Category English Language

What are the unusual word groups?


We know that the English language has parts of speech-like nouns verbs, adjectives and so on. You’ve probably learnt about them in grammar class.

But there are other fun groups too that words are classified into, in the language Have you heard of these?

Dolch and Fry Words

In 1936, linguist Edwart William Dolch created a list of 95 nouns that were commonly used in writing. He said that students should memorise these Sight words as whole words and not break them down. For example: “Answer” not aun-ser”.

Dolch also has a 220-word list without nouns. The theory was that if children could easily recognise these common words and read them, they could achieve reading fluency.

Based on this sight theory, in 1957, Edward Fry took words from “American Heritage Word Frequency Book” and created another group of high-frequency words. He ranked them according to how many times they occur in textbooks in classes 3-9. This list has all the parts of speech, and was revised in 1980.

These two lists are used in primary schools and help children become fluent speakers. Many of us have learnt English by simply memorising whole words! We read well, but our pronunciation may have been rather shaky because we memorised the words without worrying about their sounds. Today, you have audio to help you with pronunciation. Just practise!

Portmanteau words

Portmanteaus (or portmanteaux) are words that combine the sounds and meanings of two words. You know “brunch” is a combo of breakfast and lunch. right? And “motel” combines motor and hotel.

“Portmanteau” is a French word meaning “a large leather travelling bag” that opens into two equal parts – a special compartment for hanging clothing (suits) and a normal one for folded clothes and other stuff Makes sense to use it for a word that blends the sounds and meanings of two words! “Podcast” is a portmanteau (or blend), a made-up word from iPod and broadcast.

The word portmanteau has Latin origins, from portare, meaning a cloak. Over time, the word changed to include both suitcase and a language blend.

Surprisingly, it first appeared in a children’s book “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and was introduced by a talking egg!

In the story, Alice asks Humpty Dumpty to explain the nonsensical Jabberwocky poem. What do the words slithy’ and ‘mimsy’ mean, she asks. Humpty Dumpty replies: “Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy” You see it’s like a portmanteau there are two meanings packed up into one word.” “Mimsy” is flimsy and miserable”

So, if a friend tell you: “Let’s go glamping!”, do agree! Glamping is glamorous+camping, and was coined by fashion magazine Vogue in October 2011.

Today, there are numerous portmanteaus in English. Smoke + fog – smog. Jeans + leggings = jeggings, breath + analyser – breathalyzer, Obama + healthcare -Obamacare.

Try creating portmanteaus, and hold a class competition for original ones!

Crazy words

Shakespeare is supposed to have created “crazy words. “Hurry” and “zany” are common words today, but were thought of as odd in his time! People make up CTRZY sounding words all the time! Try this: Do you bloviate and carry a bumbershoot with you while your lollygag? Got you!

More weird words:

Bumfuzle or dumfoozle: To confuse, perplex

Cattywampus: in disarray, not directly across from something.

Bumbershoot: Umbrella

Lollygag: Surfaced around 1868. A “lollygag” is someone who is messing around wasting time

Bloviate: This refers to people who talk for a long period of time, who inflate their story to make themselves sound better.

Flibbertigibbet: Someone silly, doesn’t do anything serious. Maria, in the film Sound of Music was called this!

Unique words:

Syzygy: The only English word with three Ys. Refers to the alignment of three celestial bodies in a straight line.

Dreamt: The only verb to end with-mt.

Hydroxyzine: Only one word in all of English that has an X Y, and z in order.


Picture Credit : Google


How computer will help you in improving language skills?


Most of the physical dictionaries such as Oxford, Cambridge and Macmillan have online sites. To develop your vocabulary, you can refer to these sites. An easier way to find the meaning of a word is through Google Search. You can just type the word followed by ‘meaning’ in the search bar and you will get the answer instantly.


Developing a rich vocabulary is important to gain mastery over a language. While the dictionary can help you learn new words, there are several translators online that let you identify the equivalent of a word in the language you wish to communicate. The easiest translator to use is Google Translate. It is in-built with Google search. All you need to do is key in the word and the language to which you would like it translated. For example – Type “Translate happy to hindi” and see what happens.


Writing and reading are the best ways to improve language skills. There are several blogging sites that let you blog and consume content for free. Blogging lets you voice your opinion and improve your skills by way of feedback from your readers. You can also read blogs written by others to understand how they communicate and learn the best practices. There are several blogging sites that can be used for free such as Blogger and WordPress.

Online courses

Several websites offer free and certified courses in language. You can watch and learn at your own pace and get advice from certified instructors and peers. These courses also help you build an online network and connect with people from all over the world, thereby helping you learn the language faster.

Spelling checks

Spelling errors can be common in the initial phase of learning a language. Sometimes, spellings can also go wrong when typing. To avoid these mistakes, and to identify the correct spelling, spell checkers in text editors are useful. Spell checkers underline a word in red if the spelling is wrong and offer you suggestions for the right spelling.

Grammar checkers

Grammar is considered the foundation of any language. It is essential for effective communication. Grammar checkers in text editors and software, which you can install, can be helpful in improving grammar skills. In text editors, a grammar mistake is usually underlined in green. There are also websites such as Grammarly that help you correct your grammar mistakes instantly while typing out a mail or posting content on social media.

Audiobooks and Ebooks

It is said that listening and reading are great ways to master languages, especially pronunciation. There are plenty of free audiobooks and ebooks available online. Just choose your favourite story and start listening to it as an audio file or reading it on your laptop. It’s a fun way to improve your listening, reading and language skills.


Picture Credit : Google

What does the word meat mean?

Have you watched the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? The movie is themed around a clash between two cultures. A young Greek woman from a conservative family wants to marry a man from an upper-middle-class American family. The woman, Toula, brings her fiancé lan, home for dinner and the entire family gathers to meet him.

At one point, Toula introduces him to her aunt, telling her he is vegetarian. The aunt asks what that means, and when lan says he doesn’t eat meat, she says in shock, “What do you mean you don’t eat no meat?” She stares at him for a few seconds and then she smiles, pats him on the shoulder, and says, “That’s OK, that’s OK, I make lamb.” Obviously, for the aunt, lamb is vegetarian. It eats grass, right?

The movie was released in 2002. Today, the Greek aunt would have other choices for “meat” that are vegetarian. And lan would be happy eating those dishes.

We now have meatless chicken nuggets, tofu hot dogs, and burgers that have fake “bleeding” with beetroot juice. It is the same with milk: food store shelves now stock coconut milk, cotton-seed milk, badam milk and milk from many other nuts. Products like these raise a question: what do we call these new breed of “meatless” meat items?

Can we call food items “meat” or “milk” if they don’t come from animals?

What does the word ‘meat actually mean?

In Old English, meat meant food in general. The word has roots in ancient German, and originally, meat wasn’t about animal vs. vegetable, but solid food vs. drink.

 By 1300, meat began to take on a narrower meaning. It was understood as “the flesh of animals used for food” or “the edible part of anything, as a fruit or nut”, as in “the meat in coconut.”

Legal definition

Legally, meat has a much more specific meaning. In 1946, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defined meat in the Agricultural Marketing Act.

This said: “… the edible part of the muscle of an animal which is skeletal or which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the oesophagus, and which is intended for human food, with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of bone skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the muscle tissue and which are not separated from it in the process of dressing.”

Phew! That definition was updated in 1994 to include meat products “derived from advanced meat/bone separation machinery, which is comparable in appearance, texture, and composition to meat trimmings and similar meat products derived by hand.”

What about milk and fish?

So, the word “meat” should refer to flesh prepared from live animals.” Fine. But what about fish and other animals from the sea? We don’t call them “meat”, do we?

And what about milk? In 2017, a group of dairy farmers went to court saying the term “almond milk” was misleading and that almond extract should not be called milk.

Milk, after all, they said, means “an opaque white or bluish liquid secreted by the mammary glands of a female mammal, serving for the nourishment of their young.” Like meat, milk is a word recorded in Old English and passed down from an ancient Germanic root.

Ah, but the dairy farmers lost the case. They appealed to a higher court. The US Court of Appeals ruled that calling almond milk “milk” is not cheating. Come on, they said, “no reasonable consumer could be misled by unambiguous labelling or factually accurate nutrition statements.”

So now we have plenty of plant-based milks: oat milk and hemp milk are on supermarket shelves.

 In European Courts there is agreement that consumers might be confused when plant-based foods are called “meat” or “milk.” In 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that plant-based foods cannot carry the names butter, milk, or cheese. In 2018, France passed legislation in Parliament prohibiting specific labels, such as steak, from being applied to plant-based foods (for instance, “soy steak”). “Such names can be misleading,” said the MPs.

Rise of veganism

From around the 2000s, there has been a rise in the number of people turning to vegetarianism and veganism. Plant – based “meat” products became popular. Now, we have all kinds of fake meat products that have no meat. There is also laboratory-grown meat or “clean” meat.

“Don’t call it meat if it is not from animals!” say those who raise animals for meat. “If it is not from animals, it is not meat. The use the word “meat” to describe burgers and sausages that are made from plant-based ingredients or are grown in labs is illegal,” they say.

In 2018, Missouri in the United States became the first state to pass a law banning the use of the word meat on any plant- or lab-based meat alternatives.

Misleading or not?

Would you think that “soy steak” or “chick-pea burger” are foods derived from animals? Most people wouldn’t. Will the new, meat-free meat products get new names? Not likely. The whole point of selling these food items is to say that they look and taste the same, but have no meat in them. And buyers want them because they are looking for such products.


Picture Credit : Google

How to use synonyms in expressing ourselves?

One of the things that help you write better is to know and use a lot of words. Take verbs for example. We don’t just use the word “walk” for all the different ways of walking, right?

You can amble, stroll, saunter, perambulate or stride. And I am sure that there are even more words that mean “walk”. So we use different words for different situations, though the action is always walking.

One exercise we routinely did in our classroom was to allot an area on one side of the blackboard to write synonyms for a chosen word that day. A popular word for this exercise was the noun “song.” Do you know other words for “song”? Ditty, lay, tune, number, ballad are some of them. Today, we will do this exercise with the word “happiness.” The dictionary defines the word “happiness” as “pleasure derived from attaining what you consider to be good.” The word has its roots in the Old Norse “happ”, which means “chance” or “good luck.” That makes sense – maybe happiness is a matter of luck?

“Happiness” as a noun entered the English language in the 16th century, but the adjective “happy” had been around for around 200 years before that

So what are the synonyms for “happiness”?


Exultation is “lively or triumphant joy, generally over success or victory.” It comes from the Latin “exultationem” and has been used in English since the 1400s. Exultation is what we felt when India recently beat Australia in the fourth and final Test in Brisbane.


Jubilation is “a feeling or loud expression of joy, or a festive celebration.” This term entered English in the late 1300s from the Latin meaning “shouting for joy.” Cliff Richard has used this word very well in his popular song “Congratulations.”

Congratulations and celebrations When I tell everyone that you’re in

love with me

Congratulations and jubilations I want the world to know I’m happy as can be

The word has also been immortalised in Simon and Garfunkel’s song Cecilia: “Jubilation!

She loves me again; I fall on the floor and I’m laughing.”


Rapture is “ecstatic delight or joyful ecstasy.” It comes from the Latin “raptura” meaning “abduction,” “carrying away”. But these are not situations to be happy about!

Over the years, the meaning changed and people took it to mean “carrying of a person to another sphere of existence”. In Christian theology, the Rapture’ will happen when Christ returns to earth.


Bliss is “supreme happiness, often associated with the joy of heaven.” It comes from the Old English “blis” and is related to the terms bless and blithe. These lines from Wordsworth’s poem “Daffodils” bring out the meaning beautifully:

For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils


Elation is “a feeling of great joy or pride, or of exultant gladness.” In Middle English “elat” meant “proud.” The rd travelled from Latin, and reached English through old French.

Elation is what you feel when Kohli hits a century and India wins an ODI cricket match against Australia in the last over.


Glee is “open delight or pleasure.” This term, strangely, has musical associations. At one time, the noun glee was allowed to be used to refer to entertainment of the harmonious variety. In the 17th century, people began to use the word “delight” in the place of “glee”.

The word “glee” became obsolete or was used to mean “comic and this was published in dictionaries by editors. Then miraculously, “glee“ re-emerged in common usage in the late 18th century. Equally strangely, glee is now associated with taking pleasure at someone’s discomfort. For example: “He gleefully admitted that he had complained about his neighbour.”


Joviality, according to the dictionary, is a state of hearty, joyous humour celebrating the spirit of good fellowship. The word comes from the Latin “lovints”, meaning “of or pertaining to Jupiter,” the Roman god of the sky. Was Jupiter a happy guy? Maybe!


Since 1727, it has been a physician’s term for “condition of feeling healthy and comfortable (especially when sick),” It is a Latin medical term from the Greek “euphoria” meaning “power of enduring easily,” which is from “euphoros”. meaning “bearing well” from “eu”, meaning “well” + “pherein” meaning “to carry”.

Some medicines create a sense of euphoria. This term has existed in English since the late 1600s. Of course, all of us can be euphoric when we are extremely happy about something.


Felicity is “the state of being happy, especially in a high degree.” It’s taken from the Latin root, “felix”, meaning “happy, fortunate, fruitful, fertile.”

It is associated with the Roman sentiment that “what produces more crops produces more happiness.”

Let me add here: Both men and cats are given the name Felix.


Gaiety is “a state of being vivacious and cheerful.” It is from the old French “gai”, meaning “joyful, agreeably charming, forward, pert.” Gaiety is what you see when a group of people are enjoying themselves at a party, a festival or a family function. For instance: Diwali was celebrated with a lot of fervour and gaiety.


Picture Credit : Google

What are the ways of labeling the passage?

One of the questions we answer all our school classes is “Read the passage below and answer questions that follow.” This passage is often described as “unseen”.

That is not correct since sensor probably your teacher-has seen it right A more accurate way of describing it is familiar. Can you think of other more appropriate ways of labelling the passage?

Examining the unknown

Answering questions on a passage that you have not read before is an interesting activity

In the tense examination hall, reading a passage gives you a breather. It helps you concentrate, and if you are a regular reader, it gives you a few moments of enjoyment. And if the passage is well-chosen, say, it is a story or about a fun subject it can help you de-stress and make the writing task lighter. Do you enjoy reading these unfamiliar passages?

But then, there is the end task of writing the answers. This is no big Heal since you have the text in front of you!

Still sometimes the questions can be tricky or finding the answer may take time.

First, read

Some students prefer to read the questions before reading the passage. Fine. But a better method would be to read the passage quickly first. This is for a “global” understanding of the passage.

What is it about? Is it just about facts (for example, the description of a city) or about opinions? (for instance, ‘digital technology has made us happy people’). What is the main argument in the passage?

Then, read again

Read it a second time. This is called “local” reading. This time absorb the facts and arguments. Where do you find them – in the first, – second or the third paragraph? What are the main points made by the author?

Which are the “yes” statements and which say “no”? (Yes: When the country develops we need more electricity to run our businesses and industries. No: We cannot build power plants endlessly without endangering lives and damaging the environment. Instead we should reduce our power needs and save power for essential services.)

Peruse the questions

Read the questions at the end of the passage carefully. What is asked? Often the options in multiple-choice answers resemble one another. Read carefully, sometimes just a word can make a difference in the answer.

Stay aware!

Watch out for questions like, “Which of the following is opposite to the ideas presented by the author?” OR “Which of these will make climate change worse?” [a] A [b] B & C] [c] All of the above [d] None of the above. Here, the answer will be [a], [b], [C] or [d]. Not A, B, C, D. To find the right answer, read the passage quickly to absorb what is said.

Understanding is key

Sometimes vocabulary questions ask you to find the meaning of the word as used in the passage. Make sure you understand how the word is used in the passage. For example, The company pushed its goods through aggressive marketing. “Pushed” here means “promoted.”

Stick to facts

Remember, the questions should be answered with the information in the passage. Your opinion does not count. So stick to what the author says.


Picture Credit : Google

Why reading is important to develop writing skills?

“Making mistakes while writing is part of the learning process.” said Keng Lee, knowledge adventurer & technology explorer in self directed learning. “But what is critically important is getting regular and constructive feedback, either from your [knowledgeable] friends or your English teacher or tutor.”

Read, and read some more

My mantra for writing without errors has always been this: Read, read and read. Read good, well-written books, standard newspapers, novels, magazine articles and editorials. Read commentaries, analytical pieces of writing (such as: What are the consequences of global warming?’).

Read daily and widely. As you read, pick articles written by people who write well, without errors. Reading widely helps you to know what the correct words and phrases are for the context. (Consider this: Do we deny the disease or prevent it?). You learn how great writers use the language to make their meaning dear. You learn how to write concisely and directly, without wasting words. Most of all, reading well-written passages helps us develop our own style.

Strive to stand out

It is a good idea to remember this: Writing well needs discipline, imagination, and some degree of writing skill, knowledge of the mechanics of writing (how to organise adverbs/adjectives, how to place verbs, punctuations marks) and an easy style to connect with the readers.

People now have a huge amount of reading choice. Will your writing stand out so that they pick yours to read? For that to happen, go through the following tips.

Avoid spelling errors

Does correct spelling matter? Yes. Poor spelling gives the impression that you are careless about your work. Bad spelling will lead to your being misunderstood. Imagine a job application with spelling errors. You certainly won’t get a teacher’s job! You may have great ideas, interesting stories, but these will fall flat if they are told with errors in writing.

Errors distract the reader. So take time to proofread your work before you hit the “send” button. You can use the spellcheck, but beware. Spellcheck applications do not spot contextual errors. They may not spot this error: “It is possible you’re not listed in this classroom.”

Avoid grammar errors

What are grammatical errors? The major one will be a lack of agreement of the verb with the subject. Traffic in these by-lanes are blocked by parked cars. It should be “”. Other errors can be wrong prepositions, wrong usage of words, apostrophe misuse, poor sentence construction, inconsistency in tenses or switching active-passive verbs without making other changes.

Sure, no one can know all the rules of grammar, but we all should be able to form simple sentences without basic grammatical errors. Poor grammar confuses the reader. Reading good authors will help you form well-structured, easy-to-follow sentences.

Write your thoughts down whenever you can

This is a habit that will help you write with ease. Writing your thoughts at least once a day improves your vocabulary. The simplest form of this exercise is to describe your surroundings wherever you find yourself – in the Metro (for instance: What could be that young woman’s job?), at the bus stand, at the doctor’s office, in the courtyard of your school.

Just answer the ‘5 Ws and the H’ (when, who, what, why, where and how) and add your imagination to it. You already have a descriptive essay with you! See that your mind is filled with questions and answers and find time to write down at least a few of them.

Read aloud to a friendly audience

Two things will happen when you read your finished essay to someone who cares. If you keep stumbling over words when you read, it’s clear your words are not arranged well. Are you switching from active to passive voice often? Are your sentences left incomplete? Is your word-order difficult to follow? All these issues can be sorted out when you read your work aloud. The second benefit is the constructive criticism you will get. Your audience will tell you if they can follow the story and can ask you to make a few changes in the story or the narrative style. Were they able to guess the ending straight away or did they find the suspense gripping? Did they appreciate your descriptive passages? Did they find your arguments valid? In sci-fi, are your assumptions of the future logical?

Such criticism will help you improve your writing. Do not hesitate to make the suggested changes if you find them appropriate.


Never, ever submit your work without going over it with a fine tooth-comb. Check for spelling, for grammar slip-ups. See if the sentences are made well, there are no run-ons (sentences that go on and on). Have you got your punctuation right? Are full-stops close to the last letter of the sentence? Yes, the English language is complicated, but all your reading has prepared you to write your thoughts in a simple, lucid manner, hasn’t it?

Writing without errors comes ahead of writing well. Make it a habit to write error-free prose. Whether a WhatsApp message, blog post, email or a simple note, write without errors. Be conscious about this. Say what you want to say politely and unambiguously.

Make your writing neat and clear

So many businesses have been lost because the selling company could not write a neat, clear proposal. Error-free writing often stands between you and getting a good job. Once you have that eye for detecting errors and correcting them at once, go ahead and develop your own style of writing.

Error free writing is the foundation on which we build the edifice of a passage, essay, short story or a novel.


Picture Credit : Google

What do we know about the various abbreviations and acronyms used?

Social media platforms have changed the way we communicate in one big way: we now cannot write without abbreviations and emojis. We have embraced them passionately because they are brief, and convey emotions crisply and efficiently. Our abundant use of abbreviations has made people refer to social media messaging as an ‘alphabet soup’. What do we know about the various abbreviations and acronyms used?

What they are

An abbreviation is an umbrella term. Abbreviations are shortened forms of words and phrases. Mrs., Dr., Rlys. are all examples of abbreviations. [Just drop the vowels!)

Acronyms are types of abbreviations. They are made by taking the first letters of the words involved and making a word out of them. These ‘initialisms’ may be pronounced as proper words, but are written in the upper case. Examples are: WHO, UNESCO, RADAR.

Is noob (internet-speak for “newbie”) an abbreviation or an acronym? You decide!


Tl;dr stands for “too long: didn’t read.”

According to one report, tl;dr was originally an insult an expression of annoyance. It was used as a reaction to a post, comment or content that the reader found long winded and wordy. It meant, “This is way too long, so I didn’t read it.” By 2005, tl;dr had taken on a second meaning: it was short for “summary.” People began to send a “tl;dr version” of longer accounts or articles. Tl;dr can be a genuine summary of a much longer piece.

You could call it a gist the big takeaway or the moral of the story. Tl;dr can also be a simpler, sarcastic interpretation of an essay on a complex topic It is the essence of the piece. Try writing the Tl;dr version of something you want to say. You will get more people to read what you write.


There was a time when men never went out without wearing a hat. When they met people they knew in the streets, hat-wearing men tipped the brim of the hat a little bit, as a mark of recognition (Hello!) or respect (Morning, Sir!). You can’t wear a hat on social media, but you still want to show respect. So you use the acronym H/T (with or without the diagonal slash). It means hat tip, or tipping the hat.

When we attach H/T to a meme, expression, image, or idea on social media, we acknowledge the original source of that post. When you forward a quote, you say, “H/T to XXX.” You can also thank people – “H/T YYY for the gift.”


LBS can be wielded to convey an emotion via text and social media. LBS stands for “laughing but serious.” Placed at the end of a text, it tells readers that you are not hurt by what has been said, you don’t take yourself seriously, but will consider the substance of the post/text. A lot is said with these few letters of the alphabet!


This is a familiar one, right? You’ve seen IMHO (in my humble opinion) in texting, email and social media. It was first used in the 1980s in online forums. After a while some people began to interpret IMHO as “In my honest opinion.” Now more people understand the “H” as “honest.” Fine! You are probably saying that you believe in what you say.


I suspect MUA (make-up artist) gained traction with the increasing number of make-up videos that are appearing on YouTube. And they are watched by millions! The minute you see the letters MUA, the artist believes, you will want to click on it. And his/her video gets an eyeball. MUAs get huge responses on Instagram and YouTube. Videos by MUAs tell you of the artist’s techniques about how to make you look better.


I always thought SWAG was a regular English word, but it turns out it is an acronym. It stands for “stuff we all get.” and it usually refers to freebies given for promoting a product. If someone trying to sell you the latest mobile phone adds SWAG at the bottom, you’ll definitely want to click on it right? SWAG is a direct outcome of our buying tendencies – no freebie, no buy! There is your next acronym – NFNB, how about it?


WYD is a texting and internet acronym for “What (are) you doing?” Friends say it can also mean “What (would) you do?” Like a lot of acronyms, it started as a literal question – “What are you doing at the moment?” Then texters found out that it can be a substitute for “What’s up, buddy?” an informal greeting. Now, it has taken shades of meaning, like. “Hey, what are you doing? Are you sure that’s right? I don’t think I approve! Stop it!” I saw one that went “If you don’t support your best friend when she’s sad, then wyd?” [it is a rhetorical question, meaning, “You are not doing much.”) WTP too asks a question: “What’s the plan?” or “What’s the play?” when you want to confirm a programme for the day/evening/ weekend. Type out WTP and you get your response. Great!


The abbreviation HMU stands for a slightly complicated “hit me up.” Again, it gives us an idea of what young people feel at the moment. HMU is posted to announce that the texter is looking for something to do. He/she is bored, lonely and is looking for social interaction. It is a call for people to reach out to him/ her. It is generally a one-on one exchange, where it becomes an invitation for continued interaction. It means “text me,” or “call me,” or simply “let’s talk again.” HMU can also stand for “hook me up,” which is typically a request to be connected with someone or something in which you have an interest.


Picture Credit : Google

How to avoid unnecessary words in speech and writing?

A student just spoke to me. She said. “Madam, like, I, um, as I said before, I wanted to say this, but like….”. I stopped her. I said. “What do you want to say? Form a short sentence about it in your mind and say it.”

We often use words that mean nothing at all. Speaking/writing meaningless words wastes the listeners or the reader’s time. Few people have the patience to plough through the “likes” and “ums”, the “as you knows” and the “as I said befores”. Your examiner may even see this as a ploy to fill the page. He/she cannot be asked to wade through unnecessary words and pick the right ones.

When we use extra words and unnecessarily longer expressions, we confuse the reader. It is best to say what we want to say in a few well-chosen words. Unnecessary words are those that do not add to the meaning of what you say: they dilute your opinions and arguments: they annoy the reader/listener. While using superfluous words might be forgiveable when speaking, it is not so when you are writing.

A word which adds nothing extra to a sentence is called a pleonasm. Example: “We joined the wires together.” Which word can be dropped here? [Answer: “together.” Join means putting together.]

A word which merely repeats the meaning of another word in an expression is called a tautology. Pleonasm and Tautology refer to words that can be omitted. Example: DVD disc. [Omit “disc’].

Completely surrounded, completely destroyed, completely filled, completely opposite, completely finished – the modifier “completely” is redundant in all these verbs. When something is destroyed, finished, filled or surrounded, it is completely so. And opposites are not diametrically so. So the expression “completely opposite” doesn’t mean anything.

Superfluous speech

The magazine “India Today” once came up with phrases that are redundant – words that are repeated and not necessary to convey your thoughts. One that jumps to mind is the expression free gift” Isn’t a gift free, given with affection? There is no gift for which you pay. If you pay for something, then it is not a gift. So what is a free gift? Just say, “gift.”

Then there is “general public.” What is the word “general” doing here? “Public” means people in general. If you say “general public”, you are saying “general, general people.” This is unnecessary. Instead, say: “The public wants to know the amount spent on restoring the lake.”

Watch what you say!

Ah, and this unbearable phrase “first and foremost.” If something is foremost”, it is clearly in the first position. Example: “There are many reasons for fevers increasing in the rainy season: the foremost among them is water stagnation.” OR “First, let me give you the good news.” not “First and foremost let me give you the good news.

Have you ever said to friends/family. “I have/I want the exact same dress!” if you do, stop saying that. “Same” means “exact. If the two are not the same, we would say, “similar.” By the way, you cannot have the “same” dress, unless the person wearing it is willing to give it to you. So the sentence will be. “I want a dress exactly like that one.”

Another often-misused word is “advance”. “Advance” means “beforehand”. Similarly, “planning” is doing something beforehand. Then why would you say, “advance planning”? OR “advance warming” OR “advance reservations? “Warning” and “reservations are done before an event happens, right? The word “advance” in these expressions is superfluous. Just say. “Approach counter number one for reservations.”

And please do not write “add up.” The word “up is redundant here. It does not add to the meaning of this phrase. When you add, you make a sum. Why would you “up” it?

You do not “ask a question.” You merely “ask. Asking means “posing a question.” Example: “She asked if she could get a ticket for the movie.”

What not to say

Why would you say “ATM machines” when ATM stands for Automated Teller Machines?

Why would you say “ECR Road” when ECR stands for East Coast Road?

Why would you say “LPG gas” when LPG stands for Liquefied Petroleum Gas?

When you use an abbreviation, it is a good idea to find out what the letters stand for.

And what is the meaning of “all-time record”? “Record” is when you achieve a goal that others have not. Any record is for all time, till it is broken. Say: “Winning all three awards was a record for India.”

Think before you write!

Do not add “basic” to “fundamentals”, “necessities”, “essentials.” By their nature, “fundamentals”, necessities” and “essentials” are basic. So the word “basic” is unnecessary. Example: “Food, water and a roof are necessities for every human being.”

How many times have we heard people say “brief moment” or “brief summary”? A moment is brief, and a summary is brief. If it is long, it cannot be called a summary. It becomes an essay. A moment cannot be long unless the author wants to create a feeling of time passing. So “brief moment” and “brief summary” do not make sense at all.

Objectionable phrases

Writers also object to the phrase “empty space.” Their argument space refers to a continuous area or expanse that is free, unoccupied, available. “Space” is essentially empty. The word “empty is redundant. Example: “We have enough space for ten people here.”

The expression “few in number” is wrong for several reasons. First, the adjective “few’ means almost nil or negligible in number. The word “few” is used only with countable nouns. “Few” already means “a small number.” Example: “Few people will support the idea that children need not know handwork.” If you want to use “few” to convey a certain small number, simply say, “a few.” Example: A few students have volunteered to help with the arrangements. NOT “A few in number’.

Avoid saying “new innovation” and “added bonus.”


Picture Credit : Google

What is the history and unique features of the letters of the English language?

Here is something to think about. Would you agree if I said that alphabets are some of the most significant inventions in the history of human civilisation?

We use the 26 letters of the English language every day in some way or the other. We write notes, headlines, letters, stories, poems. Using these symbols with sounds. Have we ever stopped to wonder where these letters (or symbols) came from? And why do they look like this (example – “A”) and not like something else? I read an interesting piece on the English alphabet by Richard Nordquist in, where the author gives us quick facts about the English alphabet. Like many of the words we use, the word alphabet comes from two Greek words, ‘alpha and beta’. ‘Alpha’ and ‘beta’ are the names of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet. These words were taken from Semitic names for the symbols ox (aleph) and house (beth). That makes Semitic one of the oldest languages in the world.

Semitic, Greek, Roman

The original Semitic language had a set of 30 signs. All these were consonants. This alphabet was used in ancient Phoenicia around 1600 B.C. Most scholars believe it is the ancestor of all later alphabets. One exception was perhaps the Korean Hangul script, created in the 15th Century.

Around 1000 B.C., the Greeks adopted the Semitic alphabet. When they found no vowels in it, they converted some of the symbols in the Semitic alphabet into vowel sounds.

Later, the Romans developed their own version of the Greek (or lonic) alphabet. Historians tell us that the Roman alphabet was adopted by the Irish and then reached England sometime during the early period of Old English (5th Century to 12th Century).

In the last 1,000 years, the English alphabet has changed a little. Some of the letters have been deleted, and new functions have been given to some of the old letters.

If you ignore these alterations, our modern English alphabet remains quite similar to the Roman alphabet we inherited from the Irish.

Languages that use the Roman Alphabet

According to Richard Nordquist, some 100 languages have adopted the Roman alphabet. That means nearly 2 billion people across the world use it. Well, it is the world’s most popular script.

In 2004, David Sacks wrote in his book “Letter Perfect”: “There are variations of the Roman alphabet: For example, English employs 26 letters, Finnish, 21: Croatian, 30. But at the core are the 23 letters of ancient Rome. (The Romans did not have J, V, and W.)”

That brings us to the number of sounds. How many sounds are there in the English language? There are more than 40 distinct sounds. These are called phonemes. Forty sounds and 26 letters to represent them? The math doesn’t work out right? So, most letters stand for more than one sound

For example, you know how the consonant “C” works. It is pronounced in three different ways. Check out these words: case. cider, cherish (the last when combined with “h”).

Majuscules and minuscules

The use of capital and small letters (upper and lower case letters) is a unique concept in English. Capital letters are called Majuscules (from Latin ‘majusculus, meaning large). Small or lower-case letters are called Minuscules (from the Latin minusculus’, meaning small).

The combination of majuscules and minuscules in a single language system (the dual alphabet) first appeared in a form of writing named after Emperor Charlemagne (742-814), the “Carolingian minuscule.”

Have you come across a sentence that contains all the 26 letters? Can you form one? If you can, did you know that such sentences have a name? They are called pangrams. The best-known example of a pangram is: ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Another interesting fact about the English alphabet is that a sentence or a paragraph can be written after deliberately excluding a letter of the alphabet. For example, try writing a short paragraph without the letter “d”. If you do that, the text is called a lipogram.

The best-known example of a lipogram in English, is Ernest Vincent Wright’s novel “Gadsby: Champion of Youth”, published in 1939. It is a story of more than 50,000 words in which the letter “e” does not appear at all. Amazing! And I thought “e” was the most frequently used letter in the English language!

Zed or Zee?

We definitely want to know why the last letter ‘Z” is pronounced in two different ways. Americans say “Zee” and the English, Canadians, Australians and those who speak English in other countries prefer to say “Zed” when they read “Z”.

Here is why. “Zed” is the older pronunciation for the letter “Z”. It came from the older version of the French language. The American “zee” is a dialect form heard in England during the 17th century (perhaps to rhyme with bee (B), dee (D), etc.). It was recognised by Noah Webster in his American Dictionary of the English language (1828).

Why is Z’ the last letter?

No, it wasn’t always pushed to the end. In the Greek alphabet, it came in at a respectable position – number seven. According to Tom McArthur in “The Oxford Companion to the English Language” (1992): “The Romans adopted z later than the rest of the alphabet, since /z/ was not a native Latin sound, adding it at the end of their list of letters and using it rarely.” The Irish and English simply followed the Roman practice of placing “z” last.


Picture Credit : Google

How some of the greatest writers influenced the English language?

An ‘authorism’ is a new word. It means words and phrases invented or just popularised by well-known authors.

A great writer adds new words to his masterpiece, people read them often, these masterpieces are taught studied and enacted, and the words become part of common usage.

A lot of us make up new words, but the ones used by famous writers become popular and are included in the dictionary. It is important that new words are made and included in a language. A rigid no-space for-new-words language will soon be confined to the library.

Writer Paul Dickson researched how writers influenced the English language and helped it grow richer, and has put the conclusions in his book “Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers”. Let us see how some of the greatest writers influenced the English language.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Shakespeare wrote plays, sonnets and songs. All of them are hugely popular. He is one of the most quoted writers. Some years ago, a woman watched a stage production of “Hamlet” by Shakespeare. As the play went on, she thought “I have heard all this before!” She knew the following sentences: “This above all, to thine own self be true.” “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” “To be or not to be, that is the question,” “To sleep, perchance to dream,” “Though there be madness, yet there is method to it.” “Brevity is the soul of wit.” “I must be cruel only to be kind.” and “What a piece of work is a man!”. The woman left the theatre saying. “This play is nothing but a string of quotes!”

Shakespeare used 17, 245 words and they included hundreds of authorisms. His words – including, bump, critical, roadway and scuffle are all part of our vocabulary today. Shakespeare used slang too (swag’ in “Othello”). He borrowed words from classical literature and foreign languages. He broke grammar rules by changing nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives. He gave himself freedom to play with the English language. Addiction, belongings, cold blooded, salad-days, neither-here-nor-there and send-him packing are some of the contributions of the Bard.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

Chaucer wrote in the Middle Ages, long before Shakespeare. When he wrote, the English language was a baby. His writings, mostly stories, gave the language dignity and recognition. Before he wrote, French and Latin were the dominant languages in England. Chaucer wrote in a kind of English that most people will not recognise today. His spellings were very different : little was littel, saw was saugh, and one sentence goes: “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” His “Canterbury Tales” is compulsory reading for those specialising in the English language.

His quotes, “f gold rusts, what then can iron do”?, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”, “The greatest scholars are not usually the wisest people”, Time and tide wait for no man”, “The guilty think all talk is of themselves” are well known.

The authors of the King James Bible (written 1604-1611)

The King James Bible has had an enormous influence on the English language. Since 1611, the King James Bible has sold over one billion copies, making it one of the greatest selling books of all time The KJB added words like peacemaker and scapegoat to English. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once called the KJB “the most democratic book in the world.”

These phrases were popularised by the King James Bible

  • A law unto themselves
  • A man after his own heart
  • A stumbling block
  • Born again
  • Bottomless pit
  • Eye for an eye
  • Fell flat on his face
  • From strength to strength
  • God forbid
  • In the twinkling of an eye
  • Left hand know what thy right hand doeth
  • Love thy neighbour as thyself
  • *Physician, heal thyself
  • Put the words in her mouth
  • Turn to him the other (cheek]
  • Two-edged sword

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Mark Twain (real name: Samuel Langhorne Clemens) is one of the greatest American writers. You must have read passages from his classic books “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and its sequel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. These are perennial favourites. Clemens was a riverboat pilot before he became an author. His writing is known for humour, political satire and the language of the common people. The great author William Faulkner called him the father of American literature.

Mark Twain was witty, and here are some examples of his sayings: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt”, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

James Joyce (1882-1941)

James Joyce wrote a string of masterpieces – “Ulysses”. “Dubliners” and “Finnegans Wake” are among them. These are considered exceptional in ideas and style. In 1999, Time Magazine named him one of the most important people of the 20th century: it said that he “revolutionised 20th century fiction.” Joyce knew 17 languages, including Arabic, Sanskrit and Greek.

He also learnt Norwegian at the age of 19 so that he could read playwright Henrik Ibsen’s work in its original language. For him, the days of the week were “Moanday, Tearday, Wailsday, Thumpsday, Frightday, Shattered Ay.”

Some of his sayings are: “Life is too short to read a bad book”, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day”, “To learn one must be humble”.


Picture Credit : Google