Science & medicine
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Life as a vet
phrases in English"
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Nigel Rees spoke to us about
colourful phrases in the English language - catch phrases, slogans,
idioms and clichés. He's written over 30 books on the subject
and he's regularly heard on the World Service as the presenter of the
quiz show series "Quote, Unquote". Nigel explained the
differences between the different types of phrases to be found in his
"There are slogans. Now these are
phrases which are used to sell things or perhaps to promote
political ideas. A political slogan would be 'BAN THE BOMB', meaning
ban nuclear weapons. And you'll find that a lot of slogans have this
alliteration - they begin with the same
letter. BAN THE BOMB. Catch phrases are just any phrase which takes
off. You get them particularly from show business, from films, from
radio programmes, from television programmes. One that one might think
of recently from the American film "Wayne's World" was that
business when you make a statement and you immediately turn that
statement round - you contradict it by
saying 'not' at the end. So you could say "I'm a very good
looking person, not!" You've just immediately reversed the thing
by saying 'not' and that 'caught on' and that's why they're called
'catch phrases' because they catch on."
Clichés are these popular phrases which are 'worn' phrases.
They are popular, but they are too popular because people always used
these worn phrases. One in British English is 'at the end of the day'
or 'in the final analysis'. These are really
garbage phrases used to fill out a sentence,
often when you're thinking of what you're going to say next. Often,
you use these long, woolly phrases like,
'we'll see what happens at the end of the day' or 'only time will
tell'. These are clichés often used by broadcasters and by
journalists or politicians and they are not to be encouraged!"
If you're learning a language, these
colourful phrases are often quite difficult to use. Nigel gave us an
example of an American friend who had managed to use a very popular
English phrase 'to spend a penny' incorrectly...
had used one of these American phrases, which is 'you've got to spend
a buck to make a buck' or 'you've got to spend a dollar to make a
dollar'. Now that is a business sort of phrase. It means that if
you're going to be successful in business, you've actually got to
spend a bit of money before you get any sort of return. Now this
American said that he had been at a meeting of a group of British
businessmen and he had thought, well, I'd better change this phrase so
that the British people I'll be with will know what I'm talking about.
So he said, "you've got to spend a penny in order to make a penny".
And at this, all the British people fell about with laughter because
in that, there's another British phrase which is, 'to spend a penny'.
And to spend a penny means to go to the lavatory. It's one of the
numerous phrases that there are; people will never say 'I am going to
the lavatory' or 'I am going to the toilet'. They will always use one
of these colourful phrases, so he had got it slightly wrong by not
appreciating what this phrase was."
Nigel told us the story of how he traced one
of his favourite phrases - 'tender loving care', also used in its
abbreviated form 't.l.c.'. The first place
he looked was the big Oxford English Dictionary...
first example they have of it is in about 1970-something or other and
they define it like this: "especially solicitous care such as is
given by nurses'. And what 'tender loving care' means is not medicine,
but just human warmth and interest and affection. And with this,
people may well be cured of whatever it is that is wrong with them.
And I thought, well, it's older than that. So, I went to the BBC
Gramophone library, which must be the largest collection of records in
the world, and I looked in the catalogue and I came across all these
songs called 'Tender Loving Care' or 'TLC' etc. and the earliest one
of those was 1960 so immediately, we pushed it back. Then the next
thing that happened, I was reading Ian Flemming's James Bond novel, "Goldfinger"
and lo!, the last chapter is called 'TLC Treatment' and in it, James
Bond explains to Pussy Galore - the wonderfully named character, Pussy
Galore - precisely what it means. So that was 1959 when that book came
out again, going back a bit further. And finally, I happened to be
looking at the Shakespeare play, the second part of King Henry VI and
in that play, there's a crowd outside the palace and they say "an
answer from the king or we will all break in" and King Henry VI
says in Shakespeare's play, "Go Salisbury and tell them all from
me, I thank them for their tender loving care". And that was
about 1590 so that's a long time ago. And what I say there is, I'm not
saying that we are quoting Shakespeare when we use the phrase 'tender
loving care', but perhaps we find those 3 words in that order,
particularly, or as useful as Shakespeare found them. We found the
same magic in those 3 words!"
Nigel explained to us what it means when
someone 'coins a phrase' - they invent a new
"Well there is this magic moment which you're
never actually going to be able to trace when a phrase is coined.
There is another phrase which I would love to know when it started
which is a saying: 'life's a bitch and then you die'. I'd love to know
where that came from. It's now used in Australia quite a lot. They've
made a pun out of it, 'life's a beach and then you fry' or something
like that. It's a surfing slogan and I would
love to know where that came from. Suddenly, it entered the language
and then people started using it."
Promote: To help
or encourage someone or something to succeed.
The use in speech or writing or several words close together which all
begin with the same letter or sound.
put forward a statement which opposes an opinion; to say that what has
just been said is untrue or incorrect.
process of considering something in order to understand it or explain
what it consists of.
Unclear, vague, confused phrases.
To understand and know what is involved in a situation or problem; if
you appreciate what someone has done for you, you are grateful to
To make a word or a phrase shorter by leaving out some of the letters
or by using only the first letters of each word.
Invent: If you
invent something, you are the first person to think of something or
Surfing: To ride
over the sea waves as they break on the shore usually on a surf board;
a narrow piece of wood or plastic.