Category Archives: Observations

Dice: singular or plural

dice die singular plural

Photo credit: r o s e n d a h l (Flickr)

These days I rarely make discoveries about the English language – it’s not that I’m super-fluent or fully proficient, it’s probably that I haven’t been reading or speaking it enough. At home we speak Russian, when I teach I have to use as much Russian as my students can stomach, at the moment I’m also studying for a French exam and the rest of the time I spend on my computer, translating, and only rarely do I feel like talking to it.

And I learnt this extremely exciting thing about the singular and plural of ‘dice‘ at a… Spanish class, where we were playing a game with dice!

Amazingly, it turns out that ‘dice‘ used to be the plural of ‘die‘, but these days you use ‘dice‘ for both singular and plural.

P.S. The other day I noticed this amazing coin in my purse – issued on the 250th Anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, one of the most famous dictionaries in history. I think I’ve mostly been using ‘penny’ and ‘pence’ correctly, but I realized I wasn’t fully aware of ‘pence‘ being the plural of ‘penny‘.

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A week (Monday)

a week Monday usage

Photo credit: timecenter.com

This morning I was listening to my favourite radio show by Shaun Keaveny – together with chocolate & tangerine granola it’s one of the few things that gets me out of bed. Today he chatted to Brian Cox – the great British physicist and, apparently, one of the sexiest men alive, who has just finished filming The Human Universe series. He mentioned that it’ll premiere ‘a week Tuesday’, and I immediately thought that I should write about this ‘a week …’ usage which puzzled me for quite some time.

In fact, it can also be ‘a week on…’, but ‘on’ is sometimes dropped. You use week in expressions such as ‘a week on Monday‘, ‘a week next Tuesday‘, and ‘tomorrow week‘ to mean exactly one week after the day that you mention. 

Examples:

The 800 metre final is on Monday week (Reverso).

– We’ll be back a week on Friday (Oxford Dictionary). 

Actually, after receiving a comment from a friend and a diligent reader of this blog, Zsofia, I double-checked Brian Cox’s twitter and it said that The Human Universe will start on 7 October, which is in one week, also on Tuesday. So when saying ‘a week Tuesday‘ he meant ‘next Tuesday’ because it’s Tuesday today! If he said ‘a week Friday’, then it would mean ‘a week after the coming Friday’.  

You quite often hear ‘Monday/Tuesday etc. week‘ (=the Monday/Tuesday etc after next Monday/Tuesday etc.), which effectively is two weeks, as in:

– I’ll be home Thursday week (if today is Tuesday, 30 September, the person is coming back on Thursday, 9 October).

You might also find this thread on Wordreference forum useful – I certainly did!

P.S. I hope I got it right!

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I’m nearly through it

to be nearly through something phrase meaning

Photo credit: framedcooks.com

I heard this phrase today when I nipped out to the shop to grab some lunch. There was a dad doing food shopping with his tree daughters and he said that he needed to buy some cereals. The girls weren’t too enthusiastic about it for some reason, but he said ‘I’m nearly through my (let’s say tangerine granola), and I do like my tangerine granola, you know!’

This is quite a common phrasal verb and it can mean:

1) having finished an activity or piece of work

– I’m not sure what time he’ll be through with his meeting.

– Only one more letter to write. I’m nearly through.

2) to have ended a relationship

– I’ve told Larry I’m through with him, but he keeps bothering me.

3) to have finished using something

– Let me know when you’re through with the hairdryer.

4) to have decided to stop doing something that you used to do

– Are you through with politics?

(All examples: MacMillan Dictionary)

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I’ll see you when I see you

I'll see you when i see you phrase meaning parting phrase

Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk

First of all, apologies for neglecting this blog a little bit – sometimes there’s really too much going on, and it has been the case with me for the past few months. Also I spent a couple of weeks in Russia and have been trying to get back into my ‘English’ life.

Today I had another volunteering shift at a local Oxfam bookshop. I was tempted to drop them for the time being while I’m struggling with a large translation project, but I know all too well that you deny yourself one thing, then another and then work just takes over your whole life. I wasn’t going to let this happen.

However, I had a hard time fitting all of the things on my to-do list into my morning, so I was running a bit late. I called the shop on my way there to say that I was going to be late and apologized profusely. To this the shop manager said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll see you when we’ll see you‘.

I remembered that I’d heard this phrase before. It always strikes me as a little bit impolite – as in “we don’t really care that much if / when we are going to see you again” – but according to the results of my Google search it is not meant to be impolite. At least I hope so!

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I was wondering…

i was wondering phrase

Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk

Today I realised that I never wrote about one single English phrase that I find to be the most useful in everyday life. A life-saver of a phrase, even! Not to brag, but I think I somehow got it right on my first trip to the UK and later on I heard it on so many occasions that it didn’t seem special any more.

So, imagine you walk into a stationary shop and you’re looking for… I don’t know, a pair of scissors. You’ve had a look around, but scissors are nowhere to be seen. You pluck up your courage and approach a shop assistant. What would you say?

Saying ‘Hi, I’m looking for a pair of scissors’ is perfectly fine, but if you want to sound a bit less direct, here’s where the life-saver phrase comes in: ‘I was wondering: do you have any scissors?’ Or if you wandered into a shoe shop and there was a pair of shoes to your liking you could say ‘Hi! I was just wondering: do you have them in size 6?’ (Or: ‘I was wondering if you have them in size 6′). More on sentence structures with this phrase can be found on this Wordreference forum thread.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of shoes, here’s my favourite bit of stand-up comedy exploring the uneasy relationship between women and shoes.

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How long is too long?

waiting time perception in uk

Photo credit: Banksy, untappedcities.com

Today I had what might almost be called a ‘business meeting’  in London. The person I was meeting mentioned that he was negotiating with a certain company for so long that its managing director died. At this point my eyes nearly popped out.

I immediately remembered all the things that seem to take a disproportionately long in this country compared to Russia, where I come from. To paraphrase the words of King George VI from King’s Speech, waiting for a BT engineer to come one can wait a rather long wait. I also remember how I came to the university library to get a library card (which only gets a few minutes to print and issue) and was asked whether I could pick it up in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t. On another occasion I amazed a whole bunch of people by completing a task, which they thought would take a couple of weeks, in under one hour – and I swear it was no rocket science.

I’m still trying to figure out why these things take such a long time. Can it be that tea-drinking gets in the way?

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Boxing day: what’s in a box?

boxing day origin

Photo credit: gardenofeaden.blogspot.co.uk

The other day my husband asked me whether I knew why Boxing day was called Boxing day and I had to admit that I didn’t. Somehow I never asked myself this question. So I went on a googling mission and found an article in Time that was quite helpful.

In fact, the origin of Boxing day is somewhat murky. One possible explanation is that around Christmas people were encouraged to donate money to the poor, putting them in alms boxes.  According to another popular version, the aristocracy distributed presents (boxes) to their servants, who ‘returned home, opened their boxes and had a second Christmas on what became known as Boxing Day.’

It’s impossible to say which one (if any) is correct and in any case, these days Boxing day is mostly known as the Day When the Sales Start.

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‘Thank you’, ‘Please’ and the magic words

thank you in english

Photo credit: Margaret Littman, Tribune Newspapers

When I was initially thinking about how to structure this blog, I was considering (and many people were encouraging me) to write it in Russian. I thought that would somewhat limit the number of potential readers, so I decided to go with English. However, sometimes I come across phrases that have perfect Russian equivalents (and I have a thing for perfect equivalents – as if something in my mind clicks and the missing piece of a puzzle falls into place), so I can’t resist mentioning them.

Yesterday I spent about an hour reading a book in a café and there was a mother with a 5- or 6-year old daughter at the next table. At some point she was given something sweet, I think, but forgot to say ‘Thank you’. To which her mother replied ‘I think the word ‘thank you’ was lacking‘. I immediately thought of how in Russian we say ‘А где же волшебное слово?’ (‘And what about the magic word’) when we want a child to be polite and say ‘Please’. To me that’s a near-perfect equivalent!

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