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.