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To put it another way: the language

of explanations
In this post, I am going to talk about the language of explaining, something we all
have to do from time to time.

I will start with some slightly more formal near-synonyms for the verb explain. If
you clarify something, you make it clear, usually when it wasn’t clear before, and
if you demystify a subject, you make something that seemed very difficult,
strange or obscure much easier to understand. If you enlighten another person,
you make them understand something they didn’t know about before:

Could you clarify exactly what you mean by ‘practical intelligence’?

Amy’s blog helped to demystify the whole dissertation process.

He went vegan after his friends enlightened him about the suffering involved in
animal farming.

There are a few phrasal verbs connected with explaining. If you get through
to someone, you make them understand something, while if
you drum something into someone, you make them understand or learn it by
repeating it many times. If a subject is very complicated, you
might break it down by explaining one part of it at a time:

These health messages don’t seem to be getting through to the general public.

My mum drummed it into me never to get into a car with a stranger.

The financial system was very complex, but the trainer broke it down for us.
Sometimes we use phrases to show that we are going to explain something very
clearly, for example Just to be (absolutely/crystal) clear … or Just so
there’s no (room for) doubt / Just so no-one’s in any doubt … :

Just to be crystal clear about this: any homework received after Friday will not be

Just so no-one’s in any doubt, the office will be closed on Monday.

Some phrases are used when someone is having difficulty understanding. If you
explain something in words of one syllable, you say it in very simple language.
If you are exasperated with someone you think ought to be able to understand,
you might ask if you need to draw them a diagram, and if
you spell something out to someone, you explain it very clearly, even though
you think it should be obvious:

Make sure you explain it to them in words of one syllable.

Do you understand my point now, or do you need me to draw you a diagram?

Let me spell it out for you: no work, no money.

It is also common to explain things by repeating what we have already said in a

different way. We use phrases like To put it another way … or In other
words … to do this:

They’ve only invited the very highest-level managers. To put it another way, they
don’t want people like us!

The last train left at six. In other words, we’re stuck here.
Outlooks and forecasts (The
language of predictions)
It’s February – still more or less the start of the year – and you may still be
thinking about the months ahead and predicting what’s likely to happen. With this
in mind, we’re looking today at the words and phrases that we use to say what
we think will – or might – happen in the future.

Let’s start with the noun prediction, meaning ‘a statement about what you think
will happen in the future’:

Here are our predictions for this year’s Oscar nominees.  We often talk
about making a prediction.

I’m not going to make any predictions about the outcome of the election.

Predictions are sometimes said to be gloomy (=without hope): gloomy

predictions about the economy

Forecast means the same as ‘prediction’ but is usually used for statements

about how the weather will be or how the economy will be:

a weather forecast

The forecast is for snow.

economic forecasts

‘Forecast’ is also a verb: Storms are forecast for tomorrow.

Oil prices are forecast to drop this year.

Outlook is a useful word in this area. It means ‘the likely future situation’: The
political outlook is still uncertain.

A bad outlook may be described as bleak: The outlook for the economy is bleak.

Moving on to verbs, the phrasal verb look ahead means ‘to think about what will
happen in the future and plan for these events’: Looking ahead, we’re almost
certainly going to need more staff.

To second-guess someone is to say what you think they might do in the

future: I’ve given up trying to second-guess Al. I never know what he’s going to
do next.

In UK English, if a person is tipped as something or tipped to do something, a

lot of people are predicting that they will get an important and desirable job:

She’s being tipped as the next party leader.

So which managers are being tipped to replace Silva?

If someone correctly predicts what will happen, you might informally say that that
they call it: ‘I said United would win, didn’t I?’ ‘You did! You called it!’

Moving on to phrases, in UK English, if you have a nasty feeling/suspicion that

something bad will happen, you think it is likely to happen: I have a nasty feeling
that Ethan is going to get the blame.

A (UK) merchant of doom (US/UK doom merchant) is someone who keeps

saying something bad will happen, especially when there is no reason to believe
this: Don’t listen to the merchants of doom. There are plenty of opportunities in
this sector.
Finally, a crystal ball is a ball-shaped, glass object that some people believe
shows what will happen in the future. You hear this phrase in expressions about
making predictions: ‘So, this is the part of the show when I ask you to gaze into
your crystal ball and tell me who’s going to win the championship.’

Donating and allocating (Verbs that

mean ‘give’)
This is the second part of a two-part blog post focusing on words meaning
‘give’. The first post looked at phrasal verbs with this meaning. Here, we look at
single words in this area.

Let’s start with the very common verb provide, meaning ‘to give something that
is needed’:

All meals are provided at no extra cost.

You will be provided with the training needed for this role.  

The verb supply is similar, but sometimes refers to a large quantity of something

given or a longer period in which it is given: The proposed scheme would supply
100,000 homes with electricity. 

To donate money or goods is to give them to an organization such as a charity

or a political party:

The money for the centre was donated by local organizations and members of
the public.
‘Donate’ also means ‘to give some of your blood or a part of your body to be
used for medical purposes’. (The noun donor, meaning ‘a person who gives’ is
used with both of these senses: a large gift from an anonymous donor; a blood /
kidney donor)

If you contribute, you are one of a number of people who gives something,

especially money or time, for a particular purpose:

Her family contributed $50,000 to the fund.

Meanwhile, if you distribute something, you give it to many people, usually so

that each gets a fair amount:

The donated food is then distributed to food charities in the area.

If a thing or a part of something is allocated, it is officially given to someone for a

particular purpose. Another verb with the same meaning is allot:

We haven’t yet decided how to allocate the resources.

Roles can then be allocated to team members.

The board allotted $500 to the recreation center.

If someone is awarded something valuable, such as a prize or a contract, they

are given it after an official decision:

She was 26 when she was awarded the prize.

The company was awarded a contract worth $20 by the federal government.
If someone is presented with something, they are given it officially, at a special

Who will present the prizes?

There was an award ceremony where the winners were presented with medals.

Another ‘give’ verb means ‘to give too much’. If someone is inundated with
something, they are given more of it than they can manage:

We’ve been inundated with offers of help.

Let’s end with a nice ‘giving’ idiom. In UK English, to supply something to a place
or person that already has a lot of that thing is to carry/take coals to
Newcastle. (In the past, Newcastle upon Tyne was a very big producer of coal in
the UK.)

I’d bring cake or biscuits with me, but it would be like taking coals to Newcastle!

Does your language have a phrase that means the same as this? Cho cui ve

Handing down and passing on

(Phrasal verbs that mean ‘give’)
It’s sometimes said that it’s better to give than to receive. Whether or not you like
the act of giving, we hope you’ll enjoy reading about all the different ways to talk
about giving. As you might imagine, there are a great number of synonyms and
near-synonyms for ‘give’, so this is the first of two posts. Here, we’ll look at the
many ‘give’ phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs and their specific meanings.
If you give away something, you give it to someone because you don’t need it
anymore: They gave away a lot of their furniture when they moved to a small

If a company gives away products, it gives them to customers without charging

money for them: They’re giving away reusable coffee cups today.

To give out (also to hand out) things is to give them to many people:

She was giving out leaflets at the demonstration.

Could you hand out these worksheets? 

The verb ‘hand’ has a lot of phrasal verbs, as you might expect. To hand
in something is to give it to a person in a position of authority:

Did you hand in your history essay?

When you’ve completed the form, please hand it in at the desk.

To hand around (also pass around) things is to give or offer them to all the

people in a group: Could you hand these cookies around, please?

To hand down something is to give it to a younger person, often in the same


I have four sons so when one grows out of a piece of clothing, we just hand it
down to one of the younger ones.

She has a beautiful necklace that was handed down by her grandmother.
If you pass on something, you give something to someone after someone else
gave it to you: I don’t want the book back so pass it on to someone else when
you’ve finished with it.

To help someone to food or drink is to get food or drink from a dish / bottle, etc.

and give it to them: Can I help you to some soup, Anna?

If you shower someone with something nice, for example presents, you give

them lots of them: I was showered with gifts before I left.

If you ply someone with food or drink, you keep giving them more: He kept

plying us with cake.

If you press something on someone, especially food or drink, you give lots of it

to them and do not allow them to refuse it: Snacks were pressed on us between
meals even though we weren’t hungry.

Finally, to part with something is to give to someone else an object that is

important to you:

Books are very important to John. He won’t part with any of them.

I couldn’t bring myself to part with my favourite doll. 

A frog in my throat: talking

about voices
The way someone speaks is very important, and often gives an indication of their
character. It is therefore not surprising that we have a lot of words to describe
the tone and timbre of voices.

Someone with a high or high-pitched voice speaks with sounds near the top of

the range of human voices, while someone with deep voice speaks at the bottom
of this range. Low-pitched also means deep but also often implies that the voice
is difficult to hear:

We could hear the children’s high-pitched laughter.

Charles has a very deep voice.

He spoke in a low-pitched murmur.

There are lots of adjectives for describing voices in a rather critical

way. Squeaky means unpleasantly high-pitched, often describing someone who
is nervous or over-excited. Strident means loud and unpleasant and is usually
used to describe people who express their views in a strong way that annoys
other people. Shrill is similar, but also means high-pitched, and is usually used
of women:

She talks all the time, in an annoying squeaky voice.

He talks over other people in a strident voice.

I wish she wouldn’t talk in such a shrill way.

Other negative adjectives describe problems with voices. Someone with

a croaky voice sounds as if they have a sore throat. If someone sounds as if
they need to cough, we say they have a frog in their throat, while a nasal voice
sounds as if the speaker has a blocked nose:

Please excuse my croaky voice – I have a cold.

Oh dear, Max has a frog in his throat.

He spoke with an unpleasant nasal drawl.

More positive words tend to be rather formal, such as sonorous, meaning

pleasant and deep, or mellifluous meaning very pleasant to listen to:

His sonorous voice inspired trust in people.

Her mellifluous tones brought her a lot of voiceover work.

A loud, deep voice might be described as booming and a loud, high-pitched

voice as piercing. These are both rather negative words. Resonant is a positive
word for a voice that is loud and clear:

I could hear his booming voice from the other side of the field.

She gave a piercing scream.

He delivered his speech in resonant tones.

Finally, we often describe voices by using verbs for animal sounds. For example,
people may croak like a frog (hence ‘have a frog in your throat), roar like a lion
(speak very loudly and angrily), bleat like a lamb (speak quietly and nervously or
complain annoyingly), bray like a donkey (speak loudly and in an arrogant way)
or purr like a cat (speak in a low, pleased voice).
There are many other words for voices: do feel free to make suggestions below!

Give yourself a pat on the back! (The

language of praising)
On January 1, 2020 By Kate WoodfordIn Idioms, the English language, Vocabulary

Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty

by Kate Woodford

I thought our About Words readers might enjoy a positive post this week, so

today I’m focusing on the language of praise – saying nice, positive things about
someone or something. We’re looking at single words and phrases and, as ever,
focusing on the sort of language that is in use now.

Let’s start with ‘compliment’. A compliment is a comment that praises an aspect

of someone. We pay someone a compliment:

The host paid me a compliment on my jacket.

You might say that you believe someone’s comment to you is positive by saying I
take it/that as a compliment:

‘Tim said you look like your mother.’ ‘Well, I take that as a compliment!’
There is also the verb ‘compliment’: I complimented him on his cooking
skills. (Notice the preposition on after both verb and noun.)

The noun acclaim refers to public praise and approval:

The novel received / attracted great critical acclaim but didn’t sell in great

There is the verb ‘acclaim’ too:

The film was widely acclaimed by critics.

a critically acclaimed novel / writer

If you say you applaud someone or something, you are saying, slightly formally,

that you admire and respect them:

I may not always agree with her politics but I certainly applaud her courage.

If you flatter someone, you say something nice about them which is not exactly

Thanks, Alfie, but I think you flatter me.

‘Flatter’ is sometimes negative, suggesting that a person is using praise in order

to make someone like them, or even to get something from them.

You can flatter me all you like, Tom, but I’m not going to cook dinner for
you! (The noun is flattery.)
Staying with praise that is insincere, speech or writing is described
as gushing when it praises too much, in a way that is embarrassing or does not
sound honest:

I think she found the praise a bit gushing.

Let’s look now at phrases. A slightly informal expression meaning ‘praise’ is a pat
on the back. It’s used in various ways. For example, if someone has done
something good, you might say they deserve a pat on the back or they
should give themselves a pat on the back:

The project has been a huge success. Everyone involved in it should give
themselves a pat on the back!

If you put in a good word for someone, you praise them to another person,

usually to get something good for them, for example a job:

I’m seeing the manager of the café this evening so I’ll put in a good word for you,

Another phrase in this area is to sing someone’s / something’s praises. To do

this is to praise someone or something with enthusiasm:

Lara’s teacher seems very pleased with her progress. She was singing her
praises at parents’ evening.

A more formal phrase for this is extol someone’s / something’s virtues:

He gave a speech, extolling the president’s virtues.

Finally, to pay tribute to someone is to praise them formally, sometimes after
they have died:

Party members paid tribute to their ex-leader who died two days before the

They gave him the cold shoulder:

Idiomatic phrases with ‘cold’.
Last month I looked at phrases containing the word ‘hot’, and this month I am
looking at the opposite: phrases containing the word ‘cold’. Whereas ‘hot’
phrases are mostly concerned either with very good things or with strong
emotions, ‘cold’ phrases are usually negative. We often use them to describe
fear, unfriendliness or lack of emotion.

For instance, if you give someone the cold shoulder, you ignore them or act in
an unfriendly way towards them, even though you know them. We can also say
that someone gets/is given the cold shoulder when this happens to them:

She gave me the cold shoulder when I tried to talk to her.

Max did his best to be friendly to Lucas, but he got the cold shoulder.

If we say that someone does something cruel, especially killing someone, in cold
blood, we mean that they do it in a calm, cruel way and do not seem to feel any
emotion. We often describe a particularly cruel act or the person that commits
that act as cold-blooded:

Armed men burst into his house and shot him in cold blood.
Police describe the killing as a ‘cold-blooded murder’.

If someone is in a cold sweat, they are very scared or worried. We say that
people break out in a cold sweat when they start to feel like this:

When Julian saw that the money was gone, he broke out in a cold sweat.

Someone who is cold-hearted does not feel any sympathy for other people. We
sometimes call someone like this a cold fish:

Cold-hearted thieves stole her son’s new bike.

His new girlfriend seems a bit of a cold fish.

If we describe something that should make a bad situation better as cold

comfort, we meant that it does not make it better, or only makes it very slightly

It was cold comfort to discover that several other people had been tricked in the
same way.

In a very visual idiom, if someone pours/throws cold water on an idea, plan or

opinion, they say negative things about it and stop people being excited by it:

My teachers poured cold water on my ambition to become a footballer.

I will finish with a nice idiom that has both ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ in it. If you blow hot
and cold about something or someone, you are sometimes positive about them
and sometimes negative:

I’m not sure if she’s happy at university. She keeps blowing hot and cold about it.