A person can be a lot of fun to be around, but usually we refer to an activity as being fun. We use "fun" as an adjective in this sense. This is being used in conversation more and more, but not appropriate for writing.

  • We had a really fun time.  Thanks!
  • That was a fun book.

Grammatically, the words are very different.  In the following blanks, which word belongs?

  • a  very   ____   book*
  • the most ______ **

To understand these words better, tell us, in the comment field, a funny joke.  Tell us about a movie that was very funny. Tell us about something that you like doing that is a lot of fun.

  *  funny
 ** fun