Stylish writing in English: entertain

You can entertain in a lot of contexts outside of the entertainment industry. In academia, “entertain” is commonly used in the negative, as in “Late submissions will not be entertained.”

Entertain also means
a. To consider; contemplate: entertain an idea.
b. To hold in mind; harbor: He entertained few illusions.
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You can entertain a thought or an idea.

Actually, you can entertain anything that you can choose to dedicate mental energy towards.

This is commonly used in the negative in academic or professional contexts, for example:

Late submissions will not be entertained.

Further complaints will not be entertained

Telephone inquiries will not be entertained.

This gives the feeling of “I will not deign to look at your late submissions, so don’t bother.”

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Real English: Let’s simplify legal jargon!

This TED video makes the case for intelligible writing in the legal industry AND in business. He addresses “how to mandate simplicity” “how to make it a national priority” and states, “there’s no way we should do business with companies that have agreements with stealth provisions and that are unintelligible.”

Tax forms, credit agreements, healthcare legislation: They’re crammed with gobbledygook, says Alan Siegel, and incomprehensibly long. He calls for a simple, sensible redesign — and plain English — to make legal paperwork intelligible to the rest of us.

A branding expert and one of the leading authorities on business communication, Alan Siegel wants to put plain English into legal documents for government and business.

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October 14, 2013 · 12:00 pm

Tricky words in English: Sure

One of my favorite dictionary blogs, Macmillan, posted about the meaning of sure:

I’m sure: the most usual way of saying that you are sure about something

via Macmillan Language Tip of the Week

You can be/feel sure of something: you’re certain, you know for sure.


they didn’t address one of the meanings of sure that English language learners rarely learn, and one of the more common sources of confusion between native and non-native speakers.

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“I’m sure” only means “I’m certain” when you say it with conviction. “Sure” by itself doesn’t mean yes. When someone asks you a question and you answer “sure” without any inflection, you are actually saying “Whatever– I don’t know and I don’t care.” “Sure” is also frequently used sarcastically.

1. When used flat, without any inflection, “sure” is not an answer to a question, it is neither yes nor no. It says “I am totally uninterested.”

-Do you want to go to the Art Fair in Amsterdam?


-Well, you don’t have to go if you’re not interested.

2. When used sarcastically, it says “yeah, right, I don’t believe you.”

-I won the race last Sunday.

-Sure you did.

Urban dictionary defines sure as “the quickest way to answer a question when not paying attention that usually doesn’t include any thinking whatsoever,” “to show sarcasm, lack of interest,” among others.

As you can see, “sure” can mean much more than just certainty, and if you use it with the wrong tone of voice, you might be implying something you don’t necessarily mean.

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Stylish Writing in English: tout

Essential vocabulary for academic manuscripts

Tout: to praise publicly and energetically with the intention of publicizing something

(pronunciation tip: rhymes with the English out)

This precise verb is quite useful in the introduction section of academic articles.

Tout is often used in the passive voice (because we don’t care who is doing the touting, and most of the time we don’t know anyway) as seen in the examples below:

Crowdfunding has been touted as a mechanism for creators without access to ready cash. (The Economist)

Medical marijuana has been touted as an effective cancer treatment for decades by its various supporters, but despite the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, marijuana remains a sparsely recommended drug for patients with life-threatening illnesses. (RiseEarth)

Social media has been touted as having an increasingly important role in many aspects of the hospitality industry, including guest satisfaction and process improvement. (Ecornell)

Biofuels have been touted as a possible replacement to fossil fuels. (Ted, Jonathan Trent)

But as you can see from the extent of these examples, tout is used is many tenses and contexts.

But that means travellers lose the benefit of a downtown arrival, often touted as an advantage of trains.
For a while it was touted as the fuel of the future, but it remains difficult to produce, transport and store.
Fluorescence is increasingly being touted as the future of clinical imaging due to its selectivity.
Micro fuel cells are being touted as the hot portable energy source of the future.
Some officials have touted the new property tax as another market-dampening measure.

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Real English: The Right to Understand

Medical, legal, and financial documents should be easy to read, but too often they aren’t. With spot-on (and funny) examples, Sandra Fisher Martins shows how overly complex language separates us from the information we need — and three steps to change that.

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September 23, 2013 · 12:00 pm

Best free online dictionaries

learn english dictionaryToo many people depend on google translate to help them with their language learning.

I hate to break it to you, but Google Translate isn’t intended to provide the depth of meaning and nuance typically necessary in an academic or professional environment.

Try these options instead:


especially useful for the forums


offers a medical and financial dictionary as well as acronyms and idioms


a dictionary of synonyms–use with care and preferably in combination with number 4

4. Oxford Collocations Dictionary online

This is not the most comprehensive dictionary ever, but helpful with putting appropriate words together

5. Google search

Not technically a dictionary, but will help you find the meaning of lots of idioms and phrases. If people are using the construction you are looking for, it will come up in google search. Use + or ” ” and don’t underestimate the auto complete feature!


This dictionary uses a language corpus to show you examples of the phrase you are looking for and its translation in another language, so you can easily see the different translations of a word or phrase depending on the context. A delightful discovery!

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Improve your English vocabulary | 21st century tools

Continually improving your vocabulary is a constant struggle when living and working in a foreign language. At one point, you reach a plateau and then you feel you aren’t improving anymore. You have enough language to feel comfortable, but you also know that you could be more precise, more nuanced, or more stylish.

Luckily, we have more resources to help us today than ever before. Gone are the days of hand-made flashcards and endless repetition that only got us somewhere very slowly. Vocabulary-learning software and helpful websites keep popping up to help you use your study time more efficiently than ever.

Check out these online resources to help you build your vocabulary in English.

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makes any webpage clickable with definitions using either uni lingual or bilingual dictionaries.

Advantages: nothing to download, just go to and paste the url of the website you are reading into the box. Now you can just click on any word to get the definition! You can read more easily because you don’t have to go back and forth to a dictionary.

Disadvantages: Unfortunately, there is no way to study new vocabulary, and some of the dictionaries are better than others (English-English is the most comprehensive)

2. anki

download the open-source software onto your computer, phone, or tablet and study word lists more efficiently

Advantages: download word lists or add your own to use these advanced flashcards. You have the option to say how well you know a word when it comes up–then anki will show you that word again at an appropriate interval to maximize your memorization potential. Good for on-the-go studying in short intervals.

Disadvantages: You have to download the software (or mobile app), some downloaded word lists are not correct (but easily editable), creating your own word list can be time-consuming.


Plug-in for chrome to define any word you are reading anywhere on the internet and add it to a word list with picture, definition, and sentence. The program makes automatic quizzes and reminds you to study. It also suggests reading for you elsewhere on the web that incorporates your new words. Cool!

Advantages: Saves words with sentences, definitions, picture (context!) and reminds you to study. Plays a nice sound when you get the right answer (good for motivation!)

Disadvantages: Sometimes you will need to change the definition or picture as they may not be relevant.


Used to be, this site is no longer free, but the software is still pretty good. Study “SAT vocabulary” (don’t study “erudite vocabulary”) or add your own word lists.

Advantages: Good software for memorizing words and sentences, plays a nice sound when you get the answer right and gradually asks harder questions (multiple choice among 5, then 10, then fill in the blank)

Disadvantages: This site is not free and you will have to manually insert your words and sentences.

**Do you use any interesting sites to help you remember or activate new vocabulary? Add them to the comments!


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Could you care less? | Macmillan

Grammar frequently doesn’t make sense. When you find yourself asking why, the answer is usually “that’s the way it has evolved.”

Macmillan Dictionary Blog has taken on the question of the logic of grammar and expressions in one of their recent posts Could you care less?

“We make the rules; they don’t spring from some utopian realm of transcendent consistency.”

via Could you care less? | Macmillan.

What I love about this post is that Macmillan argues that expressions don’t have to make sense. “I could care less,” one of those expressions that doesn’t make sense at all, actually means “I couldn’t care less” (read: I don’t care at all).

Why? Because everyone started using it that way.

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August 26, 2013 · 12:00 pm

Would you mind? Not at all.

English for your summer holiday

When it comes to English, it’s usually those sudden exchanges with strangers that throw you off, isn’t it? When you’re at the airport, ready to leave for your summer vacation, thinking in your own language and suddenly one of your fellow travelers is talking to you in English, you just might do a double-take. Come again?

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That confusion can be compounded if that stranger happens to be a native speaker and uses an expression that doesn’t necessarily make much sense.

I witnessed one such awkward moment the last time I was in the Amsterdam airport. A guy had his bag on the seat next to him in the waiting area, and the room was getting pretty full. So someone walked up to him and asked:

Would you mind moving your bag so I can sit there?

His answer? Yes.

What’s interesting is that the guy promptly moved his bag, so it was obvious that what he meant to say was no.

Would you Mind?

When someone asks “Would you mind?” they are asking “Would it bother you to…?” or “Could I trouble you to…?”

The polite answer is No, I wouldn’t mind!

After all, it doesn’t really take so much effort to move your bag from the empty seat next to you to allow a tired stranger to sit down. When you answer “no” you are actually saying that yes, you can do what was requested!

You can also say:

Not at all.

Of course not.

Be my guest.

For example:

Would you mind covering your nose when you sneeze? (Not at all, I’m sorry for being inconsiderate.)

Would you mind holding the door? (Here you go, after you!)

Would you mind if I opened the window? (Not at all, it’s quite warm in here!)

Yes, I mind!

Sometimes the answer to “Do you mind…?” is yes! However, just a “yes” or “yes, I mind” can be quite short and even a bit rude, so we try to tone it down a bit for the sake of politeness. For example, in most developed countries nowadays, you can’t smoke inside anywhere, so when someone asks you:

Would you mind if I smoke?

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You can answer

  • Well, actually yes. There’s a non-smoking sign right there, so maybe you could go outside?
  • Sorry, but yes. Inhaling your carcinogens makes me feel sick.

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I’ll take a stab at it.

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I’ll take a stab at it is another way of saying I’ll give it a go.

You will also hear “I’ll have a stab at it” (British English).

Stab means to thrust a knife into something (or someone). Stabbing your steak won’t send you to jail, but stabbing your neighbor will.

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Why do we use the word stab, which has such violent connotations, to mean try?

Some have suggested it might be related to a stab in the dark, which means a complete guess.

Whatever the origin, it’s a useful English expression. Check out the examples below and see if you can incorporate this into your active vocabulary.

I’d never tried water skiing before, but I had a stab at it while I was in Greece.

I’ll take a stab at the answer, but I really don’t know.

I’m terrible at arts and crafts but I’ll take a stab at it if that’s what we’re doing today.

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