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Newsletter About the English Language
Issue No. 2 Aug. 09, 2006

This week's question comes from Mai.

I have a question. I was watching a James Bond movie and I noticed the word "assassin" in the movie. I didn't know that word. From the story I knew he was a "murderer". Can't I just say "murderer" or "killer" instead of that word?

Answer: Good question, Mai. An assassin is a kind of killer or murderer. The difference is that an assassin is someone who kills someone for religious or political reasons. (The verb is "assassinate".) A murderer is a person who plans and kills a person on purpose. (The verb is "murder".) A killer kills, too, but we don't know if it's on purpose or not. Also, a killer is not always a person and the one that was killed is not always a person either. Look at the good examples below:

ex: John F. Kennedy's assassin was caught. (JFK = a political figure)
ex: Pope John Paul II was almost assassinated in 1981.
(The Pope = religious figure)
ex: The murderer was sent to prison for life.
or: The killer was sent to prison for life.
ex: The boy murdered his parents in order to get the insurance money.

or: The boy killed his parents in order to get the insurance money.
ex: The killer has not been found. (killer = person, what is killed = person
ex: The drunk driver hit a school bus, killing one child and injuring six others.
(killer = person, what is killed = person, it was not on purpose)
ex: Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the U.S. (killer = a disease)
ex: That spray kills insects, even cockroaches.
(killer = spray, what is killed = insects )

I hope that answers your question!

Have a question for Kathy? Click here to e-mail your question to Kathy!


This week I'll feature words that mean almost the same as "smart".

"Smart" means able to think and learn quickly. It's a general term and it we use "smart" a lot in conversation. It's the most commonly used word on this list. The opposite is "stupid".

"Clever" has a rather broad meaning. It can mean "inventive" (as in "a clever idea") or "mentally quick" or even "smart in a sneaky/crafty/secretive way". We often use the expression "clever like a fox".

"Intelligent" means able to get and use knowledge. When we hear the word "intelligent" we think of someone who learns a lot, like a professor.

"Bright" means able to think and learn quickly, just like smart or clever, but we usually only use it when talking about children. We rarely see it in a positive sentence ("my uncle is bright") when talking about adults, but we do use it in the negative ("my uncle isn't so bright"), meaning the person is NOT smart.

"Wise" means knowing a lot, usually through experience. We think of a wise, old owl (owl=a kind of bird, fukuro in Japanese).

Do you want to try to use them? Put smart, clever, intelligent, bright, or wise in the blanks. Sometimes there is more than one possible correct answer.

1. He's such a (__________) boy.
2. If you need ideas for games to play at the kids' party, why don't you ask Jenny? She always has (__________) ways to keep the children busy.
3. He was (__________) to save as much money as he could when he was young. Now he can retire and live comfortably.
4. In this commercial you'll be playing the role of a doctor. Put on these glasses. They will make you look more (__________).
5. He's only 18, but he seems very (__________) for his age.

How did you do? Here are the possible answers: 1-clever or smart or bright [Note: it can't be "intelligent" because it says "a (___) boy" not "an (___) boy". And we usually don't use "wise" when talking about a boy.] 2-clever 3-smart or wise 4-intelligent [Note" "more" is a big hint here. We say "more intelligent" but we say "smarter".] 5-bright or wise [Note: We're talking about a boy, so we usually don't use "wise", but in this case we are surprised that he is so young and so wise.]


What are tongue twisters? They are sentences that are hard to say. In Japanese you call them "hayakuchi kotoba". We call them tongue twisters because when you try to say them quickly, your tongue gets twisted in knots!

This week's tongue twisters contain the sounds "sh" and "ch". I'll read each sentence three times, twice slowly and once at normal speed. Listen to the audio as many times as you like and practice the tongue twisters until you can say each one three times in a row! Good luck!

1. Sheila and Trish went shopping and bought shampoo and mouthwash.
2. Chuck checked the children's charts.
3. She sat on a chair and shined Charlie's shoes.

Click the PLAY arrow below to listen to this week's audio.