Thursday, June 30, 2011
Look at That and Watch What Happens, Part 2
By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author
In my last piece, I asked that you look at 14 pairs of words and see if you could clearly and simply explain the distinctions between the two words or phrases in each pair. I said that I’d post my own interpretations in my next piece – this one – and that it would be fun to compare notes. So let’s get to it!
- a bee’s sting: a wound inflicted by a bee, i.e., the aggressive action of a bee
A bee’s sting can be as painful as a wasp’s.
- a bee sting: an actual wound already inflicted by a bee
That bee sting you got yesterday still looks pretty inflamed.
- a few: “not many” with no negative or unhappy connotation
I had a few peanuts before dinner.
- few: “not many” with a possible negative or unhappy connotation
Being a pathological liar, she had few friends.
- blooms: synonymous with “flowers” on trees that don’t bear fruit
If you use this fertilizer, you’ll see lots of blooms on your gardenia bush.
- blossoms: flowers on trees that produce fruit
What I like about my Meyer lemon tree is that it has blossoms all year long.
- chicken: the (prepared) food item (an uncountable noun)
We’re having chicken for dinner tonight.
- a chicken: the living creature (a countable noun; plural: chickens)
My neighbor’s breaking a town ordinance by keeping chickens in his yard.
- door: something we open and close to go from one room to another or to go inside or outside
Kids, close the door gently when you come in. Don’t slam it!
1) departure area in an airport terminal where passengers wait to board a plane
Your plane will be departing from Gate 12.
2) passageway in a terminal that passengers cross when entering or exiting a plane
The ground attendant will open the gate at boarding time.
3) part of a fence that opens to allow a person to pass through
I make sure the gate on the fence around my house is closed so my dog can’t get out.
- hear: involuntary activity that the ears do
Do you hear that funny noise? Where’s it coming from?
- listen (to): to pay attention to certain sounds or concentrate on those sounds
Sorry. What did you say? I wasn’t listening.
- bottle: a container used for liquids with a long neck and narrow opening
I used to buy soda in bottles. Now I only buy it in cans.
- jar: container for storing a variety of things with a short neck or no neck and a wide mouth
Can you open that jar of pickles for me? The lid’s on really tight.
- meat: normally the word used for what is eaten
Doctors now say we shouldn’t eat red meat more than twice a week.
- flesh: what all animals, including humans, have
His injuries were so severe that his flesh was exposed.
- on a show: refers to television or radio
Ever watch “Law and Order”? A friend of mine was on the show.
- in a show: refers to a movie or stage production
As a dancer, her dream was to perform in a Broadway show.
- perfume: a concentrated and strong, relatively expensive, fragrant liquid used exclusively by women
She only wears perfume when she attends very formal evening affairs.
- cologne: a weaker, less expensive, fragrant liquid used by both men and women
My wife and I really like “Polo Sport.” There’s one type for men, and one for women.
- large: refers to physical, concrete things with real dimensions
That’s quite a large sapphire. How many carets is it?
- big: also refers to physical, concrete things with real dimensions, but can also refer to abstract or figurative things
That’s quite a big sapphire. How many carets is it?
Don’t believe a word he says. He’s a big liar!
(By the way, the same holds true for their opposites, small and little. And one interesting extra tidbit is that when you say a small girl, you’re referring to the child’s physical size, but when you say a little girl, you’re referring to her age.)
- stations: what you find on a radio
I always leave my dial on the golden oldies station. I love 1950’s pop music.
- channels: what you find on a television
We’ve seen that movie. Turn the channel and find something else.
- tall: normally refers to something from the ground up
The tallest trees in North America are the coast redwoods in California.
- high: normally refers to something in the air (one exception: mountains)
How high do most commercial airlines fly?
- damage: refers to the bad physical condition of a thing after some sort of mishap or destructive force
Their house sustained lots of damage after the hurricane.
- damages: money compensation imposed by a court for some kind of loss or injury
When he won his lawsuit, he received damages amounting to $150,000.
(It’s interesting to note that many less educated Americans have taken the uncountable noun damage and started using it as a countable noun in the plural form to express that there is more than one problem with the physical condition of a thing.)
Well, how close were your comparisons to mine? Of course there’s usually room for some difference in interpretation, but I do hope our distinctions are pretty close.
Finally, I also asked the following in my previous piece: “Check out the title of this blog piece again. It’s Look at That and Watch What Happens. Okay, so what if I substitute one of the verbs and say Look at That and See What Happens? Does this have the same meaning as the original title?” My answer is that it basically does. If we use see instead of watch, we’re communicating the idea of “witnessing” an event or occurrence rather than “observing” it, which is how I’d interpret watch, but there’s really little difference between the use of the two verbs in this case.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into one aspect of English vocabulary that makes things more difficult for our students – and our teachers. And I hope you’ll always be sensitive to the nuances that English vocabulary can have. Maybe we’ll do this again some time!