learn up

A colleague said something which gave me the opportunity to talk about the time one of the choirs I sing in sang part of a concert in Welsh.  I said, among other things, “We learned up several items in Welsh”. He took that at face value, but another colleague was horrified that I said “learned up”, even though she understood me perfectly.

We quite happily say brush up (on) and swot up (on), so why not learn up (on)? Google Ngrams records learn up, but it may be part of longer units such as Learn up to 16 languages with our easy and fun app, or Learn up to 10 times as fast as with any other language app. Google records companies, websites and apps named Learnup, LearnUp and Learn Up. But no-one seems to use learn up. I was hoping to be able to say to her “So there!”. You saw it here first.

There’s a lot more to be said about English phrasal verbs, but it won’t be tonight.


put on, take off and phrasal verbs in general

An article about safety work boots described their major features in complete sentences and some minor ones in a bullet point list. My editor doesn’t like bullet point lists, so I either rewrite them as complete sentences if they are interesting or delete them if they’re not. One feature in the bullet point list was that the boots, in addition to laces, had a side zip for ‘easy on and off’. 

Standard English uses ‘put on’ and ‘take off’ or remove’. There is no standard synonym for ‘put on’. If there was, I could have written ‘for easy ____ and removal’. Instead, I had to write ‘for easy putting on and taking off’, which is not completely elegant.

‘put on’ and ‘take off’ are both phrasal verbs. Many phrasal verbs have a single-word synonym which is usually longer and usually more formal. One feature of phrasal verbs is that the opposite is not formed simply by changing its second element to its opposite. ‘Put off’ and ‘take on’ both mean something completely different.

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log in, tap on

A few days ago, the class was practising phrasal verbs. On one list was log in (or on) and out (or off). The first logs were lengths of wood from trees, and the first logging (not in or on or out or off) was cutting trees down and into lengths. Some time later, sailors measured the speed of a ship by throwing a log off the stern, to which was connected a rope with knots at specified intervals. By counting the number of knots in a specified time, the captain could calculate the speed, then record it (as well as the direction and other relevant information) in a log book. Even the Starship Enterprise has a captain’s log.

Log books came ashore to be used to record any repeated information, including the times of arriving at or leaving work, or starting or finishing a particular task. From there it was a short step to computers, where logging on ensures that only people authorised to use that computer, or any function of it, do so, and records who does what on it, when. All these logs and logging are from Middle English noun logge or lugge.

A student mentioned log tables in maths. These are not related, being tables of logarithms, from Greek logos, word, speech, logical principle and arithmós number (compare arithmetic). A search for log book shows work-related record books, while a search for log table or log table book shows mathematical resources. (The use of logarithms has largely been replaced by calculators and computers.)

[PS 13 Nov: I knew there was another angle. From the 1990s, online diaries etc became known as web logs, weblogs and blogs. There are also vlogs (video-based diaries), which has to one of the ugliest words ever coined.]

So do we log in and out, or on and off? Google Ngrams shows log on and off to be slightly more common than log in and out, but login as a noun has become one word. (Dictionary.com also records logon, but only to define it as login.) Continue reading


Yesterday someone asked me for a piece of information which I might have stored in the memo app of my mobile phone. I checked and it wasn’t there, but I was able to find it otherwise. Scrolling through the memos, I spotted three which I thought would make a good blog post. (Among a lot of perfectly useless stuff which I can’t remember why I memo-rised.)

Roasting consists of a balance of right handed TIMING and intuition. NOW. LIKE. FREE. ADDICTION.
&up cafe size up, taste up & feel up
Dq vv our Is lay all i have sos hh hny i do mmm / ggg chiq winner as good as new super does yr mother thank you mm

The first two are obviously from coffee shops in Korea (the first was the university campus branch of a major chain; I can’t remember where the the second was, but the date means that it was either in my regional city, possibly the bus terminal, or at Incheon airport), but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the third was/is. I looked at it again in the train on my commute home, but it wasn’t until I typed it into my blog drafts document that I realised what it was. I’ll let you ponder that before you click ‘read more’. (The only clue is that it’s got nothing to do with the first two.)

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get divorsed

Last week I posted about the segment in the textbook on collocations with get. On Friday, there was a section of the weekly test devoted to it. There were eight sentences with a gap in each, and 11 collocations with get in a box at the top. (Very often, textbook activities and tests have exactly the same number of choices as there are questions. I think providing extra choices is a very good idea, because speakers of a language (even second language learners) always have more choices than they need. Providing the exact number of choices often means that students can guess the last one or two.) Several students got all of the questions right, so the section was possible. However, several other students made choices ranging from plausible to unlikely to plain wrong. Some choices were made by more than one student.

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