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How do we learn language?

What is an earworm?

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An  earworm  is a very short piece of music which the mind involuntarily plays on certain triggers. For example, I hear the city name, Exeter, and a snatch of Bob Marley's Exodus plays in my head. Here's how the august British Psychological Society explain the phenomenon.  The brain has its own jukebox. A personal sound system for your private listening pleasure. The downside is that it has a mind of its own. It often chooses the songs and it frequently gets stuck, playing a particular tune over and over until you're sick of it. Psychologists have nicknamed these mental tunes "earworms" (from the German  Ohrwurm ).  A study from 2009   found that they can last anywhere between minutes to hours, but that they're only unpleasant in a minority of cases. Source This BBC radio documentary   takes a playful look at research into earworms

12 Key Political Terms for English Language Learners?

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With thanks to MyEnglishTeacher.eu

What is a Republican? And a Democrat?

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There are only two major political parties in the US; the Republicans & the Democrats. A representative from one or other party has won every presidential election since 1852. The above presentation briefly describes the key differences between them. How did they get the names Republican and Democrat? This gets very confusing! The  Federalist Party  of  Alexander Hamilton   was opposed by Thomas Jefferson who formed an opposition party in 1792. Jefferson's  party developed into the  Democratic-Republican Party  (1798) and was the forerunner of the modern  Democratic Party . The  modern Republican Party was founded in the 1850s and  key features included opposition to slavery and a support base in the northern states. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, while the pro-slavery southern states were largely Democrat. Broadly speaking,  the Democratic Party is  left-of-center  and the Republican Party  right-of-center   As the 2000 Presidential Election spectacularly p

What is the 'fiscal cliff'?

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Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.   Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens David Copperfield (1850) The ' fiscal cliff ' is the phrase used by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to describe the situation US economy will face in January 2013 if political agreement is not reached in Washington. At that time a series of tax rises (the expiration of the 'Bush tax cuts') and spending cuts (part of a previous agreement) will take effect. As things stand the Democrats - including the freshly re-elected President - are refusing to cut expenditure on programs like Medicare. They insist on tax rises for 'the super rich' or 'millionaires and billionaires' as it expressed in electoral rhetoric. Both sides are hemmed in by the 'debt ceiling' - a legal limit to the amount that can be borrowed - and the a previous agr

Word for admirer of American culture?

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There does not seem to be an agreed term as you can see from the number of Google references here: yankophile 945 americanophile 716 americophile 233 americaphile 150 usaphile 14 usphile 1 Contrast this with the situation for lovers of French, English, Chinese or Japanese culture anglophile 102,000, francophile 84,700, japanophile 20,400, sinophile 3450 Why is this? Snobbery, perhaps - a 'new' culture looked down on by traditional ones? Or pure prejudice? Casual anti-Americanism is often indulged where  where other forms of bigotry are socially unacceptable. Or is it just linguistically awkward - americaphile really isn't a pretty word. You might want to check out:  (audio) discussion about the relationship between British and American English  here . Time Magazine piece on  The Next American Century The New American Century Alistair Cooke's America

How many letters does the Hawaiian language use?

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Only 12 letters when using the English alphabet. On 20 August, 1959 Hawaii became the 50th state of the USA. To mark the occasion here are some fun facts about the world's biggest producer of pineapples. listen to ‘Fun Facts about Hawaii’ on Audioboo

What is Dudeism?

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Look, let me explain something to you. I'm not Mr. Lebowski.  You're  Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude . So that's what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you're not into the whole brevity thing.   On the face of it, the eponymous hero of  The Great Lebowksi  (1998) is an unlikely religious leader. According to the Cohen brothers film's tagline, the Dude is 'a lazy, time-wasting slacker'.  And by his own admission, Dude struggles to stay on top of life's vicissitudes. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's head. Luckily I'm adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber. At the centre of these 'what-have-you's' is the theft of a rug which - as every Dude admirer knows - 'really tied the room together'. And The Dude's quest to track it down forms the cen

What is the Union Jack?

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We hosts of 2012 (my home city so I am claiming full ownership!) were thrilled to see the Union Jack rise in salute to Jessica, Greg and Mo on British track and field's greatest night of triumph. Or rather to see the Union Flag as pedants insist it should really be called This is because Union Jack is technically a maritime flag used to distinguish British ships. Though purists object it is popularly used to describe the the flag of the United Kingdom. The flag is composed of symbols of the constituent parts of the UK - the red cross at the centre is the cross of St George representing England, the blue for Scotland etc. UK? So why Team GB? Interestingly the Olympics brings to the surface the confusion created by the terms Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Great Britain should only really refer to the core island of Britain, not the outlying islands or Northern Ireland. It would, therefore, be more logical to have a team UK. Uncertainty is also evident in the use

WTF?

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This is a profanity-zone so you'll have to work out - or ask Mr Google - the word that follows 'What' and 'the'. The interesting thing question is the speed at which this euphemistic acronym has spread to become standard online shorthand. I had assumed that the usage was fairly recent and Know Your Meme cites the YouTube 'wtf boom' “wtfboom” is a meme where a normal event gets interrupted by a loud voice screaming “ WHAT   THE  -” cut off by an extremely loud explosion, and a sinister laugh. It is commonly used as an element of surprise/interruption. But a correspondent of Jay Nordlinger suggests earlier origins and a wider definition: I see myself in 1975 at the beginning of my freshman year at university. I sit in a huge lecture hall with hundreds of others and am trying to keep up with whatever subject the professor way down in the front is blathering about. When my spiral notebook scribbling gets hopelessly behind, and I’ve completely lost the c

What does 'what's up?' mean? Why does this question confuse the British?

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What does Babra mean? An apparently simple question demonstrating Churchill's dictum about two countries divided by a shared language. An American colleague of mine used to greet me every morning with question 'what's up?' to which I would reply 'Nothing' or 'I'm fine.' After the third time it occurred that for her the question was an all purpose greeting whereas to British ears it meant 'what is the problem?' or 'is something wrong?' So when Bug's Bunny - or Babara Streisand at the other end of the beauty continuum -  ask 'What's up, Doc?' we British assume a sarcasm that may not be intended.

How do I ping? Why would I do this?

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To ping is to send a packet to a computer and wait for its return (Packet Internet Groper). For those outside of IT that doesn't help much. In practical terms to ping is to notify a website(s) that you have updated your site with new material. This is often done automatically - the excellent  Posterous , for example, will update a blog and simultaneously send updates to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

What is LIbor? Why is it important?

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Libor stands for London Interbank Offered Rate. Put simply it is the rate at which banks offer short-term loans to each other. It is extremely important for two reasons a) it affects all other interest rates  b) it indicates the confidence financial institutions have in lending to each other. A crucial factor in the 2008 financial crisis was that the Libor went up dramatically. This exposed key financial institutions like Freddie Mae, and Northern Rock which were effectively bankrupt. Because they were considered 'too big to fail', the were partially nationalised by the US & UK authorities. By September 2008 Lehman Brothers was essentially in the same situation. It had unsustainable debt and no means to borrow the money to stave off bankruptcy. But in this case the authorities did not step in, triggering the financial crisis. At the height of these turbulent events the Treasury undoubtedly desired a reduction in Libor to help restore stability. Meetings were held be