Words making the headlines – gig economy

DeliverooWhen the business and finance sections of British newspapers are not expressing concerns about Brexit, they’re discussing the gig economy.

So, what is the gig economy? Let’s start by looking at the meaning of gig. For about 100 years, a gig was a single performance by a musician or group of musicians. For example,

Did you get tickets for the Ed Sheeran gig at the O2 Arena?

We’re playing a gig at the Rose and Crown* tomorrow. Tell your friends.

In the last few years, the word gig has been adopted by freelance workers. They used it to describe a single job for a client.

I’ve got a 2-week gig consulting in Dubai for IST Engineering.

So, a gig is a single event or piece of work. The gig economy refers to companies who employ and pay people on the basis of individual jobs.The most famous examples are the taxi firm Uber and the food delivery company Deliveroo.

Why is the phrase gig economy in the headlines?

This is because of the controversy about the status of people who work for companies like Uber and Deliveroo. At the moment, the people who drive the taxis or deliver the food are classified as freelancers or independent contractors.  The companies say that these people benefit from the flexibility of this arrangement. They can work as much or as little as they want.

The workers see the situation differently. Many of them rely on these companies for most of their income but they only get paid when the companies give them a gig. When the workers divide the amount of money they earn by the number of hours they’re available for work, they say that they earn less than the minimum wage.

It’s not only the money. An employee with a traditional contract has legal benefits. For example,

Paid holidays – This is when you’re guaranteed holiday time while still receiving your salary.

Sick leave – This is when you continue to receive your salary for a period of time while you’re unable to work because of your health.

Maternity and Paternity leave – This is when you receive your salary while you’re away from work after you have a baby (maternity leave) or your partner has had a baby (paternity leave).

Gig economy workers don’t receive these benefits because they are classified as independent contractors. They argue that covering the costs of these things pushes their calculated hourly-rate even lower while the company they work for has higher profits because they don’t have pay for these benefits.

The British government has just published a long report on the future of work in the UK. One section of the report is about the gig economy.

What makes so many people nervous is that many of the companies that benefit from the gig economy are the technology companies that are changing the world in so many ways. What about your job? Do you think you’ll have to become a gig worker in the future?

*Rose and Crown is a very common pub name in the UK.


If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.

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Words making the headlines – Fake news

Fake News!

The phrase ‘fake news’ started to appear in news headlines last year and has now entered the dictionary. Here’s the definition from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Fake news is:

“false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke”

The term fake news is used a lot by some politicians. When they say that a news report is fake news, they mean it contradicts their beliefs and so they don’t want other people to believe it. They have a different view of the situation and want to promote that view. Instead of giving evidence to support their view, the politicians try to discredit  the original new report by calling it fake news. Very often, it isn’t important to these politicians whether the news is true or not.

When a politician claims something is fake news they rarely criticise the content of the news report directly. Their aim is to call the writer and publisher of the report a fake. In other words, they’re calling them a liar. Of course, this is also an attack on anybody who accepts the truth of the original news report. The implication is they are stupid to believe it and, therefore, those who don’t, such as the politician and his supporters, are more intelligent.

Although fake news is a fixed phrase it’s not the only word that we use when we talk about attempts to deceive people. There are words such as false, forged, counterfeit, and fraudulent. For example,

The document had a forged signature at the bottom.

Last week I found a counterfeit pound coin in my wallet.

He was arrested for submitting a fraudulent tax return.

We can also use the words fake and false to describe these situations.

He made a false claim that it was his signature.

The pound coin was a fake.

The tax return contained false information.

While we’re taking about words that mean fake, let’s look at some words that mean the opposite such as true, real, genuine and authentic. For example,

Read the article then decide if each of these statements is true or false.

I prefer documentaries to dramas. I like to hear the stories of real people.

The art expert declared that the painting was a genuine Rembrandt.

There’s a new restaurant in the High Street. They serve authentic Malaysian food.

So, what’s the opposite of fake news? It’s just news, of course.

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By Barney


Words making the headlines – tax

The last word making the headlines was election and when there’s an election on, there’s one topic that is sure to be discussed. That topic, of course, is tax – should we be paying more or less and what should our governments spend the money on?

Everybody knows what tax is but be careful with the pronunciation of the plural form. Taxes/tæk.sɪz/ has a short /ɪ/ vowel sound in the second syllable. If you make this sound too long, people could think you are saying taxis /tæk.siːz/. That would be very confusing!

taxis /tæk.siːz/

Here’s a story from the website of the Guardian newspaper about the election promises of one of the major British political parties, the Labour Party. The story is about income tax, the tax that we pay on the money we earn from our jobs.

Other types of tax are:

Corporation tax – the tax that companies pay on their profits

Value Added Tax (VAT) or Sales tax – the tax on goods and services we buy every day.

The article also talks about tax revenue. This is the total amount of money the government collects from taxpayers: you and me.

The Labour party also promises to deal with tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is when people and companies use loopholes in the law to avoid paying some or all of their tax. Don’t confuse this with tax evasion which is when you just don’t pay your tax. Tax evasion is against the law and you can go to prison if the authorities catch you.

Here in Britain, the Labour Party says it will raise taxes by increasing the tax rate for the richest people. In the USA, President Trump wants to cut taxes, especially for business.

Paying tax is something we all have to do whether we like it or not. However, everybody seems to like talking about tax. In fact, Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said,

‘There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.’

See how many of these words you can use next time a conversation in English turns to the subject of tax.

If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.

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By Barney

Words making the headlines – election

Polling card

The next word in our occasional series about newspaper vocabulary is in headlines everywhere. It’s election /ɪˈlek.ʃən/.

Let’s start with the definition. The Macmillan English Dictionary says an election is

an occasion when people vote for someone to represent them, especially in a government.

We’ll come back to the word vote in a moment but first let’s focus on different types of elections.

Last year, the people of the USA voted to choose a new president. That’s what we call a presidential election. The people of France are currently doing the same.

There are other types of elections; one for every level of government. In the UK this month, we have local elections in some parts of the country, including Stratford. This is when we vote to choose the people to represent us at a city or county level.

BBC election newsAnd we also have a general election in June. A general election is to choose the representatives to go to the national parliament. In the UK, we call these people Members of Parliament or MPs.

Right now, we’re now in the middle of the election campaign. The newspapers, television and radio are full of interviews with candidates from the different political parties and reports about what they promise to do if we vote for them.

This year’s UK general election is a snap election. This means that, instead of waiting for the official 5-year parliamentary period to end in 2020, the UK Prime Minister suddenly decided to call an election at very short notice.

What about the word vote /vəʊt/? We often use it as a verb, for example:

Who did you vote for?

However, newspapers sometimes use it as a noun which means the same as election, for example:

The results of the June vote will influence the Brexit negotiations.

There are lots of other words connected to elections but we’ll deal with them another time.

If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.


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by Barney

Words making the Headlines – Brexit

Brexit dotted-line

Reading the news is a good way to build your vocabulary. This is the first of an occasional series about words that appear in the headlines of English-language news stories.

It won’t surprise you that today’s word is Brexit. This term is used to talk about the end of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

Brexit is two words merged together*: British and exit. It’s always written with a capital B because the first part comes from British.

Brexit is a noun but it’s often used to modify another noun, for example this article from the Guardian newspaper contains:

GB in the EU car stickerBrexit terms [the details of a future agreement with the other members of the EU]

Brexit bill [the amount of money the UK might have to pay for leaving the EU]

Brexit promises [commitments by both sides of the negotiations]

Brexit minister [a member of the UK government responsible for managing the UK’s exit from the EU]

There are also different types of Brexit. A hard Brexit means a situation where the UK gives up all the commitments and benefits of EU membership. A soft Brexit means a situation where the UK keeps some of those commitments and benefits.

Supporters of Brexit are often referred to as Brexiteers. People who do not agree with the plan to leave the EU are called Remainers. It’s important to note that British people only use these terms to talk about other people. We never use them to describe our own position in the debate.

If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.


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* The technical term for this is a portmanteau word.


by Barney