American Culture: Shotgun Houses

Friday, July 16, 2021


Does the name “shotgun house” scare you? Fear not, because a shotgun house is a typical small Southern style home of New Orleans, and it’s charming and cute. Even though tiny homes are a big trend now, shotgun houses could be considered the original tiny home because they were very popular in the late 1800s.

Shotgun houses are tiny but long, with one room leading into the next without hallways. This style of home is affordable and particularly well-suited for hot climates because all of the doors line up and, when open, a refreshing breeze flows through the entire house. 

Why is it called a shotgun house? Perhaps it’s because of the architectural design, where rooms are connected without hallways so a bullet fired from the front door could pass through the house without hitting anything and exit through the back door. Other evidence suggests that this name actually derives from the word “shogon.” In West Africa, “shogon” means “God’s House.”

Say NO to "ain’t"

Sunday, June 20, 2021

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular expression that means don’t try to change something that is working well.  It has the word ain’t in it. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” is the corrected version of this sentence. 

Ain’t is often heard in music, movies, TV, and in conversations (two famous song examples are “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations, and “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers), but there is much disagreement on its use in the English language. 

Ain't is a contraction for am not, is not, are not, has not, and have not but it’s strictly slang. I never say it and I don’t recommend that you say it. It’s considered by many to be incorrect or "bad" English although it is common in the speech of some people. The use of ain’t is generally viewed negatively as a sign of low education or low economic status. 

Perhaps this funny little poem will encourage you to never say ain’t

Don't say 'ain't'.
Your mother will faint.
Your father will fall
In a bucket of paint.
Your sister will cry.
Your brother will sigh.
The cat and dog will say good-bye.

USA: Iconic Roads and Their Famous Nicknames

Sunday, April 4, 2021


There is no greater pleasure than taking a drive just for the fun of it. There are many classic roads in the USA that will definitely add some excitement and glamour to any excursion: the Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, Lombard Street in San Francisco, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys

These are just some examples but there are a few other roads that are so iconic that they have special nicknames. 

Are you familiar with The Great White Way? You may know it as Broadway in New York City. The Great White Way was inspired by all the white lights on theatre signs and marquees that illuminated the area. In the early 1900s, when gas lamps were replaced with electric lights, the landscape was completely dark except for the dazzling strip known as Broadway.

Speaking of radiant strips, Las Vegas Boulevard is fondly called The Strip. It’s where all the most glamorous hotels and casinos are located, and it’s a wonderland for brilliant neon signs and inducements. 

If you ever find yourself in Chicago, make sure to take a drive or a stroll down The Magnificent Mile: Michigan Avenue. Steps away from Lake Michigan, this cosmopolitan street is dotted with upscale shops, fine dining, and famous historical landmarks (Chicago Water Tower, the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building skyscraper and the 100-story John Hancock Center). 

I finish with The Mother Road: Route 66. Popular in films, music, and books, Route 66 stretches 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. According to, “The legendary highway was known far and wide for its variety of ‘mom and pop’ motels, neon lights, drive-ins, quirky roadside attractions, flat tires, cars with no air conditioning, dangerous curves, steep hills, and narrow lanes.”

Route 66 has been a popular thoroughfare and road trip adventure since its construction in 1926. It is also recognized by the US government as “a symbol of the American people’s heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life.” The Mother Road attracts many people who plan journeys on this famous highway. Even former Beatle, Paul McCartney, was spotted along different points of Route 66 in August 2008. 

Hopefully you’ll be inspired to take a drive through this beautiful country along some of its legendary roads. 

The Best Quality Words

Tuesday, March 2, 2021


“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” 

This is a quote by Benjamin Franklin, an American statesman, inventor, and scientist. It means that low price is usually associated with low quality, which will often leave you disappointed.  

Why surround yourself with inferior things when you can live life by making high quality choices? If so, let’s use some adjectives associated with high, excellent and superior quality: 

  • Top drawer
  • Top shelf
  • Top-notch


  • A team of top-drawer architects and engineers was assembled for the high-profile project.  
  • The summer jazz festival featured many top-shelf performers
  • The Royal Hawaiian is a top-notch hotel on Waikiki Beach. 

Although the origin of top notch is unknown, there are unofficial explanations for the other two terms. For top drawer, usually the more valuable or useful items are kept in the top drawer of a dresser or chest of drawers so it’s easier to access them.

Top shelf refers to where wine or liquor is kept in a bar or liquor store. The highest quality — and therefore most expensive — bottles are located literally on the top shelf as opposed to the cheaper liquor, which is kept within reach.

These aren’t the most exciting stories of word origins, but at least they offer some explanation for why they became synonymous with quality. 

Add "-ly" to an adjective = adverb

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Simple rule: adding -ly to an adjective makes an adverb.

An adverb gives us more information about a verb in a sentence. Adverbs describe when something happens, where something happens, how something happens, and how often something happens. 

WHEN: tomorrow, now, today, later, early, again, soon. Can you think of another?  
WHERE: here, there, inside, high, away, home, everywhere. Can you think of another? 
HOW: easily, loudly, quickly, angrily, well, sadly, slowly, carefully. Can you think of another?  
HOW OFTEN / FREQUENCY: usually, sometimes, daily, frequently, seldom, monthly. Can you think of another?  

We usually make adverbs by adding “ly” to the end of an adjective.
slow —> slowly
clear —> clearly

If a word ends in -y and has more than one syllable, we add “-ily”:
happy --> happily
bouncy --> bouncily
sturdy --> sturdily
easy --> easily
noisy —> noisily
If a word ends in -y and has only one syllable, then just add “-ly”:  
shy --> shyly
coy --> coyly

Be careful! Here are some common exceptions: well, good, fast, hard, late, early, daily, straight, wrong (less formal), wrongly (more formal)

Try to use adverbs to make your speaking and writing more detailed and fascinating. 

Native American Home Styles

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

If you needed to find a new home, what type of dwelling would you look for? A private house, a condominium, an apartment, a castle, a tiny home, a townhouse? Many, many choices. 

Way, way before Europeans arrived in North America, Native American Indians lived in homes suited to their resources, climate, and lifestyles. They didn’t have the luxury of options. 

Some tribes were agricultural and wanted houses that lasted a long time. Others were nomadic, requiring homes that were portable and easy to construct, such as the tepee, which is a conical tent covered with animal skins. I think the tepee is the only type of home people associate with Native Americans, but there are so many others. 

Photo courtesy of
 For example, the Iroquois and some Algonquian tribes in my state of Wisconsin lived in longhouses. Longhouses were good for people who intended to stay in the same place for a long time. They are large (up to 60 meters long) and take a lot of time to build and decorate. They are made of wooden frames, which are covered with sheets of birchbark, and can house as many as 60 people, usually extended families. 

Adobe houses (also known as pueblos) are Native American house complexes in a modular style that were built by the Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi tribes who lived in the desert climates of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. 

Adobe pueblos are multi-story houses made of adobe (a type of clay) and each adobe unit is home to one family, like a modern apartment. The whole structure, which can contain dozens of units, is often home to an entire extended clan, with its access via a doorway or entryway through the roof by ladder.

Adobe houses are good homes to build in a warm, dry climate where adobe can be easily mixed and dried. These are homes for farming people who have no need to move their village to a new location.

Chickees (also known as chickee huts, stilt houses or platform dwellings) were used primarily in Florida by tribes like the Seminole Indians. Chickee houses consisted of thick posts supporting a thatched roof and a wooden platform raised several feet off the ground. They did not have any walls.

Chickees are good homes for people living in hot, swampy climates. The long stilts keep the house from sinking into marshy earth, and the raised floor keeps swamp animals like snakes and alligators out of the house. Walls are not necessary in a tropical climate because it never gets cold.

North America is a big continent with diverse terrain and weather, to which Native Americans adapted quite well with their dwellings.

Now, most Native Americans live in modern housing like you and me. One exception is the adobe houses; some Pueblo families (such as those in Taos, New Mexico) still live in the same adobes that their ancestors lived in generations ago.  If you go to the Southwest, many modern homes are built in the adobe style in the same adobe clay color. 

As Such

Sunday, December 13, 2020

What do you notice about the use of “as such” in the following sentences?

  • If this is not a genuine antique, it should not be advertised “as such.”
  • Those in steerage on the Titanic were third class passengers and they were treated “as such.”
  • Most independent farmers want to stay “as such” and will try to avoid having to work for someone else. 

What they have in common is that “as such” is used as a pronoun and it refers back to something already mentioned in the sentence, specifically antique, third class passengers, and independent farmers

The single word “such” is used often in English and it means different things. Here are a couple examples: 

1. An adverb = to say that something is great in degree, quality, or number. (ex: such beautiful flowers; such a good movie; He has such a big ego.)

2. An adjective = of a particular or similar type.  (ex: I want a good watch such as the one you’re wearing.)

The focus of this post is on the pronoun phrase “as such” and I encourage you to try using it when referring to something or someone previously mentioned.  I consider it advanced usage, but if you remember that it’s simply a pronoun, it won’t be so challenging.