Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oh Brother! Labour has a new Ed.

The Sun

Labour MP and Environment Minister in the previous government, Ed Miliband has just narrowly beaten his elder brother David in the race for the leadership of the British Labour Party.

The British press have puns of fun finding suitable headlines. Newspaper word-play mini-lesson.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some words are simply outwith some people's understanding. A rant in defence of the word 'outwith'.

Related post

If you'd prefer to read a more concise post about outwith, you can find a few examples and various links at another (much shorter) post I wrote on this subject more recently: Q and A - Is outwith a word
I was once explaining the Edinburgh Festival to some English friends. I told them about the ‘Official festival’; this is how people in Edinburgh refer to the Edinburgh International Festival. For most people in Edinburgh, the Festival is really the Fringe, cheaper (although less so nowadays) and less High Culture. Anyway, I went on to say that there was also the Fringe Festival, the Book Festival, a film festival and God knows what other festival, but that they were all outwith the main (official) festival. And they looked at me in a strange way. ‘You mean they’re not part of the main festival?’. Yes, I said, rather puzzled, for these were educated people and I had no idea that there was anything particularly special about outwith. So I looked in my trusty Chambers, and it was only then that I discovered that outwith was a Scottish word.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Video lesson - Mr Mann's disappointed horse

I sometimes use short comedy videos in class and I find that students usually really like this particular one, a clip from the BBC series Little Britain. I've gone off the show a bit now, but I still think this one of the classic sketches of British comedy.

The vocabulary in this clip is not easy, but I've found that when students do these exercises first, they can 'get' most of the jokes.

Random thoughts on the Subjunctive

I once came across an article at, wondering why we bother to teach inversion. You can speak perfectly good English without ever using it, and it seems to give students a lot of headaches. But the certificate examination boards insist on it, so we have to teach it. You can read the article here. I have some sympathy for this point of view, and have a similar feeling about the Subjunctive.

Fumbling about with the style rules of English

These style rules come from a variety of sources, and have been adapted a bit by me. The principle with all of these rules is that each 'rule' contradicts itself. The original versions have been variously attributed to:
  • The Fumblerules of Grammar by William Safire, The New York Times Magazine, Nov 4, 1979,
  • The Little English Handbook by Edward P. J. Corbett
  • How To Write Good by Frank Visco
There are over forty. Here is a real challenge for advanced students, an exercise based on a sample of them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Follow up exercise to those random thoughts

In the previous post I talked about certain differences between US and UK English, and one of the examples I gave was the attitude to possible options in defining relative clauses. So it seemed appropriate to follow it up with an exercise.

Some random thoughts about UK and US grammar

There’s a scene in the film Bhaji on the Beach, where three British-Indian women go to the airport to meet their Indian cousin who has just arrived from Mumbai (Bombay). As they come to greet her, she says: ‘My God, you’re all wearing saris. No one in Bombay wears saris nowadays.’ And it is true that, very often, immigrant communities hang on to customs and traditions long after they have fallen out of fashion in their old home country. This is not really surprising as it is a way of clinging on to their identity. You can see a clip of this excellent film, by the way, at Veoh.

I sometimes think the same is true of language. The first American settlers were immigrants too, and in some ways they too hung on to the old (linguistic) ways.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do U h8 txt msging lingo or do U thnk its just gr8?

I recently did a lesson on the language of texting (SMS) - and Internet slang - LOL, BTW  etc, and got to thinking about how old the use acronyms and abbreviations is. Acronyms, BTW, are those abbreviations that are said as a word. So the UN is an abbreviation (we say the individual letters), but UNESCO is an acronym, we say it as a word. In English we tend to use fewer acronyms, than for example French, where they seem to be able to make every group of letters into words.

More on Scottish islands and renewable energy.

Two wind turbines on Eigg (Wikimedia Commons)

A little bit more the use of renewable energy sources on Scottish islands

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More on Samsø

Some more links for Samsø.

Photo by Phil LaCombe at  Flickr (some rights reserved)

Solidarnosć thirtieth anniversary

Solidarnosć strike at Gdańsk 1980 (Wikipedia)

 NB This is a discussion lesson for Polish students of English

This is the thirtieth anniversary of Solidarnosć (The Polish trade union Solidarity). What are your first comments / reactions?

Energy Islands

Wind turbines at Findhorn, Scotland

These are the notes from a lesson about the use of small-scale renewable energy, with examples from the Danish island of Samsø and Scotland. It was originally intended for people working in the energy industry.