Both brief and short are adjectives that are the opposite of long when we talk about time.
The lecturer gave a brief summary of previous research. There was a brief moment of silence.
We had a short discussion. It happened a short time ago.
Short can also be the opposite of tall as well as the opposite of long when we talk about distance.
The boy was short and chubby. The bus stop is just a short distance from our house.
Brief is sometimes used as a verb meaning inform and as a noun meaning shortinformation, summary.
The press secretary briefed us about the decision. Our boss gave us a first brief of the negotiations.
Brief can also mean instructions about duties, responsibilities, etc.
Part of the architect’s brief was to design a building that would comply with local environmental regulations.
A briefing is a meeting in which detailed information or instructions are given.
Debriefing has two meanings: A detailed report given by an agent or a soldier after a mission has been carried out or a meeting held after a traumatic event (such as a natural disaster, a hijacking, etc.) to let victims deal with their trauma.
Briefs is another word for underwear, while shorts are trousers (usually for sport or relaxing) that reach only to the thighs or the knees. Shorts can also refer to underwear for men.
Before this text gets too long, I had better remind myself to be brief or to keep it short.
My next blog post takes a look at briefly and shortly, two words with very different meanings.
To indicate that you are not at all concerned about something you can say I couldn’t care less.
I couldn’t care less if my old car broke down. I’ve been planning to buy a new one for some time now.
If his girlfriend left him, he couldn’t care less. He has found out that she is not his type.
So the phrase I couldn’t care less means that you don’t care at all.
Therefore it seems strange to hearI could care less, which has grown in use, particularly in American English.
He was so tired that he could care less if the roof fell down on him.
To me this indicates that he actually has some concern left, so the statement is actually illogical; it implies that he still cares, that he still has worries. As a copyeditor I recommend that you stick to the original version with couldn’t.
As we have seen in another blog post, the -ing form, the present continuous, indicates that something is going on just for the moment.
I’m writing an email on the balcony (momentarily). He writes articles for monthly magazines (a regular activity).
He is living in France (temporarily). I live in Sweden (Sweden is my home country).
To say that someone is only temporarily in a place, the verb stay is often used.
He is staying at a small hotel in Lyon.
Non-native speakers of English whose mother tongue only has the present simple sometimes tend to overuse the present continuous when they speak English, since they believe that to be the common form. Even if they intend to convey a permanent state, they may say or write sentences such as the following (for the use of the asterisk read at the end of this text):
*I’m travelling to work by bus every morning all year round. (Since this is what happens regularly you should say I travel to work by bus every morning.)
*He is designing cars. (This is his permanent job, hence the correct sentence would be He designs cars.)
*They are playing golf every weekend. (This is a habit, so it should be They play golf every weekend.)
*That book is costing nine dollars. (That is a fixed price, so the correct version is That book costs nine dollars.)
*They are making washing machines. (Unless this is a temporary production and they normally make refrigerators, we must write They make washing machines.)
You should think twice before using the -ing form in English!
In a previous blog entry we looked at acronyms and initialisms. Probably the most common initialism is OK. Meaning acceptable, everything is in order, go ahead, I approve, etc., it is used in many languages.
Just as internet-savvy young people nowadays use fancy abbreviations such as 2Y2 (to you too), CU L8ER (see you later) and TNX (thanks), people in the 1830s also made up funny abbreviations, often based on intended misspellings. They could, for example, write KY for know yuse, meaning no use. All right was abbreviated OW (oll wright). OK was such a misspelling, supposed to mean oll korrect. It became popular when it first appeared in print in the Boston Morning Post in 1839.
In 1840, President Martin van Buren campaigned for reelection, and his supporters chose O.K. as the motto for the campaign. Van Buren’s nickname was Old Kinderhook, and supporters formed O.K. Clubs around the country. In the end, van Buren was not okayed by the voters; his opponent William Henry Harrison won the election.
OK became increasingly popular and is used all over the world in various versions such as okeh, okie, okej, okey, ookoo, owkej, hokay and others.
You can write OK in different ways, with and without full stops and in uppercase or lowercase letters. If you write for a journal, you should consult its style guide. OK is also written okay, and in student slang it became okey-dokey or okie-dokie.
Space people at NASA added a letter; AOK means All OK.
The initialism has its own sign: to signal OK, you form a circle with your thumb and first finger with the other fingers pointing upwards.
You should, however, be cautious about using this OK sign in certain countries, where it might be vulgar or offensive. In Brazil, for example, it is the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger (up yours!). The sign has also become linked to white supremacist groups in the USA.
There have been alternative suggestions about the origin of OK. One theory says that the abbreviation is from the Choctaw language (the Choctaws are a Native American people in the southeastern United States). An example of folk etymology is the belief that OK comes from the Scottish och aye, meaning oh yes. Another explanation points out that the letters OK were stamped on biscuits given to soldiers in the American Civil War. The biscuits came from Orrin Kendall’s bakery. But the most probable explanation is the one from the Boston Morning Post.
While an acronym is formed from a phrase, a backronym (or bacronym) is a word that is supposed to come from a phrase, but that phrase has been constructed (often humorously) to fit an existing word.
A well-known example of a backronym is posh, meaning stylish, elegant, upper-class. There is a popular belief that posh came from ’port out, starboard home’. It was thought that rich people would book two cabins on their voyage to India and back home, one on the port side of the ship and the other on the starboard. In that way they made sure that they could travel more comfortably, away from the heat of the sun. However, posh was quite simply a slang word in the late 1800s for an overdressed dandy. Another meaning of posh was a small coin, money.
Another backronym is golf, which is – erroneously – said to come from gentlemen only, ladies forbidden. The word golf is considered to come from Middle Dutch cold, meaning stick or club.
A few more backronyms:
Constable on patrol
Fix or repair daily
It's Better Manually
Never again volunteer yourself
To ensure promptness
A CAPTCHA is a distorted code you copy on a website to access a page. This is to prevent automated attacks on a website. The acronym is said to mean Completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart. However, I am not sure that the word is a true acronym. It was probably made in analogy with gotcha, ’I have got you’, meaning that you have caught somebody doing something wrong. A gotcha also means a sudden unexpected problem. The interesting thing is that there now is another way to prevent hackers from accessing a web page – and it is called GOTCHA, said to mean Generating panOptic Turing Tests to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. If you don’t know Alan Turing or the Turing Test, read here or here.
The Morse signal SOS is said to mean Save our Ship or Save our Souls. In fact, the alarm signal is …- – -… (three short, three long, three short without any pause), while the letters SOS in Morse code are three short, pause, three long, pause, three short.
Another distress signal is Mayday, mainly used by airplane or ship crews. It is used in voice communication via radio. In a life-threatening emergency the word is repeated three times. The word is said to have been created by Frederick Rockford, a radio officer at Croydon Airport in London in 1923. Mayday supposedly comes from the French m’aidez meaning ‘help me’ or venez m’aider meaning ‘come and help me’. So Mayday is not a backronym.
Neither is May Day, which is something completely different. It refers to the first of May (or the first Monday in May) being a festival in many countries to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Names of the states in the USA are abbreviated to two uppercase letters. You can find them here. The capital Washington is in the District of Columbia, abbreviated DC.
Abbreviations can also become words in their own right and we no longer realise that they are abbreviations.
Hankie (or hanky) is short for handkerchief.
The American colloquialism nabe comes from neighborhood.
Pram is short for perambulator, a carriage for a baby.
Soccer is an abbreviation of association football, which is different from American football.
In American English abbreviations are usually followed by a full stop. In British English this generally applies to abbreviations that are formed by the first letter or the first few letters of a word as in the first table above.
There are many Latin abbreviations in the English language, which you can read about here and here.
Acronyms and initialisms are also abbreviations. Read about them here.
Some writers use like when they should have used such as instead.
When you suggest a category or give something as a type example, write like:
Uncle Bill often listens to crooners like Bing Crosby.
Here Bing Crosby represents a specific type of singers, crooners, who often perform in a sentimental way (think of Crosby’s version of White Christmas and you will understand!).
The sentence does not state that Uncle Bill actually listens to Bing Crosby, only that he listens to singers of that type.
When you specify singers that Uncle Bill listens to, use such as:
He collects vinyl records with singers such as Dean Martin, Fred Astaire, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole.
These singers are generally known as crooners, and here we understand that Uncle Bill has their records.
Some more examples:
You should eat more fruits like oranges. Citrus fruits such as tangerines, clementines and lemons are rich in C vitamin. Advanced tools like robots can reduce production costs. Robots can take over more complicated tasks such as welding and grinding. The course covers basic concepts of business administration such as accounting, finance, human resources and marketing.
A songwriter like Leonard Cohen will be remembered forever (Songwriters similar to Cohen will never be forgotten). A songwriter such as Leonard Cohen will be remembered forever (Leonard Cohen will never be forgotten).
There should not be a comma or a colon after such as, but you can have a comma before such as. Leave out that comma if what comes after such as is additional and essential information.
To sum up:
Use like when you refer to a category (you imply comparison).
Use such as when you give actual examples (you imply inclusion).
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