The Better English category features all blog posts related to improving your English. There are tips on spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation.

what

Can you work this out?

Here’s a quick puzzle for you to test your English. Can you work it out?

what

The STAR Spelling Quiz 2016, most misspelled words

English Spelling Quiz

Most misspelled words

Test your spelling knowledge. We've put together some of the most misspelled words in English, according to the peeps at the Oxford Dictionary. Fill in the blank spaces with the correctly spelled words. Let's show them you know better!

The STAR Team

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th — a little knowledge to quell the fear

Friday the 13th
Black cats are synonymous with superstitions on Friday the 13th / Pixabay

Friday the 13th, the unluckiest day

Today is Friday the 13th, one of the unluckiest days of the year in the Western world. The fear of the number 13 —triskaidekaphobia — goes back to Mediaeval times when the story of the Last Supper and crucifixion of Jesus Christ became commonplace among religious scholars.

Although Friday and the number 13 were both considered unlucky, the two together were never seen as extraordinarily unlucky by the superstitious.

It’s not quite known how the unlucky number 13 and Friday converged to become synonymous with fear and dread, but it wasn’t heard of before the nineteenth century. Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th may attribute its origin to Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, The Thirteenth, published in 1907. In it, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on the day. Thanks Thomas!

Others have suggested that the unholy day has its origin in a list of disasters and catastrophes that have occurred. Below are some of the more memorable ones.

  • five Nazi bombs fell on Buckingham Palace during the Blitz that destroyed the palace chapel and killed one member of staff
  • on Friday the 13th, October 1972, twelve people died instantly during an aeroplane crash in the Andes mountain range and more were killed in an avalanche thereafter. The survivors resorted to cannibalism of the dead passengers in order to live. The crash was later turned into a movie, Alive!
  • on Friday the 13th, November 1970, in Bangladesh, a cyclone made landfall that killed at least 300,000 people
  • legendary rapper, Tupac Shakur died from gunshot wounds in Los Angeles

Many other horror stories have made headlines around the world that affirm our worst fears surrounding this day.

Albeit, in Italy, the number 13 is known to bring good fortune; it’s Friday the 17th when Italians are most superstitious. This phobia has its origins in the Roman numeral for 17: XVII; however, when shuffled they read VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’; this implies that death is present.

Despite this old myth, young Italians have been Americanized by popular culture that they now regard Friday the 13th as equally dreadful.

Share your horror stories with us in the comments.

The STAR Team

What is a googol?

World’s Largest Named Number

What is a googol?

World’s Largest Named Number: Googol

Sometime in the 1930s, an American mathematician, Edward Kasner, was walking his nephews along the New Jersey Palisades when he asked them to help him name a particularly long number in an effort to pique their interest in mathematics. One nephew, nine-year-old Milton suggested “googol”. But it wasn’t until 1940 that the word was first introduced in a non-technical publication surveying the field of mathematics: Mathematics and the Imagination.

A googol is one followed by a hundred zeros or as follows.

1.0 x 10100

Milton also suggested googolplex; larger than a googol, “but still finite” as Kasner was quick to remark.

Google

Yes, the Internet search giant falls into place here. It is known that the name Google came from a misspelling of googol. Googleplex, the headquarters of Google in California is similarly derived from googolplex!

Googolplex can be written as follows:

10 x 10googol or 10(10100)

To put it into perspective, a googol is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Source: Googolplexian.com

Graham O'Mahony, Blogger and Web Designer
Graham
Web Designer and Blogger
The STAR Team
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The Origins of POSH

Posh Beginnings

The Origins of POSH

La-Di-Da!

The word posh has been in use in modern English since the 1910s. There is a story, that tells of well-to-do passengers who travelled between England and India had the word POSH written next to their names on bookings. POSH apparently stood for ‘Port Out, Starboard Home‘. The concept behind it was that the more desirable cabins were on the port side (left) which was the shady part of the ship and starboard (right side) travelling back to England.

P.O.S.H.

POSH has its beginnings as an abbreviation, but the research team at the Oxford English Dictionary could not find any evidence of this; the researchers searched shipping company documents and even interviewed former travellers and found no evidence of its use.

What is also interesting is that the word had been in use for some twenty years until the story of its origins came into light in the 1930s. While the story is intriguing, it has yet to be proven and so far, it has been debunked. Oh dear!

Graham,
The STAR Team

Source: OED, Oxford English Dictionary Language Resources

The Magic E in English spelling.

Magic E: Silent but Useful

The Magic E in English spelling.
English spelling rule: The Magic E.

Better English: The Magic E

We’re continuing our Better English blog with the Magic E. Also known as a silent E. This important and popular vowel can change the sound of other vowels, thus lengthening the sound of a word.

Rule of Thumb

If a word ends with a vowel and then a consonant, adding the letter E at then end can change the sound of the previous vowel. The Magic E changes the sound and meaning of a word, yet remains silent. For instance: by changing the sound from short: tap, to a long vowel sound: tape.

We’ve got some examples of words ending with E.

WORD ENDING WITH E
On One
Hat Hate
Bit Bite
Cub Cube
Breath Breathe
Tap Tape
Cod Code
Slim Slime
Win Wine
Sit Site
Quit Quite

Academics refer to the silent E as a marker, which means it doesn’t represent a sound but tells us the sounds of the other letters in the word. A marker makes the nearest vowel to it say its name — its alphabet name — A E I O U.

But there are always exceptions to every rule, especially in the English language.

More examples

  • love
  • glove
  • above
  • have
  • come
  • some
  • none
  • oven
  • cover
  • to live

It would seems like the academics who added the Magic E to lengthen the sound forgot about the old words above.

If you think we’ve left any words out of our lists, or just want to show us how much you know, then let us know in the comments below.

The STAR Team

Letter Q in spelling

Letter Q in Spelling, English

Letter Q in spelling, English

Master the Letter Q in Spelling, English

Q is one of the trickier letters to learn about in English spelling, as it’s often confused with C and K in phonetics. Here are the Q spelling rules to help you use it correctly and improve your spelling in the English language.

The letter Q is always followed by the letter U; at the start of a word, or after an S; it makes a sound like KW…

Examples

  • quick
  • quite
  • quiz
  • queen
  • quote
  • quantity
  • queue
  • squid
  • square

Some words end with QUE — these words with QU make a K like sound.

Examples

  • technique
  • cheque
  • unique
  • plaque
  • mosque
  • antique

These examples come from our Spelling Rules game, which helps improve your spelling skills. It was designed to help people with dyslexia improve their spelling in English. The game Spelling Rules created by Claire McNelis as part of her Master’s thesis in Digital Media at NUI, Galway. She wanted to create an application that would teach spelling rules in a way that was simple and accessible for dyslexic people.

Play the Spelling Game

Play the game for free by selecting the letter Q at the beginning. There are other games available too.

The STAR Team

New words enter OED, 2015

OED Unveils 500 New Words in English

New words in English enter OED, 2015

New Words in English Enter OED, 2015

OED, New Words in English Language

The OED, otherwise known as the Oxford English Dictionary, has recently announced 500 new words and over 900 newly revised and updated words that will be added.

Seems like there are so many that it’s almost impossible to imagine. However, many of the newly updated ones are new senses of the word, go, with about 603. Gosh! Although it’s 51 senses fewer than the longest OED entry, run, according to the OED itself.

One to make headlines though is twerk: a blend of of twitch or twist and jerk. Twitter almost exploded when it was revealed that twerk was, in fact, a pre-existing word — describing a dance that emphasizes the performer’s posterior, it has its roots in the early 1990s New Orleans ‘bounce’ music scene.

Even Older

Twerk goes back farther to its first possible usage in 1820 when it was spelled as twirk: referring to a twisting movement; a twitch. Then it reemerged in 1848 and again in 1901 when it was spelled the way we known it today. Its origin in unclear but the OED believe its influence is from quirk and work “in reference to the dance”.

What else is new?

We’ll cut to the chase and list ones already known, fo’ shizzle!

Along with guerrilla, that has already been established in the Dictionary here are some other phrases incorporating this compound word:

  • guerrilla theatre (1966)
  • guerrilla art (1970)
  • guerrilla gardening (1973)
  • guerrilla knitting (also known as yarn bombing or yarnstorming)

Then there’s that one we “slipped in” — fo’ shizzle (adjective), a slang term originated in the language of rap and hip-hop (2001) and means ‘for sure’.

Others:

  • ecotown (noun): First recorded in 1974. Any new town designed to have a minimal impact on the environment and to facilitate an environmentally responsible lifestyle for everybody.
  • freegan (noun): A person who eats discarded food, typically the refuse of shops and restaurants, for ethical or ecological reasons. It can also be used as an adjective and was first spotted in 1997.
  • e-cigarette (noun): A cigarette-shaped device, first noted in 2007, containing a nicotine-based liquid that is vaporized and then inhaled; simulates the experience of smoking.
  • voluntourism (noun): Tourism in which travellers spend time doing voluntary work on projects, usually for a charity. It was first recorded in 1991.
  • hyperlocal (adjective): Extremely local; first used in 1900.
  • meh (interjection): And interjection, expressing indifference or a lack of enthusiasm and popularized by The Simpsons, but already in use online by 1992 — two years before the series used it.
  • hot mess (noun): A hot mess referred to ‘a warm meal, especially one served to a group’ in 1818, but it’s more commonly used as a slang term for something or someone in extreme confusion or disorder.
  • lipstick (noun): In the world of darts, this is a slang term in use since 2003 for the treble twenty on a dartboard.
  • fratty (adjective): Relating to a college fraternity; typical or characteristic of such a fraternity or its members, especially with reference to rowdy behaviour … has its origins in 1898.
  • twitterati (noun): Users of the social networking service Twitter collectively, typically referring to the group of prolific contributors or those who have high numbers of followers. [2006]
  • webisode (noun): A short video, especially an instalment in a drama or comedy series, which is presented online rather than being broadcast on television. And surprisingly dates back to 1996.
  • SCOTUS (noun): An acronyms for (The) Supreme Court of the United States. [1879]
  • FLOTUS (noun): An acronym for (The) First Lady of the United States. [1983]

Check out the OED’s other new entries such as cisgender and intersectionality, fo’ shizzle! OK — it’s out of my system now.

Graham,
The STAR Team

Arrow pointing at the dots over both i and j, known as tittle

Just a Tittle

Just a title: arrow pointing at the dots over both I and J, known as tittle.
Just a tittle

Just a Tittle Bit

For every jot and tittle in life, there’s an app! Tittle: I really like the sound of this word although I don’t remember the last time I used it. It’s fallen into an abyss where words go because they sound a tad dated. Perhaps the younger generation has never even heard it. You never know though; it sounds like it could be the name of an upcoming app and the word itself is slingshot back into modern usage.

The OED states the meaning of tittle, a singular noun as a tiny amount or part of something. Although there is another meaning of tittle! One I never knew until now. The tittle, or the superscript dot, is the distinguishing mark that appears above both lowercase i and j in writing and print. Yes, there’s a word for those small dots. Amazing!

Origins

Tittle, as a word, has its roots in Late Middle English where it originated from the Latin titulus: small stroke or accent. Tittle is rarely used in modern English and its first known use was recorded in the Christian Bible (Matthew 5:18).

Hold on! I thought the tittle was a diacritic.

Diacritic

The tittle is also referred to as a diacritic, but this is a broader term as diacritics can appear on other letters in the alphabet. This is true for many European languages where diacritics appear as accents, macrons and graves over both vowels and consonants like these guys here: ä, ë, İ, ė, á, â.

Dotted and Dotless

There are several languages that use both the dotted and dotless I in uppercase and lowercase. Modern Turkish uses both dotted (İ i) and dotless (I, ı) as well as Azerbaijani and the Tatar language.

In Irish, bilingual road signs show the dotless lowercase ı to distinguish it from the buailte overdot that appears over consonants: ġ, ċ. Nowadays, an h replaces the diacritic and is thus written as gh and ch.

In some of the Dene group of languages from the Northwest Territories in Canada, both dotted and dotless I are used to distinguish the differences between tone-marked vowels, like í and ì. And in the French speaking province of Quebec in Canada, there are road signs that show the uppercase I with a tittle rendering one such place, Longueuil as LONGUEUİL.

There’s got to be some brands out there that use dotless I in their designs, fonts and logos. If you come across any, please do leave a comment below.

The STAR Team

The Make or Do Quiz

Make or Do Quiz, Better English

Make or Do Quiz, Better English

Take the Make or Do Quiz

When it comes to learning English, the infinitive verbs to do and to make follow a set of rules similar to each other. Let’s explore the definitions of do and make, and their subsequent collocations… Then, take the quiz!

DO

The rules are a little obscure and not so easy to follow. The verb do describes activities and are placed with words such as what, nothing, anything, thing, etc. People generally use do to talk about leisure activities, duties, tasks, jobs and so forth.

Examples*:

  • ‘What shall we do now?’ ‘You can do what you like. I’m going home!’
  • ‘He didn’t do anything. He just sat there.’
  • ‘You expect me to do everything around the house. Well, I’m fed up!’
  • ‘I did all my homework last night so tonight I’m going to do the housework.’
  • ‘I did a lot of research and I think I did a good job on that essay. I did my best anyway.’
  • ‘I intend to do lots of walking on holiday this year, and perhaps some bird-watching too.’

MAKE

The use of the verb make describes when someone is constructing, creating or performing something.

Examples*:

  • ‘I made three suggestions and left it to him to make the final decision.’
  • ‘I’ve made all the arrangements for the trip and I’ve made a great effort to get it all right.’
  • ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to make my excuses and leave.’
  • ‘I have to make three phone calls.’

QUIZ TIME!

Time to test your knowledge now. It’s not an easy task for an English language learner; it takes time, knowing your usage, learning more and knowing which verbs collocate with which nouns. Give it a try.

Possible Verb Sentence (imperative)
do make …the washing-up and the cleaning
do make …your homework now!
do make …an application for your driving licence.
do make …an impression.
do make …something worth being proud.
do make …a fortune, a mess or a profit.
do make …business (with somebody).
do make …a cake for your sister’s birthday, will you?
do make …an effort to be nice (to someone).
do make …amends for your bad behaviour.
do make …the right thing tonight and be polite to her.
do make Can you…the dinner this evening as I’ll be out until late?
do make …an announcement or a speech.

*Examples taken from the BBC, Learn English online programme.

The STAR Team