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to decline; to deny; to reject
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Newsletter March 01 - 2007FREE email English course

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Usage of the word talk or "Small talk"

I imagine it must be a nightmare for an interviewer on live radio or TV who has to interview someone who will only give very short answers and be, as it were, annoyingly monosyllabic. Take this. QUESTION: Tell me minister in view of the recent developments we have been told about the negotiations you have been having with other world leaders, do you believe there will soon be a settlement? ANSWER: No. Or take this. QUESTION: It has come to the attention of certain journalists that you are intending to take early retirement and start a new career in music. Is there any truth in this? ANSWER: No comment. See what I mean? Then there is also the other extreme when interviewees just won''t stop talking and the luckless interviewer can''t get a word in edgeways and that''s called rather unpleasantly, verbal diarrhoea. I''ll leave you to work that one out!

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Of course there are those who simply find it difficult to make conversation with their fellow creatures. This is supposed to be a characteristic of the English. You can live half a lifetime next door to someone and rarely have any sort of conversation with them. It reminds me of I time when I spent the best part of a year commuting. travelling back and forth, from a town on the south coast to London. It was usually the same group of people getting the same train at the same time each morning and likewise on the way home back to the seaside. Conversation was at a premium, in fact it was non-existent. Then one day on my return journey, one of the ''regulars'' bounded into the compartment I was sitting in and yelled at me: What''s the score? Now I knew he was talking about the cricket score but I can''t stand the game and out of pure devilment, I replied: What score are you talking about? By the look of sheer horror on his face, you would think I had uttered a blasphemy. He glared at me, flounced out of the compartment and went into another one. And that was my sole ''chat'' with any of my fellow passengers for the entire twelve months. We call this type of conversation that many people throughout the world indulge in with people you don''t know (except of course in the UK) when you pass the time of day with them, small talk.

British Telecommunications, BT for short and in its own words a leading provider of communications solutions serving customers throughout the world, has latched on to this all important word ''talk'', doubled it and called one of its services Talk Talk, which is a scheme whereby you get a special rate if you use your phone at certain times. BT probably got the double barrelled idea from other types of expression for making conversation - powwow - chitchat - yackety-yack and my favourite, tittle-tattle for that special kind of gossipy conversation. Oh and then there''s that lovely verb (totally unrelated but I couldn''t resist mentioning it) chinwag, conjuring up the idea of having a nice friendly conversation. On a loftier note there is that famous remark by Winston Churchill, very pertinent to the world today, that talking to other countries is preferable to going to war with them:

"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. June 26, 1954"

But back to the word ''talk'' It crops up all over the place. In fact a common question on one of the forums at (I am referring in particular to the one called English Teacher Explanations) is: What''s the difference between speaking and talking? I usually reply that speaking is saying words and talking is having a conversation and so if you''re a good student you don''t talk while the teacher is speaking.

Then ''talk'' has another personality, too. They say money talks - that if you want to influence and impress, money will do that for you. You can also do some straight talking which means that you speak your mind and don''t worry what other people say. That happens on our forums as well especially in the one called: What do you want to talk about? The thing we don''t really like and I''m sure it doesn''t happen very often is when people adopt a superior attitude and talk down to others. Then sometimes it gets technical and there are those who only talk about their work to one another and the rest of us are excluded. You know the kind of thing when linguists start throwing phonetic symbols at each other - well if you do that, you are talking shop. We mustn''t forget that talking can also be undertaken by those who in our opinion are just spouting nonsense although they are convinced it makes pure sense. This is expressed with two colourful idioms: talking through your hat and talking through the back of your head. The latter I should think is very painful. At the beginning I mentioned the person who couldn''t stop talking in an interview. Those who have that complaint are said to be talking nineteen to the dozen or talking their heads off or even (and don''t ask me where this comes from) talking the hind leg off a donkey. Finally in memory of all those birds that had to be slaughtered at a farm in the East of England because of the dreaded avian flu, I have to mention talk turkey, which is when you talk openly and honestly in your business deals.

Now all I have to say is: ''Nice talking to you''. Unlike many of my fellow countrymen and women, as you can see, I don''t mind indulging in a bit of small talk.

Alan Townend

Please write your review here: Feedback on audio recording (Usage of the word talk or "Small talk")

My turnSmall talk
Spring has sprungMay I have a word?
Hope to hear from you!The way they say it
Do you know where you''re going?Is that English you''re speaking?
Things are hotting upGive a dog a bad name
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