exalt and exult

Many years ago, a fellow-chorister patiently explained the difference between exalt and exult. Basically, we exalt (praise, lift up) someone or something (grammatically, it is transitive), and exult (rejoice) all by ourselves (grammatically, intransitive). Because the sound similar (or maybe identical) and mean similar things, it is easy to get them mixed up. 

I have been spending some time revising some/most/eventually all of my compositions. Some are complete and perfectly typeset, some need fine-tuning of the composition or typesetting, and I’ve made actual changes, small or medium, to a very few. One choral work has a repeated phrase ‘Bless the Lord, and highly exalt him for ever’. I quickly noticed that I had used exult far more than exalt, which I now have to change. 

Exalt is about three times as common overall. To my surprise, Google Ngram Viewer shows that both words are far more often used in secular contexts than sacred ones. In particular, one can exult in one’s own victory or in another’s defeat. 

Because I say or sing these words so rarely, I’m not sure whether I pronounce them the same or differently, and it’s too late in the evening to give the matter any serious thought. Certainly, my pronunciation of exult is fixed, so the question is whether my pronunciation of exalt is the same or different (and with which vowel). This is all complicated by the following l, which always affects my pronunciation noticeably.


Not sure about these …

I recently encountered three usages which I’m not sure are good or bad. About half of the articles I subedit come directly from companies, and about half from PR agents. If PR agents have an official title, it’s usually something like “account manager”. But one has the title of “chief wordsmith”. It’s a real word, dating from 1895-1900, meaning:

1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
2. An expert on words. (The Free Dictionary)

So a PR agent certainly fits that definition. But there’s something slightly strange about the word. Most smiths either work(ed) with metal (blacksmith (iron), coppersmith, goldsmith, ironsmith, redsmith (copper), silversmith, tinsmith, whitesmith (tin plate and galvanised iron)) or make/made artefacts from it (2). Also, the slightly problematic fingersmith, a midwife or pickpocket. A hammersmith may once have been an occupation, but the only references now are to the suburb of London. And goodness only know what a sexsmith such that it became a surname. One genealogy website suggests ploughshares (French soc) or sickles. That’s not what I was thinking.

Then there are wordsmiths, songsmiths and tunesmiths, all of which sound to me to be slightly less capable than writers, songwriters and composers, respectively. Maybe there’s something too non-physical about words, songs and tunes. 

In the end, it didn’t matter, as a PR agent’s name and title don’t appear in a published article.

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Vocabulary summary sheet

I have created several grammar summary sheets. The logical extension is to make a vocabulary summary sheet. There are lists online of (however many) nouns, verbs or adjectives but I find these unhelpful because they are grouped either alphabetically or by frequency (even in a list of, for example, ‘extreme adjectives’). So, my aim in creating this sheet was to include enough words to be helpful, but also to group them by meaning. I chose the words from this site of word frequencies (chapter 5), then grouped them as systematically as I could. (Every word with a frequency greater than 250 per million is here, plus obvious additions below that.)

This first sheet contains everything but nouns, verbs and adjectives because there are fewer of them and they are easier to group systematically. That said, these are grouped by meaning and not by word classes. I have embarked on the nouns, verbs and adjectives, which will take some time. Unfortunately, the words on major websites aren’t necessarily the ones which second language learners use. Browse and internet aren’t on the lists!


“My name’s David and I like …”

Many years ago, in the first lesson of one class at high school, we did an ‘introduce yourself’ activity which consisted of saying “My name’s [name] and I like [food starting with that letter]”. The first D in the class (I can’t remember his name) said “I like duck”. The second (Debbie) said “I like dates”, which provoked a few light-hearted comments. When it was my term, I couldn’t think of any other food beginning with D. The teacher finally suggested dill pickles. Some of my classmates started calling me that as a nickname, but fortunately I changed class soon after, for unrelated reasons.

I am now teaching English again part-time, and the first lesson in the textbook was about food. In one lesson I did a similar activity in which students say “I went to the market and bought an apple, a banana etc …” through the alphabetic (vocabulary, pronunciation, countable and uncountable nouns etc). Duck was one of the items in the vocabulary list, so I was expecting the student whose turn it was to say that, but instead she said … Continue reading


My wife and I are in the process of selling one house, buying another and moving. While writing comments on Facebook, I noticed that its spell-checker was red-underlining removalist. (Pages for Mac and WordPress do, too.) Dictionary.com lists removalist as “Australian”, which surprised me. I asked my North American friends on Facebook, and they said they would only use mover but would understand removalist in the context of moving house. (By the way, moving house or just moving are both reasonably strange things to say. One student once told me that she’d spent the weekend “moving my house”.)

Some of my Facebook friends also mentioned packers. I have been doing most of the packing myself, and we won’t be paying specifically for packing (the removalists may do some incidental packing). Many years ago I attended a party for a friend whose company was relocating her to Melbourne. She said that the company was paying for the move, including the packing. Later in the evening, someone else commented on the lack of cardboard boxes around the apartment. I said “Kerry and Jamie are coming tomorrow morning”. She looked puzzled, and so were my North American friends when I told that story on Facebook. Anyone not from Australia is welcome to guess my meaning before I update with the answer. [edit: Kerry Packer was then Australia’s most powerful media owner. Jamie (now known as James) was being groomed as his successor; his interests are more broadly commercial]

One of my Australian friends mentioned a play (later a movie) by the Australian playwright David Williamson titled The Removalists. Given that there is only one actual removalist in the play/movie, it is possible that there is a double meaning in the title.

Happy birthday to yous

Three members of my extended family celebrate their birthday today. They are not genetically related to each other (there is one ‘in-law’ between each of them) and only one is genetically related to me. The first, chronologically, is my brother-in-law, my oldest sister’s husband. The second is his sister-in-law – not either of the two who are my sisters, but his brother’s wife. There is no term in English for my relationship to her; she is ‘my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law’. I have met her occasionally, and am Facebook friends with her, but it is perfectly possible never to meet one’s brother-in-law’s sister-in-law. I have not met my youngest sister’s husband’s brother’s wife (and they live in the same part of the same city as me). The third is my niece, my second sister’s daughter. She is that brother-in-law’s wife’s niece, niece-in-law or maybe just niece; he is her aunt’s husband, uncle-in-law or just uncle. (She calls him ‘Uncle [name]’ just as she calls me ‘Uncle [name]’.) There is no term in English for her relationship with that other relative: they are ‘uncle-in-law’s sister-in-law’ and ‘brother-in-law’s niece-in-law’ respectively. Maybe some languages have a kinship term for ‘female relative one generation older (other than mother or aunt’ (or simply use the word ‘aunt’) and ‘female relative one generation younger, other than daughter or niece’ (or simply use the word ‘niece’). These three members of my extended family have been in the same place twice, as far as I know: my oldest nephew’s and my oldest niece’s weddings (the son and daughter, the cousins and the nephew- and niece-in-law of those three people). My nephew’s wedding was a few days before those people’s collective birthday, so the next day many of the same people gathered again for his birthday. We got those three birthday people together for, as far as I know, the only photo of the three of them (though they might all be in an ‘extended family’ wedding photo).

So, my oldest nephew and niece are married (to other people, of course!). I usually refer to my niece’s husband as my nephew-in-law, because I have a less close relationship with him, but I usually refer to my nephew’s wife as my niece, because I have a closer relationship with her. But it does cause confusion. Sixteen months ago I told a colleague that my nephew and niece had just had a baby. She asked for clarification!

How far does one’s ‘extended family’ extend? I know who my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law’s [second] cousin’s step-mother is, but I wouldn’t call her ‘family’. (By the way, I’ve got two or three sets of brothers-in-law: my sisters’ husbands (three sisters, one husband each), who are ‘my Australian brothers-in-law’, my wife’s brothers (one wife, two brothers), who are ‘my Korean brothers-in-law’, and maybe my wife’s sisters’ husbands (one wife, three sisters, one husband each).

mop the floor

A student told me that soon after he started his first job in Australia, his boss told him to ‘mop the floor’, and he stood there dumbfounded, because he didn’t know what ‘mop’ meant. His boss eventually told someone else to do it. I said that it was a good way of getting out of unpleasant work tasks. He said that if he did it too often he’d lose his job.

He said that ‘mop’ wasn’t in any of his textbooks, and he hadn’t encountered it otherwise. How do writers of textbooks decide which words to include and which to leave out? We can at least clean, sweep, mop, scrub or vacuum the floor (though we might vacuum the carpet or simply vacuum). Writers of textbooks can’t include them all.

‘Our English teacher is affectionate’

My students were learning about adjectives describing people’s personality. The main activity was matching about 20 words in a box with their respective definitions. Several students mixed up charming and sociable. One student neatly explained the difference by saying ‘Charming is about other people coming to you, and sociable is about you going to other people’. Many movie villains and their equivalents in real life are charming but not sociable. The drunk at the pub is sociable but not charming.

I then wrote on the board, ‘I am ____ and ____, You are ____ and ___, My mother is …, My father is …, etc Our English teacher is ____ and ____’ and divided the students into pairs, and they talked about those people. At the end I prompted each student to talk about one of those people. The student I prompted to talk about ‘Our English teacher’ hesitated, glanced at the worksheet and said ‘affectionate’ (possibly because it was the first on the alphabetical list). I like to think that I am affectionate, but I rarely show it, even to those it is socially acceptable for me to show affection to. I am certainly not affectionate to my students.

It could have been worse. The next word on the list was ‘aggressive’.