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Andy's Wordshop


"Surprising English"

Na tomto mieste nájdete odteraz pravidelnú rubriku jedného z najlepších učiteľov anglického jazyka široko-ďaleko. Každý týždeň vás tu bude Andy prekvapovať svojimi postrehmi z používania angličtiny ako cudzieho jazyka a zároveň vám ukáže, že učiť sa cudzí jazyk môže byť celkom zábava.

Andy Billingham sa narodil v St. Albans, 35 km severne od Londýna. Vyštudoval francúzsky a nemecký jazyk a literatúru na Univerzite v Durhame. V roku 1983 prišiel na Slovensko. Tri roky pôsobil ako lektor anglického jazyka na Univerzite Pavla Jozefa Šafárika v Prešove ale aj na Technickej univerzite v Košiciach. V roku 1992 sa na Slovensko vrátil a začal opäť vyučovať najmä technickú angličtinu, o ktorú bol čoraz väčší záujem nielen v spoločnosti U. S. Steel Košice (vtedajších VSŽ), ale aj vo viacerých spoločnostiach z oblasti IT. Od septembra bude Andy poskytovať svoje služby aj študentom a pracovníkom Fakulty materiálov, metalurgie a recyklácie (Hutníckej fakulty) Technickej univerzity v Košiciach.


In English football, the goal is the physical rectangle of wood and metal which the players try (aim) to kick the ball through (hence goalkeeper). Objective clearly comes from Latin, and there is a similar-looking word in Slovak, so you can be pretty sure they don’t mean the same. Slov. „objektív“ is Engl. “lens”, so in Slovak it’s what you look THROUGH, whereas in English it’s what you look AT. A target (NB pronunciation /tá-git/) is normally what you shoot at, so it’s what you try to hit. In English, the basic idea of aim is „namieriť“ or „zacieliť“, so the idea of „cieľ“ is a transferred sense. To use these four words properly in English, it’s best to understand them in order of magnitude. Aim is probably the “biggest” (the most general), then goal, then objective, and target is the “smallest” (the most speci­fic). Aims and goals tend to be abstract, while objectives and targets­ are more likely to be concrete (I mean­ quantified). In business, for example, a company‘s aim or goal might be to become the most successful producer of something, but its objective or target for this year should be to make a certain amount of operating profit. 


Several words can be affected in terms of their meaning, depending on whether they have an „-s“ on the end or not. The first thing to remember is that words ending in „-s“ are not always plural in meaning, For example „steelworks“, which should be treated as a singular word, i.e. the steelworks IS, WAS, HAS or SUPPLIES. Another example is „news“, which is not plural (even though the Slovak word is noviny or správy) but is uncountable, so it apparently takes the singular form, i.e. the news WAS depressing, or the news IS surprising. The opposite case is present in „premises“, which takes a plural verb form in the sense of „land and buildings,“ but changes its meaning completely in the singular, because „a premise“ is a statement of apparent fact or an assumption in logic or law. Other words which change their meaning are: „damage“ (škody) or „damages“ (odškodné); „scrap“ (šrot) or „scraps“ (zvyšky jedla); and „heat“ (teplo, horúčava) or „heats“ (tavby).


This week’s question is: If Slovaks say „na zdravie“ in connection with drinking and sneezing, why do English speakers say “Cheers” for drinking and “Bless you” for sneezing? The word “cheer” can mean “good mood” or “good humor”, which people usually want to get into by drinking alcoholic drinks, so they wish each other “cheers” for that purpose. “Bless you” is short for “May God bless you” („Nech Ťa Boh požehná“), because in the past sneezing could easily be an initial symptom of a potentially fatal disease, e.g. bubonic plague, so people started invoking God’s blessing to protect others from serious illness.


Sentence structure

For some reason there are several examples of how to combine ideas in sentences, using “also”, “as well” and “too” (not to mention “in addition”). The most important thing in using these expressions is their position in the sentence. “In addition” takes first place in a sentence, and may be followed by a  comma, like this: In addition, the University obtained a certificate at the end of last year… “Also” normally appears within the sentence, near the beginning, between the subject and the verb: The Dean also expressed his opinion … “As well” and “too” should be put at the end of the sentence, and they are less formal compared with the first two: After visiting the university campus and Technicom building, they looked around the Library as well (too).


Plan, scheme, schedule, itinerary, project. There is no word “harmonogram” in the Oxford English Dictionary, but a plan covers pretty much the same purpose, and if it is set out in a diagram or table it could be called a scheme.

This word also has a negative meaning, a plan to do something bad, and there is a modern form of it, a scam, usually meaning a plan to get money off people dishonestly. A schedule could be a plan with a timetable for implementation built in, like the construction schedule for a new building, and a plan for a journey with a timetable and the route together with stopping-points is an itinerary (aj-TINI-eri), like the description of a guided tour or excursion. The word project means much more than a plan in  English, as it makes the link between idea and practice, planning and realization. Projects should be completed, and then they can be evaluated and their results analyzed.


Summer may well be over, but the topic of (Slovak) turistika continues into the autumn. You have to think twice (as usual) translating this into English, and even more if you want the correct English for turista. If you mean peší turista, then DON'T say tourist. English speakers understand tourists as people on holiday traveling around in air-conditioned coaches on sight-seeing tours (poznávacie zájazdy), videoing everything and buying souvenirs everywhere. Peší turista is a walker, possibly a hill-walker. Long-distance walkers with rucksacks and tents are hikers. Weekend walkers going up to Lajoška for a picnic are ramblers, and people moving at a leisurely pace along Main Street in Košice on Sunday afternoon are strollers. Hiking is hard work, walking is normal, rambling is for fun and strolling is taking it easy.


Political correctness

The word „spouse“, which sometimes means husband and sometimes wife, makes me think of other nouns in English which refer to people without indicating whether they are men or women. Other examples are: manager, auditor, customer, worker, employee and pilot.

There is a tendency in English to find more and more of these „sexless“ words, such as „flight Attendant“ (instead of air hostess or stewardess) or „firefighter“ (instead of just fireman, because of the women in this profession nowadays), although the attempt to replace every instance of „man“ with „person“ has attracted some ridicule for being so clumsy, as in „chairperson“, for example. The idea is that words should not indicate the sex of the person involved unlessit is absolutely necessary, to cut down the potential for discriminatory assumptions, such as in the case of „hostess“, which in some situations could be understood practically as „prostitute“, as opposed to „host“, originally the masculine form, which has no such associations.


There are some more „false friends“ this week too, starting with „prospective“, meaning „hopeful“ or „aspiring“, which is rather different from „perspective“, which is the technique used in drawing and painting to create the illusion of distance by adjusting the relative sizes of objects and figures. „Prospects“ are somebody’s chances of future success, while the booklets you find in a travel agency presenting various companies’ package tour holidays are called „brochures“. There are two kinds of „prospectus“, both of them quite official: one is a booklet presenting a university for future students, outlining all the courses on offer, the entry requirements and various attractions that the place can offer, and the other is a booklet presenting a company which wants to sell its shares on the open market through a stock exchange for the first time, including recent financial statements, the business plan, an auditor’s opinion and other things which they hope will persuade potential investors to buy up all the shares at issue.


Realize - I would class this as another false friend, like „nervous“ and „actual“ and so many other words that come from Latin and are used in English and in Slovak, looking very similar (which is what makes them appear as friends) but usually having DIFFERENT meanings (which is what makes them false). In modern, informal English, „realize“ means „suddenly to understand that something is real or true“, as in „I realized they were joking when I saw them wink at each other“. You can find other meanings of „realize“ in dictionaries, much closer to the Slovak sense of „realizovať“, so they’re not wrong, but they tend to be technical, like in financial English: „We realized nine million euros on the sale of the limousines“, or „They were unable to realize the value of their property because of the slump in house prices“. Talking about projects, plans or events, though, there are other English words available that are better than „realize“, like „implement“, „carry out“ or „complete“, if only to break away from the boredom of slavish, literal translation.


The issue of singular versus plural comes up again. First the word information, which usually has a plural form in Slovak but (and this is a reminder!) is uncountable in English, which means that it always looks like a singular form, so the following verb is singular too. Then the word data, which some English speakers treat as a plural (which is strictly true according to its Latin origin, one datum and several data), but most I think would use as an uncountable noun like information, so again with a singular verb. Next there is profit, and while the Slovak zisk is usually singular, in English it is common enough to find the plural form profits in business texts - it is up to the writer, and the only rule is to get the following verb in the corresponding singular or plural form. Finally there is the word strip (or I could have used kit), which is uncountable in English, whereas the Slovak dres can also be used in the plural form „dresy“. In fact strip means the player’s whole outfit - shirt, shorts and socks (and helmet). And another reminder: NEVER EVER say in English that hockey (or football) players wear dresses. They wear SHIRTS or JERSEYS.


Several words can be affected in terms of their meaning, depending on whether they have an „-s“ on the end or not. The first thing to remember is that words ending in „-s“ are not always plural in meaning, for example “steelworks“, which should be treated as a singular word, i.e. the steelworks IS, WAS, HAS or SUPPLIES. Another example is „news“, which is not plural (even though the Slovak word is noviny or správy) but is uncountable, so it apparently takes the singular form, i.e. the news WAS depressing, or the news IS surprising. The opposite case is present in „premises“, which takes a plural verb form in the sense of „land and buildings“, but changes its meaning completely in the singular, because „a premise“ is a statement of apparent fact or an assumption in logic or law. Other words which change their meaning are: “damage“ (škody) or „damages“ (odškodné); „scrap“ (šrot) or „scraps“ (zvyšky jedla); and „heat“ (teplo, horúčava) or „heats“ (tavby).



Singular or plural?
There is a group of words in English which are singular in themselves grammatically, but which can be used effectively in sentences like plurals, if need be, because they all indicate groups of people. These are words like company, team, staff, government, band or family. The following examples are quite typical: „All the family are coming“; „The band were fantastic“; „The government are a complete shower of space-wasting no-hopers“; „The staff have decided to protest“; „Our team stand (or stands) a good chance of gaining promotion“; „The company have (or has) decided to sell off several subsidiaries“. This use of singular nouns as if they were plurals is more typical of informal style, especially in spoken English.


One word is tricky enough, and that is „worth“. This has come into the English language from the German „wert“, and the idea behind it is the same as „value“. But „worth“ cannot simply be substituted for „value“ in sentences, and the best thing is to learn some special phrases using „worth“. Sometimes it can function as a noun, for example in such expressions as: „The company’s net worth (the sum of its share capital and reserves) was put at $3.4 billion. „More often though it is used as an adjective, but it comes after the noun which it qualifies, e.g. „The crown holds a diamond worth $2 million.“ Or: „I found out my collection of Sex Pistols records was worth $2000.“ Slovak equivalents are based on variations of the expression „mať hodnotu“. Useful phrases include: „It isn’t worth it,“ („Nemá to cenu,“ „Neoplatí sa.“), „What’s it worth?“ (normally: „Akú to má cenu?“ but also as a cynical response to someone’s request: „A čo za to?“), and „It must be worth a fortune!“ („Určite to stojí celý majetok.“)


Evaluation, valuation, assessment, appraisal, appreciation. The root words here are "value" and "price", apart from in assessment, which comes from the session (sitting) of a court for calculating taxes, levies or fines (the idea of "výmera" rather than "hodnota" or "cena"). Valuation is typical for property, especially houses but also used cars or gold jewellery, but not typical for people. Evaluation and assessment are more abstract, for the results of a project or somebody’s performance which can be expressed in values, i.e. figures or percentages. Appraisal and appreciation are more likely to be expressed in words, and they are more concerned with subjective judgements. Appraisal is a real buzz-word („má zvuk“) for managers, teachers and soldiers in Britain these days, as an assessment procedure involving line managers reporting on subordinates’ performance, then giving them individual consultations to talk about the report and formulate a plan for their future improvement. Appreciation is so subjective that its meaning has stretched to include "liking" and "understanding", e.g.: "I really appreciated that bouquet of flowers - thank you so much." or "I  know you’re tired – I appreciate that - but we have to finish this work." That reminds me - Child: "I don’t want to go to America." Parents: "Shut up and keep swimming."


Each and every – both translatable as každé in Slovak, so what’s the difference in English? In grammatical terms they’re both singular, so they can only be used with countable nouns (one storey, twelve storeys, each and every storey) – if you’re using uncountables or plurals you have to say “all” (all the space, all the floors). Each means each one separately – “Live each day as if it’s your last,” or “They won half a million euros each”– whereas every means one by one, but includes all of them – “I meet him every morning at the tram stop, and he’s wearing the same clothes every time.”Each person is basically každý, and everybody/everyone is všetci – only remember that všetci sú, všetci chcú in Slovak, but everybody IS and everyone WANTS in English.


Working lunches make me think about meals generally. The thing to remember about meals is that they are at particular times of day, so breakfast is usually in the early morning, lunch is always around midday, tea is in the afternoon, supper is just before going to bed, and dinner is the really tricky one, because for many people in Britain (factory workers, schoolchildren) it is the meal which they have around midday, but for many other people (professional people, company managers) it is their evening meal. They might even have a formal dinner with a minimum of three courses - starter, main course and dessert. The point is that, whether people have it earlier or later, dinner is always the main, cooked meal of the day.


Photograph, picture, scene, study, shot, snap. The first thing to remember is that the English “photograph” /FOUtegráf/ means the image, the picture, and not the person who takes it, who is a photographer – and note the different pronunciation: /f’TOGrefe/. A photograph is a type of picture (another could be a painting or a drawing), and scene or study are more formal words for a picture. A scene could be a group of people or things arranged in a photo so as to suggest that some sort of action is going on. A study on the other hand could be a carefully-chosen combination of colours and shapes that makes something ordinary look unusual, like an abstract painting for example. A shot suggests the presence of some action too, or a photo that is taken quickly (“mugshot” is slang for the full-face and profile pictures of criminals taken by the police), while snap or snapshot is the most informal (the word imitates the sound of the camera shutter) and is typically used to refer to holiday photographs.


I’ve been asked to look at the topic of Requests (prosby) again, because of a fundamental difference between Slovak and English usage. You need to be careful, because I suspect that word-for-word translations of typical Slovak forms could or might irritate English speakers, depending on who they are and the situation at hand. Slovak speakers use imperative forms in requests, and this is quite acceptable, e. g. "Zapni telku, prosím ťa", or very common variations on "Buďte taký láskavý" or "Buď tak dobrá". Direct translations of these expressions might irritate English speakers because they may sound too commanding (rozkazovačne) or condescending (povýšenecky). It’s better to use question forms in English, like "Can you switch the TV on, please?" and the very useful phrase "Would you mind…?"