Posted on 19 March 2020

COVID-19 or the coronavirus?

The Macquarie Dictionary is constantly being reviewed and updated to make sure the words and definitions being offered are the most relevant possible. We appreciate any feedback on posts or suggestions of new words (we love them in fact). We have had a number of queries about COVID-19 and other words to describe reactions and measures following the global pandemic. An entry for COVID-19 will be appearing online in our next update along with its established variant forms coronavirusWuhan coronavirus and 2019-nCov. There is always fluidity with new terms but what we are seeing becoming established in Australian English is the form coronavirus over the coronavirus and the capitalised COVID-19 rather than Covid-19.   As most of us are now aware thanks to the 24/7 news cycle focused almost entirely on COVID-19, a coronavirus is not a new development. This word means "an RNA virus affecting mammals, the cause of a variety of illnesses in humans, including the common cold." As a word, COVID-19 exists to differentiate it from other coronaviruses. Broken into parts, the word means CO(RONA)VI(RUS) + D(ISEASE) + (20)19 (referring to the year it was first reported).   There are other terms which have also come into our environment such as social distancingP2 mask, etc., which will also be reflected in our update. But if you find any others, please let us know.   We hope everyone stays safe as many people start to work from home and self-isolate.   --- Want more? Listen to Word for Word #32 Defining COVID-19 
Posted on 18 March 2020

They're there. We've got you covered for this common grammar mistake

Three of the most commonly confused words are there, their and they’re – and it’s no wonder because they all sound exactly the same when we say them aloud. Words that sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings are known as homophones. Homophones are one of the trickiest areas of spelling, that even autocorrect can get wrong! There can be used a lot of different ways, but most commonly it’s used as an adverb or pronoun to indicate a particular place (The book is up there on the shelf; He comes from there too) or a point in action (I have painted up to there). There can be used more figuratively in colloquial phrases such as so there!, there you go, there you are, etc. Their is used to show possession. Their is one of the possessive adjectives – along with other words like my, our, her, his – which are used to indicate that something belongs to someone, e.g. Their car is green. Their becomes theirs when it is used as a possessive pronoun e.g. The green car is theirs. Remember! Pronouns do not use an apostrophe to show possession (mine, ours, hers, his, theirs), but nouns do (Sandy’s car is green). They’re is a contraction of ‘they are’. Contractions reduce two words to a single one in which an apostrophe shows where a letter or letters have been removed. Here are some hints for when you’re unsure about which of these homophones to use…
  • Is it there? Think about whether you’re talking about the location or place of a person, object, or task.
  • Is it their? Try replacing the word with the possessive form of a noun, such as family’s
  • Is it they’re? Try expanding it to the two words ‘they’ + ‘are’ to see if that still makes sense.
Posted on 6 March 2020

What’s the difference between many, much and a lot?

The word many is generally used as an adjective to describe something that constitutes a large number, or when something is relatively numerous. The reference to ‘number’ here is important, as many is used with count nouns. Count nouns refer to objects that could feasibly be counted, such as: cats, bananas, trees, people, paintings, etc. For example: How many cats do you have? There are many paintings in the museum. Conversely, the word much is used with mass nouns (also referred to as non-count nouns), that is, nouns referring to an object that is thought of as existing in bulk and/or would not usually be counted as individual items, such as: butter, money, water, etc. For example: How much money do you earn? (Compare to: How many coins do you have?) I didn’t put much butter on the toast. Interestingly, and somewhat confusingly, mass nouns can sometimes be used to refer to varieties of the object they refer to and then they can be counted, but in that case they cease to be mass nouns and become count nouns.  There are two New Zealand butters coming onto the market. More often, however, a phrase like ‘kinds of’ or ‘types of’ is inserted.  There are two kinds of New Zealand butter coming onto the market. Much is a bit more versatile, and can be used as an adjective to mean in great quantity, amount, measure or degree (much work); as a noun meaning a great quantity or amount (much of this is true); or an adverb meaning greatly or far (much better, much too fast). The phrase a lot of also means to a considerable degree or a great deal of, and can be used with both count and mass nouns. For example:  They have a lot of cats. I like toast with a lot of butter.  We also see ‘lot’ often pluralised as ‘lots’, though this is still largely considered to be the colloquial form. For example: They have lots of cats. I like toast with lots of butter. So there you have it, the differences between many, much and a lot of. Next up on this front, we’ll get into a lot and alot...  
Posted on 26 February 2020

If words could kill

If you're a fan of horror, fantasy or just plain crime novels, you've probably come across some interesting (and hypothetical) ways to kill people. Speaking entirely figuratively, we've had a look at some of the more obscure and specific words in the Australian English language to do with killing someone. To start with, there are the generic terms for killing, such as murder, slaughter, eliminate and execute. These can be done in a variety of different ways, so their definitions are quite similar. You can also include massacre and butcher in this list of standard terms for general murder. But from here, it's gets a little more interesting – from a lexicographical perspective. One which arguably belongs with the aforementioned group, but which in some ways stands alone is the word assassinate. Meaning 'to kill by sudden or secret, premeditated assault, especially for political or religious motives', while the means of the murder can vary, the fact that it is done suddenly or secretly sets this particular term apart. On the other hand, take, for example, the oft-cited word defenestrate, which means 'to throw (a person) out of a window'. This is not to say that death would definitely occur which is why death by defenestration is more widely known, but it is an interesting and very particular definition (and a favourite word in our podcast on internet slang). A couple of words that go together thematically if not etymologically are excoriate (from Latin) and dismember (from Middle English). Both words have definitions that revolve around the removal or separation of body parts, ending in death. To excoriate is to 'strip off or remove the skin from', and to dismember is to 'divide limb from limb'. Both visceral, fascinating expressions. And then we have some more elemental forms of death. International news coverage brings with it information on these kinds of deaths, usually as a form of death penalty where it is part of the law of the nation. For example, the electric chair is a tool used to electrocute a person to death. And while hanging is the means to the end, the ultimate cause of death might be suffocation, strangulation (and in some rare and obscure cases, to burke, which is 'to murder, as by suffocation, so as to leave no or few marks of violence.' So named for W Burke, hanged at Edinburgh in 1829 for murders of this kind). Other methods used in these situations are to shoot (with a gun) or stone a person to death. And finally, something which stands alone is immolation. While the definition of this word is 'to kill as a sacrificial victim; offer in sacrifice', due to widespread reports of people self-immolating by setting themselves on fire, occasionally, the fiery aspect of this can get confused with the definition of the word. But, like assassinate, the method of murder can vary, but the motive must stay the same. We are tentatively curious about what other words like these may be out there, and aware that in theory, you could put 'death by' in front of any word to create a new and horrifying meaning, such as death by spoon, or death by platypus,  or some such.