Readability tips, literacy news, and English writing advice

International Women's Day Cryptic

Small female in health resort rejected desires (9)


Valentine's Day Cryptic

A loveless sign? So be it! (4)

Answer: AMEN

Four Portuguese Words That English Really Needs

The Portuguese language might often be viewed as Spanish's little brother, but the truth is that Portuguese has a vibrancy all its own. In fact, Portuguese is one of the world's 10 most common languages, with over 200 million speakers. Portuguese speakers have not only shared gorgeous beaches, caipirinhas, and Piri-Piri chicken with us; they have also given names to the following four things we can't yet articulate in English.


Saudade describes a feeling of deep "missingness." It is a longing for someone or something lost, often accompanied by the pain of knowing it will never be recovered. Have you ever felt nostalgia for a memory you can never relive? Have you ever ached for a loved one far from home, or for someone dear to you who has passed away? That's saudade. Saying "I miss you" in English doesn't quite capture the melancholy and torture of saudade.


If you're not feeling saudade and instead have the luck of being next to someone you love, cafuné could be the word for you. Cafuné means to run your fingers through someone's hair. Although the word is most commonly used to describe a tender action between lovers, it can also describe running your fingers through a pet's hair. Sadly, the English "to pet" neither expresses the specificity nor the tenderness of cafuné.


Perhaps you're beginning to see why Portuguese is often described as a language of passion and romance. Apaixonar describes the action of losing yourself to love. Translated clumsily into English, it means to "impassion oneself." The Huffington Post describes apaixonar as "the word used for that period in between 'I like you' and 'I love you.'"


Some people say that desenrascanço is an ethos that is important to the heart of Portuguese culture. It means to "disentangle" or remove yourself from a tricky situation using whatever limited resources are available. English speakers may know how to get into a "pickle," but only Portuguese speakers have a word for how to get out of one.

Four lesser-known native English-speaking lands: Caribbean calling!

The main English-speaking countries in the world are familiar to most of us, but if you've already been to those or are looking to get off the beaten path a bit, check out these four exotic places that you may not know use English! Native speakers will feel right at home, and learners of the language will have the chance to practice their skills in an environment surrounded in English. Explore these exciting lands, all blessed with Caribbean seas, sand and sun, amidst the comfort of Anglophones!


Sandwiched in the middle of Spanish-speaking Central America and Mexico, Belize is an English haven with Caribbean vibes, and beaches boasting the same qualities. Hit the sand in style, not only in the latest swimwear trends but also with a couple of Belizean words to impress locals with. Try a spunky craboo or nanche fruit by itself or in a tropical drink, dessert or candy, refreshing after a day in the sun. As a former British colony, you'll find words straight from Britain that may be confusing. Take "peckish", for example, which is a funny way of saying that you're hungry! Perhaps for more craboo?


Beloved by foodies for its production of ginger, peppercorn, bay leaf, caraway seed, and much more, "the spice island" of Grenada welcomes visitors with open arms and tantalizing aromas. Navigate the spice markets of Grenz, as the locals call their spicy island, and look for popular spices as well as the more unusual and purely Grenadian. Bake a warming Grenada Spice Cake with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, or get experimental with exotic-looking mace, nutmeg ketchup, hot jerk mixes, and local curry blends.


Rihanna fans out there probably already know that Barbados is an English enclave, if they've ever heard the singer interviewed or know her background. Fit into this famous musician-producing island by working musical words like "chip" and "dingolay" into your vacation vocab. The former is to dance to the music's beat while moving down a street, while the latter is to simply dance joyously and enthusiastically. I guess it's time to find some good tunes and get your body shakin'!


With so much of its land devoted to natural protected areas and parks, pretty little Dominica of the West Indies has become fondly known as "the nature island". While out exploring this green oasis, you may find it useful to know about "mountain chickens" and "cribos", as you could encounter some along the way! If you see a frog as large as a chicken in the mountains, this is the Giant Ditch Frog, which is a delicacy for islanders. Another sizeable critter, the Clelia or cribo is a long snake that actually hunts other snakes, but luckily not humans!

Early American English

Need to sharpen up your English history trivia? Here are ten trivia factoids to keep handy for your next pub quiz!

  1. Early American settlers sometimes chose to pluralize words by adding an N to them instead of an S. For example: house would become housen or tree would become treen.
  2. A toilet was once called a "Quincy" because John Quincy Adams was the president who first installed toilets in the White House.
  3. Americans often replace why with the phrase "how come" because they have appropriated the Dutch word hoekom.
  4. American English isn’t the only dialect to blame for the differences across the pond. British English also continued changing post-1776, most notably by dropping the "r" sounds from words like "car" and "hard." This de-rhotacization led to what we know of today as the posh British accent. This means the rhotic pronunciation we often associate with American speech didn’t come from Americans — but rather the Brits of yore.
  5. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Americans liked to drink a concoction of chicken soup and beer called the "cockale". Many people believe that the cockale is the origin of the modern word "cocktail".
  6. Many common words, including "skunk", "chocolate", "bayou", "avocado", "hammock", "canoe", "hurricane", "squash", "hickory", and "toboggan" come from Native American languages.
  7. Another Dutch word "snoepen", which meant to put candy into your mouth without any one else noticing was transformed by the Americans into snoop, which means to spy on someone or to be nosy.
  8. American English in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not put much stock in being consistent in spelling. The creativity of your spelling was looked upon as a sort of intellectual plus. Learned men like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin would often spell one word one way in one paragraph and the same word differently in the next paragraph, even in documents as important as the Declaration of Independence.
  9. "Goodbye" was originally just an abbreviation for "God be with you.
  10. If one man got his way, we would write "wimmen" instead of "women". In 1806, Noah Webster published the first American dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, which was full of laughable suggestions for streamlining American spelling. He eventually arrived to a standardization of American English that was palatable enough to stick (such as our beloved "color" and "theater"), but a lot of his earliest attempts earned him the title of "prostitute wretch". His biggest crime? Wanting America to form a unique cultural identity, in which "tung" meant "tongue".

Four Silly Sounding English Words

To non-natives, the English language sometimes seems a little ridiculous – from its unusual grammar rules to deceptive vocabulary words like ‘driveway’. Even native speakers can admit that there are some parts of the English language that are just ridiculous. Take, for instance, these four English words that sound a bit too silly to be real:


Forrest Gump once said, “Me and Jenny go together like keys and parrots.” Wait, no, scratch that – they go together like peas and carrots. When you mix up syllables and somehow end up saying something completely different from what you intended, that’s a spoonerism. The word spoonerism is even more hilarious when you consider its history: it was named after William Archibald Spooner, who was notorious for mixing up his words this way. His legacy is a word that is just as silly as it sounds.


If you wanted to get out of work, you might tell your boss, “I have a bad case of the collywobbles.” It might sound like a fake word invented by a toddler, but collywobbles can mean everything from a bellyache to intense nausea – or any kind of intestinal disorder. Note: saying collywobbles out loud could make you laugh hard enough to give you the serious collywobbles.


The word bumfuzzle rather bumfuzzles me. To bumfuzzle is to confuse. Much like synonyms bewilder, perplex, and puzzle, the word itself is fun to say, even if it is impossible to say it with a straight face.


If you tipple too much, you might topple over. To tipple is to drink alcohol, typically on a semi-regular basis – which is fitting, because it sounds like the kind of absurd word you might make up while seriously intoxicated. You can also use the word tippler to refer to someone who drinks alcohol regularly.

These are just a few silly sounding English words out there that are guaranteed to induce giggles if you add them to your vocabulary.

Four Hawaiian Words That English Really Needs

In the late 1800's the Hawaiian language was banned in schools. As a result, the number of native speakers greatly diminished. Thankfully a revitalization has started and the language is becoming more and more popular. Hawaiian words are often multifaceted, representing a way of living as opposed to a single idea or thought. Listed below are 4 Hawaiian words for which English does not have a direct translation.


Loosely translated, pono means righteousness. However, in the Hawaiian culture pono extends to all facets of living within yourself and your surroundings. This includes mentally, by keeping positive thoughts; being stewards of the environment and taking care of the land; and keeping respectful relationships with elders, family and friends.


The most common translation for mahalo is thank you. To Hawaiian's mahalo is not simply a word said in response to kind act or gift. Mahalo is more in line with having gratitude. Gratitude for life, experience and the environment.


Aloha is commonly used to express the greetings, hello and goodbye. However, the word aloha contains the word, ha. Ha is loosely translated to breath. Ha has a very deep meaning and therefore aloha has a much deeper meaning as well. Ha is an acknowledgement of the spirit or breath of life that lives in and connects all of us. Therefore, saying aloha does not simply mean hello or goodbye, but instead is a way of saying to someone that you love and honor the spiritual being in them.


Ho'okipa loosely translates into hospitality, expressing the same level of giving to family, friends and strangers. It is welcoming anyone into your home with the same love and appreciation.

Besides finding new ways to express ourselves, learning words in other languages can also teach us values, morals and provide insight into other ways of living.

Four Sanskrit Words That English Really Needs

What can the ancients teach us? It is fascinating to see how language develops over time. The evolution of language has a constant and symbiotic relationship with society's perceptions, knowledge, and understanding of the world. The foundational languages, Sanskrit and Latin, now date so far back that they are no longer even spoken languages; yet, they form the basis of almost all languages spoken worldwide today. Sanskrit was a spoken language primarily in a time of Vedic Hindu religion. Because of this, much of its vernacular has connotations interwoven with that belief system. If these four Sanskrit words were added to the English lexicon, it may reacquaint the Western consciousness with a long-held awareness that there is more to be experienced than what we see.

Kalpa: all of nonlinear time.

This concept is hard to grasp because time is generally perceived as past, present, and future. Kalpa is the "cosmic passing of time"- or the space between the creation of the universe and the destruction of the universe, which is timelessness. It has no beginning or end.

Maya: the illusion of multiplicity.

This suggests that all conceptions of "separateness" are illusion and that only unity is real. It also implies that this illusion must exist so that separateness can exist as its opposite to unity. By doing this, unity can truly be felt. That is a lot of meaning for one word!

Maitri: an unconditionally loving relationship with oneself.

This one is self-explanatory, as Western yoga, meditation, and even psychotherapy encourage this practice. Enjoying a good, nonjudgmental relationship with yourself is important. It boils down to having self-awareness and self-care, which is a very healthy thing to have. Imagine having one word to describe this very profound state of mind.

Dhvani: "hidden meaning."

Dhvani CAN mean "echo" or "sound," but it more specifically refers to a literary or poetic work that contains subtleties of meanings so deep that it requires more than one reading to digest.

These Sanskrit words can be a gateway into an esoteric world that Western society could really use. Just imagine all the creative ideas we could come up with if these kinds of words were a part of the daily vocabulary.

The Coleman-Liau Index

Developed in 1975 by Meri Coleman and T. L Liau, the Coleman-Liau Index remains one of the most commonly used readability formula. But how are scores from the test generated? And what value is the Coleman-Liau in helping us to measure how easy or hard different texts are to read?

What is the Coleman-Liau Index?

The majority of classic readability measures such as Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog involve counting the number of syllables per word and per sentence. Yet, a distinctive feature of the Coleman-Liau Index is that the formula does not involve any counting of syllables. Back when they introduced their measure over forty years ago, Coleman & Liau (1975) argued that despite developments in the area, techniques designed to estimate number of syllables lacked accuracy. This they saw as a key weakness of existing readability formula. For instance, if we consider the word going we know that this word has two syllables. Yet, the word boing, identical to going apart from the starting letter, has only one syllable. Differences such as these are very difficult for a machine to detect. Indeed, syllable counting by humans, let alone by machines, is far from an exact science. The challenges to counting syllables are something we will be exploring in an uncoming article.

Aside from issues over accuracy, one of Coleman & Liau’s key criticisms of existing readability formula was that syllable counting required the time intensive process of “keypunching the text into the computer”. Now, in the midst of the digital era, this criticism has rather lost its edge. But, Coleman & Liau’s argument about the inaccuracy of syllable counting remains valid.

According to Coleman and Liau, "There is no need to estimate syllables since word length in letters is a better predictor of readability than word length in syllables." Further, designing a “mechanical device” that could count sentence length and word length, with word length measured in letters not syllables would be easy and accurate.

By basing calculations on the number of letters in a word and number of words in a sentence, readability scores measured by Coleman-Liau Index may be seen as more accurate than those measured by formula that rely on syllable counting.

How does the test work?

So, as we’ve said, the formula involves no syllable counting.

The building blocks used in the formula are:

L = average number of letters per 100 words and;

S = average number of sentences per 100 words.

The formula is as follows:

0.0588L – 0.296S – 15.8

Making sense of the results

The Coleman-Liau formula estimates the years of formal education the reader requires to understand the text on first reading. So, if a piece of text has a grade level readability score of 6 then this should be easily readable by those educated to 6th grade in the US schooling system, i.e. 11-12 year olds. Text to be read by the general public should aim for a grade level of around 8.

Scores generated by the Colmean-Liau formula are sometimes reported to be lower than other readability formula such as Flesch-Kincaid when applied to technical documentation.

When is the test most useful?

The original Coleman-Liau paper identifies organisations such as the US office for Education and the Library of Congress as potentially benefiting from the Coleman-Liau Index as it will provide them with an easily calculated, economical measure of readability. This suggestion is in line with the roots of readability formula, originally developed to allow standardisation of textbooks for the public school system.

The Coleman-Liau Index is now used widely used across a range of sectors and topics. As well as being used to measure the readability of educational materials for schools, the Coleman-Liau has also been used to measure readability of patient education documents, to evaluate online reviews, and to help identify the source language of literary translations.

While the Coleman-Liau is widely used, the Index is often administered alongside other readability measures with researchers taking a blanket approach to measuring readability administering a batch of well-known tests with the Coleman-Liau among them. But, one are where the Coleman-Liau holds particular value is in measuring readability of texts written in non-English languages of Western-European origin. For these non-English texts, the Coleman-Liau provides a marker for comparison of ease of reading. So, by running the test on two different texts, e.g. two German newspapers, the test results would allow you to see which textbook is harder or easier than the other.

There are limitations of the applicability of Coleman-Liau to non-English texts. Importantly, the grade level that the test generates is standardised on English language texts. Other Western-European languages such as Spanish and German differ syntactically and in comparison to the English language, make use of more compounded words. This results in the common use of longer words which, unlike long words in the English language, are familiar and not deemed as difficult words for native speakers. When the Coleman-Liau formula is applied to non-English texts, the number of letters in the word would make, for instance, a German text generate a high readability score not reflective of the actual level of education the reader would require in order to understand the text. So, for non-English language texts, the grade level is meaningless, i.e. the score will not reflect the grade level of the text analysed. The value of Coleman-Liau Index for non-English texts then is in the comparison between texts rather than the meaning of the individual scores.

One case in which Coleman-Liau was identified as useful was in a study exploring which readability tests are suitable for the Norwegian language. In this research, readability grade level results were compared across different tests for the same text. Based on the differences in use of multi-syllable words in Norwegian compared to English, the researchers concluded that they would not recommend tests that use syllables and complex words as a part of the calculation. Instead, Coleman-Liau and Automated Readability Index – another test that is calculated using the number of letters in words rather than syllables – were recommended and were found to behave most consistently across the research.

Another interesting avenue for the Coleman-Liau measure is in the study of law and courts. Here, the measure has been used to explore the readability of judicial opinions. These are legal opinions written by judges during a court case to provide a decision reached to resolve a legal dispute.

Researchers report that when trying to pass a decision which is inconsistent with the majority position of members of congress – equivalent to members of parliament in the UK -, judges will strategically write less readable opinions. The researchers drew their conclusion based on measurement of the readability, using Coleman-Liau, of over 500 randomly selected Supreme Court majority opinions. By making their opinions harder to read, the researchers argue, judges help to protect the court from criticism from members of congress. Writing harder to read opinions will make it more difficult and time consuming for congress to backlash against the decision.

  • The Coleman-Liau Index remains a steadfast player in the measurement of readability.
  • The defining characteristic of the Coleman-Liau is that it does not involve syllable counting
  • The Coleman-Liau Index is suitable for assessing comparative readability of non-English, Western-European texts.

Feeding Your Ego - When To Use 'Me' or 'I'

We all know that person who insists they are a grammar king or queen and corrects someone who uses 'me' at the end of a sentence. "You mean 'Grandma gave presents to my cousins and I,'" they say, with not an even inkling in their mind that their might be wrong.

Both 'me' and 'I' are pronouns, but that doesn't mean they are interchangeable. In fact, by the rules of English grammar there are specific times to use each one. So how do you know when to use which of these two pronouns?

In technical terms, as explained by the Oxford Dictionary, you should use 'I' when the pronoun is the subject of a verb and you should use 'me' when it is the verb's object.

Okay, great, that's the technical explanation, but when you're in the middle of a crowded bar trying to prove your correction-friendly acquaintance wrong, how do you explain it in a way other people will understand? Try this trick: remove the other people/subjects from the sentence. Let's look at a couple examples.

"My dog and me ate ice cream yesterday." Remove "dog" and what are you left with? "Me ate ice cream yesterday." It's pretty clear that's wrong! So this is an instance where you would need to change 'me' to 'I.' Let's look at another one:

"My mother joined my father and I for dinner." Remove "father" and what do you have? "My mother joined I for dinner." Nope. Make that a 'me!'

Use this simple deletion and substitution trick, and you'll find yourself becoming a pronoun usage expert in conversation and in writing.

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