Six amazing words you never knew existed


Blogging is an amazing thing. The other day I got a message via my blog from an author whose book I had bought as a Christmas present for my father a few years back. His name is Adam Jacot de Boinod and the book in question was The Meaning of Tingo. His new book, The Wonder of Whiffling (pictured above) comes out this week.  We exchanged a few emails and, never one to miss a trick, I asked him if he would like to propose six amazing words that you wouldn’t recognize. He duly obliged, and I include them below.

1 pingle (Suffolk) to move food about on the plate for want of an appetite

2 mumpish (1721) sullenly angry; depressed in spirits

3 crambazzled (Yorkshire), prematurely aged through drink and a dissolute life

4 cagg (UK military slang b1811) a solemn vow or resolution used by private soldiers not to get drunk for a certain time

5 twizzling (Sussex dialect) spinning a pointer on a pub ceiling to decide who should buy the next round

6 shangle (Cumberland + Westmoreland dialects) to fasten a tin or kettle to a dog¹s tail

The English teacher and materials writer in me thought of adding example sentences but why not leave that for the comments?

For those of you who are word lovers, please check out Adam’s book and website. Thanks Adam!

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 10:20 am  Comments (10)  
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Six ugly words in English

An image of 'ugly toys' - what about ugly words?

On a recent absent-minded surf of the web, I came across Wordie. Wordie is the kind of site after my own heart. Its tagline is “Like Flickr but without the photos”. Wordie allows you to make lists of words and people can add, comment or vote on them. An hour or so wasted there yielded the following little gem of a list: ugly words that had been cited by users of the site. I list them here, along with definitions from the Macmillan Dictionary (I used their site to get these quickly, of COURSE I knew the meanings of all of them before!)

harangue – to speak to someone in a loud angry way for a long time, in orderto criticize them or to try to change their opinion It DOES look kind of ugly when I see it written down actually.

2. subpoena an official legal document that says you must come to a court oflaw to give information I bet this one is in there because 1) people hate getting these and 2) it looks like murder to spell, I doubt I could spell this one correctly.

3. quaff to drink something quickly or with a lot of enjoyment I don’t understand, I really LIKE this word! Maybe it’s the double ‘f’ at the end…

4. unctuous seeming to be interested, friendly, or full of praise, but in a way that is unpleasant because it is not sincere. Yes, this feels ugly both in meaning and in form. I think it’s the consonant cluster at the beginning.

5. visceral relating to basic emotions that you feel strongly and automatically I agree this is an ugly word to spell and feels ugly in my mouth when I say it.

6. onus – if the onus is on someone to do something, it is their responsibility or duty to do it. I can only think of one reason someone would nominate this as an ugly word, and that’s because it looks like the word ‘anus’. Otherwise, I don’t see anything ugly at all about it.

I don’t know if I would share these with students, but it could make an interesting question. I often ask students to list what they say are their favourite or most beautiful words but I hadn’t thought of asking the reverse. Of course all of this is subjective, but these things can help people remember words and are always good for people who enjoy language.

What do you think? What are your own “ugly” words in English and why? Post a comment.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 10:53 am  Comments (35)  
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Six palindromes and one nifty teaching activity

A palindrome is a word or sentence that can be read the same way frontwards or backwards. An example of a palindrome word would be “tenet” or “civic”. It gets more interesting (and fun) with sentences though. Here are six nice ones, and an idea on how to use these in class.



1. Madam, I’m Adam!

2. Step on no pets.

3. No lemon, no melon.

4. Dammit, I’m mad!

5. Was it a car or a cat I saw?

6. A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.

One way that these could be exploited in class is like this. Write the first one on the board but give the students three or four choices on what the last word could be.  For example…

Madam, I’m a) Adam b) Scott c) Janet

They probably won’t guess correctly. Give them the answer (but don’t say why). Now give them the next sentence, again with choices for the last word.

Step on no a) dogs b) pets c) cracks.

Tell them to look carefully at both sentences. Can they figure out why the last word is what it is? Continue this way with the other palindromes

Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 8:58 am  Comments (8)  
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Six most frequent collocations in English

Photo from Morguefile.comI found this list in the October 2008 English Language Teaching Journal. It’s based on the ten million word spoken section of the British National Corpus. The research was done by Dongkwang Shin and Paul Nation, two experts in applied linguistics from Victoria University in Wellington. To know all the ins-and-outs of how they got the list I’d recommend reading the article. For those of you who, like me, just want the top six here they are.

1.  you know – 27348 occurences

2. I think (that) – 25862 occurences

3. a bit – 7766 occurances

4. always used to / never used to – 7663 occurences

5. as well – 5754 occurences

6. a lot of – 5750 occurences

I personally think that this list is much more interesting and potentially useful than the six most frequent words in English. As a materials writer, it makes me think of what to include in low level texts and listening comprehension activities. As a teacher, it makes me think about what to point out to my students and encourage them to remember. As an English speaker, I find it interesting to think we use “used to” so much.

I had toyed with trying to come up with a short text which included all these collocations, but I thought I’d leave that to someone else on the comments below. Go for it!

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm  Comments (9)  
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Six most frequent words in English

Here they are, according to Wordcount which is based on the British National Corpus.

1. the

2. of

3. and

4. to

5. a

6. in

Does this leave you a little bit…cold? Expecting more? Wondering… so what? Feeling like the most interesting thing in today’s list is the image?

Me too, sometimes. 

Actually, I think that more useful and interesting would be the six most frequent collocations, which I have managed to get a hold of and will post tomorrow. The whole frequency fashion is quite curious actually. I’m also working on a more critical piece about it which I will also post shortly.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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