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can; to allow; to be possible; to wish
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disturb
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might
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Newsletter January 26 - 2006FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

Let me give you some clues. It's a word of just three letters. You can't see it. You can't taste it. You can't hear or feel it. Nor can you smell it. And yet without it, we would not last very long. Got it? Yes, it's the stuff we all breathe in and out and it's called «air». Small it may be but it crops up in all sorts of places.

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You may have heard of the word «cockney», which by popular consent describes someone who comes from London and speaks a special kind of dialect (often an excuse for sloppy English) characterised by dropping the «h» before words like hat/hair. Come to think of it there's a good way to test your aitch pronunciation skills by sounding the «h» before each word. You have to say it as quickly as possible and it goes: «Harry went to Hampstead to Heath. Harry lost his hat. Harry's mother said to Harry: Harry where's your hat? Hanging on the hook on the hall. But it wasn't there at all!» By the way Hampstead Heath is a sort of open parkland north west of London. Now there is a theory that «cockney» is a derivation from the French, meaning «nose in the air» because people in London used to «walk around with their nose in the air» as they lived in the big city and anyone from the countryside was inferior — an expression meaning that you think you are superior to everyone else. Again some one who behaves like this is described as «having airs and graces».

Plans can often be unsuccessful or uncertain — «up in the air» — one minute and then they become clearer and all the opposition to them can just as quickly disappear or «vanish into thin air». The reason is sometimes because people have had a discussion about the problems and removed the obstacles — «cleared the air». The ideas you have to avoid are those schemes that will never work because they are not based on common sense. The advice there is: «Don't build castles in the air».

Our three-letter friend is an adaptable word, too. It can turn itself into an adjective and turn into a four letter word: «airy» — describing spaces that are open and well ventilated and then it links up with another word to create «airy fairy» — a description conveying vagueness and lack of substance — «airy fairy» ideas or theories. Yet again despite its size it can convert to being a verb. We can «air our views and opinions» — we express them publicly. If we are complaining about our working conditions and explain that there's not enough «fresh air» in our work place, we can go to the bosses and tell them face to face what we are annoyed about and in this way — «air our grievances». If they think what we are saying is a lot of nonsense, we might well be accused of talking a lot of «hot air». But then who knows we might even get a chance to express out feelings «on air», if a reporter gets us an interview on the radio.

You may be surprised if you think that I haven't mentioned Shakespeare yet, but I have because it's to him we owe vanish «into thin air». And that reminds me that Shakespeare is performed each summer in an «open-air» theatre in a London park. The last time I went it rained and as I opened my rather large umbrella, I found I was lifting up the raincoats of some of the people in the row in front! The play was Romeo and Juliet and it was early on in the play when our two lovers «were walking on air» — deeply in love.

As I look out of my study window I feel that Spring is «in the air» — is about to arrive — because there is so much that is green everywhere and I'll conclude if you don't mind by «taking the air» — going outside — into my garden.

Alan Townend

Three letters for you?Too many words
In touchEverything in the garden is lovely
A funny thing happened...Briefly
Whose English is it, anyhow?Potatoes
All aboardLearning to learn?
That time of year 
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