Tricky Words in this week's OVI
Phrasal verbs form one of the trickiest parts of the English language in terms of both vocabulary and grammar. The trickiness in vocabulary stems from remembering what they mean, and in grammar it
comes from the need to know firstly the strong (irregular) verb forms (e.g. give-gave-given, take-took-taken, set-set-set), and secondly the separable vs. inseparable combinations (e.g. we set off
on our journey vs. we set the fireworks off ).
It is possible to pick up (I mean learn) the use of phrasal verbs by listening to native speakers, but this process can be speeded up by sitting down and learning these verbs individually from a
big, modern translating dictionary. Phrasal verbs are derived from German, so they are more informal in style, whereas their single-word equivalents come from Latin through French, and they are
more formal. So "take up" is similar in meaning but less formal than "assume" in connection with a new position, and the same goes for "step down" and "resign".
The question this week is whether there exists a generally safe way of requesting the use of the WC in English. My first reaction is hesitant, because people have personal taboos, and fashions
affect which words are acceptable too. I'm not going to consider the rude words here at all, but even words which were formally acceptable appear to have become taboo for a lot of people nowadays.
This may just be personal to me, but I advise not asking for the "lavatory" or "toilet" or even "WC"; the word "loo" is commonly used in Britain now, but it's quite informal, and British people
might misunderstand "bathroom"; the expression "rest-room" sounds like American English to me, but I think it has become international, so I'd say it's generally safe to ask for the
Please send questions about English language habits to email@example.com, and I will choose one to answer each week.