The Better English category features all blog posts related to improving your English. There are tips on spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation.
Did you know the longest one syllable words in the English language are nine letters? Ones we found: Strengths and Screeched.
Do you know any others? Let us know and we’ll share them here.
The STAR Team
Jigger has 28 different meanings in English
When we translate we often ask customers for reference material or examples to better understand the context of the translation. But what exactly does this mean?
Let’s consider the following … “If the jigger seems to be broken, replace it immediately. We recommend type 2 jiggers marked in blue in our catalog.”
What does that mean? Jigger can be …
- a handcar, a hand-operated railway car
- a jigger flea or chigoe flea, a parasitic arthropod found in tropical climates that may cause an inflammatory skin disease
- a Liverpool term for an ‘alleyway’
- a pallet jack
- a surveyor’s total station (electronic theodolite)
- a tool for setting fish gill nets under ice, made of wood and metal and operated via rope from the surface
- in golf, an old metal golf club with a narrow face
- a rest for a billiard cue
- a miner who sorts or cleans ore by the process of jigging; one who jigs (verb)
- the actual sieve used in jigging ore
- an Irish dancer: dancer of jigs and reels
- in textiles, it’s a device used in the dyeing of cloth
- in pottery, the horizontal lathe used in producing flatware
- a pendulum rolling machine for slicking or graining leather
- a light all-purpose tackle
- a small sail set in the stern of a yawl or similar boat
- a boat having such a sail
- a jigger mast
- a small fishing vessel, rigged like a yawl
- any of a number of mechanical devices having a vibratory or jerking motion
- a type of hydraulic lift in which a hydraulic ram operates the lift through a block and tackle which increases the length of the stroke
- a device or thing the name of which is unknown or temporarily forgotten
- a small tackle consisting of a double and single block with a rope
- a small glass, esp for whisky, with a capacity of about one and a half ounces
- a cigarette
- a gadget
As a Verb
- To alter or adjust, particularly in ways not originally intended
- Rearrange or tamper with, e.g. conventional price indexes often jigger the market basket’s contents
That’s 28 different meanings before we even discuss slang versions of the word.
The learning is, that from a simple word you can have many different meanings. It’s impossible to translate the original sentence we quoted without knowing the context of what you are talking about. Next time you’re working with a translation agency, or an advertising company for your products, make sure you give them images, diagrams and background information for your project. This will allow them to give the correct translation or interpretation to you first time, every time.
At STAR, we specialize in technical translation and we have our own dictionary management systems for every customer and industry; terminology management is the cornerstone for professional quality translation.
The STAR Team
Typical proofreading test to spot professional proofreaders
Most people automatically read ‘can you see a mistake in this sentence‘ and miss the second letter A. Look again!
There are two A letters.
The reason for this is that your eyes actually scan text as you read it, therefore your mind can interpret what is coming.
Your mind is constantly interpreting the world around you to make life easier. Some people are starters, some are finishers. Depending on which type you are, your mind will ignore the end or start of the sentence with the letter A.
Your mind automatically tries to understand the meaning of the sentence instead of reading exactly what is written or typed. This is an example of a proofreading test often used to test professional proofreaders.
The STAR Team
Basic comma rules in the English language
Place a comma before: and (conjunction), but (conjunction), for (preposition), or (conjunction), nor (adverb and conjunction), so (adverb), and yet (adverb) when they connect two independent clauses1.
Examples of comma usage
- E.g. She hit the shot, and he cheered for her.
Separate three or more items in a series with a comma.
- E.g. We want to protect cats, dogs, and horses.
Place a comma after an introductory phrase.
- E.g. Because I was hungry, I bought a hamburger.
Set off interrupters with pairs of commas, pairs of em dashes, or pairs of parentheses.
- The hamburger, hot and juicy, tasted great
- The hamburger — flamed grilled on the BBQ — tasted great
- The hamburger, which was hot and juicy tasted great
- The hamburger (made from ground beef and tofu) tasted great
Place commas around the name of a person or group spoken to.
- E.g. I hope, Julia, that you’re going with me.
Place commas around an expression that interrupts the sentence.
- E.g. We took our fishing rods, therefore, and got into the boat.
*Clause: a grammatical unit next below a sentence in rank and said to consist of a subject and a predicate.
The STAR Team
We talk a lot about English, context for translation and clear communication on our blog.
On the funnier side of things, badly constructed English can lead to some comical misinterpretations. If you carefully listen to people talking you will hear many silly comments. You’ll nearly always know what they mean, but it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it.
Yesterday, I was listening to a lady on the radio discussing her morning working on the family farm and managing her children. She came out with this very simple sentence: “When I get up in the morning, I feed the chickens and my kids and then I take them to school“. We know what she meant, but the image of her bringing the “chickens and kids” to school makes us giggle.
Groucho Marx used this type of English misinterpretation to his advantage in a joke used to positive effect in his famous one-liners: “I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas I’ll never know!”
Got any funny misinterpretations you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.
The STAR Team
What does free mean? Today, I want to discuss my favourite topic, context and why it’s important for translation.
On my trip to work this morning, I passed our local crèche which was displaying the message: “Free Spaces Available”.
Hm. What does that actually mean?
If you have kids and have ever put them into a crèche, you’ll know this can mean a couple of things, that they have:
- spaces available for kids now (free ones!)
- spaces for kids available now and are for free
- some crèches want you to pay for a space on their entry list, so these are free
- some spaces available now, that are for free
Yes, put your kid here for free! This probably isn’t the case, but you can see how the text can be misinterpreted. For me, I think, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that this sign would have been much more accurate if it simply said, “spaces available”. If it read free just confuses people.
Reviewing messages and adverts like this shows how complex it would be to have it translated. When translating, we often come across sentences like this which can have ambiguous meanings. Professional translators are trained to look out for them and question the meaning with the customer.
Context matters in every language; read about why context matters in translation.
The STAR Team
Is it row or row?
Row or row are known as homonyms (i.e. words with the same spelling or pronunciation). While they share the same spelling, they have different pronunciations.
We’re often asked why we cannot translate a single word or a collection of short phrases on the spot for someone. Professional translators will tell you that sometimes the smallest phrase can be the most difficult to translate. Sounds silly, but look at the illustration above …
In this example, a single word has two completely different meanings – often referred to as homonyms.
Is row a verb, referring to rowing a boat? Or a noun / verb, meaning to argue or an argument?
The only way you’d know is if you …
- heard the word spoken
- knew the context of the conversation
- knew where the text came from and what it’ll be used after it’s translated
For those interested, this is the number one reason why free translation or automatic translation on the internet delivers such bad results.
Another example of this type of mistranslation is the word armed. Does this refer to an alarm on a phone, a watch being set or a person with weapons?
Try entering a few sample sentences into Google Translate to see what you get. Pick a target language that you have some knowledge of first to better understand how context helps.
The STAR Team
Mrs, Ms or Miss — Addressing the Modern Woman
If you are struggling to choose which female honorific is the most appropriate to address the modern woman, be sure that you are not the only one. It is not an easy question.
Below we have detailed an explanation of Mrs, Ms, and Miss that should help you to address ladies correctly.
The three nouns, or titles, Mrs, Ms, and Miss appeared in the 17th century and come from the female English title Mistress which was used to refer to all women. The full stop of the abbreviations is generally used in the USA and Canada, whereas in the UK and Ireland the abbreviations are commonly written without any full stop.
Ms. is slightly old fashioned compared to the two other titles but has been revived in the 20th century. This English honorific is mostly used in business and public life to address a lady. This is generally used when her marital status is unknown. It is neutral regarding marital status. The plural for Ms can be Mss or either Mses. You may also use the French plural “Mesdames” abbreviated Mmes.
Miss is used to refer to an unmarried woman, or girls under eighteen in some countries. Miss alone is frequently used by schoolchildren to address a female teacher no matter what her marital status is. The plural for Miss is Misses or you may use the traditional French “Mesdemoiselles”.
Finally, Mrs. is strictly used to refer to a married woman. For the plural you can use the French plural “Mesdames” abbreviated Mmes like for Ms.
Some women may have a preference for Ms., Miss, or Mrs. and if a woman has a professional title, it is more appropriate to use that title such as Doctor, Professor, or Captain instead of Ms, Miss, or Mrs.
The STAR Team