Quack Doctors

There was a really interesting audio slideshow on the BBC news site today with the title ‘Quacks and Cures’. What is a ‘quack’ though?

In the slideshow, the presenter talks about ‘quacks’ as a mixture of a showman selling some kind of medical treatment. In modern English, we usually use the word in a slightly different way. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has a great definition as usual:

noun [C]
1 DISAPPROVING a person who dishonestly pretends to have medical skills or knowledge

Another similar word is ‘charlatan‘ although it can be used to describe a wider variety of situations:

noun [C]
DISAPPROVING a person who pretends to have skills or knowledge that they do not have, especially in medicine (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)

There is one more interesting word used near the end of the slideshow. The presenter says:

that’s often a euphemism for cure of syphilis or certain other diseases which were regarded as unmentionable in advertisements or polite society

A ‘euphemism‘ is an expression or word we use to avoid saying an offensive or rude word that might upset the listener. For example, people often use ‘passed away’ as a euphemism for ‘dead’.

Do you use euphemisms in your language? Can you think of any other interesting euphemisms in English?

Ugly Fruit

I love trying different kinds of local fruit when I travel. Here in Indonesia, we have some really interesting varieties of fruit. I think the most unusual to a foreigner are durian and mangosteen.

I was pleased to see this article on the BBC website yesterday because I have fond memories of making jokes about funnily shaped fruit when I was a child.

The fruit and vegetables in this article are considered ugly just because they are strange shapes and sizes. In English we also have a fruit called ‘ugli fruit’ which is a little like a grapefruit and doesn’t look ugly at all!

There were two particularly interesting words in this article. The first was ‘wonky

Return of the ‘wonky‘ vegetables – but will people buy them? (BBC NEWS)

‘Wonky’ is a great adjective to describe something uneven or at a strange angle. We could describe the Leaning Tower of Pisa as ‘wonky’. It’s quite an informal word to use so it was strange to see it in a news article. The second interesting word in the article is ‘mottled’:

Curly cucumbers, crooked carrots and mottled mushrooms – odd-looking fruit and vegetables are making a comeback as 20-year-old EU rules are lifted. (BBC News)

The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has a great definition of it:

mottled- marked with areas of different colours which do not form a regular pattern

What unusual fruit do you have in your country?

Black Box

I saw this interesting article on Al Jazeera news today and this piece of vocabulary caught my attention:

Bouillard said the search for the flight recorders, or “black boxes“, from the Airbus A330-200 aircraft would continue until July 10. (Al Jazeera News)

I think the meaning of ‘black box‘ is fairly clear here. It is the device that records all the information about a flight and all the communication between pilots and air traffic control.

The strange thing about this is that ‘black boxes’ are not black, they are usually bright orange!

Fears and Phobias

Scorpions are the only animals I’m afraid of. I really can’t stand them. That’s why I was shocked to see this article in the news today. The customs officers must have been very surprised!

There’s an interesting phrase in the article, too. One of the customs officers is quoted as saying:

“This time we had a hunch.” (BBC News)

In this situation, to ‘have a hunch‘ means to have an idea about something based on your feelings rather than facts. In this case, the customs officers ‘had a hunch’ that there was something strange about the package and their ‘hunch’ was correct.

I guess in the future, I’ll trust my feelings and take care when opening any unusual packages!

Do you have any fears or phobias? What are you afraid of?


‘Stoned’ has been in the news twice recently in very different contexts. The first example means to throw stones at a person until he/she dies.


Hardline Islamist militiamen in Somalia have stoned to death a man accused of raping and murdering a woman. (BBC News)

The second meaning is quite different. In this example the wallabies are ‘stoned’ meaning that they are under the influence of drugs. Remember, the word we use for people who are under the influence of alcohol is ‘drunk’ rather than ‘stoned’.

‘Stoned wallabies make crop circles’ (BBC News) 


There’s another interesting expression in this article, too. ‘As high as a kite’ means to be very, very stoned!

Australian wallabies are eating opium poppies and creating crop circles as they hop around “as high as a kite“, a government official has said. (BBC News) 


Have a nice weekend!

First Entry

Welcome to Wil’s World of Words. English students often ask me what the best way to expand their vocabulary is. My first response to advanced students is always “Read the news in English every day”.


In this blog I hope to help English learners with this by giving you my pick of all the most interesting vocabulary I see in the news complete with links and examples.


I hope you find this a useful resource for expanding your vocabulary and having some fun along the way.