Flick is an action performed with the thumb and forefinger in order to get rid of dust, dirt or an insect. The momentum of the “flick” can be rather fierce and propel the unwanted object away at great speed.

I remember flicking spitballs when I was at school and I guess earlier generations flicked marbles and the like.

Now it seems we can flick emails!

We’ll flick you an email when the technician has finished and your machine is ready to pick up.

I heard this use several times in my week in New Zealand so it is obviously gaining in use.



No big mystery here. It means that there is no shine or brilliance or that something is uninspiring. Often used in reference to performances and productions.

Yesterday’s match saw a lacklustre effort from the league leaders who spent most of the game on the defence and only had one chance at the opposition goal.


During the election debate the Vice President was distinctly lacklustre, giving brief and unconvincing replies and failing to inspire his supporters.

It can also be used to describe hair and I guess, by extension, aspects of grooming.

lacklus hair

It is not a word I use or have heard used much in spoken English and tends to appear more in reviews or reports but what I like about it is that it sums up a particular state perfectly.



As an adjective this word is quite commonly used to describe someone with a special talent or ability.

gifted player

Nancy is a gifted tennis player.

“We are young, gifted and black” sang Nina Simone in the sixties.

So far so good.  But what about its use as a verb?

I was gifted this watch as a recognition of my years of service to the local bowling club.

He gifted his wife a monthly pass to the local spa.


Researching on internet, the main dictionaries seem to acknowledge the existence of this use of the word but are reluctant to fully validate it yet.  Nevertheless, it appears to be used more and more frequently as a synonym for ‘to give’. There are many who criticise this usage but as one site said, there is a point to using ‘gifted’ if you want to emphasize the intention of giving the item as a present, rather than simply giving.

This looks like splitting hairs to me and while it is true that give is a perfectly good word, I suspect that using ‘to gift’ conveys a slightly grander intention and this is influential in its increased use.

Snowflake Children, Flaky

snowflake kid

I have seen this term used in a couple of different ways recently.

One is to describe children born via embryo adoption. This is when by using in vitro fertilisation, an infertile couple can have a baby, neither of them being one of the donors. The snowflake part seems to come in because the embryos are frozen along the way.

The other is to refer to young people who are becoming adults in this decade. In some circles they are being described as the Generation Snowflake, with an inflated sense of their importance, overly quick to take offence or get upset (the mall is closed one day and it is a major disaster or the fast broadband service goes down and they burst into tears).

Apart from this low threshhold of emotional vulnerability they also display less resilience.

It is not a particularly favourable term and reminds me of the word ‘flaky’, a slang word for crazy, unreliable or wacky.


Jim’s new girlfriend is definitely flaky, you don’t know what she is going to come out with next.



Another word that you don’t tend to find being taught or used that often by speakers of English as a second language According to Google’s trawling of the corpus world, it is not however going out of fashion.

There are two main uses of fraught basically:

Sailing in the Indian ocean is fraught with danger given the number of pirates in the area.

Doing up an old house can be fraught with difficulties and hidden structural ‘surprises’.

 So, the first meaning is ‘full of’ and we are referring to negative or unpleasant things.

The other meaning, probably less commonly used, is that of worried, anxious or tense.

fraught party

(Jen Yuson Photography)

The mood at the reception suddenly became fraught when her drunk ex-husband turned up.

 Relations between the two departments are somewhat fraught at the moment since the discovery of the theft.

 What I did not know before is that the word derives from Middle Dutch and means laden with something, like a cargo. So, it is a relative of the word freight! Interesting how some offshoots stand the test of the time!




From the French, meaning a slice or a portion, this word has started appearing with greater frequency in financial and legal circles.

The loan should be repaid in four tranches, one every three months.

tranche 2

The former president has a tranche of law suits to answer to in his name.

The residents will receive their compensation in three tranches, the first at the beginning of the work and the others to be paid as the project is completed.

So while the word is clearly used in the jargon of bankers and economists, it is also starting to gain ground in the media and in everyday English.



Another of those words, which sounds fun in English is umpteen.  Basically it is a substitute word for countless or a very high number which we do not wish to or cannot specify.

I have umpteen orders waiting on my desk to action on Monday

It also has an ordinal number form.

This is the umpteenth time I’ve told you to clean your room

For a commonly used concept, the term is relatively new and supposedly emerged from use by the British Army in World War 1.

There are umpteen dozen ways of making a mistake in this job so make sure you pay special attention.


 Larry has called Judy umpteen times this weekend. He sure is persistent!

Bare bones

bare bones

Another graphic expression.  The bare bones of something are the bare essentials, without any flesh or padding.  The meaning is very clear!

The bare bones of the story are as follows: boy meets girl, they fall in love, have a baby, boy cheats on girl, they have a bitter separation.

Just give me the bare bones of your problem, I don’t need to know all the ins and outs you have had with the Ministry.


This is the past participle of the word bereave and means lacking or deprived of something.  It may seem a bit of an odd word but it does crop up quite frequently in speech and writing as it does sum up a situation rather well.


Her husband’s early death left Letty bereft of not only a partner but a future as she had dedicated everything to Marcus and his career.


The room was bereft of all comforts, all she could see was a single bed with a thin mattress and a cold metal chair. This was to be her home for the foreseeable future.



Bob is such a sponger. Sleeping at his brother’s, eating at his Mum’s and always borrowing from friends. Doesn’t he ever pay for anything?

To sponge off others is to get things free from people when you would be expected to pay for yourself or at least share costs.

It is a really graphic metaphor as the sponge absorbs water in that complete way mopping up all the moisture around it.


One of the drawbacks of being rich and famous is that there are always people trying to sponge off you.  They think you are a gold mine.