Focus on Vocabulary

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Steve and Jill discuss words and phrases from a LingQ member’s vocabulary list.

Steve: Hi Jill.

Jill: Hi Steve.

Steve: How are you this afternoon?

Jill: Good thanks. How are you?

Steve: I’m fine thank you.

You know, we had that discussion the other day about words that meant “see” and “look” and so forth.

We asked people to submit lists of words that they’re interested in and low and behold we have a list.

This one comes from Anna who is one of our learners in Brazil.

Now her list is taken from…I think a lot of it comes from my book.

It’s not like the previous list where the learner wanted us to talk about words, you know, synonyms that all mean the same thing.

These words are all very different.

Jill: Right.

Steve: But, I think there are some interesting words, so let’s give it a try.

Jill: Alright.

Steve: The first word here is “course” as it applies to “a full course lunch”.

What do we mean by a full course lunch?

Jill: Usually a full course meal, dinner, lunch, means, I believe, that you get an appetizer, an entrée, a dessert, so you have all your courses, you’re not just ordering one thing.

Steve: Well, that’s right.

We talk about the main course, which refers usually to the meat or the fish dish, so the first course might be the soup or a hors d’oeuvre and the third course is the dessert.

Jill: Right.

Steve: And, of course, I think nowadays people don’t eat as much, but in the old days they might have a four or a five-course meal.

Jill: And you can still get those at certain restaurants.

They have a set menu where you can order a three-course meal or a more expensive where it’s a four-course or five-course, but I think, in general, it’s three courses.

Steve: Right, people aren’t eating as much.

Jill: Right.

Steve: Now the next word here is “staples” and this is a sentence from my book where I talked about France, which had its Mediterranean influence, and the sentence is “With the Romans came the staples of the Mediterranean culinary tradition.” Now are they talking about stapling paper together here?

Jill: No, they’re not and it’s exactly the same word.

When I first looked at the word and I didn’t look at the definition I immediately thought staples that you use to put paper together, staple papers together, but, obviously, she’s sort of been studying food and so a staple is something that is very basic; everybody from that place eats it.

Steve: Right. Bread, rice…

Jill: …pasta.

Steve: Right.

And she has the word down here “amphitheatre”, but I don’t think we need to spend too much time there because I think in every language, certainly where they have borrowed Greek and Roman or Latin words, this word is used.

Let’s move on to the next one, “swear words” and “to swear”.

Okay, swear means a variety of different things, doesn’t it?

Jill: Yes, you can take an oath, so you swear to do something or to behave a certain way or not to do certain things.

Steve: Swear allegiance.

Jill: Swear allegiance, so promise allegiance.

Steve: What other words when…because you were married much more recently than I was, didn’t you have to swear something at your wedding ceremony?

Jill: My gosh, I can’t remember.

Steve: Do you swear to take this man as your lawful…

Jill: No, no, no.

Steve: No?

Jill: No, we didn’t do any of the traditional vows we said our own things, so.

Steve: But it’s interesting, “to swear” is to take an oath; to put your hand over your heart.

Jill: To promise.

Steve: That’s right, but the most usual use of the word is, in fact, to blaspheme; in other words, to say something naughty.

Jill: Right.

Steve: And the sort of naughty swear words generally either have to do with parts of the body or things that happen in the toilet or have to do with sex or they have to do with religion, you know, taking the name of a saint or of a religious person in vain.

Jill: Right.

Steve: And we swear when we’re angry.

Jill: Some of us do.

Steve: Yes and much to my dismay, people swear much more often now than they used to.

Jill: Yeah, I believe that.

Steve: And, certainly, we would never hear swear words on television in the old days and now, I mean, it’s just…

Jill: …common place.

Steve: Common place; it’s just terrible.

Jill: I think we’ve talked about this before, swear words are generally words that really people shouldn’t use, but especially non-native speakers.

Steve: Right.

Jill: It just doesn’t sound very good.

Steve: You know, I’m glad you raised that because when you’re a non-native speaker you can think that it sounds very clever. Boy, am I ever cool.

I’m going to use this Japanese or Portuguese or whatever language, Russian, swear word; boy, isn’t that fun.

Because you have no sense of how that sounds.

It might sound very, very, bad and so we recommend at The Linguist, at LingQ, don’t use swear words.

Don’t use even slang expressions until you’re really sure what affect they have on people and how they’re used.

Jill: Right.

Steve: Alright, then we move on again here to “stay clear” and, again, this is following up on our discussion.

The sentence from my book is “A language learner is best to stay clear of idioms.” What do we mean by stay clear?

Jill: To avoid.

Steve: To avoid, exactly.

Jill: So don’t use them.

Steve: Right. “Countryside”, now the countryside, you know, we think that’s a very ordinary word.

It’s not obvious for someone who’s not a native speaker what we mean.

What is the countryside?

Jill: Places that are away from cities that are rural areas.

Steve: Rural areas, right.

Jill: Where there are not a lot of people, generally, not a lot of action; lots of farming perhaps.

Steve: Or forest.

Jill: Or forest, actually.

Steve: In other words, not a built up area.

Jill: Right.

Steve: But it can be, as you say, farms.

It can be inhabited by people.

It’s not a wilderness, but it’s not an urban, a city-type environment.

We’ll skip “Anglophone”.

Yeah, Anglophone, Francophone, whatever; people who speak English are Anglophones.

Here’s one though, “people of all walks of life”.

That’s an interesting idiom and one that I think the non-native speaker can use.

All walks of life, what do we mean?

Jill: People of or from, we can say, all different economic backgrounds, religious backgrounds…

Steve: …professions…

Jill: …professions, so people who have had different experiences.

Steve: Right. “Colloquialisms”, again, we’re talking a lot about slang and idioms and so forth, again, colloquialisms, what are we referring to there?

Jill: Well, slang generally.

Steve: Right, expressions that have become common in certain…I don’t know, it can even be in different places within the same language, again, difficult for the non-native speaker to master.

Now let’s move on “overly”; “overly”.

Here the phrase is “an overly-complicated written style.”

Jill: So, if you overdo something or you write in an overly-complicated manner it means that you’re doing it to the excess.

Steve: Right.

Jill: You’re doing it too much.

Steve: Right. “Too”, would that fit?

Jill: Too.

Steve: T O O, too.

Jill: Too.

Steve: Overly equals too. Alright, there we go.

“The students were judged as much on their ability as on the actual content.”

Jill: So, equally.

Steve: Equally, that’s right, as much as, as much, you know, equal.

These different words for comparison, “equal”, “better than”, “less than”, these are words that are always a little different in each language and it takes a while to get used to them.

When you see them in LingQ save them and see the different ways that they’re used.

Jill: Something like “as much as”, I find people use incorrectly a lot. You know, “as much as”, “as” and “as”.

They will often leave out one as, so I think that’s a very useful phrase.

Steve: However here, of course, it was the students were judged as much on their ability as on something else, so the “as” doesn’t have to come right immediately after “much”…

Jill: …but it has to come somewhere.

Steve: Absolutely, because we’re comparing two things. “Bristling”; “bristling with irony”.

Jill: Full of irony.

Steve: Full of irony. When I think of bristle I think of a porcupine, right?

A porcupine is a little animal that has these needles that stick out when it’s aroused or angry.

Jill: Quills.

Steve: And those are bristles and we think of the bristles of a brush, so “bristling” and “bristling with irony” is, basically, what do they call them? Collocation.

In other words, people often say bristling with irony.

We might say “full or irony”, but “bristling with irony” because the idea that irony has little sharp needles in it because we’re being a little sarcastic.

Jill: Exactly.

Steve: So, we’re bristling with irony, so that’s a good phrase to use. “Plenty”.

Jill: A lot.

Steve: Lots of.

Jill: Lots of.

Steve: Plenty.

Plenty is plenty; lots of.

Plenty means enough of, but it implies lots of.

Jill: Right.

Steve: So, it’s not quite as many as lots of or a lot of, so here again, people just have to get used to it.

Jill: Yeah, you’re right, plenty means enough of.

Steve: Yeah, plenty. But, we talk of, you know, a land of plenty means a land of abundance, so yeah, plenty. “Overflowing”.

Well, in the book it talks about this professor who spoke to “overflowing audiences”, but the original image, of course, is what overflows.

If I say overflowing, what do you think of?

Jill: Beer.

Steve: Oh, beer?

Jill: I think of liquid overflowing.

Steve: Oh, okay, but beer, that’s very interesting. Okay, you think of beer.

I don’t know, I was going to think of overflowing like a river overflowing or the bathtub overflowing, but you think of beer overflowing, that’s okay.

Jill: I’m not an alcoholic, I swear!

Steve: Alright, that’s good; okay.

“Desultory”: ramble on; continue talking or writing in a desultory manner; basically, sort of disorganized.

It’s not a very common word.

I think we should forget it.

Jill: Yeah, you know, I don’t even think that I have ever seen that word or used it myself.

Steve: No, we won’t worry about it. “Ramble on”.

Jill: It usually refers to people who just talk and talk and talk and just never stop.

They just go on and on and often saying sort of the same thing over and over again.

Steve: Isn’t there a song about the rambling…there are lots of songs about rambling on, rambling man, rambling, just kind of…

Jill: …rambling idiots.

Steve: Well yeah, rambling idiots too, but people are rambling; the rambler.

They are just kind of moving on from town to town with no purpose, so when you’re “rambling on” that means you’re talking with no purpose or, you know, you’re not being well organized.

Jill: Yeah, you’re not being concise and getting to the point.

Steve: Right.

Let’s finish with this last one here, “after all”.

It’s used quite often, after all, you know?

In England they say “at the end of the day”.

In other words, when all is said and done; when all is said and done; after all.

You know, having listened to all of what you had to say; after all.

Jill: Actually, I think I would use “at the end of the day” more often than I would use “after all”.

Steve: Oh really?

Jill: Yeah.

Steve: I use after all, you know?

Jill: I don’t use it very often so, again, I guess it’s just a…

Steve: It’s like “Give me a bigger piece of cake; after all, I bought it.”

Jill: Right.

Steve: You know? Alright, because it’s a long list here we can stop there and then we can do another one with the remainder.

Jill: Right, next week.

Steve: Shall we do that?

Jill: Yeah.

Steve: Okay, thanks Jill.

Jill: Thank you.

Steve: Okay, bye, bye.

Jill: Bye, bye.

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