You Alright?


Today’s lucky British-ism that will be dissected is, “are you all right?” This is a particularly important phrase to unpack considering its nuanced distinction in interpretation across borders.

The simplest way to describe the difference between its uses in America versus in Britain is to explain the reaction it typically elicits. If you were to ask “are you alright?” to someone in America, the question recipient would most likely think you are insinuating that something is wrong. This is a very sensitive reaction, and so the question is usually only used when someone is in distress–for instance, if you notice that your friend is eating Del Taco despite being within walking distance to a Taco Bell, or if someone is listening to country music at any point in time.

In Great Britain, on the other hand, the phrase, “are you alright?” should actually be likened to something like, “how’s it going?” or “what’s up?” In effect, it is much more cordial and has a much lighter connotation. In fact, sometimes shortened to “you alright?” which actually sounds more like “y’a-rite?” and often even further shortened to just “alright,” this phrase perfectly captures the essence of British communication: just considerate enough to be polite, but short and simple enough to not have to spend any effort.

Such energy must be saved. Too much talking might tire the throat, setting off an inevitable chain reaction where your throat soreness causes you to 1) finish last among your friends while chugging your pints on a Friday* night at the pub, leading you to 2) become the butt of their banter, severely diminishing your self-confidence. 3) Your wife picks up on this discouraged demeanor, but upon enquiry, you refuse to tell her the truth out of pride, and when that leads to damaging marital problems, you 4) sadly realize you’re British and therefore devoid of any meaningful communicative ability. So, unable to work out your differences, 5) your marriage spins into a death-plummet, like a plane without one of its wings, as your hopes and dreams, once safely fastened into reclined first class seats, are now flung into obscurity. Your marriage, which was destined for the peaceful island of Kauai, instead 6) hurtles straight into an active volcano, and so is incinerated into a swamp of molten lava-covered plane parts. So don’t be that guy. Save your words, save your marriage.

Stay tuned for more British-isms. Until next time!



*Or Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday



The British-ism that we’ll dissect today is “isn’t it,” or more accurately, “init.”

In both Britain and America, this particular phrase is often used to end a sentence. For example, you might sarcastically tell your friend on a rainy Manchester morning, “proper barbecue weather, init?” This is standard. This is logical. Not just because it’s a Mancunian being sarcastic or because it’s raining in Manchester, but because the “isn’t it” makes for a sensible conclusion to the phrase.

Where things get tricky is when the “isn’t it” finds itself not so logically placed in sentences. My first encounter was while discussing route-running with another receiver on my football team (yes, they play American Football in England) and he said, “I always think I’m open, init.”

I always think I’m open, isn’t it. What? Is that supposed to make sense to me?

My first impulse was to say, “No, as a matter of fact, it is not. The only thing open is the massive hole in your grammatical logic.” But, defying British custom, I let the moment pass uncommented, and merely nodded.

As I soon found out, he was not the only one ending any and all sentences with a casual “init,” and that, in fact, it’s just common slang in Britain. And like all great phrases in this day and age, “init” transcends syntax. There is no sentence that can’t be “init”-ed. So there it stands, like a gigantic middle finger to every primary school language teacher, eviscerating grammatical standards into a cool mist.

So for those of you who appreciate this particular piece of British slang, you now have a foolproof way of Britishing-up any sentence. And for those of you, like me, who appreciate their proper grammar, just smile and nod when you hear it—the moment will be over soon.

Stay tuned for more British-isms. Until next time, init!

~ Lucas

Nice One!


To continue our inspection of British-isms, today we’ll tackle the phrase, “nice one.” Like many other expressions, “nice one” is a common thing to hear in America, but means something slightly different when said by a Brit.

In America, “nice one” is often said to someone who has just made a joke. For example, if friend A is trying to make fun of friend B, and friend B snaps off a comeback that crumbles friend A’s soul into a little pile of ash, friend C (observing but not involved until this point*) might say “nice one!” to congratulate friend B for his excellent joke.

In Britain, however, “nice one” is not limited to congratulating joke-tellers; in fact, the expression is far broader in meaning. As such, my first encounter with the phrase was quite confusing. I told a friend I would meet him at his house at 7:00pm, and he responded “nice one.” I was very confused:

Did he think I was making a joke? Is 7:00pm not a good time to meet someone? Had I just stumbled upon some crucial cultural faux pas? Did I just inadvertently make a death threat to the Queen and could expect MI6 to burst through my door to arrest me at any second?

You can imagine my concern. All for naught, though, as it turns out the expression merely means something to the effect of “cool” or “good.” My friend was just affirming my plans to meet at 7:00pm. No faux pas, no death threats, I was in the clear.

As I learned that day, and as you all are now learning, the expression is an affirmation, a way of saying that what has just transpired is good and well. So, the next time someone British says “nice one” to you, you should feel great about yourself, because while you may not have delivered a soul-incinerating joke, you definitely said something good.

Stay tuned for more British-isms. Until next time!


*Someone who sits back during an insult battle and only congratulates the good insults is the worst kind of person. Friend C should definitely not be trusted in a crisis.

Which Word?: Bi vs. Semi

Hello all!

Today we’re tackling two oft-confusing prefixes. Unlike many of the word pairs we’ve been discussing, these two prefixes are not spelled or pronounced similarly; rather, the root of their confusion is due entirely to the fact that they have overlapping meanings. Now, bi and semi have many meanings, but I want to focus on just those that overlap–namely, when they’re being used as prefixes before some measure of time, such as bimonthly, semiweekly, and so on.

We’ll take monthly as our case in point for simplicity’s sake. Now, semimonthly is the simpler of the two because it has only one meaning: twice a month. Bimonthly, on the other hand, can mean either twice a month or every two months. So what’s the best way to distinguish when to use one and when to use the other? I find that, particularly when you need to include both meanings in your writing, it’s easier to use each prefix for only one meaning, and since semimonthly can only mean twice a month, that leaves bimonthly to take on the role of signifying every two months. So, if you stick to using semimonthly to indicate twice a month (or semiweekly to indicate twice a week, etc.) and using bimonthly to indicate every two months (or biweekly to indicate every two weeks, etc.), you’ll be in good shape.

And how can you remember when to use which? If you can remember that semi also means partial, that can remind you to use semi as your prefix when you’re trying to indicate something that happens partway through the period of time. And that will also help your readers, who will no longer have to guess your meaning!

Until next time!

Which Word?: Word Order

Hello everyone!

I’m breaking from our series of tricky word pairs to present you with this interesting and incredibly useful article that explains the proper order of adjectives before a noun: “opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun” (without the hyphens, of course). As the article explains, most English speakers know when a series of adjectives sounds incorrect, but since we’re not taught any rule governing the order of such an adjectival series, we have trouble explaining why it is incorrect. Not so for non-native speakers, who are taught that rule! So please, take a look, and never have to wonder about adjective order again:

Until next time!

Which Word?: Refer vs. Reference

Hello everyone!

I’m back to talk about another often-misused word pair, and today’s culprits are particularly close to my heart. You see, I had a wonderful professor in college who used to rant about people using reference when they ought to be using refer, and so I can’t help but think of him and all he taught me about writing every time I encounter the same error.

The crux of the issue with these two words is that refer is the verb form while reference is the noun form, but it’s become quite popular to use reference as a verb. Now, you might be wondering what’s wrong with that, since you would observe if you looked up reference in the Merriam-Webster dictionary that it is listed as a verb as well as a noun. The problem with relying solely on the dictionary to determine appropriate word usage, however, is that the dictionary is designed to reflect popular usage of words–not to present what is actually correct according to the rules of the language. So while the dictionary’s a great tool to determine word meanings and spellings, it’s better to rely on style guides (Chicago Manual of Style, APA, MLA, and many others) to learn the rules about word usage.

Which brings us back to the fact that refer is the verb and reference is the noun. So, She refers to her style guides frequently, not She references her style guides frequently. Similarly, She uses her style guides as references, not She uses her style guides as refers. And it’s even okay to say She makes reference to her style guides frequently (although I’d advise against that since it adds an unnecessary verb)–the key point is to keep reference as a noun and leave the verb work to refer. I promise that it will make your writing stand out!

Until next time!

Which Word?: Hearty vs. Hardy

Hello everyone!

Today we’re going to examine the difference between hearty and hardy, two similar-looking adjectives that sound even more alike! As with last week’s pair, these two are easy to confuse because their meanings are quite similar, but it will give your writing a real edge if you know the best time to use each one. So let’s dive in!

Hearty means strong, in the sense of being enthusiastic or cheerful; for example, She has a hearty appetite. Hardy also means strong, but in the sense of being robust or able to endure hardship; for example, She was hardy enough to survive the freezing winter. While they both have the same basic meaning (strong), their connotations are drastically different, and so it might give your readers pause to see you talking about somebody’s “hardy” endorsement of a candidate or how the “hearty” young man was able to climb Everest.

So how can you remember which word to use when? The answer this time is in the words themselves! Hearty begins with heart, which can remind you of its indication of cheer and enthusiasm, while hardy begins with hard, which can remind you of its indication of stamina. It’s really as simple as that!

Until next time!

Which Word?: Flaunt vs. Flout

Hello all!

Are you ready to conquer another tricky word pair? Today, we’re going to look at flaunt and flout, which can be confusing because they are similar in almost every way: spelling, pronunciation, meaning, and even part of speech. But there are key differences between the two that make it worth knowing when it’s best to use which one.

Flaunt is a verb meaning to show off, and it usually holds the connotation of showing something off in a manner that violates the rules of politeness in order to attract attention. For example, She flaunted her enormous engagement ring in front of her unhappily single cousin. Flout is a verb meaning to openly break or ignore, and it usually refers to a rule or standard of some sort. For example, She flouted the law when she broke into the jewelry store and stole the ring right in front of the security cameras. Both verbs have a sense of flamboyance about them, where the person completing the action is seeking some form of attention, but flaunt has more the sense of bragging about something while flout has more the sense of scornful disregard for a rule.

And now you can stop flouting the rules and instead flaunt your knowledge of the difference between these two words! Until next time!

Which Word?: Who vs. Whom

Hello all!

I’m back with another word pair, and today’s culprits are responsible for tripping up nearly every writer at some point. It tends to be the case that we’re taught both words somewhere along the way–so we know that they mean the same thing but are supposed to be used in different situations–but we somehow never really learn when who is the appropriate choice and when whom is the appropriate choice. We scratch our heads trying to figure it out, and then ultimately give up and either just guess or choose to use who exclusively because it’s the safer choice.

So, how do you know when to use who and when to use whom?

The truth is that there’s actually a trick that makes the choice super simple. We don’t tend to have any problems knowing when to use he/she versus him/her, and who and whom follow the exact same rules. The trick is to simply substitute he/she or him/her into the sentence, which will tell you when to use who (in cases where he/she fits) and when to use whom (in cases where him/her fits). For example, Who/whom was playing music too loud? In this case, it works to say She was playing music too loud, so we know that the proper sentence is Who was playing music too loud? By contrast, in the sentence To who/whom does this CD belong?, we can substitute in him to answer The CD belongs to him. Thus, the proper choice in this case is To whom does this CD belong?

The reason this trick works is because, while they indicate the same idea and are both pronouns, who is the subject of the verb while whom is the object, same as he/she functions as the subject while him/her functions as the object. But if all you remember is the trick (and not why it works), you’ll be in good shape and able to use who and whom with the best of them!

Until next time!

Which Word?: British vs. American English

Hello all!

I’m fortunate enough to have just returned from a trip across the pond, to that wonderful place where fries are “chips,” chips are “crisps,” the bathroom is the “loo,” and cars drive down the opposite side of the road. Reading museum brochures, restaurant menus, and street signs reminded me of just how different British and American English can be. Vocabulary differences aside, there are some distinct differences in spelling (color vs. colour, recognize vs. recognise, and center vs. centre) that can throw quite a few people in both nations when we read something written in the other nation’s style.

So how did two countries that share the same language wind up spelling so many words differently, especially when the US was originally populated with Brits? The credit goes largely to one man: Noah Webster, originator of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, America’s first dictionary. Not only did he want to distinguish American English as a different dialect than British English, but he was also bothered by how many words in British English were spelled differently than they sounded. His dictionary formalized the spellings he preferred, and we in the US have been using them ever since.

So which words are correct? Both, of course–but I suggest using the conventions of whichever country you’re writing for. That will keep your readers from any potential confusion…and you might wind up learning another language in the process, for as George Bernard Shaw said, “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”

Until next time!