Readability tips, literacy news, and English writing advice

Towel Day Cryptic

here's another tea towel … last bits bound to turn up (6)

Answer: PAELLA

Four Swedish Words That English Really Needs

Swedish may not be one of the top contributors to the English language, but IKEA and smorgasbord (smörgåsbord) are evidence that the English-speaking world may be willing to adopt a few phrases from this quiet Scandinavian country that otherwise remains neutral and fairly anonymous on the world scene. Ombudsman is another word English has borrowed from Swedish, though I can't remember the last time I used it in conversation.

Here are four more words from Swedish that would make English a richer language:

Lagom (log-ohm).

Adjective. The closest we get in English is "just right" but it encapsulates the feeling of something being the perfect amount of whatever it should be. Remember Goldilocks? When the bed was neither too hard nor too soft, that was lagom. When the porridge was neither too hot nor too cold, it was lagom.

At a dinner party, when asked how much wine they'd like, an American might answer, "Not too much." But if we used the word lagom, we might be able to answer with a word that also implies that we would not like too little. Language follows culture, and Swedish culture values moderation and generally avoids extremes. Lagom reflects their value for things being neither too much nor too little. Lagom is always best.

Fika (fee-kah).

Noun/verb. The act of sharing a warm drink (usually coffee) and something small to eat together with others. Also, the food and drink being consumed in this way. Fika can be any time of day, but is especially common mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and in the evening. You can eat something sweet, like a cinnamon bun, or simple sandwiches, or even a piece of fruit. It isn't a meal, but in Sweden, fika is a way of life.

In the workplace, your whole department would take a coffee break together, sitting around tables in the designated fika room. Drinking coffee from a vending machine alone at your desk while working would be strange, anti-social behavior. Not surprisingly, it seems that these regular breaks improve productivity, creativity and collaboration. But fika isn't just for work. Meet a friend at a cafe for fika, or enjoy a simple fika with your family in the evening before bed.

A cup of coffee in the car during your morning commute is not fika. You won't find any drive-through cafes in Sweden.

Sambo (sahm-boo) Noun.

A significant other that you live with but aren't married to.

In English we have words for a girlfriend or boyfriend, a fiance, or a spouse. The language hasn't quite kept up with the culture to give us a word for a relationship that doesn't fit well into any of these categories. A "boyfriend" feels more like a high school relationship than adults who have made a commitment to each other, but if you're not engaged or married, the others don't fit either. Sambo is gender neutral and adult. The relationship is committed enough to be living together, but no rings have been exchanged and nothing is legally binding. As culture evolves, whatever your opinion of its evolution, having a single word to describe this relationship would be helpful.

Fredagsmys (fray-dahs-mees)

Noun. Spending a cozy Friday night at home with your family, significant other, or just a few close friends.

Friday night is often a party night, since most people don't have to get up early for work on Saturdays. But let's be honest. After a week full of work and school and other commitments that have kept you busy all week long, sometimes the last thing you want to do is go anywhere. By Friday night, everyone just needs a break. Grab a bag of chips and your sweatpants and settle in to your sofa with the remote control. Dim the lights and light a candle. Throw blankets recommended, extra pillows optional. Unwind properly at the end of a crazy week with fredagsmys.

Star Wars Day Cryptic

Taken in by Jedi's pose, Darth got shot (8)


Easter Cryptic

Head of empire, a more forbidding Bostonian perhaps (9)


April Fools' Day Cryptic

Hoax victim taken from pool, frail, shivering (5,4)


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".

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