Keeping Score

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


What does “score” mean in the following quote by Abraham Lincoln?

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and this is the first line from his famous Gettysburg Address speech in 1863. A score means a group or set of twenty, so in his speech Lincoln is talking about years, four score and seven years, which is a more sophisticated way of saying 87 years.

Example: A score of citizens attended the townhall meeting. (Note that the plural of score is also score.)

Don’t confuse this with scores (of), which means a large amount of something.

Example: Michelle sends scores of Christmas cards to family and friends every December.

Break a Leg!

Sunday, January 5, 2020


So far in my life I have broken my foot, my wrist, and my rib (at different times) and all have been unpleasant experiences. 

There is one area where wishing for someone to break a bone (a leg, specifically) is good: in the theater. 

The expression "break a leg" is positive encouragement, said to actors and actresses for good luck before they go on stage, especially in live theater productions.


This entertainment idiom has various unverified origins, however.  One theory is that performers in show business tend to be superstitious, so saying, “good luck” is believed to bring bad luck, By opting for a cheery “break a leg” instead, it is expected that this negative expression will bring good luck. 

Red Kettles and the Salvation Army

Thursday, December 12, 2019



You know it’s the holiday season in many cities all over the world when you see the Salvation Army’s red kettles and bell ringers. 

The Salvation Army is a well known charity that has been helping the needy throughout the world over the last 150 years. The financial contributions they collect help fund their programs, but how did the kettle collection get started? 

In San Francisco, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee needed to raise money to provide a Christmas meal for 1000 of the city’s poorest residents. Recalling his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, he remembered seeing a large, iron kettle called Simpson's Pot at the port, into which people who passed tossed coins for the poor. He adopted this idea by placing a pot at the ferry port in a popular location of San Francisco and was able to collect enough money for the Christmas meal. 

This kettle collection idea sparked an inspiring tradition that continues every year all over the world, and the funds raised allow the Salvation Army to fulfill their mission throughout the year. Do you see red kettles and volunteer bell ringers in your city this time of year? 

Snowbirds and Sunbirds

Sunday, November 10, 2019

There is a Japanese proverb that says, "One kind word can warm three winter months,” but I think three winter months in Hawaii would have a more satisfying effect.

Are there certain times of year that you dread because you don’t like the weather? Maybe you dislike frigid cold temperatures, or you suffer from the stifling heat. Do you ever wish you could escape those uncomfortable temperatures for a couple of months? If so, then you're either a snowbird or a sunbird.

Snowbird is an infomral North American term for a northerner (usually one who is retired) who moves to a warmer state in the winter. On the other hand, a sunbird is a person who travels from a warm climate to a colder one in the summer. I’m not a fan of cold weather and my dream is to one day become a snowbird. What about you?
















*Photo by Luke McKeown 

Used to + noun

Monday, October 7, 2019



If you are used to doing something, it is familiar to you because you have often done it before and it seems normal or usual. 


  • I am “used to” taking the train to work. 
  • I quickly got “used to” the mild winters in Arizona after living in Chicago for many years. 
  • Bakers are “used to” waking up early in the morning. 
  • The puppy needs to get “used to” its new home.


In each of these sentences, a noun or gerund (verb that functions as a noun) follows “used to.”  
Why? Because “to” is a preposition, and nouns always follow prepositions. 


If you think you understand this rule, then why is “used to” followed by a verb in these sentences?

  • Martin used to exercise at the gym after work. 
  • I used to ride my bike every day to school. 
  • Nat’s dog used to hide every time it heard thunder. 

The answer: In these sentences, the word "to" is not a preposition. It is part of the infinitive ("to smoke,” "to ride,” “to hide”). 

Be careful not to make this mistake when talking about things that are familiar. 



Why does English have so many silent letters?

Sunday, September 8, 2019




Why does English have so many silent letters?There are two main reasons:

1. The English language is constantly evolving. Silent letters in the past actually used to be pronounced, but phonetic changes over several centuries were never intended to be so confusing. Now the reality is that about 60% of all English words contain a silent letter. Too many!

The word knead (to massage or squeeze with the hands) comes from the Old English verb cnedan and Middle English kneden. At that time, the “k” sound was pronounced but it went silent in Modern English. This included other kn- words, such as knight, knife, and know. The same is also true for many other consonants, like the final “b” in words like dumb and comb.

English also continues to develop due to the addition of new words. For example, 640 new words were added to the Merriam-Webster English dictionary in 2019. To be considered, there must be citations to prove that a word is widely used. A few of the new words for 2019 include Goldilocks, go-cup, bioabsorbable, and buzzy. 

2. We like to borrow words from other languages, like the French, for example. The final “s”, “t”, or “x” is usually silent, such as in debris, fillet, chalet, ballet, faux pas, etc. Italian words that are common in the English language, like spaghetti and ghetto, have a silent “h”.

So, you see, there isn’t one good answer or example for why English has so many silent letters. If you're interested in further detail, a study of English etymology (the origin and history of words) would provide a complete history. Just remember that silent letters are not there to confuse you, even though you may think otherwise, and you will become a more confident speaker, writer, and speller when you recognize and understand them.

*Photo by Kristina Flour

Taking Notes

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Take notes: that is my suggestion to all English language learners. 

This seems rather obvious for a topic centered on education, but most of the adults I help (and all the young learners) don’t write anything down. This boggles my mind, especially since language learning requires lots of memorization, understanding of grammar rules, and organization.

Taking notes is a key to success in mastering a language. Good notes reinforce what you have learned as well as help you remember what you saw or heard. They boost your comprehension and retention of material too. 

Notes don’t have to be written by hand. They can be taken digitally too, so choose the method that suits you, but be disciplined and take notes to master English (or any language) quicker. 


*Photo by Matt Botsford