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Keep in touch with us and learn new English words and idioms through our newsletter. Every month Alan Townend will send you a short essay on a particular topic such as advertising or money. The texts contain a lot of expressions and idioms related to the theme in question. With our newsletter you can both learn and smile as Alan writes his texts in a unique and humorous style. Explore the English language in a very amusing but informative manner and see just what fun learning can be. If you are concerned about the privacy of your email address, you can browse through the back issues of our newsletter before you sign up for it. Still got questions? Contact us on our forum. See you soon.
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Newsletter December 18 - 2010FREE email English course

Dear Friend,

There's a programme on TV in the UK, which has been around for some time that traces the family of a 'personality' through different generations. I've put the word 'personality' in inverted commas because I want to make sure you know that I'm using the word in a slightly different context (setting). It's a word to describe someone who is well known, popular and has acquired a reputation (name) in one area of entertainment and the arts.

Anyhow, in this programme we follow this person as they try to discover who their grandparents and possibly great-grandparents were, where they lived and what sort of work they did. It's called: Who do you think you are? Now this is quite a snappy (effective) title because you can take it on two levels. If you say it calmly, it simply asks: Do you know anything about your family history? And that's the way it's used for the TV programme. Saying it aggressively (angrily) is an entirely different kettle of fish (different situation) because you are challenging (questioning) someone's authority (right) to say what they have just said or to do what they have just done. You might for example get this angry response from the waiter in a restaurant if you suddenly called out: Come on, hurry up and bring me my food immediately! The interesting part of the programme is that we as viewers find it fascinating to see the connection between the personalities we know and their family.

Talking of families brings me on to the relationships of words with each other. It is important when you learn a new word to know what other words are related to it, what, if you like, the other members of the vocabulary 'family' are.

Let's begin with 'contain'. In its simplest form it means to hold or keep inside. We can read on a packet of food: This product contains wheat and sugar. A container ship is one that carries hundreds of boxes which are usually coloured and are also called 'containers' in which are goods that are being carried from one country to another. If you can't control a feeling or emotion, you could say: I couldn't contain my laughter when I saw that film starring Charlie Chaplin. This suggests that you couldn't stop laughing. Again I couldn't contain my anger when I saw that man hitting the poor little dog. A not too distant (not far from) cousin of 'contain' could take you to 'content'. Here of course we have to be careful because there are two quite different meanings and it depends how you say the word. When it means 'happy' or 'satisfied', the sort of word that describes how you feel when things at the time are going smoothly (peacefully), you put the stress on the second syllable '-tent'.

When you want to talk about what is inside something, the stress is on the first syllable 'con '. And of course you can add an 's' and that will describe all the information inside a book. Words can also get a little fatter and add bits. I have just mentioned, when things are going well, you are said to be 'content'. Now you can expand this (make it bigger) by adding 'ed' and describing someone as 'contented'. Remember still that the stress is on the second syllable.

So what's the difference between 'content' and 'contented'? 'Contented' gives a more definite, pronounced or settled picture. If you ask a question in a class and get an answer that explains what you want to know, you can say you are content with the answer. On a larger scale when all your questions are being answered and you like the teacher and you are enjoying the course, you then become contented. Let's just look at the 'family' again.

First there was the verb 'contain', the noun container, the noun 'content' and the plural 'contents'. Then came the adjective 'content' and its bigger relation 'contented'. Then there's one more and this time it's the abstract noun 'contentment' a state of mind we all surely want. But in all families there is always what we call the black sheep, the one we don't talk about, the one we try not to mention. In this family it suggests a state where everything is negative in other words when we are not content and not contented and that adds 'dis' to the beginning. As I come to the end of this piece, all I can hope is that you are not a 'discontented' reader.

Alan Townend

PS. If you would like to discuss this newsletter or add your comments please visit the forum at: All in the Family


Are you a snob?It all adds up
With best wishesThere's always a possibility
BOGOFLove is all you need
Idiomatically speakingA word in your ear: Hand
A word in your ear: NerveDo you mean that?
A word in your ear: ConsiderWhodunit
My languageA word in your ear: Care
A word in your ear: ThoughtAbout time
Perfect timeCrossing the Atlantic?
All In The Family 
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