Words making the headlines – deal

Signing a deal All across Europe, people, companies and governments are trying to make deals with each other. The British government wants to get a deal on Brexit so that it can then negotiate trade deals with other countries. Taxi company Uber is hoping to strike a deal with the transport authorities in London over its licence to operate in that city. French public sector trade unions want to cut a deal with President Macron over budget cuts. In Germany, newly re-elected Chancellor Merkel is working hard to close a deal with possible coalition partners.

Of course, everybody wants to get a good deal. Prime Minister May is worried that the UK may not get a fair deal from the European Union. She is even making plans for a no deal Brexit in case any deal with the EU falls through. Many people in Catalonia think they get such a rough deal from the government of Spain that they want the region to declare independence.

Across the Atlantic, however, the author of a book called ‘The Art of the Deal’ is not interested in doing deals. President Trump says he wants the USA to back out of the deal to address climate change made in Paris last year. At the same time, he has made it clear that he doesn’t want to discuss a deal with the leadership of North Korea to avoid military conflict.

Mr Trump, famously, is not an easy man to deal with. Try to remember that next time you’re finding it difficult to make a deal with a customer or colleague.

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Read about deal in the dictionary.

deal (noun)

deal (verb)

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Words making the headlines – green

Trees - photo by Barney BarrettWhen is a colour not a colour? Well, when the word green appears in a new headline, it’s rarely referring to the hue of something. It that case, green means a set of beliefs or a political movement or a lifestyle.

Green, of course, is shorthand for anything to do with the natural environment and protecting that environment from damage by human activity.

Many countries have a Green Party. The members of those parties are often referred to as Greens. However, they are not the only ones who are concerned with green issues such as reducing pollution or protecting biodiversity. People who fight for these things outside traditional political systems are called green campaigners or green activists.

All of these groups campaign for the wider use of green technology which uses renewable energy sources such as the wind and the sun to generate green electricity. These kinds of projects are often paid for with green investment from green banks.

Other campaigns are for people to adopt green living. There is disagreement about what this means. For some people it’s about sorting their recycling and buying local produce. For others it extends to giving up flying and becoming vegetarian or even vegan.

"Green" carMany companies are now competing for the green dollar. They do this by marketing consumer products that they claim are better for the environment that other, similar products. However, these companies are also accused of greenwashing: making exaggerated claims that their products are more environmentally-friendly than they really are.

All of this doesn’t answer the big question of whether a consumer culture can be truly green. At the end of the day, given the choice of several “environmentally-friendly”, luxury products, the greenest option is to buy none of them.

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Words making the headlines – trade

Shipping container - tradeThe world economy relies on trade in goods and services between countries. This is nothing new. It’s been happening for most of human history. We don’t find it unusual that our local shops sell products from every part of the globe, or that our High Street bank* has its headquarters on the other side of the world.

The word ‘trade’ is in the headlines a lot at the moment because several major international trading partners are reconsidering their relationships with each other.

The most famous, of course, is Brexit: the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Trade talks are one of the biggest parts of the Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the EU. At the moment, the UK is still part of the European Union. This means UK-based companies benefit from trade agreements the EU has with countries like Japan, Canada and other trade blocs such as Mercosur in South America. However, UK government ministers say they want the freedom to make their own trade deals with these countries. They claim that membership of the EU involves too many trade restrictions. The UK’s trade figures show it has a deficit with many countries: imports are worth more than exports. Supporters of Brexit believe that leaving the EU will allow the UK to convert those trade deficits into trade surpluses.

The president of the USA also talks a lot about free trade. However, he also threatens to use international trade as a weapon. Since his election, there have been regular headlines about trade disputes with Canada and rumours of a trade war between the USA and China, its biggest trading partner.

Of course, history shows us that all these countries and blocs will continue to trade with each other. However, it looks like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – the organisation responsible for adjudicating on international trade disputes – is going to be very busy for the next few years.

* a bank which (in the UK) provides services to individuals as well as companies and has many local offices

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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.


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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.

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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