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What’s your Word Bug?

Whats your Word Bug?“It’s fewer!! Fewer voters turned out, not less” (My 3 year old seemed relieved it was the radio getting a ticking off for a change!)  It bugs me – I don’t know why. Is it the result of being in TEFL for over 20 years and feeling rather superior that [some] broadcasters should have a better grasp of grammar? Possibly.

But there are words that irritate me too. ‘Lush’, for example. The only thing I feel should be described as ‘lush’ is grass or some kind of vegetation and I object to it being used as a generic adjective for everything from George Clooney to chocolate cake.

Perhaps this is less about the word itself and more to do with its use (or misuse), but it did start me thinking about personal bug-bears and annoyances when it comes to language and words.

In the nature of controlled scientific research, I Googled ‘most hated words’ and was surprised at the number of polls that have been taken on this and the range of people who have responded.

Literally’ was  deemed to be the most irritating word by Daily Telegraph readers and this was in response to a poll run by researchers at Oxford University where ‘At the end of the day’ came in as hot favourite, closely followed by ‘fairly unique’.

YouGov ran a poll among the internet community and surprisingly ‘blog’ came in third? Perhaps that was before we all started doing it. Babycenter.com contributors objected to ‘preggers‘.  Even ‘bun in the oven was preferable to this.

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‘Young’ words

Two teenage boys in hoodies

Kieran McGovern strikes out against youth culture and the decline of the English language with his Top 10 most annoying words in common use amongst today’s youths – with a word of warning to those… not-so-young.

Words are like clothes in that there are some that are only really suited to the young.

Here’s my top ten verbal equivalents of short skirts, low cut trousers and hoodies. These should be avoided by anyone over the age of… well, you decide.

  1. Dude – meaning: male person. Has become pretty universal amongst young Americans and increasingly in the UK, too. A great word with a long pedigree, like a baseball cap it does not suit greying hair.
  2. Awesome! – should only be used for that which truly inspires awe. This does not include the a new cover for your mobile phone.
  3. Banging (great) safe (excellent) ‘hood (neighbourhood) homie (friend) – this job lot of street slang is the private property of teenagers. Sounding like a wannabe gangster is inexcusable if you have a mortgage.
  4. Cool! – the exclamation mark is the line in the sand here. Describing something as ‘pretty cool’ is acceptable but not squealing c-o-ol!
  5. Wicked – (meaning great) Life is complex enough without calling bad things good and vice versa.
  6. Chillin – perhaps a controversial one but I think the world would be a better place without the phrase ‘chill out’.
  7. Skank – horrible word meaning someone of low class, sometimes also used to suggest sexual promiscuousness. Don’t use, ever!
  8. Gay – meaning rubbish, as in ‘that’s so gay!’ As used in the school playground it doesn’t generally have a sexual connotation, but best avoided.
  9. OMG, LOL etc – I know they’ve just entered the OED but there is something a little embarrassing about ageing fingers typing this kind of text short-hand.
  10. Whatever! – this is irritating enough coming from truculent teenagers, unacceptable from anyone old enough to vote.

What do you think? Am I being unfair? A language despot? Or are there more words you’d like to add?

Kieran McGovern blogs at English Language FAQ.

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20 most commonly misspelt words in English

Example of poor spelling.Which words do you think are most commonly misspelt in English? Write down five words you expect to be on the list at the end of this post.

What makes some English words difficult to spell? One source of difficulty is inconsistent pronunciation; many sound out ‘definately’ when they mean definitely (2). And comparatively few outside the Royal Shakespeare Company clearly enunciate separate (1) – more typically the ‘A’ becomes an ‘E’. This problem is most glaring when (many) young people transcribe ‘could have’ as ‘could of’ or a lot (14) as ‘alot’.

In some cases it is an unexpected combination of letters containing few phonetic clues – bureaucracy (11) and manoeuvre (3) are examples here. In both these cases the spelling pattern is literally foreign; French, to be precise. Until comparatively recently a basic knowledge of French was assumed of every ‘educated’ English reader but most now would recognise the word entrepreneur (16) from business rather than the language from which it originates. The same applies to those other providers of hidden spelling rules: Latin and Greek.

An understandable uncertainty as to when ‘C’ rather than ‘S’ applies lies behind consensus (6) supersede (12) conscience (19) and unnecessary (7). There’s a similar confusion over what creates the ‘CK’ sound in liquefy (18), added to the confusion of an ‘E’ in place of the usual ‘I’.

By far the most difficult hurdle for any speller, however, is the dreaded ‘double letter’ dilemma. Two ‘N’s or one? Does two ‘C’s look right? Unnecessary causes double-trouble here to add to its ‘C’ or ‘S’ issues.

Spell-check/Spellcheck (?) will help, of course, which is why many young people delegate the job entirely to that marvellous (two ‘L’s in British English) programme (one ‘M’ and drop the ‘E’ in the US or amongst techies).

Sadly, technology has not yet produced a spell-checking pen for that handwritten application form.

1. Separate

2. Definitely

3. Manoeuvre

4. Embarrass

5. Occurrence

6. Consensus

7. Unnecessary

8. Acceptable

9. Broccoli

10. Referred

11. Bureaucracy

12. Supersede

13. Questionnaire

14. Connoisseur

15. A lot

16. Entrepreneur

17. Particularly

18. Liquefy

19. Conscience

20. Parallel

Source: poll from OnePoll quoted in Daily Telegraph 06 August 2010

Which words do you or your students have most trouble spelling?

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Based on recent research into the most commonly misspelt words in the English language, Kieran McGovern considers why some words are just difficult to spell correctly.


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Unlocking Topic Vocabulary with OALD8

Coming from a background of ESP teaching, I’m used to telling my students, “Try to learn all the vocabulary that you actually need to do your job.” But I’ve always known in my heart of hearts that this is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you don’t have a good model of how to do this effectively.

Even in non-specialized classes, there are often times when students are ‘bursting’ to discuss a topic that really interests them – maybe politics or economics, sport or music. But, in the end, they are often unable to express themselves properly because they lack the vocabulary they need to talk about the subject that they are desperate to discuss. Many teachers and students will recognise this situation and all the frustration it can cause.

When I was asked to give workshops and talks on the 8th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD8) by OUP, I was delighted to discover a feature that would definitely help with the issues above.

And this is where the topic-based material on the OALD8 CD-ROM comes in.

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Introducing the new 8th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

It’s here! After five years’ work, and more than 30,000 hours of editing, the new 8th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has finally arrived.

Producing a new edition of the world’s best-selling English learner’s dictionary is no mean feat. Have a look at the statistics and see for yourself:

  • 4,600 hours for printing
  • 5,500 hours for folding
  • 5,800 hours for sewing
  • 7,600 kg of ink
  • 28,860,400 sheets of paper= 614,500 kg of books!

And of course these statistics don’t include the many future printings of the 8th edition or the time spent developing the website and the CD-ROM.

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