In this Issue
Letters to the Editor
Write to Us
Spread the Word
Back Issues

Crib notes, copying
and dictionary use

Lindsay Clandfield explores
the difference between
self-teaching and cheating

What we talk about
when we talk about
honesty and dishonesty

Focus on Language


Less fixed combinations
and functional expressions
UK version  US version

New word of the month
Proper nouns and new words

Top Tips for the CD-ROM
Using MED CD to explore
background information

Top Tips for the CD-ROM
Using MED CD to explore background information
by Mairi MacDonald

As the New Word of the Month column shows, proper nouns, especially names of people and locations, are one way for new words to enter the English language. Eponyms outgrow their original use and are often used metaphorically. Some words such as Jeeves and Fleet Street are peculiar to British English, while other entries such as those relating to classical mythology, folk tales and the Bible will be more familiar to students. Some examples e.g. spam will probably be understood by students but they won't necessarily be aware of the history behind the word.

The Macmillan English Dictionary has additional etymological and cultural information that can be easily extracted from the CD-ROM. There are 175 entries with additional etymological information. In addition there are 28 entries with cultural notes. This background information represents an alternative approach to learning vocabulary: students have to work with the new vocabulary in a way that uses dictionary look-up skills and promotes reading for gist and information. It also gives plenty of scope for discussion afterwards, and is a great way of showing students that dictionaries can be used for much more than just checking spelling!

1 Finding and extracting the background information

To find entries containing etymology and cultural information, open SmartSearch and select More search options. Check the Editorial notes box and select Cultural Note and Etymology, then click on Go.

Scroll through the search results on the left and select an entry. The Etymology or Cultural Notes box will be to the right of the entry.

Expand the Etymology box by clicking on the small square in the top right corner of the orange box. This is the Etymology box for scrooge:

Select Edit to copy the text. This information can now be pasted into your worksheets.

2 Activities

The following activities use material taken from the Macmillan English Dictionary CD-ROM and refer to entries relating to names, places and references to television or film that have become words in their own right.

Activity 1 Where do these words come from?

Procedure: Students first predict the answers and then check their answers in the dictionary. This can be done using either the book or CD versions of the Macmillan English Dictionary.

Activity 1 Where do these words come from?

Decide if the following words come from mythology, folk tales, literature, the Bible or popular culture (e.g. television, films or music). Work with a partner and complete the table. Then check your answers in the dictionary.

Adonis   Armageddon   babel   Batman   Bollywood   Cassandra  Cinderella  Damascus  Falstaffian   Jeeves   Job   Judas Kafkaesque   Hitchcockian   Lilliputian   Motown   Orwellian romeo   Samson   Star Wars

Greek mythology
folk tales/literature
the Bible
popular culture






Activity 2 Exploring the story behind a word

Procedure: Students try to match the definition on the right with the headword on the left. Make sure students are aware of the answers before going on to the second part.

Activity 2A Match the definition

Match the definition on the right to the word on the left.

1 Armageddon a something that is very difficult to achieve
2 blarney b if someone has the _____ touch, they succeed easily at everything they do
3 Cinderella c emails that are sent to large numbers of people on the Internet, especially when these are not wanted
4 Everest d a type of African-American soul music from the US city of Detroit, popular in the 1960s and 1970s
5 Fleet Street e someone or something that has good qualities but is treated badly or ignored
6 Kafkaesque f someone who hates spending money
7 Midas g the British newspaper industry
8 Motown h a friendly way of talking to people and saying nice things about them that makes it easy to persuade people to do what you want
9 scrooge i a battle in the future that will destroy the world
10 spam j complicated, confusing, and threatening


Activity 2B Complete the notes

Use the words 1—10 in Activity 2A to complete these etymological notes.

1 From _______ Record Company, the company that first recorded the music.

2 _________ is the main character in a famous children's story. She is a poor girl, badly treated by her stepsisters but, in the end, thanks to the power of magic, she is able to marry the rich attractive Prince Charming.

3 From ______, the trade name for a US type of cooked meat that is sold in tins. Because people had to eat so much of it during the Second World War, it became the object of many jokes.

4 From Mt _______, the highest mountain in the world.

5 From the name of the Czech-German writer Franz ______. For the characters in _____'s novels, the world seems mysterious and unfriendly, and it becomes very difficult to achieve things.

6 ___________ is mentioned in the Bible as the place where the final battle between good and evil will be fought.

7 The offices of most national newspapers were in this street in central London in the past. Although most of them have now moved to other parts of London, especially Docklands to the east, the phrase '_______ ________' is still sometimes used for referring to the newspaper industry.

8 From the name of a character like this in Charles Dickens's story A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer _______ is a mean old man who hates Christmas, but after he sees a series of ghosts his character changes and he becomes a nicer, more generous person.

9 From the '________ Stone', a large stone in ________ Castle in Ireland. Some people believe that if you 'kiss the _______ Stone' you will be given the ability to persuade people.

10 In Greek mythology, ______ was a king who was given the power of turning everything he touched into gold.


Activity 3 Phrases from history, literature and popular culture

Procedure: Students discuss whether the following phrases have a positive or negative meaning. Students should work in pairs to predict the answer then consult their dictionaries to check. Some are open-ended and will prompt further discussion.

Activity 3 Good or bad?

Discuss whether these phrases have positive or negative meanings. Look up the words in bold to help you.

Uncle Tom
Stepford Wives
Tower of Babel
ugly duckling
never-never land
Gengis Khan
artful dodger
the Black Hole of Calcutta
Barbie doll
Walter Mitty
Fort Knox
Good Samaritan
Murphy's Law
like painting the Forth Bridge
Fawlty Towers

Extension activity

Procedure: Students discuss the following questions in pairs or small groups.

Activity 4 Discussion

1. How many of the words and phrases in activities 1 to 3 are used in your own language?
2. Do they mean the same thing?
3. Are there any phrases in your own language that are different to the ones that you have looked at but mean the same thing?