Tag Archives: reading

In good (or not so good) nick

in a good nick meaning

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Today I went for my regular volunteering shift at the local bookshop – to strengthen my willpower by resisting the temptation to buy more books, to get my weekly fix of chocolate biscuits, to spend time around some lovely people and… hopefully to hear some more cool phrases.

A customer came in asking whether we had any more books by Marina Lewycka apart from A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian that we had in the shop. He said he had seen another book, but it was in such a bad nick that he didn’t get it.

I hear this phrase – ‘in good/bad nick‘ – from other volunteers very often. ‘Nick‘ essentially means ‘condition’.

You can also say that a book that is in a bad nick is ‘tatty‘.

I must say that in the days when I was buying books from charity shops like there was no tomorrow, I did buy some tatty ones, but I ended up donating them back to charity shops as I never read them. Much as I love books – all kind of books – I find that they need to look appealing.

I still find that I have hoarded way too many books and I need to slowly work my way through them so that I could buy new books!

This is how my current ‘to-read list’ looks like (or at least its English section – there’re at least as many books in other languages waiting to be read and they make me feel bad):

bookshelf shelfie

And while we’re on the subject of books and shelves… I recently came across the word ‘shelfie‘, i.e. ‘selfie of your bookshelf’. Here are some shelfies from Guardian readers.

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It’s a long shot

it's a long shot phrase meaning

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A few weeks ago I started volunteering at a local charity bookshop. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and finally decided to fill in an application. However, I’m finding that this is only going to aggravate my book-hoarding problem.

Anyway… today a lady came into a shop and approached me and my fellow volunteers saying ‘I know it’s a long shot, but do you think you might have a book…’

I’ve heard this expression on numerous occasions and I am quite fond of it. It means ‘an attempt or guess that is not likely to be successful but that is worth trying’ (MacMillan Dictionary).

More examples of usage:

– It’s a long shot, but well worth trying (Oxford Dictionaries).

– Though not impossible, attempting to obtain permission for residential use would be a long shot (Oxford Dictionaries).

– Mr Yu, a 26-year-old policeman, describes himself as conservative and is looking for a woman with “traditional virtues”. His attendance at the expo, the city’s largest yet, is a long shot; he would prefer a marriage set up by colleagues or by his parents. It worked for them 30 years ago, he says (The Economist).

 

There’s a similar-sounding phrase that I wasn’t aware of – ‘(not) by a long shot‘, meaning ‘(Not) by far or at all’:

– We don’t have our act together in Washington by a long shot (Oxford Dictionaries).

– And in agreement with one of the comments made – Egypt is not ready for democracy, not by a long shot (The Economist).

– Dr Thatcher is dead and her one-time advisors do not have a chemistry degree from Oxford. Not by a long shot (The Economist).

 

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In any shape or form

in any shape or form meaning

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As you probably gathered from my previous post, I went to Paris last week, that’s why there’s not been many updates with new English phrases (I’ve just tried a typical British understatement – there’s been none, actually). However, I did learn quite a bit of French vocab, though I’m still not sure whether I should be sharing it here, I’ll have to think about it.

Anyway, when I came back one of the first things on my to-do list was to phone up the Hay Festival people and book some tickets – students can only do this via the phone, apparently. So, armed with a list of events I was hoping to go to, my student card and my debit card (students go free, but you need to pay a deposit), I phoned their number and one of the first questions I was asked was “Have you ever been to the Hay Festival in any shape or form?” I haven’t come across this idiom for a while, so I noted it down and carried on answering the questions. Sadly, all the events with Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins had been sold out by then, but I’m still looking forward to this event!

I thought I’d include a few examples of how “in any shape or form” (meaning “in any manner or under any circumstances”) is used. Note some slight variations:

– 96 per cent of the electorate voted against Europeanization in any shape or form (Oxford Dictionaries)

– BBC News arts editor Will Gompertz suggested that the four all “make work that is in some way, shape or form, a collage (BBC – oops, BBC missed a comma between ‘way’ and ‘shape’).

– The opposition parties know that the only way to break Labour’s stranglehold on Wales is to come together, or work together in some shape or form (BBC).

– It’s worth recalling that UN security council resolution 1973, passed last month, does not authorise member states to support the rebels, to defend armed groups, or to oust Gaddafi. Nor does it authorise an Iraq-style ground invasion or military occupation, in any shape or form, size or scale. But in reality, much of this is now happening, willy-nilly. Make no mistake: the creep is on (The Guardian).

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Sugar

sugar fix sugar fascist sugar daddy

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Yesterday I was sitting in a park proofreading my translation and occasionally glancing at other people. There was a group of teenagers who were skating down a hill on a funny kind of skateboard. I heard one of them saying ‘Sugar!’ (pronounced like shhhhh-uga) and remembered that it was a nice euphemism for ‘shhhhit!’

Today it occurred to me that I came across quite a few expressions with ‘sugar’ lately and thought I’d put them all into one post.

The other day I emailed my French colleague asking her to recommend some cafés and salons de thé in Paris. She emailed back saying ‘I don’t know many traditional salons de thé but in a it’s 4 o’clock, I need a sugar fix kind of thing, I can recommend’…. followed by a list of tea and coffee establishments. It can also be called ‘a sugar hit‘ and ‘an afternoon pick-me-up‘.

The same colleague once used a term ‘sugar fascist‘ about a parent who doesn’t let his/her children eat sweets and I made a mental note of this expression – now is the perfect time to share it with others.

However, those children with more lenient parents who don’t mind giving sweets to their offspring, might get a ‘sugar rush‘ (i.e. become hyperactive and uncontrollable), at least that’s the popular belief.

Here’s a good example in context:

  • People often get cross when you tell them there’s no such thing as a sugar rush. Especially parents. They have witnessed, time and again, their offspring going ape at parties, after mainlining jelly and ice cream. “Sugar high,” sigh the grownups, resigned to the inevitable crash. This observation has been passed down through generations, like DNA (The Guardian).

There’s another sugar phrase – ‘sugar daddy‘ – I don’t remember how I came across it though. And it means ‘an older man who gives a younger woman expensive presents, especially in exchange for a romantic or sexual relationship’.

Here’s an example:

  • “More than a hundred students at the University of Northampton signed up for so-called “sugar daddy dating” to help fund their tuition fees last year, according to an online dating website.” (BBC)

P.S. When I think of the word ‘sugar‘ a song immediately springs to mind – this is a great episode of one of my favourite films and books – ‘Hi-Fi‘ by Nick Hornby.

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Margaret Atwood, ‘Alias Grace’

Alias Grace Margaret Atwood quotes

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A couple of days ago I finished another book, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It was a bit heavy-going in the beginning because of a very detailed narrative, but after a hundred or so pages it got better.

Here are some amusing bits that I particularly liked:

Spiritualism is the craze of the middle classes, the women especially; they gather in darkened rooms and play at table-tilting the way their grandmothers played at whist, or they emit voluminous automatic writings, dictated to them by Mozart or Shakespeare; in which case being dead, thinks Simon, has a remarkably debilitating effect on one’s prose style‘.

‘As one season’s crop of girls proceeds into engagement and marriage, younger ones keep sprouting up, like tulips in May. They are now so young it relation to Simon that he has trouble conversing with them; it’s like talking to a basketful of kittens’.

There was one good effect of all the suffering. The passengers were Catholic and Protestant mixed, with some English and Scots come over from Liverpool thrown into the bargain; and if in a state of health, they would have squabbled and fought, as there is no love lost. But there is nothing like a strong bout of seasickness to remove the desire for a scrap; and those who would cheerfully have cut each other’s throats on land, were often to be seen holding each other’s heads over the scuppers, like the tenderest of mothers; and I have sometimes noted the same thing in prison, as necessity does make strange bedfellows. A sea voyage and a prison may be God’s reminder to us that we are all flesh, and that all flesh is grass, and all flesh is weak. Or so I choose to believe‘.

‘Mary said I might be very young, and as ignorant as an egg, but I was bright as a new penny, and the difference between stupid and ignorant was that ignorant could learn’.

‘…Having a thought is not the same as doing it. If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged‘.

‘Having a mistress – for that’s what she’s become, he supposes, and it hasn’t taken long! – is worse than having a wife. The responsibilities involved are weightier, and more muddled’.

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Kate Atkinson ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’

Kate Atkinson Started Early quotes

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I’ve been meaning to start writing about books that I’ve enjoyed – for a bit of a change and also to share my other big passion, though I suppose languages and reading often go hand in hand.

Usually when I’m reading a book I really like I have an overwhelming urge to quote a few bits to whoever is near, but seeing that there’s not always somebody around a blog seems to be a perfect place to do it.

I think this is a very ‘English’ book, in a sense that there are lots of details and descriptions that I probably couldn’t relate to or understand until I came to live here.

Here are the bits that I liked most:

‘His mother was defensive, worried that Leslie would carry her son off to a faraway continent and all her grandchildren would have accents and be vegetarians. Leslie wanted to reassure her, say, It’s only a holiday romance, but that probably wouldn’t go down well either’.

She thought she’d signed up for the duration… and then last week they told her that her contract wasn’t being renewed and she was going to die at the end of her run. She had only a few weeks to go. They hadn’t told her how. It was beginning to worry her in some curiously existential way as if Death was going to jump out of her from round the corner, swinging his sickle and shouting, ‘Boo!’ Well, perhaps not boo. She hoped that Death had a little more gravitas than that‘. [It’s about an actress who was about to be killed off in a series. It’s not new to me, but it’s interesting to note that Death is masculine in English, even there are no genders as such. In Russian death is a female, for instance].

‘He was a big guy, with a mean expression on his face, barrel-chested like a Rottweiler. Add to that the shaved head, the weight-lifting muscles and a St George’s flag tattooed on his left bicep, twinned with a half-naked woman inked into his right forearm, and, voilá, the perfect English gentleman’.

Fiction had never been Jackson’s thing. Facts seemed challenging enough without making stuff up. What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things – death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale‘.

‘They were celebrating the divorce of one of their pack. Jackson thought that divorce was possibly an occasion for a wake rather than a knees-up but what did he know, he had a particularly poor track record where marriage was concerned. It surprised him to discover that the women all seemed to be teachers or social workers. Nothing more frightening than a middle-class woman when she lets her hair down’.

– ‘Do you know what colour grey is?’

– ‘It’s the colour of the sky’, Courtney offered. Tracy sighed. Therapist would have a field day with this kid.

‘Everywhere people were puffing and panting their way up the steps. He had never seen so many fat people in one place at the same time. He wondered what a visitor from the past would make of it. It used to be poor who were thin and the rich who were fat, now it seemed to be the other way round’.

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Pet

pet used to address somebody

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While I was reading Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took my Dog I came across an interesting way of addressing somebody – the main character, a woman in her fifties, addressed a little girl as ‘pet‘. I’ve heard of ‘love’, of course, and have been called that on numerous occasions, but ‘pet‘ was new to me.

As it usually happens with my newly discovered words, the very next day I went to the Leicester Market to stock up on amazingly cheap fruit and one of the sellers said ‘That’s two pounds, pet’ to me.

I googled this to see if there was anything special about this word and it turned out that it’s mostly used in the north of England (the lady in the book was from Yorkshire). Here’s a very informative piece of friendly and informal terms of address from the BBC.

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In the … department

in the ... department usage

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I was recently reading the Intelligent Life magazine (more praise of it later) and stumbled upon this paragraph in an article by Rebecca Willis:

Back in the days when I wrote about hotels for a living, the man I was eventually to marry sometimes joined me on my travels. And a curious thing would happen as we crossed the latest hip-hotel lobby: a thought would flash across my mind – ‘what a hideous lamp’, for instance – and a micro-second later he would say: ‘I love that lamp, I wonder where it’s from?’ It could be a sofa, a painting, a fabric, a paint colour: whatever, I soon learnt to wait for the inverse echo of my reaction. It was the first inkling that we might not be totally compatible in the taste department‘ (note the typical British understatement).

I was very excited by this peculiar use of the word ‘department’, only to hear it again a week later. I was chatting to to a colleague about the advantages and disadvantages of being a tall woman, and she wisely remarked that ‘the pickings in the men’s department are rather slim for the ladies who happen to be quite tall‘ (I’ll have to agree on this one). So it turned out that you can use the word department rather freely in contexts like these.

MacMillan Dictionary also suggests that you can use the word department to talk about something you know well or something you’re responsible for, for instance ‘The gardening is Simon’s department.’

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