The English tag features blog posts about the English language, its people, cultures and history and English translation services.


Clichés By The Book

Clichés, a sign of the times

Clichés: Give It To Me Straight!

A cliché (also cliche) is an expression, idea, opinion or phrase that was once considered an original metaphor, but over time became overused and unoriginal. They were used to convey a novel approach or, to some effect, explain an artistic element.

An English playwright named John Heywood, wrote a book in the 1500s: the book of proverbs, which catalogued clichés and figures of speech common at the time. These were considered original, witty and informative. Today, however, they’re tired and unwitty, but we use them nonetheless.

Clichés can often be confused with idioms (special phrasing), hyperbole (exaggerated rhetoric), metaphors (figures of speech) and similes (expressing comparison, likeness).

Nowadays, we call these overused, ready-made phrases clichés!

You’re probably trying to remember some tired clichés — the ones your  mother used regularly — explaining the repetition of daily chores, perhaps.


  • Better late than never
  • Tried and true
  • Fit as a fiddle
  • Weak as a kitten
  • A bun in the oven
  • Dead ringer
  • A no-brainer!
  • Labour of love


  • It’s not rocket science
  • He was pulling my leg
  • Let’s keep an eye out for her
  • The cat’s out of the bag now!
  • He threw himself at her feet!


  • Waste not, want not
  • Break a leg
  • The early bird catches the worm
  • Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise


  • The computers at work are old dinosaurs
  • She cut him down with her words
  • Waves of messages of hope were sent to the victims
  • He lay there, soaking up the sun

All the above examples may paint a clearer picture for you, but what’s the purpose of a cliché and how did they come to be?

We already know that a cliché is a phrase to express an idea. They’re also traditional in form which, due to their repetitive use in social life, have a heuristic power i.e. enabling others to learn. It has been stated among certain sociologists that clichés manage to stimulate behaviour without reflection on their meanings. To some degree, they are automated phrases used to aid understanding. A cliché can spark further cognition, emotion, volition and action.


Cliché was pulled from the French language around the mid 19th century. A cliché was a printing plate cast from movable type. It’s a past participle of clicher, to stereotype. In the early stages of printing movable type, letters were placed one at a time as it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly. The word cliché came to mean such a ready-made phrase.

The STAR Team
Sources: Wikipedia; Oxford English Dictionary; Literary Devices

Capitalise That, Capitalisation!

Capitalisation in English

Capitalise that, Capitalisation in English

Let’s face it, it can be a tad confusing when it comes to whether a word receives a capital first letter or not. However, there is a general rule of thumb to consider if the first letter of a word is to be capitalised: uniqueness! That is, for instance, if you have word such as Web (short for the World Wide Wide), then Web receives a capital W. There’s only one Web.

Just allowing uniqueness as a prerequisite to capitalisation doesn’t seem correct, though. You have probably seen many words with capital first letters without any of them being distinctive. Here are the top four rules to adhere to to know when to capitalise:

  • At the beginning of a sentence
    • As with all western languages, the first letter of the first word in a sentence typically starts with a capital letter
  • People, places and other related words
    • People’s names tend to be unique even though many people can share the same name
    • E.g. “Matthew had travelled the world in search of fine foods. He found Indian food most pleasurable
  • Titles of books, magazines, films, organisations, special days etc
    • Use a capital first letter when writing / typing the titles / names of organisations, plays, films, holidays, books, publications and so on. However, do not capitalise connecting words such as a, an, the, of, in et cetera — only the main words
    • E.g. Smithsonian Institution
    • E.g. The Cabin in the Woods
  • Every first letter of an abbreviated word should be a capital
    • EEA (European Economic Area)
    • IAU (International Astronomical Union)
    • MEP (a Member of the European Parliament)
Words that receive a capital first letter
Unique Word Related Word
Cambodia Cambodian
Dada Dadaism
Pantagruel Pantagruelian
Europe European

Remember to use capital first letters in formal writing. It’s easy to forget nowadays since email and text messaging encourages the use of informal writing.

The STAR Team

The Untranslatables

The Untranslatables

The Untranslatables

Untranslatables: No English Equivalent

There are many words in the English language that were borrowed from other languages such as Latin, French, German, Spanish and so on. They are called loanwords and exhibit little or no modification at all. Although, there are many words that the English language could do with adding…

Languages are fascinating to study and there is always something new and exciting to learn about them. We have been looking at a wide array of languages and words that do not appear in a modern English dictionary.

Without further ado, we bring you a list of foreign language words for which English has no direct translation.

Language Codes Words / Phrases English Meanings
JPN Komorebi That scattered, dapple light effect that occurs when sunlight pierces the tops of trees
DEU Backpfeifengesicht A face badly in need of a fist
GEO / KAT Shemomedjamo [Lit.: I accidentally ate the whole thing]
DEU Packesel A person who carries everybody else’s luggage / bags [Lit.: Burrow]
SVE Lagom Used to describe something that is not too much or too little — just right — nicely balanced
TGL / FLIP Gigil An urge to pinch something irresistibly cute
HAW Pana Po’o The act of scratching one’s head to remind them of something they have forgotten
ITA Slampadato Addicted to tanning
NOR Pålegg All the ingredients (anything) that is put into a sandwich
ARA Ya’arburnee [Lit.: May you bury me] Asked of a loved one, so that they may not go through the hardship of being alone or dying before the other
RUS Pochemuchka A person who asks too many questions
PER Zhaghzhagh The sound one makes when they grind their teeth from either the cold or when they are angry (onomatopoeic)
DEU Neidbau A small house or shack built to annoy or frustrate one’s neighbour(s)
CZE Vybafnout The act of jumping out at someone and saying boo
JPN Aware The bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty
AKA Pelinti [Lit.: To move hot food around in the mouth] The moment you put too much hot food in your mouth, tilt your head back and move it around to cool it down
IND Mencolek To descibe having someone under one’s arm and on the opposite shoulder
CZE Prozvonit The act of calling a person’s mobile phone only to ring once, so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller their minutes / credit
SMO Faamiti The act of making a kissy sound to attract the attention or a dog or baby
IKU Iktsuarpok The act of continuously checking one’s front door to see if the people one’s awaiting have arrived yet
SSE Tartle The moment when one pauses in hesitation before they introduce someone else — forgetting the person’s name
YAG Mamihlapinatapai The act of two people looking at one another and wishing the other would do something that both want, but neither want to do
THA Greng-jai The feeling one gets when one doesn’t want the other to help because it will be a burden on them
FRA Seigneur-terraces Term for people who sit at cafés all the time and don’t buy anything
ULW Yuputka The feeling that something is crawling on one’s skin when walking through the woods
DAN Hygge The feeling to describe sitting around a campfire with friends during the wintertime
DAN Kaelling A woman who never stops nagging or yelling, especially in public places
DEU Kummerspeck [Lit.: Grief bacon] A name for the weight gained after an extended period of emotional overeating

Some of these words and their subsequent meanings aren’t anything new to us. We have all experienced something like their meanings before; we just didn’t have a specific word for them.

FYI: The word untranslatables does not exist in English. Untranslatable is an adjective, not a noun.

Know any other words without a direct English translation? Let us know…

The STAR Team

Typoglycaemia: Word Recognition


Typoglycaemia: Wrod Rgocintoien

In September 2003, an meme surfaced on the Internet stating:

“I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Scuh a cdonition is arppoiatrely cllaed Typoglycaemia .

“Amzanig huh? Yaeh and you awlyas thguoht slpeling was ipmorantt.”

Fact from Fiction

Not so much a research study, but based on one man’s PhD thesis that was finalised in 1976. A man named Graham Rawlinson. His work was never published: The Significance of Letter Position in Word Recognition, Nottingham University.

There was little evidence to support the main factors of word recognition and the cognitive processes behind reading written text, but roughly three dozen studies were carried out on both adults and children. It is obvious to some that we read words as a whole rather than reading letter by letter, in one’s native language, of course. Although, it has been stated, to some degree, that when one reads in a foreign language, they tend to read every letter.


Typoglycaemia (or typoglycemia) is what’s known as a neologism, a name for a newly coined word, term, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use but, that has not yet been accepted into mainstream language. Typoglycaemia is a portmanteau of two separate words: typo, typographical error and hypoglycaemia, a state of severely diminished content of glucose in the blood. We didn’t that make that up!

You can find Mr. Rawlinson’s summary of notes on his thesis on the Cambridge Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit website

The STAR Team

Homonyms: we found this humerus!

Homonyms: prevent shampooing your hare, we found this humerus
Homonyms: prevent shampooing your hare!

Homonyms Galore, we found this humerus

The English language is bursting with homonyms: words that are spelled and pronounced the same way but have different meanings. It can get a tad confusing at times if you’re new to English [as a foreign language], but it usually helps when one understands the context the homonym is in to differentiate it. Trying to think of a homonym on the spot can be frustrating.

Here’s a few to get you started…

  • Patient: A doctor likes to have a patient patient
  • Crisp:I like to eat a crisp crisp!
  • Polish: I use Polish polish for my shoes
  • Mass: The pope said mass to a lot mass of people yesterday. It was a mass mass.

Not just a homonym but rather, a capitonym!

You have probably come across this one before: telling the difference between Polish and polish. I’ve seen many ads in newspapers and magazines use it as a punchline. Although it’s only comical when it’s written or typed out. If you were to pronounce the two words […] the difference is clear. We’re here to talk about homonyms but Polish / polish isn’t a true homonym. Rather, it is a capitonym. That is, a word that shares the same spelling but has a different meaning when it’s capitalised. March / march is another popular capitonym.

Here are some that’ll refresh your memory, as we’re sure you know many more.

  • change
  • book
  • match
  • cool
  • duck
  • block
  • light

These words are known to be true homonyms as they share the exact same spelling and pronunciation, and their meanings differentiate regardless of capitalization.

Then There’s Bark

Bark (the skin of a tree) and bark (the sound a dog makes) are both homonyms (same but different meanings), homophones (sound alike) and homographs (spelled the same). Unlike rain and reign which are known as just homophones, not homonyms. It helps if you take the combining form -phone in homophone, meaning sound or voice in Greek. While the combining form -graph in homograph means written or in writing.

Some familiar homophones are…

  • sail / sale
  • flee / flea
  • be / bee
  • bear / bare
  • know / no
  • buy / by
  • toe / tow

Wait! There’s More

What about those kind of words that are spelled the same way but have a different pronunciation and meaning? Think of bass (meaning both a fish and denoting a sound with a low pitch)? Or how about desert (to abandon or an arid region)?

We call these guys heteronyms or heterophones. We’ve put together a list of common heteronyms for you to have some fun with.

  • dove (A dove flew past my window) / (I dove into the sea)

Can you work out the rest?

  • ellipses
  • sake
  • resign
  • read
  • putting
  • present
  • record
  • wind
  • row
  • bow

Can you guess the meanings of each of them? We’ll leave the pronunciation to you.

Remember to leave a comment in the comment box below if you know any more homonyms.

The STAR Team

Criminal Lawyers

Law and order, criminal lawyers
Law and order / Stock photo

Do you know any criminal, criminal lawyers?

No. The above isn’t a typo. Here is something I love about the English language: how pronunciation can change the context and meaning of a sentence.

Last night, I was watching Breaking Bad and I caught a great line from Jesse Pinkman (one the protagonists in the series). When discussing lawyers, he turns to Walter White and says, “If you need a criminal lawyer, you should hire a criminal lawyer, to make sure you get off.” Smart sentence! But difficult to translate into other languages and keep the same humour and meaning because of its context.

Context is very important in the English language, especially in translation. It’s one of the most difficult challenges for translators.

Have you ever come across any similar play on words?

The STAR Team


The Greatest Mistake In Translation

Caution: bad translation — greatest mistake in translation
Caution: bad translation

Everyone has read or heard a story about mistakes in translation, humorous mistranslations or badly translated documents. Although what is the greatest and probably most lethal mistake in translation?

Strangely enough, the answer is quite simple. My experience from working in the industry for over 30 years has shown that the single biggest mistake in translation is being careless with short translation. As it sounds, short translation is the translation of a few words or a single sentence. Small or short translation projects are the ones with the highest rate of errors!

The reason behind it is simple: laziness and the pressure to meet a deadline. You have to put the same amount of work, perhaps even more, into small projects than you do with bigger ones.

To understand this, you need to think about the types of errors that can happen.

The Author-Designer Mistake

Most software developers, web designers and marketing managers are always under pressure to deliver on tight deadlines. It is fairly common that a last minute change to a document, file or brochure copy will mean a few words being added here and there — now you have a dilemma — you have to send this text to your professional translators. You might have to raise a purchase order or get approval to spend the extra money. You then have to get the text back from the translation agency, answer their questions and then put the text back in to your files. This process might take a day or so and it has to be shipped right away.

Isn’t that what Google Translate does? Why not type the short text into Google Translate, copy the translated text and insert it in the body itself? Surely translation isn’t that difficult? Big mistake!

Google Translate and other machine translation tools are just gist engines. This means that they are good at giving you a general or equivocal translation rather a precise one — they are not accurate — far from it actually.

Taking a translated word from a machine translation tool such as Google Translate is like picking a translated phrase in a language you don’t understand, applying it and hoping it is correct.< ?p>

Language Errors:

Languages are all very different and so are their structures. A number of words in Spanish have male and female versions — so you should know which word you are copying.

If you are working with Chinese or Arabic, you should not cut and paste text on an English language machine as it will corrupt the text if you have the wrong language fonts / keyboard installed on your machine.

Polish and German have different hyphenation rules than English. You cannot move the next word to a new line if it does not fit. Some words / phrases have to stay together such as compound words.

The Context Mistake

Finally, the big one is context errors. You cannot translate a single word unless you know the context of where and what the text is being used for. Especially what linguists refer to as homonyms.

Let’s look at the word press. What does it mean?

  • Press the button
  • Press as in a press beside your bed
  • Press as in a printing press
  • Press as in the written press i.e. newspapers, media et cetera

Google will never translate this word correctly unless it knows more information about the context. A professional translator will always ask the client what the text they are translating is for. There are lots of examples of this. Take the homonym arm, for instance…

  • Arm, a human arm
  • Arm, an ARM chip (Advanced RISC Machines)
  • Arm as a verb, to arm something like an alarm
  • Arm as a verb, to give someone a weapon

Need I continue? It is very easy to take a machine translation of a single word and apply it no matter what.

Where can we find this?

We find that these misused words appear on website menus and widgets. Often the major work is done on the Website and then after review with the client there might be a few minor changes undertaken.

Most website menus are coded in what are called widgets. These widgets normally only have a few words in them. So it is easy for someone to do exactly what we have outlined above.

Some may think: ‘there are only a few words to translate’. Why spend weeks with translators over just a few menu descriptions? Instead of spending the last three days working on the menu or straplines for it, just use a machine translation or ask a friend [who speaks that language natively] to do a quick and dirty translation of it.

At STAR, we will often check our customers’ websites a few weeks after we have translated them to make sure no extra strings were added after we completed the official translation: to ensure its quality.

The Funny Bit

I’ll leave you with this one. Strangely enough comedians and writers use this problem to great effect in sketches. Miscommunication and out of context understanding are the key to many jokes.

Having returned from Newcastle a friend of mine was asked, “Why did you fly to Newcastle?”* “Because it was too far to walk”, he replied.

*For the record, there are multiple answers to the question depending on the context and connotation implied.

For more information on why short and cheap translation can be very expensive, see the following links.

Article by Damian Scattergood, Managing Director of STAR Translation. Damian has over 30 years of experience in the translation and localization industry.

The STAR Team

Know your Roots

Root words tree illustration

Like people, languages and words have roots.

For many European languages, Latin is a common root language, as it is for the Romance languages which Latin gave birth to. Spanish, Portuguese, French and of course, Italian and Romanian wouldn’t exist as they are today if it weren’t for Latin or what was once called Vulgar Latin. It is useful to note that “vulgar” does not relate to the pejorative meanings like ‘tasteless’ or, ‘indecent’ but rather to its original meaning: ‘common’ or, ‘vernacular’.

With the then widely growing Roman Empire, classical Latin became an influential language. It is from Latin that we derive such words as ‘Salary’ and ‘Sausage’. These two words actually have a common origin having entered the English language in the 14th century. Salary derives from the Latin ‘salarium’, which meant ‘salt-money’.

To Roman soldiers of the time, salt was an important commodity, as it was a mineral used to preserve foodstuffs.

‘Sausage’ was another addition to English in relation to salt with its root Latin word ‘salsicium’, which meant ‘meat made with salt’ or, ‘salted meat’. Let’s break them down: both words begin with ‘sal’, which means ‘salt’. Other words such as salsa and salata are Latin for ‘salted’. But today they take on entirely different meanings, as a salsa is a sauce and salata is a salad.

How about some true English words. There are words like ‘silly’ and ‘nice’ that had very different meanings in the past. When ‘silly’ was first used about a thousand years ago, it meant something or somebody that was happy or blessed. As time passed, it adopted the definition of being innocent. Once again it changed to mean a person who one should feel pity because there is something “wrong” with them, and a silly person was once a feeble-minded one.

As you may know, one can be silly but intelligent. A silly person to me is one who lacks common sense or good judgment.

And what about someone being described as ‘nice’, I hear you say. Well, nice arrived in the English language during the 1300s. It referred to a person who was ignorant or foolish. Having shift to another negative side with definitions as ‘lazy’, ‘fussy’ or ‘showy’ as the centuries moved. Before the 1700s, ‘nice’ was associated with well-dressed people, careful persons and, also, those who were particular. One could say that being particular is similar to being fussy, though.

Post 1700 and the word ‘nice’ was an indicator of a large number of positive traits, as opposed to its negatively defined roots. Isn’t that nice?

The STAR Team

A Brief History Of The English Language

English Language History

English is a West Germanic language. Its history and origins are divided into three stages:

  • Old English
  • Middle English
  • Contemporary English

A Brief History Of The English Language

Old English

Otherwise known as Anglo-Saxon, was formed between the years 700 and 1100 AD. The first English words arrived in England during many invasions from people in neighbouring lands such as the Jutes from Denmark, the Angles and Saxons from what is now modern day Germany, the Frisians from what is now the northern Netherlands & parts of Belgium and the Nordic Vikings from what is now Norway and Sweden. There are still a great number of Anglo-Saxon words used today, as a result of the communication between these various Germanic peoples. Take the English word call: its origins lie in the Viking word, “caellian” meaning, to call or to scream.

Scandinavian and German influences are felt today, but Old English is very far from the current English you and I know well — its alphabet is almost unrecognisable.

Middle English

From 1100 AD onwards, and into the dark ages, signified an important advancement of the English language. It was from the late 12th century to the late 15th century that Middle English was predominantly spoken throughout the island of Great Britain. When William I of Normandy, also known as William the Conqueror, won the battle for England against the Anglo-Saxons, he was crowned as William I, Norman King of England. Norman-French became the court language and 65,000 emigrant French scholars brought their language influences with them, too. The common people of England still spoke Old English, however, over time French words gradually made their way into the slowly evolving Middle English dialect. To this day, many French words are still in use, as they were mostly new words without an English equivalent.

One English word of interest is ‘dandelion‘. Having arrived in Middle English during the late middle ages; anglicised from the Old French word ‘dent-de-lion‘, it literally means ‘lion’s tooth‘. There is no record of this plant having an official name in old English. Although it has had many colloquial names attached to it throughout early Mediaeval European history. Perhaps you may have heard of ‘piss-a-bed‘ or ‘blowball‘ or, ‘Irish daisy‘.

Contemporary English

From the late 15th century, the humble inception of Contemporary English began. Just before the initial stages of the Renaissance in the Italian states, English began to have a real grammatical structure. There is a strong influence of Greek and Latin with words like maternity, skeleton, vacuum, explain & system. The English representative of this period of ‘rebirth’ was William Shakespeare (1564-1616), one of the World’s most famous writers. Shakespeare was known for bringing new life into ancient classical words and even creating some of his own. The word ‘moonbeam‘ is one such example of his clever contractions of already existing words, but by placing them together he gave them new meaning.

Even today, one can see minor changes that countries like the United Sates, Canada, Australia & New Zealand have made on English. All Languages continue to evolve over time, especially the English language because it is so widely spoken. Who knows what English will look and sound like in one hundred years time.

To Be Continued.

The STAR Team

What’s the difference between crocodile and alligator?

Difference between crocodile and alligator
Am I an alligator or a crocodile? / Stock photo

Difference between crocodile and alligator

A crocodile is the name we use to talk about a family of crocodilians such as the Nile crocodile, Caiman etc.

What is the difference…?


Crocodiles are predatory reptiles that live in the tropical regions of the world; their heads are thin and pointed, their legs short and they have long tails.


Alligators come from the crocodilian family alligatoridae, which inhabit mainly Mexico, the United States and China. Alligators are large semiaquatic reptiles similar to crocodiles except that they have broader and shorter heads.

All alligators are crocodilian, but not all crocodilians are alligators!

When we use the word crocodile, we really mean to say crocodilian. There are three main families of crocodilian and twenty-three species of them.

Does the photo above feature an crocodile or an alligator?

Wikipedia has more info on the Alligatoridae family and on the Crocodilia family.

Answer: Alligator

The STAR Team