Thursday, 29 October 2009

Vocabulary for Autumn

Here are some useful words and expressions used in the first article on Autumn in this blog:

  • To get shorter means to become shorter
  • If you say "the nights are drawing in" it means that it's starting to get dark earlier
  • Turn yellow means become yellow. (You also say that someone has "turned thirty/forty etc" to mean they are now thirty/forty years old.)
  • "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" is the first line of "To Autumn", a poem by John Keats.
  • A fashionista is someone who is actively involved in the fashion industry as a designer, stylist, critic or journalist. (A person who carefully follows the newest trends in clothes and always wears the latest styles can be referred to (humorously) as a fashion victim or “a dedicated follower of fashion” from the 1966 hit song by The Kinks.)
  • The word cover in the expression "that covers most people" means include here.
  • Note that autumn is one of those English words with a silent letter. Don’t say the “n” at the end of autumn. (It’s almost impossible to pronounce autumn with a final /n/ sound, anyway). However, in the adjective autumnal you do say the “n”.
  • Another word with a final silent “n” is hymn - a song you sing in church – not to be confused with an anthem, meaning a national song, e.g. God Save the Queen, the National Anthem of the UK. (The national anthem is often played on state occasions, at major sporting events and at some cultural events such as the Last Night of the Proms, a concert of patriotic music held in the Albert Hall in London closing the annual season of Promenade concerts.)
  • If you opt for something, you choose it. (Think of the word option - a possible choice.)
  • I was going to start explaining what the autumnal equinox is. I then realised that I didn't really know what it was (a common situation for English teachers in class, who despite all appearances don't know everything) although I knew it was something to do with the position of the sun. So I looked it up and read about the autumnal equinox on Wikipedia which I suggest you do yourself - and see if you can fare any better. Note that its springtime equivalent is called the vernal equinox.
  • (See previous note) If you look something up it means you (try and) find it in a dictionary, encyclopedia, etc. The word fare in the phrase to fare well / badly / better / worse means do or succeed / fail, e.g. The governing party fared badly in the election, losing to the main opposition party by 23%.
  • trust their own senses: Your senses include your sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. If you trust your (own) senses it means you rely on the physical impressions you receive from the world around you (e.g. if you see the leaves turning yellow this a good indication that it is autumn)
  • Bureaucratic: always with a negative connotation in English. The nouns bureaucracy and bureaucrats are generally used with the implication that all this "red tape" (a synonym for bureaucracy) isn’t really necessary. Note that civil servants in Brussels are often referred to disparagingly (in a rather offensive way) as eurocrats in British newspapers and by some politicians.
  • A calendar is a printed "book" with one page for each month showing all the days of the month in rows representing weeks. You usually hang a calendar on the wall and they can be illustrated with pictures of nature, cityscapes, Jennifer Lopez, etc. A diary is a small book you write your appointments in. (Be careful! This is not an agenda, which is, in fact, a list of topics you have to discuss at a meeting).
  • The seasons are spring, summer, autumn / fall and winter. If you buy a ticket to watch your football team during the football season or an annual train ticket this is known as a season ticket. “The season” is an old-fashioned phrase referring to the calendar of high class British sporting and social events, such as Royal Ascot, the Boat Race and various balls and parties (originally for aristocrats but now featuring a large number of celebrities, models and reality TV contestants).
  • A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in various combinations of stanzas (verses) and displaying complex rhyming patterns. (Both Shakespeare and Petrarch wrote sonnets). Shakespeare’s sonnets are a cycle of poems dealing mainly with love and mortality (death), which feature his famous “Dark Lady” (most probably not his wife). Sonnet 18 (arguably the most famous love poem in English opens with the line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”. (Thee means you and is the old “familiar” form of the 2nd person, equivalent to Italian “tu”. Note that shall is normally used – as here – in a question form to make a suggestion.) Shakespeare compares his lover to a day in summer, finding that she (or he, as some critics argue) is “more lovely and more temperate”. The image of “summer’s lease” refers to a legal contract for a house which has a fixed date on it. (People in Britain usually buy leasehold houses, which means that when the lease expires (ends) the property returns to the leaseholder. A lease is typically for 99 or 999 years, although leases for commercial properties can be as short as 15 or even 10 years. You can sometimes buy the lease, in which case the property is called freehold.) When Shakespeare says that the lease of summer "hath (has) all too short a date" it means that the summer ends too quickly. The summer also refers to the period in the lover's life when they are young and beautiful. Sonnet 18 concludes (finishes) with the couplet (a pair of rhyming lines – the standard way that Shakespeare ends his sonnets):

    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

    This means that as long as men (people) can use their senses and can read this poem then Shakespeare’s lover will continue to live through the sonnet – because when people read the poem they will think about the lover. (This linguistically complex and psychologically adroit (skilful) style is typical of Shakespeare’s sonnets and of Elizabethan poetry in general.

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