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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 January 29 - 2010FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious I have to tell you about a word that''s on every body''s lips at the moment. It starts with an ''r'' and ends in an ''n''. And it''s got three syllables. Any ideas? The word is ''recession''. There, I''ve said it now. It means according to one dictionary; ''a temporary decline in economic activity.'' But that of course is putting it mildly. Putting it more crudely it suggests that you''re spending more than you''re earning and that as Mr Micawber tells us in the novel ''David Copperfield'' by Charles Dickens it isn''t at all sound. Or as he puts it:

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Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six (shillings), result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought (no pence) and six (shillings), result misery.

And it''s ''misery'' that large parts of the world are enduring at the moment. People''s jobs are going down the plughole, incomes are dwindling, financial institutions are tottering and some banks are not only wobbling but are actually falling flat on their face. The answer? Well, here in the UK we''ve gone in for what is known as quantitative easement. And that isn''t an easy word either to say or explain.

Putting it simply it means you print some more money and filter it out into society. The trouble is that you then create loads of debt for society and that runs into billions of your currency. In fact there are so many noughts in these numbers that we sometimes have to make a joke about it and call them ''telephone numbers'' because they are too large to hold in the brain and by christening them thus, we perhaps can hope to find some humour in the whole situation.

''Numbers'' of course like all good words can dress up in different guises. We can reserve it just for the digits but also try it out as an idiom. ''When two people are having a bit of a humdinger (a row) and you can see that one of them is getting a bit of a drubbing (losing the argument) because the opponent has got the upper hand (is in control), you could say to the potential winner: I can see you''ve got his number. This means: I can see you know how to defeat him in debate. Again if you are the person who wants to look after yourself alone, you can say: You''ve got to look after number one.(meaning yourself). And as far as sounds go remember that when you don''t pronounce the ''b'' in ''number'', you are in fact saying ''more numb''.

I''ve put that in for those who like to see how spelling can sometimes mislead. But of course one of the things we do with numbers (I mean the digits here) is count them. And I remember when I was at school this is what you did with the pennies (coins) because in those days before we went decimal, you had to count 240 pennies before you got a whole pound. And they weren''t small those pennies. They were about 2.5 centimetres wide. If you had 240 of them in your pocket, you weren''t necessarily rich but if you had them all in one pocket, you did tend to lead to one side. Then again talking about words having different meanings if you had the figure of 240 in your pocket, you looked a strange figure yourself when you walked.

I mentioned coins as a word to describe these pennies to distinguish them from notes or paper money. ''Coin'' as a verb can also mean create as in the expression ''coin a phrase'' (make up a new expression). Shakespeare was good at that and introduced many expressions into the language. Good advice is provided on money in his play ''Hamlet'' - Neither a borrower or a lender be. ''Coinage'' can either mean the making of coins or the creation of a new word or phrase. Back to the important word ''count'' which is of course a close friend of numbers. It has also the meaning of ''rely.''

If I say: I can count on you'', that means I trust you and I rely on you. When someone is asking for volunteers to help with a project and you are prepared to offer your services, you would say: Count on me- another way of saying: Include me. Flesh out the word ''count'' and you get ''account'', ''accountant'' and ''accountability''. We all know that an account is something like a bill or an invoice where financial matters are detailed showing what you have spent, what you have saved or indeed what you have to pay. But a radio reporter will give you a description of what has happened somewhere in the world and that description can also be described as an account (report).

An accountant is someone who looks after your money and puts the details down on paper and at the same time accountants have to accept accountability (responsibility ) for what they have worked out because if they get it wrong, it''s their fault. Is all this information doing your head in and making it spin?. Perhaps I should close now.although I do hope as the heading said: It all adds up (It all makes sense) But I''ve just got one more expression up my sleeve (keeping it for the end) and that brings me back to my old friend, the penny. You remember we used to have 240 of them in our pound. Well, when we want to ask someone what they are thinking, we offer a figurative (not real) penny and ask: A penny for your thoughts? I''d like to know yours but that penny will have to remain imaginary.

Alan Townend

Dear Friend,
If you have any questions or comments regarding this essay, please
post your answers on the forum here.
Many thanks.

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