Image from puffun
16 January 2014
When we moved to Hong Kong from the US, we had to learn a new language.
And I’m not just talking about Cantonese or Mandarin.
I’m talking about ‘British’. (America and the UK are sometimes described as ‘two countries separated by a common language’.)
Our son, who was in primary school at the time, had difficulty with some of the language used at the British school he attended. …
Image by Tim Pearce
9 January 2014
People who live near the ocean typically eat a lot more fish and seafood than those who live in inland areas. Because the UK is an island nation, this may be why ‘fish’ metaphors are so common in English.
Here are some of those metaphors.
Fish that isn’t fresh has an unpleasant odour.
As a metaphor, if you say ‘something is fishy’ or ‘that sounds fishy’, it means that you’re suspicious about it. …
Image by Frankey’s Creation
2 January 2014
Happy New Year
First off, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year. May 2014 bring you good health, happiness and success!
What’s been happening to this blog?
I’ve been a really busy bee! (The name ‘Deborah’ means ‘bee’.)
In the last post, written in August 2013, I said that I’d be taking a few weeks off to spend time with my family. …
22 August 2013
In their latest newsletter, authors Chip and Dan Heath told a story related to the subject of their book Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work.
Their story brought to mind a problem that I often see among trainees in my business writing courses.
Information you can trust
The Heaths told about a woman who loved to bake. …
15 August 2013
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When I meet up with friends in Hong Kong and ask ‘How are you?’ – about 99% of the time they say, ‘I’m very busy.’ When I ask friends in the US the same question, their answer is invariably, ‘I’m fine, thanks!’
Why the difference?
This can’t just be a cultural thing. When I was studying Chinese, one of the first exchanges I learned was ‘how are you?’ – along with the answer, ‘fine’.
8 August 2013
Image by mnsc
This question has a somewhat round about answer…so bear with me.
During the Middle Ages, left-handed people were considered sinister and evil. Even up to the early 20th century, schoolteachers forced left-handed children to write right-handed – something that often resulted in very poor handwriting. And in some cultures today, using your left hand is considered unclean (I won’t go into why).
25 July 2013
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I’ve often wondered how the use of e-devices has changed our writing.
Back in the early 1980s, when I first began using a word processor (a very slow one with very little storage capacity), I was so happy about how easy it made typing documents. You could add or delete information and correct all the typos without having to type the entire document over and over. …
18 July 2013
Last year I wrote a post on the use of who and whom.
I’d like to give you a ‘good news’ update on this subject.
The rule followers
If you want to strictly follow the grammatical rules for when to use who or whom, go back to this post for some tips.
Unfortunately, those tips involve taking time to restructure sentences to figure out whether you’re talking about a subject or an object. …
11 July 2013
Image by Travis Isaacs
Have you ever read a sentence or phrase in a document and thought to yourself, ‘That doesn’t sound right’? Maybe it was a strange idea, or maybe the word choice seemed weird. But something about it just wasn’t right.
Most of the time we read silently – just looking and thinking about words on a page (or screen) – not reading aloud. …
4 July 2013
A few weeks ago, we talked about building a vocabulary of more ‘precise’ words.
I’ve run across a language-related blog whose writer recently posted about vocabulary size. The blog, ‘Johnson’, named after the famous dictionary writer, Samuel Johnson, covers issues about ‘the use and abuse of languages around the world’.
In May, one of the posts was about vocabulary size, and it linked to another site, …
27 June 2013
Image by Joe Shlabotnik
We recently talked about metaphors connected with cooking. Today I’ll continue on a similar theme and look at metaphors about tastes.
Five different tastes have been identified: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. Three of them (sweet, bitter and sour) are associated with certain feelings or qualities, so they can be used metaphorically.
20 June 2013
People frequently ask me how to build up their vocabulary with what they call ‘precise’ words.
Knowing the words that precisely indicate what you mean helps to make your writing clearer and more to the point. That in turn increases the reader’s understanding and the potential for them to take relevant action.
An added bonus is that using ‘precise’ words makes you look more sophisticated (and who doesn’t want that?).
13 June 2013
Image by Lara604
As we discussed in last week’s post, if you want to build your English proficiency, you need to practice at least a little every day – for a long time. What many people need, however, is a way to find ‘small bites’ of useful language practice that they can fit into a busy schedule.
A place where you can get some of those bites is the …
6 June 2013
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Everyone is eager to get as much as they can for the lowest price. And for things like bargains on clothing or cars or computers, that’s fine.
But there aren’t any bargains on developing a skill like language. For that you have to pay the full price. However, you can’t ‘eat the whole whale’ at a single sitting and suddenly become proficient; you need to take it one bite at a time over an extended period.
30 May 2013
Image by ReneS
One of my favourite activities is cooking, and after many years of practice, I’ve become fairly good at it. During that time, of course, I’ve made my share of mistakes (how else can you learn, right?). So my cooking ‘career’ has seen dishes both disastrous and successful.
Metaphors connected with cooking likewise have both positive and negative meanings.
23 May 2013
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I recently heard that May 25th is ‘Towel Day’. Very strange name for a holiday, isn’t it?
But if you’ve read Douglas Adams’s book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (or if you’ve seen the movie), you can probably guess what Towel Day is about.
In the Guide, you learn that a towel is the most useful item to bring if you’re planning to travel throughout the galaxy. …
16 May 2013
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‘Luddite’ is the name given to the textile machine operators in 19th-century England who destroyed the machines they worked on as a form of industrial protest.
The real cause of their protests is debatable. But most people believe that Luddites saw the new machines as a threat, as something that could make their skills obsolete and put them out of a job.
9 May 2013
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I was attracted to an article in the Big Think Blog because of its title (‘Why Writing Fluently is Hard’ by Sam McNerney). In addition to the subject of writing fluently, McNerney also wrote about other ways to avoid falling into the ‘curse of knowledge’ trap, which I wrote about two weeks ago.
The curse of knowledge can lead us to assume that our readers have the same level of knowledge on the subject we’re writing about.
25 April 2013
Image by zigazou76
Knowledge is power
My husband and I have careers in education, something we strongly believe in, because it enables growth, enhances people’s lives and helps to establish civil society.
In that sense, knowledge is most definitely power.
The curse of knowledge
It’s hard to imagine knowledge having a negative effect. …
18 April 2013
Image by Dale Stewart
Spring is my favourite time of the year. Young spring green shoots and leaves are branching out on trees and shrubs, flowers are blooming and fruit is beginning to set. When I take a walk down our road, the fragrance of orange blossoms sweetens the air.
Since our very lives depend on the bounty that comes from the soil, it’s not surprising that so many metaphors in our language refer to plants. …