Thursday, November 3, 2022


What do the following items have in common? T-shirts, water bottles, pens, tote bags, mugs, decks of cards, mouse pads, notebooks, hats, keychains, umbrellas, calendars. 

They are typical promotional items that customers receive for free as gifts, and they are known as SWAG (Stuff We All Get). 

Swag is a form of advertising and swag items always feature the company’s brand name or logo. I’m confident that you’ve received swag from your workplace, bank, fitness center, or vendor at some time in your life. 

George Washington, the first US president, is remembered historically as the first person in the US to use swag; he gave away comemorative buttons to promote his election campaign in 1789. 

Some people get extra special swag bags for exclusive occasions. For example, celebrities at the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony received VIP swag with 50 different products and gifts, including a $50,000 private vacation at a 10-bedroom castle in Scotland and a $15,000 spa retreat for two. 

It’s always fun to get something for free.

U.S. Culture: Uncle Sam

Sunday, October 9, 2022

I want you for U.S. Army! 

That motto accompanies this famous World War l Army recruitment poster, and the man pointing his finger at you (the viewer) is Uncle Sam. This is an iconic image in U.S. culture.....but who is Uncle Sam?

In reality, Uncle Sam is a personification of the U.S. federal government, and Uncle Sam (initials U.S.) is a common nickname for the United States. Some people say Uncle Sam when they're really talking about the federal government (example: He owed $1000 in taxes to Uncle Sam.)

Uncle Sam represents patriotism and unity, and he is typically portrayed as a tall, thin, bearded man who wears a suit of red, white, and blue.  

It is believed that the name originated from war-time meat supplies during the War of 1812, whose packages were labeled U.S. A soldier jokingly stated that the initials referred to “Uncle Sam.”

Everyone is the United States has an uncle. Young or old, native-born or new citizen, your uncle is Uncle Sam.

Negative Infinitives

Saturday, September 3, 2022


Here’s an inspiring quote from Albert Einstein: "Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”

In this quote there is a great example of a grammar rule, which is how to make an infinitive negative. The famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet “To be, or not to be?” can help you remember the rule too: When making an infinitive negative, you put “not” before the infinitive.


  • Marco decided not to go to Paris.
  • Olga chose not to fly on the holiday. 
  • I always try not to be late.
  • It’s best not to drive if you are tired. 

An infinitive is the basic form of a verb with "to": to + verb  (example: to sing/to drive/to go). A split infinitive occurs whenever a word appears between ‘to’ and the verb. Here are those same sentences as split infinitives: 

  • Marco decided to not go to Paris.
  • Olga chose to not fly on the holiday. 
  • I always try to not be late.
  • It’s best to not drive if you are tired. 

Generally, experts don’t approve of split infinitives so the recommendation is to use them only  in informal situations.

 Try not to forget this grammar rule ;)

US Culture: Thorne Miniature Rooms

Tuesday, August 9, 2022


When visiting the Thorne Miniature Rooms in the Chicago Art Institute, you are invited to peer through 68 windows that look into 68 distinctly different rooms — very, very tiny rooms. 

Constructed on a 1:12 scale, in other words, a scale of 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 1 foot (0.30 m), the Thorne Miniature Rooms are replications of rooms found in America and Europe from the 13th century to the 1930s. Even more spectacular, they are made primarily of the same materials as full-sized rooms.

In the 1930s, through the imagination of Narcissa Niblack Thorne, the creator of the Thorne Rooms, a total of 100 rooms were intricately designed by skilled Chicago craftsmen. There are 68 rooms at the Chicago Art Institute, with the remaining rooms in galleries throughout the country. 

I remember looking at these little rooms with fascination when I was a child, and I still feel the same enchantment today when I visit the Thorne Miniatures. 

Too Bad

Tuesday, July 5, 2022


What does “too bad” mean in this joke?  

Parallel lines have so much in common. It’s too bad they’ll never meet. 

Taken literally, one is likely to think “too bad” means really bad or extremely bad, which is one way to define the phrase. In this joke, however, it translates to “it’s unfortunate” or “it’s a pity.”

  • It’s too bad the jacket doesn’t fit you.
  • It’s too bad David can’t come to the picnic. 
  • That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that. 

Let’s look at one more: “Too bad” can be used in an ironic way to show that one is not sorry or does not feel sympathy about a problem. 

A: “I want to go to the football game.” 
B: “Too bad. You failed your math exam so you need to stay home and study instead.”

So, “too bad” means three different things:

  1. Literally = extremely bad
  2. Expressing sympathy
  3. Expressing a lack of sympathy
For English learners, it's good to keep these differences in mind, especially when someone says "too bad" to you. 

Guilty Pleasures

Monday, June 6, 2022


The Greek playwright Euripides stated, “Short is the joy that guilty pleasure brings.” He failed to include, however, that guilty pleasures are so fun. 

A guilty pleasure is an enjoyable activity that usually induces minor feelings of guilt. It’s something harmless that you like doing despite feeling a bit of shame for enjoying it. Such a combination of pleasure and remorse - ha ha!

One of my guilty pleasures is watching my favorite soap opera, General Hospital. I watch it every day. Here are some other examples of common guilty pleasures: 

  • Ordering take out because you don’t feel like cooking
  • Playing video games
  • Eating junk food
  • Sleeping late
  • Watching reality shows or binge watching TV series
  • Reading gossip magazines
  • Certain foods (coffee, chocolate, ice cream, etc.)

Guilty pleasures come in many forms, and indulging in one indeed brings great joy. What is one of your guilty pleasures?

Ashamed or Embarrassed

Tuesday, April 5, 2022


Quiz: You can only feel one of these when you are alone:   a) embarrassed  b) ashamed

The main difference between these words is that “ashamed” is more about what you think of yourself, and  “embarrassed” is about what other people think of you.

Example #1 — Ashamed: Some people who haven’t had a good education may not be able to read (they are illiterate). They don’t want others to know this because they would be “ashamed” to admit that they are adults who don’t know how to read. Being ashamed is personal, and it’s often associated with feeling inferior, inadequate, or guilty.

Example #2 — Embarrassed: When I was at the university, students would move from class to class on foot (sometimes by bike) and in the wintertime, the sidewalks were often very slippery. It was common to slip and fall on the icy sidewalks, myself included. This was “embarrassing” because other people could see you lose control and it wasn't cool (impressive) in any way.  

When you’re uncertain about whether to use ashamed or embarrassed, think about the source of this feeling: external/other people (embarrassed) or internal (ashamed). 

*(Answer: ashamed)