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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread May 21st, 2007, 07:43 am
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Default "in a word"

Here is China, my students use the phrase "in a word" to mean "in conclusion" or "to sum up". And they use it very, very frequently. In my opinion (but not in theirs) it should only be followed by a single word: "In a word, always."

In looking at Google, I see a lot of other uses, including following it with a phrase that emphasizes a single word: "In a word, he is a genius."

My students, however, would say something like this: "In a word, President Hu Jin Tao is very important to the economy of the country."

I tried to correct someone today and had a mutiny on my hands. It was neat to see everyone so passionate about explaining a language element to me, but I still feel like they are mistaken.

So, what's the story? In a word, I need your help.

Thanks!
Dave
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Unread May 21st, 2007, 11:23 am
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Default Re: "in a word"

I agree with your students - I think it has a more dramatic effect when it is followed by just one word, but it's certainly not a rule.

Here are some examples I got by googling it, restricting the search to British sites only :

In a word -marvellous.

in a word said when you are going to give your opinion about something briefly ... In a word, she's lying. (from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary) ...

In a word, gobsmacking! (said by Jeremy Clarkson - who else! Sue)

in a word, if we compare them ...

It was, in a word, brilliant.

"In a word, the robustness of the software is amazing with the powerful user subroutines, we are able to perform a wide range of complex analysis. “

Perhaps in a word, the use of facilities is hardly a problem, as these are already present. The problems revolved more around how TBL can be set up, ... (from the British Council Site)
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Unread May 21st, 2007, 06:43 pm
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Default Re: "in a word"

Thanks Sue!

What do you think about the inclusion of the word "briefly" in the Cambridge definition? Does that mean that following "in a word" with a complex sentence (like the "software" example") is not exactly right?

Regardless, I realize that I'm wrong about thinking it should be just one word.

Thanks again!
Dave
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Unread May 22nd, 2007, 01:58 am
Sue
 
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Default Re: "in a word"

I think briefly is relative. If you have a long and complex argument a "brief" summary might still go on for a couple of sentences. But it seems to me that often the expression is just used to mean "to sum up", without much thought of how long the summary actually takes.
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Unread May 22nd, 2007, 02:04 am
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Default Re: "in a word"

OK. Thanks again! I'll have to go to my students next week with hat in hand.
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Unread May 27th, 2007, 08:49 pm
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Default Re: "in a word"

Hi Dave,

I once read that some cultures tend to view things as black/white and don't feel comfortable with grey areas. Looking back, I used to encounter this when dealing with China students over things like this, because, in a word, you're dealing with a grey area.
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Unread May 27th, 2007, 08:54 pm
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Default Re: "in a word"

In fact, come to think of it, you can have a lot of fun with the phrase 'in a word'.

For example:

In a word, the adverse impact of tight monetary policy and high interest rates on domestic demand and bank lending, which have been used to stem rapid exchange rate depreciation, is amplified by high corporate debt and can therefore worsen the corporate sector's financial situation.

You could even use it to start off a 3-hour speech!

Dave, I suggest you print out this thread and show it to your students!
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Unread May 28th, 2007, 12:24 am
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Default Re: "in a word"

I'm not familiar with Chinese, but it could also be that the phrase 'in a word' corresponds to some equivalent in Chinese which is often used.

I have to beat 'and so on' out of my Japanese students. There's a commonly used phrases in Japanese that means litterally 'and so on', but we don't use the same way or nearly as often in English.
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Unread May 28th, 2007, 02:56 am
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Default Re: "in a word"

Both of you raise good points. I bet there is something in Chinese that mirrors it, but (off the top of my head) I can't think of what it would be. And you're absolutely right that students don't like grey areas. Unfortunately, despite writing this on my lesson plan for today, I forgot to tell my class about my mistakenly absolute view on this phrase. Next week it is.

Thanks for all of the input!
Dave
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