In a pickle

Monday, July 9, 2018

Although pickles are small, did you know that you can be in one? It's true  . . . but only for the idiom in a pickle

Pickles are small cucumbers that are preserved in vinegar or a brine (very salty water). They’re usually served with sandwiches or hamburgers, or they can be chopped up into a relish (a condiment). My sister loves pickles although I can take them or leave them.

There are many food idioms in the English language. A piece of cake is an example, and now we can add in a pickle to that list. 

To be in a pickle is when you’re in a difficult, troublesome situation where the solution is unclear or difficult. 

John is in a pickle: he has two dates for the party. 
Now we are in a pickle because we’re out of gas.
I’m in a real pickle because my computer crashed and I need several documents. 
Can you help me? I’m in a bit of a pickle.

Have you ever been in a pickle? 

U.S. Culture: Small Talk

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Are you good at making small talk?

Small talk is when you make polite conversation about trivial or uncontroversial matters such as the weather or sports. It’s also known as chitchat, and it’s the best way to make connections for people who don’t know each other well.

Americans like making small talk while waiting in lines, or in elevators, for example, but small talk skills are also needed at parties, on the job, in class, or anyplace where you don't know others well. I speak with many English learners daily. Typically they are quite proficient in the vocabulary of their work but they lack small talk skills. If you find yourself in the middle of an awkward silence, then try some of these best small talk topics:: 
  1. Weather
  2. Sports
  3. Arts and entertainment
  4. Current news
  5. Traffic
  6. Travel
  7. Work
  8. Hobbies
  9. Whatever holiday is closest
  10. Hometown
  11. Family
Avoid the following worst small talk topics. These are small talk “don’ts”:
  1. Personal finances
  2. Religion
  3. Politics
  4. Complaints
  5. Death
  6. Sex
  7. Weight
  8. Age
  9. Health isues
  10. Relationship and family problems
  11. Gossip

If you’re not experienced at making small talk, try thinking of one thing to say for every item in the “best small talk topics” list. You’ll find yourself making social connections and actually enjoying yourself as you wait in that long line or attend that party, or participate in that international conference. Chitchat and have fun interacting with others.

Word origin: bigwig

Monday, May 7, 2018

Can you guess the meaning of bigwig in these sentences?

Many bigwigs in sports attended the charity event.
The job candidate was interviewed by several bigwigs on the hospital's staff.

A bigwig (one word) is not a large wig or hairpiece. A bigwig is an informal reference to an important person, a VIP, but its name literally originates from the big wigs (two words) that people wore in the past. 

Dating back to the 18th century, bigwig is a reference to the powdered wigs that men wore back then. Rich and important men had larger, more expensive wigs, thus the term for these VIPs was coined (created) .

Some other names for bigwig are heavyweight, notable, big name, dignitary, big shot (informal), big cheese (slang, old-fashioned), and heavy hitter. Try adding bigwig or some of its synonyms to your vocabulary to increase your fluency. 

Poetic License

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Grammar rules, rules, rules — learning languages involves many grammar rules. It may be hard to believe but there are instances when bad grammar is perfectly acceptable. This is called poetic license.

Poetic license (sometimes called artistic license or creative license) allows you to break grammar rules for artistic purposes. It is the liberty to depart from the facts or from the standard language rules to create an effect. 

One way of using poetic license is to change the facts of a story to make it more interesting or captivating. Another example is in song lyrics and poetry. Incorrect grammar is often used by song writers and poets to create a specific mood or character. 

Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog is full of grammatical errors but those errors tell us a little bit about the character (his lack of sophistication, his education level or background, perhaps). Take a look at the first verse of Hound Dog

You ain't nothing but a hound dog
Crying all the time
You ain't nothing but a hound dog
Crying all the time
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

Now, here is the same verse with correct grammar: 

You aren’t anything but a hound dog
Crying all the time
You aren’t anything but a hound dog
Crying all the time. 
Well, you have never caught a rabbit
And you aren’t a friend of mine

I think the difference is striking (quite dramatic) and poetic license was necessary to give this song the right mood. I can’t imagine it any other way, can you?

American Culture: Teddy Bears

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A teddy bear is a soft, plush bear toy that is named after our 26th President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. (Teddy is short for Theodore.)

The teddy bear was created after an encounter between Roosevelt, a hunting enthusiast, and a black bear in Mississippi in 1902. Everyone in the hunting party had successfully hunted a bear, except Roosevelt. His assistants didn’t want Roosevelt’s hunting trip to be a failure so they captured and tied a black bear to a tree, making an easy target for Roosevelt to shoot. Regarding this as unsportsmanlike (unfair), Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear, and news of the event spread throughout the country. 

After seeing a political cartoon that gently mocked the president’s refusal to shoot the bear, a candy shop owner in Brooklyn named Morris Michtom created the stuffed toy. He dedicated it to the president, who gave permission to use his name. Thus, the teddy bear was born. 

Teddy bears look like cute, gentle little bear cubs, which is how the political cartoon represented the black bear. Even now the teddy bear has worldwide popularity. Do you have one?

This is the official cartoon drawn by Clifford Berryman in1902 that satirized Teddy Roosevelt's bear hunt.

(The above photo shows one of the original American teddy bears. made in 1907.)

Book recommendation for English learners

Friday, February 9, 2018

Reading an English novel is a big achievement in the processing of mastering a new language. The thought of committing to a book (a novel!) may be a little intimidating but the feeling of satisfaction you will have after completing it will motivate you to read more books in English. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Hadden is an easy-to-follow English novel about a 15-year-old boy from the UK named Christopher who tries to solve a mystery. The story is written in simple English and is around 200 pages in length. This award-winning novel is told by Christopher (written in the first-person) who, as you quickly learn, has some behavioral difficulties, and understanding the world from his perspective is truly unique. 

This is a complete novel, not simplified in any way for English learners, and I encourage you to try it. I hope that reading more books in English will open new worlds for you.

"Grow" and "Grow Up": What Is the Difference?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Grow and grow up are not synonyms and that can be confusing. Their meanings vary slightly but both are easy to remember. This knowledge will give you another perfect opportunity to demonstrate your English fluency by using both terms correctly. You can do it!

Grow means to increase in size, to become bigger or longer

  • Anthony grew a mustache during his summer vacation. 
  • Millie hopes her investments will grow thanks to the strong economy. 
  • The maple tree in my garden has grown two meters since I moved here. 
  • His love for her grew more and more with each passing day.

To grow up refers to people and when they get older and more mature
  • Danny grew up in Chicago during the 1920s.
  • When you were growing up, what sports did you play?
  • Tom grew up in the country and Scarlett grew up in the city. 
  • Frank’s family moved a lot when he was growing up.

I hope your English vocabulary grows and grows with each passing day :)