Posts tagged ‘Idiom’

July 7, 2015

New Official English Words

Welcome to the new additions to the Oxford Dictionary.  Pic: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/08/knowles-one-hundred-years-coed/

Welcome to the new additions to the Oxford Dictionary.
Pic: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/08/knowles-one-hundred-years-coed/

The Oxford English Dictionary recently released the latest words that are no officially part of the English languages, as opposed to being used but not being “official”.   Some surprised me because I expected them to be official words for, like, ever, some because I didn’t even know the word or I knew the word but didn’t know it had that additional meaning that now as made official.

Some others are pretty much non-events.

Let’s look at a few.

High on the list of media attention grabbing new words is “twerk”, the dance move, popularized in 2013 or thereabouts is defined as dancing “in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance.” – Now that is a long explanation for something that everybody, who has ever seen Miley Cyrus do anything, grasps intuitively.  Welcome to official existence, twerk, you child of twisting or jerking.

One of those I stare at and wonder is “gimmick”.  It supposedly means “a night out with friends”.  I have never heard it used in that sense and maybe it just isn’t something Californians use.  The good old gimmick I know and like has the following meaning:an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal“.  How the word made it from trick to happy hour I can’t begin to explain.

One I had never heard used is “fo’ shizzle”, slang speak meaning “for sure”.  I seem to not travel in the right circles for that kind of slang.

Then there is guerrilla used in the sense of “describing activities carried out in an irregular and spontaneous way”.  Now, maybe my job has biased me but I have know and used guerrilla in this sense for years.  In fact, I probably have used it more often in this newly approved sense then the original one.  So again, welcome to the world of officially approved terms, guerrilla marketing.

Now one that I like, the somewhat childish but cute sounding look-see, pronounced “looksy”.  It means what you think it does, taking a quick look around, doing a brief inspection.  Here is an example:

“Shall we pitch our tent on this camp ground?”

“Let’s have a quick look-see first.”

What else is new? The universally used “meh” that expresses a profound lack of excitement and enthusiasm which seems to date back to the early 1990 and the Simpsons. Another popular culture addition is “Twitterati”, describing prolific users of the social networking site Twitter, plus many many more, some of which I am very unlikely to ever use. But it is good to know that there are words for things I might want to say, one day.

 

 

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July 2, 2015

Presumed English

A few words recently came to my attention that Germans often get wrong but that are not false friends per se.  It is more that everybody presumes that these are English/American words because they sound English when in fact their are not.  These mistakes are hard to avoid – because they are made in the conviction that the words/terms used are English and as such never questioned.

Here are a few examples.

The most well-known one is “Handy” the term universally used in Germany for a mobile or cell phone.  The “y” at the end and the English pronunciation generally used for the “a” makes people believe that they are using a proper English word.  Most are very surprised, many to the point of thinking it is a joke, when they are told that no such a thing as a “handy” exists in the English language.

Somebody asked me the other day what “handy” actually means in English but I had to pass.  Other than a slang meaning that I wasn’t prepared to discuss while the kids were in the room I couldn’t think of any.

The puzzling term "beamer"

The puzzling term “beamer”

A funny one, and probably an American English rather than British English one is “beamer”.  Germans use “beamer” – an unquestionably English term – for a projector.  One of those handy-dandy things one attaches to the computer that enables one to project the computer screen to a large external screen.  There is a beam of light so, undeniably, this makes a certain amount of sense.  However, in American English a beamer is something quite different, namely a general term of a BMW.  Don’t ask me how this came about, I assume it has something to do with BMW being a mouthful and beamer keeps the B and M sound but does away with the clunky W while making it sound fast and sleek.

After having spent almost a year in Germany I fell for it myself the other day.  In a meeting I said that it would be good to have a  …. what’s that word? …. you know that thingy that projects to the wall …. a beamer.” I caught myself a split second later and corrected myself but not before seeing some blank stares and silly grins.

The list keeps going:

Public viewing

In English, as Wiki states, is the condition of a deceased person, often of high social stature, whose body is available for public viewing.

In German or rather “Denglish”: the live broadcast of a sporting event to a public square on which 100 to many 1000s will rather to watch together.

Body Bag

In English those dreary black plastic bags that are used to remove corpses from a crime scene

In German/Denglish: a messenger bag like accessory that is worn close to the body

There are a bunch more but those are a few of the good ones.  If you have a favorite please let me know!

June 12, 2015

Picking up where I left off

my year by the lake

my year by the lake

I have been inactive for a long time but recently decided to do a little bit more of what I like (writing) and a little bit less of what I have to do (working on a job that by no means can be described as 9-5).  So, here are the good intentions, which – as we are all know – pave the road to hell.

I have spent the last 10 months in Germany, which is my home country.  It was an interesting experience in many ways, also from a language stand point.  Many Germans, especially the younger generation speak English, some very well, some, well, not so much.

English is in many ways pretty prevalent in Germany, of course the Germans send emails, just like the rest of the world, not ePost or eBriefe and have computers, just spelled Computers.  There is a good deal of English in music, science and as mentioned anything having to do with computers/IT and in advertising – although the trend for that latter one seems to be slowing.

Some of the things I will write about in the next few blogs are funny, weird, silly and confusing mistakes made by German natives trying their hand at English – especially if they are trying to sound cool, young and hip.  Generally it is a recipe for disaster and some general conclusions can be drawn for any non-native speaker learning English (or any other language, I suppose).  The main ones:

  • never, ever, ever translate a saying, proverb, slogan literally.  It might work, in some rare cases, but in the overwhelming majority of cases nobody will understand what you mean and you’ll end out looking weird – at best
  • be aware of “false friends”- I suppose most languages have them and there are a few specifically tough ones in German-English that just keep coming up over and over again.  The most obvious example is the English “become” and the German “bekommen” – look like twins, don’t they.  Well, they aren’t.  Bekommen means “get” not “become” – endless confusion ensues.  I actually do know a Spanish false friend or rather a really devious couple of false friends: “asistir” in Spanish means attend, whereas “atender” means pay attention to, look after.  I can’t count how many times I had native Spanish speakers tell me that they will “assist” an event.
  • Adverbs matter and so does punctuation.  More on that in a later post but I’ll end with that example that has been going around on Facebook and alike:

Let’s eat Grandpa!

Let’s eat grandpa! – opps – Let’s eat, Grandpa! – better

September 17, 2012

Much ado about nothing

yes, it is the title of a Shakespeare play – as we all know, at least now but the phrase “much ado about nothing” is also used in everyday language.  There it is used in situation where a great deal of fuss is made over something of very little importance or relevance.

The word ado dates back to Shakespeare who first used it in Romeo and Juliet to mean business or activity which is still the same as the modern day use “a lot of activity over nothing”.

Here are a few examples for the usage of the phrase:

Much ado about nothing at that maeeting, pic: wvu.acm.org

“What was that important home owner’s meeting all about?”

“Somebody had repeatedly parked in the wrong parking spot upsetting some people terribly.  Much ado about nothing if you ask me as there are enough parking spaces.”

“Why was Shirley so upset yesterday?”
“much ado about nothing, really, she couldn’t find her favorite necklace and convinced herself that the cleaning lady must have stolen it, but she found it in some box in her jewelery drawer – as always.”

It is a useful phrase that expresses mild criticism and a certain weariness and tedium with the behavior of the people who create much ado about nothing but isn’t strong or insulting enough to be avoided.

September 7, 2012

Splitting Hair

And I don’t mean the literal splitting of the ends of hair when they get to dry and need a trim.  But while we are on that topic that conditions seems to be called Trichoptilosis.  Greek of course, tricho = hair and ptilosis = falling out of the eyelashes.  But that was an aside.

In the non-literal sense it means to focus on and argue about small, tedious details, to concentrate on tiny, unimportant details to find fault with something.  Splitting hair implies an element of being pedantic and overly precise.

As always I cannot resist an example that mentions Daniel Craig and so here is an example for splitting hair from Casino Royale (link here):

In the James Bond book “Casino Royale,” Bond sips a martini and tells a bartender, “Excellent…but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.” He then adds, “Mais n’enculons pas des mouches.” This phrase means “But let us not split hairs” in French.  (the again the phrase might not even be in the movie – just the book.  Never mind.)

It is used in the negative form “let’s not split hair” to express that one does not want to argue about minutiae.

September 3, 2012

Mad Stuff

I just started a new blog about expats (us) returning home (maybe) which you can find here.  In my first post I used the word loony bin.  Since I wasn’t even sure how to write it (loonie vs. loony) I thought I better say a few words about it.

Probably the most famous movie about a “loony bin: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, pic: onlinewatchmovies.net

A loony bin is where you end up if you have gone certifiably insane or in more politically correct word if you suffer from a serious mental illness.  Since we are already politically correct let’s get it over with and use the proper term for such an institution which is something along the lines of mental health facility, mental health institution.  I am sure there are even more politically correct terms for such places, used especially when a famous or somewhat famous person publicly ends up there – something like “rehabilitation facility” or alike.

Just like other languages, too, – I can vouch for German – there are many words, mostly unkind and politically not correct for mental institutions.  Here are a couple more English one:

nut house – being crazy is also called “being nuts”

funny farm – not sure why it would be so funny

The loony bit is derived from lunatic which is an adjective used to describe mad people (based on the old believe that a full moon will make people crazy, or turn them into werewolves).  Why bin?  I don’t know but since a bin is something where things are kept in a somewhat unorderly fashion the expression probably means just that: place where crazy people are kept.

September 1, 2012

Party Pooper

Party pooper is another of those funny words – at least my 8 year old thinks so.

A party pooper is somebody who ruins the fun and the enjoyment of a social situation, most notably a party, for everybody by being negative, gloomy, foul mooded or nagging.  People can be one-time or occasional partypoopers – which is bad enough – or habitual party poopers which means it is likely their personality rather than a bad day/week/month that makes them so unpleasant to be around.

The term can obviously be abused to try and pressure people into doing things they don’t want to do or don’t feel comfortable doing.  It is a way of exerting peer pressure.

“Oh, come on Jason, just because you had five beers doesn’t mean we can’t take a joyride in your dad’s Porsche now.  You are such a party pooper.”

There are other words for such people but none quite as graphic as party pooper.   Spoilsport would be another, or killjoy – both convey their meaning pretty unambiguously.

Searching for a fitting picture I found a lot of toilet humor.  Kind of disgusting so I leave you to image who a party pooper situation looks like

August 30, 2012

Guy’s guy

I just thought about an old friend and how to best describe him and the term “guy’s guy” came to mind.  That is definitely one worth explaining.

This guy really doesn’t look much like a guy’s guy, pic: ryansingercomedy.com

So a guy’s guy is a heterosexual man who prefers the company of other man and favors  in masculine activities.  Playing rugby is definitely a guy’s guy activity, so is cutting down trees, fixing up old cars, many forms of extreme sports, notably those which require lots of strength and power.  Ball room dancing – despite the fact that requires a lot of endurance, is not a typical guy’s guy activity.  Another important aspect is that to be a guy’s guy the guy has to be admired by other men.

The gy’s guy opposite is the “Ladies’ Man” – any major achievements in ball room dancing are more likely to make you the latter, building a barn with your bare hands and a few tools over the weekend will definitely make you more of a guy’s guy.

Another expression saying pretty much the same thing is “man’s man”.

August 16, 2012

…And The Rest Is History

“.. and the rest is history” is another little (American) English phrase that can be very useful in conversation.  The phrase is used to refer to a story or event everybody is familiar with and therefore does not need to be repeated.  Everyone is not necessarily everyone in the world or even the country or town but everyone (or almost everyone) taking part in that particular conversation.

I just recently used the phrase (or rather would have used it had this conversation happened in English) in the following context: My oldest girl-friend was telling my son how she move from one country to another when she was only 10 years old and how she had to leave her best girl-friend behind. To give the whole story a optimistic spin she then continued to say “but then, two years later, I met your mom in school” to which I would have added “and the rest is history!” meaning everybody around the table knows that we have been best friends ever since and knows many stories about our adventures – both silly and serious.

I like this phrase, it seems like it is the closest thing to telling an insider joke without actually telling a joke.

No picture this time, for the life of me I couldn’t come up with a picture to illustrate this phrase that wasn’t completely cliche or unrecognizable.

 

 

January 13, 2012

Something 101

The other 101 - the Freeway. Pic: http://www.othersidegroup.com

101 is a Freeway (we Californians call our Highways Freeways, don’t ask me why – at least not now) near our house but you will encounter the number in other contexts as well -mostly when study subjects are concerned.  For example you might take economics or physics 101 in school.  A 101 course of anything is an introductory course, where you learn the basics.

The next level up is not 102 but 201.  So once you successfully completed Accounting 101 you can move on to Accounting 201 – if  you are so inclined.

The expression 101 is also used in daily language with reference to basic skills or knowledge.  You might say to somebody who just told you that he/she can’t prepare a simple pasta dish “what?? you can’t make a pasta with tomato sauce.   But that is cooking 101.  How can you not know how to do that?”

Or

“Before you read War and Peace in the Russian Original you might have to take a bit more than Russian 101.”