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Tips for non-English speakers

January 9th, 2015


Tip your hat. Give me a tip for the 5.20. I’m taking this load of rubbish to the tip.

It was the subject of cow-tipping (sneaking up on the unfortunate animals when they are asleep and pushing them over) that inspired a late night mental ramble through the many, many uses of this small word – and a reflection on how difficult such small steps can be for students learning English.

Here’s a list, without even consulting dictionaries:

Tip out – to throw something away, “I tipped out all that soup that’s  been in the fridge for three months”


Tip out – to eject: “Ma tipped me out of bed and it was only two in the afternoon”

Tip your hat, as above – “A gentleman tips his hat when meeting a lady.”

Or a synomym for “dump” as in a place to leave large amounts of refuse: “This old mattress has to go to the tip.”

You can give someone a tip, and depending on your intonation it can be sarcastic: “Let me give you a tip about the best way to wash dishes.”

Or you could give someone else a tip for a likely winner in a betting race – as in Guys and Dolls, “I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere…”

That’s before we even get to the main noun meaning of tip – the summit, highest point. “We got to the tip of Everest and collapsed.” And there’s the tip of a finger, or a table, or a collapsing bridge – “AAAArgh! The cars are right on the tip of it!” (See the ending of  The Italian Job.)


Italian Job ending


The Oxford Dictionary says there are three main meanings of tip. By my reckoning there’s about 10 everyday meanings, noun or verb, without going to the compounds such as “tip-top”. Then there’s expressions such as “the tip of my tongue”.

No doubt others can think of similar words that are so versatile, all-purpose and user-friendly that they can pop up in a profusion of situations.

!Ay Caramba!


(Pic from express.co.uk)

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