John Hancock’s Signature

Sunday, November 26, 2017

If you were given a pen and asked to put your John Hancock on a piece of paper, would you know what to do? If English isn’t your mother tongue, this could be a very perplexing request, but in the USA it’s quite normal. 

Who is John Hancock and what is a John Hancock?

First, a John Hancock is an informal reference to your signature. If I wanted your autograph, for example, or if I wanted you to sign a contract, I could ask for your John Hancock as an informal way to request your signature. 

John Hancock, the man, was a leader in the American Revolution and a politician. He was the first person to sign our Declaration of Independence in 1776, which stated that the 13 American colonies (our first states) were free from British authority.  

His signature is historically famous. Due to its boldness, large size and stylish script, John Hancock’s name is the most prominent because, according to legend, he wanted the king to be able to read it without his glasses. 

Phases of the moon

Monday, October 23, 2017



The moon is earth’s constant companion, affecting the oceans’ tides, our moods, animals, and maybe even our superstitions. Thanks to the sun, we’re able to see this celestial body as it orbits the earth . . .  but not all the time. 

We have periods when the moon in fully illuminated, partially illuminated, and not visible at all, depending on the stage of its cycle around the earth. These stages are called phases and we have four main phases. Do you know them?

  • New Moon - We have a new moon when its dark, unlit side is facing the earth. It is not visible.
  • Waxing Moon - The moon is waxing when more of its surface area is progressively becoming illuminated and visible. 
  • Full Moon - The moon's lit side is facing the earth and appears to be completely illuminated.
  • Waning Moon - The opposite action of a waxing moon. The illumination of its surface is progressively decreasing. 
A full moon gets the most publicity because its appearance at night is certainly dramatic, romantic, and inspiring. Ancient civilizations attribute behaviors of the weather, plants, or animals to the influence of a full moon so some months have a specific name for their full moon, such has September’s harvest moon (pictured above). 

Feeling under the weather

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


There certainly are a lot of words that describe weather. That’s why the weather is a tried-and-true (reliable) topic for starting a conversation. Though not very original, it’s easy for small talk and there’s always something to say about it. 

The idiom under the weather is a different matter altogether. When we feel under the weather, we feel slightly ill and not at our best. 



- Alice was feeling under the weather today, so she took the day off.
- Brian said he’s feeling under the weather and may have the flu.
- Marco’s girlfriend was feeling under the weather, so he decided to bring her flowers to cheer her up.


Historically, this expression originates from a shipping or nautical reference; when a sailor felt sick or unwell, he was sent below deck to recover, away from the weather. That’s something to talk about. 

Ghost towns

Monday, August 7, 2017

What is your city like when most people are away on vacation? Sometimes places feel like temporary ghost towns during the month of August, especially in Europe. 

A ghost town is a town abandoned by its inhabitants, typically due to economic decline or natural or human-caused disasters, such as earthquakes or wars.

Several ghost towns in the world have become tourist attractions. Many in the US were mining towns that sprang up (grew) during the gold rush in the 19th century. (The one pictured on this page is the ghost town of Goldfield, Arizona.) Miners searching for gold, silver, copper, and diamonds simply moved on to new opportunities in other towns, which is more understandable abandonment than the fates of countless villages and towns in other parts of the world, vacated because of natural disasters (Craco, Italy) or wars (Oradour-sur-Glane, France). 

So if your personal habitat feels a ghost town due to the holidays, enjoy the temporary peace, quiet, and romance of simpler times.

How done is your meat?

Sunday, July 23, 2017


I know that summer is here when I smell meat grilling on the barbecues in my neighborhood. Burgers and steaks are especially flavorful when grilled, and the aroma is intoxicating (entrancing and stimulating).

Doneness indicates how thoroughly cooked a cut of meat is with regard to its color, juiciness and internal temperature, and everyone has their preference.

If you’re a guest at a family barbecue, can you tell your host how you like your meat cooked? What about in a restaurant? Can you communicate to your server the desired doneness of your steak?

RARE = cool red center
MEDIUM RARE = warm red center; firmer
MEDIUM = warm pink firm center
MEDIUM WELL = slightly pink center
WELL DONE = little or no pink

These are vocabulary words to know for the ideal steaks, roasts, and burgers!

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service

Friday, June 30, 2017


No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service: this is a sign you might see at the doors of shops, restaurants, and gas stations throughout the US during the summer. It means that you can’t enter and you won’t be served if you are shoeless and/or (for males) shirtless. Other similar signs include “no bare feet, please,” or “shoes and shirt required,” or “welcome young people-but not with bare feet.” 

These signs sprang up in businesses as a reaction to the hippie culture in the 1960s and ‘70s; they were a means of keeping hippies out of their restaurants and stores. 

Interestingly, these No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service signs still exist today in a few businesses as a reminder that you can’t enter without being in the proper dress code. It’s not about hippies anymore. I guess people sometimes need to be reminded to wear their shoes and shirts. 

What smells?

Thursday, June 8, 2017





Spring and summer bring the smells of sweet air, freshly mown grass, flowers in bloom. I even like the fragrance of my sunscreen. They are all such pleasant aromas. On the other hand, what about the smell of cigarettes and skunks? Not so great. 

Sometimes we smell something and want to comment on it. If a chocolate cake is baking in the oven with its intoxicating aroma, it’s natural to say, “What smells so good?”

Some positive statements about smells:
- What smells so delicious? 
- What smells so fresh? 
- Something smells delightful!
Warning: when you say the two words alone, “What smells?” it typically means that you smell something unpleasant. 

With bad smells, you can be specific and more descriptive by creating full statements with adjectives or similes: 
- What smells like garbage?
- What smells so bad?
- Something smells rotten!
However, you can also just say, “What smells?” alone to convey that your nose has encountered something malodorous.  Either way, you are communicating that you smell something bad. 

Be aware of this difference when talking about smells, good or bad.