The Tom Sawyer Effect

Friday, November 10, 2023


Tom Sawyer is the main character in the 1876 literary classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. It is about a good-hearted but mischievous young boy growing up along the Mississippi River in 1840.

Tom Sawyer is a clever, imaginative young fellow. He has a lot of fun but regularly gets himself and his friends into trouble. He is probably most remembered for convincing his friends to paint his Aunt Polly’s fence by making the task, which for him was unpleasant and boring, seem desirable. He motivated his friends to paint the fence by promoting the unappealing task as fun and attractive. Thus, he avoided the work. 

The name for this phenomenon is called the Tom Sawyer effect, and it highlights the power of intrinsic motivation. We use it to describe situations where individuals are more motivated to engage in an activity when they perceive it as enjoyable or when they have a choice in doing it. 

Yes, Tom Sawyer was a very clever fellow. 

Green Rooms

Friday, October 20, 2023


In the wonderful world of show business, the activities of performers backstage are usually unknown to audiences, but the green room is one place that arouses my curiosity a little bit. 

The green room is a room in a theater or studio in which performers can relax when they are not performing. It is sort of a combination waiting area and lounge. It’s different from a dressing room, where performers change clothes and prepare their make-up, because a green room provides a space for entertainers to mentally prepare and relax before or after a show. 

Even though it is called a green room, it does not have to be green. In the past, green rooms were actually painted green and also had soft lighting to create a calm ambience, but they are not like that anymore.

I believe it’s still called a green room out of respect for theatrical and show business traditions of the past, and I like that. 

Discuss; talk about (not discuss about)

Saturday, September 2, 2023


“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it's simply necessary to love.” 

This is a beautiful quote by the artist, Claude Monet. It’s also a perfect example of the correct use of discuss in English. 

Discuss and talk about are equal in meaning. In conversations with English learners, I often hear “discuss about,” which is a common mistake. 

Discuss = talk about

You can say this: 

  • Ron will discuss the options with his business partner. 
  • Can we discuss this tomorrow?
  • The lawyer couldn’t discuss his case with reporters. 

….or you can say it this way:

  • Ron will talk about the options with his business partner. 
  • Can we talk about this tomorrow?
  • The lawyer couldn’t talk about his case with reporters.

You can’t say discuss about

  • Ron will discuss about the options with his business partner.  - wrong
  • Can we discuss about this tomorrow? - wrong
  • The lawyer couldn’t discuss about his case with reporters. - wrong

Discuss about is a common mistake to avoid. 


Saturday, August 5, 2023


  • Notting Hill
  • Roman Holiday
  • Titanic
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • The Wedding Singer

These titles are just a few examples of some very popular films that contain memorable meet-cutes. 

In a movie or TV series, a meet-cute is a funny or unusual first encounter between two characters (who eventually become romantic partners). It’s how the two main characters first meet.

Every romantic movie must have a meet-cute. In Notting Hill, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) accidentally spills orange juice on Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). How did Rose and Jack meet in Titanic? He stopped her from jumping off the ship. In the movie Roman Holiday, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) encounters the princess (Audrey Hepburn), who is sleeping outside late at night in a Roman square.

Meet-cutes usually involve something unexpected, a misunderstanding (funny or otherwise), a little accident, a power struggle, an embarrassing situation, or any other chance meeting.

Have you ever experienced a meet-cute in real life?

Suffix -wise

Friday, July 7, 2023


The suffix -wise is quite versatile in informal situations. It can be added to almost any noun to form an adjective or adverb to mean with respect to or concerning, in the manner of or in the direction of

  • Food-wise there are many excellent choices on the menu, but money-wise the prices are high.
  • Everything is going well job-wise but things could be better salary-wise.
  • Health-wise Marie has completely recovered after chemotherapy.

I like to divide -wise into two categories: 

  1.  Directional or in the manner of (clockwise, counterclockwise, lengthwise, crosswise, etc). These usually drop the hyphen because they are fixed expressions. Other examples could be otherwise or likewise.  Ex: Turn the dial clockwise to open. 
  2.  Respect to or concerning (security-wise, school-wise, tax-wise, money-wise, etc.). The suffix -wise is attached to a noun with a hyphen.  Ex: Hillary always knows the current trends fashion-wise. (With respect to fashion, Hillary always knows the current trends.)
Adding -wise to nouns in informal English provides more versatility for you speaking-wise and writing-wise ;) 

Specially for You

Wednesday, June 14, 2023


Specially and especially may be two of the most easily confused English words on the planet. Their spelling is almost identical and they sound almost the same. Hmmm… do we use them correctly?

We use especially for emphasis, to mean particularly or more than usual.

  • Jan doesn’t like waking up early, especially on weekends. 
  • Sam loves salsa dancing, the cha-cha especially
  • The band at the festival was especially good. 

Specially is used to talk about things that are done for a specific/special purpose. In many instances (not all) specially can be used instead of the word just.

  •  I made this cake specially for you.
  •  Vera Wang designed the dress specially for Lauren’s wedding. 
  •  The pilots were specially trained for dangerous missions. 

*Helpful exception: When you mean “for a special reason,” you can use either especially or specially. Both are correct. 

  • The surprise party was organized especially/specially for Lisa and Greg’s anniversary. 
  • A poem was written especially/specially for the occasion.


Tuesday, April 11, 2023


“Punctuality is the art of guessing how late the other fellow is going to be.” 

 This quote by the writer Evelyn Waugh definitely applies to me because I always try to be on time (punctual), and very often I am waiting for another person. How about you?

The prepositional phrases on time and in time don’t mean the same thing, although they are close. 

When something happens on time, it happens at the planned time. On time can be expressed in other ways too: 

  • punctual

  • on schedule
at the arranged time
at the correct time
neither early nor late

People who are on time tend to be organized and good planners.

When you are in time, you are early enough to have extra time, usually to do something else. (That is extra, super-punctual - ha ha!) In time also means the following:

  • before something happens
before the scheduled time

  • with time to spare

There is a very close phrase “just in time,” which can cause lots of stress. Just in time means at the last moment, just before the deadline or just before something was supposed to happen. It means almost too late.

Ex: We caught the train just in time. (We almost missed the train but we made it at the last moment.)

Do you know people who arrive on time or just in time?