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August 20, 2017

List of Cliches-1Lexical doublets and triplets (the doublets are sometimes called “twins” and triplets – “trinomials”) make a separate group of clichés: two or three words are joined by conjunctions and, or, neither …nor, or asyndetically (without any joining word, only with components separated by a comma), like in: Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. Most of these units are self-explanatory. The problem may only be how to use them best. It’s a thrilling process to trace the historical and social background of the units. For example, as regards the triplet Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve, (already mentioned), it’s a common expression uttered usually in response to someone making excuses all the time, meaning you cannot change the past. Yes, you could’ve done something, but you didn’t… or you should’ve done something, but you didn’t… or you would’ve done something, but you didn’t. “Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve,” but you didn’t..”

Another triplet (as an example) is Me, myself and I, which is often used to emphasize the speaker’s aloneness. I’m not sure whether it was the phrase that gave the name to the song or the song that turned its own name into a catch-phrase, but the 1937 song Me, Myself and I was popularized by Billie Holiday, and later reproduced by many authors and singers, with films and plays to follow.

Doublets with and to join their elements are the most numerous: above and beyond, spick and span, kith and kin, and many others. Here are some of them which are interesting in view of their cultural basis:

Barefoot and pregnant. The phrase has negative associations, and meant (hopefully, the idea is outdated) that women should not work outside home and should have many children during their productive years. The doublet originated in the early 20th century and by the middle of the century had passed into common parlance. Sometimes the phrase was extended into barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, which made it similar to the German „Kinder, Küche, Kirche.“ A comparable phrase Good Wife, Wise Mother emerged in the 1870s in Japan and was used as a means of restricting female access to the public realm there. In 2003, in a sex discrimination case in Wisconsin (U.S.A.) it was ruled that a woman who allegedly overheard her manager using the phrase, could take her case to a jury. Annually, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women ironically bestows a Barefoot and Pregnant Award to persons in the community who have done the most to perpetuate outmoded images.

Park and ride <e.g. a park-and-ride bus>. A transport system designed to encourage drivers to park their cars some distance away from a city center, tourist attraction, etc., and complete their journey by public transport.

 Jack and Jill. The historical explanations take you away to the times of the French revolution, the war of words between the English King and Parliament and the works of Shakespeare. But a more common meaning nowadays is “anybody”: <An exclusive restaurant might not want to let any old Jack and Jill in>.

Laurel and Hardy. 1. A slapstick comedy duo in the U.S.A. (1920-1950). 2. Any duo who are so inept at practical tasks, as to be humorous.


August 19, 2017

cvclicheClichés, along with idioms and collocations, both of which were discussed earlier, belong to the group of phrasemes – multi-word expressions restricted by linguistic convention (their components are not freely chosen). The specific character of clichés is that they have outlived their usefulness as conveyors of information, and are dying not from under-use (as archaic or obsolescent expressions), but from over-use. They have lost their power to inform, to enliven, to mean and are now trite, hackneyed phrases. And yet they survive in a kind of “living death”, because people continue to use them, despite complaints and criticism.

Why are clichés criticized and complained of? Because they deprive our speech of freshness, imaginativeness and precision, and make it commonplace. With clichés, the speech loses its energy and dynamics. Then, why do clichés continue to live? Because they fill in a niche which only they can fill. Life is full of occasions when a serious conversation is simply too difficult, or too energetic, and in that case we gratefully fall on clichés. They can fill an awkward gap in a conversation, people use them as passing remarks when they recognize each other in the street but have no time to stop, or when they are self-consciously polite with strangers on a train, or when they are forced to interact at cocktail parties, etc. AND ONE OTHER IMPORTANT REASON TO SURVIVE: you cannot do without clichés when you learn a foreign language. Firstly, a cliché does not sound as a cliché for a learner. It’s exotic as exotic a foreign tongue can be. Secondly, clichés are ready-made blocks that can easily be used as pause fillers and thus they improve fluency, which is not unimportant at the initial stage of learning. Making an analogy, I remember Charles, Prince of Wales, visiting Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine in the 1990s. At that time he was going through a difficult period of taking a divorce with Princess Diana, and much of public opinion was not in his favor. But in Ukraine, unlike in the UK, students welcomed the Prince with banners “We love you, Charles”, which moved him to tears. It seems that in the realm of language-learning English clichés are similarly welcomed in a foreign country.

There follows a jocular statement crammed with clichés. I think, the components of the discourse can be applied to any situation when an opinion is to be voiced. While reading the statement, one should not forget, however, that clichés may be a good breakfast, but a poor supper. On an advanced level it would probably be better to avoid clichés, at least in a number given below.

When all is said and done, I’d like to venture an opinion too. I hope you will fall for my story hook, line and sinker. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill and come down like a ton of bricks – claiming to be as large as life and, maybe, twice as natural – while having my say on this issue. No, in no way. But, to tell the truth, I would like to present my point loud and clear. This is not to beat around the bush or upset the apple-cart, but to give the green light to the calm before the storm. And, believe me, I will hit the nail on the head with what I’m going to say. It’s our last-ditch attempt. If you bite the bullet, we’ll snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat at the drop of a hat. LET’S LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED, AND GET DOWN TO THE NITTY-GRITTY. KEEP YOUR NOSES FIRMLY TO THE GRINDSTONE. Let’s stick to our last, lock, stock and barrel, so to speak. The bottom line is: take the bull by its horns at the end of the day. That’s my point. Take it or leave it.


August 18, 2017

As a follow-up to my yesterday’s blog, I list some proverbs I stumbled over while working on them. The meaning of these proverbs was somewhat obscure to me in the beginning, which is why I thought it might be reasonable to post them – for my blog readers to see how their understanding powers compare with my weakness 🙂

'Remember son, a trout in the beak is worth two in the stream.'

Youth is wasted on the young: young people are too inexperienced and they do not utilize their capabilities; neither do they use the capacity and potentials of their time as a launch pad for the future (a career, an enterprise, a campaign, etc.)

You cannot win them all: it is not possible to succeed at everything you do.

You cannot make bricks without straw: you cannot do something correctly without necessary instruments (e.g. to be a good teacher, one must have good textbooks, manuals, reference books, and… much more 🙂 )

You cannot get blood from a stone: you cannot get help from an uncharitable person or money from someone h=who has none.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right: if you believe, you will, if you don’t believe, you won’t.

What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts: the positive and negative results of a situation balance each other.

There’s one born every minute: there are many fools and dupes in the world.

Needs must when the devil drives: when you are desperate, you must do things you ordinarily do not do.

Many a mickle makes a muckle (Scottish proverb): a lot of small amounts, if put together, become a large amount.

Let (one’s) hair down: to drop one’s reserve or inhibitions; to relax and enjoy without worrying what other people will think. Also: to tell one’s innermost feelings and secrets: 1. The party gives you a chance to let your hair down at the end of the week. 2. Come on. Let your hair down and tell me what you really think.

It takes one to know one: he pot calling the kettle black.

There is nowt so queer as folk (Yorkshire proverb): nothing is as strange as people can be=people can behave oddly sometimes.

There but for the grace of God I go: a recognition that others’ misfortunes could be one’s own, if it weren’t for the blessings of the Divine. More generally: our fate is not entirely in our own hands (the proverb is an expression of humility).

The laborer is worthy of his hire: workers should or deserve to be paid.

Softy, softy, catchee monkey: be patient.

Possession is 9/10 of the law: ownership is easier to maintain if one has possession of something, or difficult to enforce of one doesn’t.

Parsley goes nine times to the Devil : (farmers’ proverb) parsley is slow to germinate (to begin to sprout or grow).

One good turn deserves another: you should do a favor in return.

Nothing succeeds like success: if you have succeeded in the past, you will be successful in the future.

No names, no pack-drill: say nothing to avoid repercussions.

Never tell tales out of school: do not tell secrets, do not gossip.

Ne’er cast a clout before May is out : (about the weather) don’t throw out your warm clothes in spring, even if the weather is warm.

It’s all grist to the mill: all things are a potential source of profit and advantage.

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys: if you, as an employer, do not pay your workers well, only stupid people will work for you.

Hope springs eternal (in the human breast): hope exists always <I keep buying lottery tickets – hope springs eternal>

Give a dog a bad name: (old-fashioned); used to say when someone has been accused of behaving badly in the past, and people often expect them to behave like that in the future <people were quick to blame local youths for the fire. Give a dog a bad name>




August 17, 2017

'...You can lead a man to the mall, but you can't make him shop.'Proverbs are highly condensed, short and memorable sayings that express traditional wisdom, basic truths or commonplace facts and are handed down by previous generations. The borderline between proverbs and other groups of similar vocabulary units is not clearly defined, which is why all of them are sometimes united under an umbrella of “proverbial expressions” and receive a variety of labels: adages, dictums, maxims, mottoes, precepts, saws, truisms. The branch of knowledge that studies proverbs is paremiology. Paremiological dictionaries of different caliber are compiled for various languages, and a definite paremiological minimum is to be acquired by a learner of a foreign language if the learner wants to “be in the know.”

The effectiveness of proverbs is largely in its brevity and directness. The structure is simple, the images vivid, and the allusions domestic, and thus they are easy to understand. Alliteration, rhythm and rhyme contribute to their memorability.

The authorship of proverbs is in most cases not known, and that’s one of the features that makes them different from quotations.

According to their syntax, proverbs can be positive or negative imperatives (Check yourself before you wreck yourself = take a step back and examine your actions because you are in a sticky situation; Do not upset the apple-cart =don’t create difficulties), parallel constructions (Garbage in, garbage out = incorrect input results in incorrect output), rhetorical questions (Is the Pope Catholic? = Certainly! Without any doubt!), or declarative sentences (Less is more = simplicity is preferable to complexity). In cultures where the cult of proverbs is high, they may be presented in the form of short dialogues: “The jackal said, ‘I can run fast.’ The sand said, ‘And we are wide.’ (Botswana); “Speech, what made you good? – ‘The way I am.’ ‘Speech, what made you bad? – ‘The way I am.’(Mali).”

Proverbs called counter-proverbs (also: antonymous, contradictory) may contradict each other as regards the truths contained in them:

  • What’s good for the goose is good for the gander vs One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
  • With age comes wisdom vs Out of the mouths of babes come all wise sayings.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder vs Out of sight, out of mind.
  • What will be, will be vs Life is what you make it.
  • Look before you leap vs He who hesitates is lost.
  • Many hands make light work vs Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  • Clothes make the man vs Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained vs Better safe than sorry.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease vs Silence is golden.
  • Birds of a feather flock together vs Opposites attract.
  • You’re never too old to learn vs You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

A very popular stylistic device is twisting (bending, re-shaping) proverbs. The purpose is to achieve a desired literary effect (humor, noticeability of a fact or an event, etc.), like in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Porter: It’s no good crying over spilt potion (instead of over spilt milk). Also in the same book, Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster of the wizardry school Hogwarts, advises Harry not to count his owls before they are delivered (from “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched). Being twisted, proverbs are sometimes mis-spliced (Never count the bear’s skin before it is hatched, and Make hay while the iron is hot). Often only one part of a proverb may be exploited: A rolling stone (about a person. The second part …gathers no moss is omitted).

Anti-proverbs, or perverbs, are the product of such proverb reshaping. With perverbization, “normal” proverbs are parodied and play with wisdom which is traditionally ascribed to them. Very often anti-proverbs come up as captions to cartoons. Just one of them: a waitress in a restaurant is serving breakfast to customers early in the morning – two plates with worms on each plate. The caption runs: “Two early bird specials… Here ya go!” Or another one, capitalizing on a situation when a U.S. Government agency was caught spending money extravagantly, which is why the case was brought to Congress. The cartoon depicts a black pot with the name Congress on it, and a kettle, also black, bearing the name US Gov Agency. The speech balloon above the pot reads: “Stop wasting the taxpayers’ money.” The pot calling the kettle black is the background proverb for this cartoon.

One more political cartoon is based on twisting the proverb of Three Wise Monkeys: one monkey covers its eyes (“I see no evil”), the second — its ears (“I hear no evil”) and the third puts its hand on its mouth (“I say no evil”). A billboard outside an American defense plant invokes this proverb: What you see here, What you do here, What you hear here, When you leave here, Let it stay here.

A special type of twisted proverbs is a wellerism. Wellerisms (from Sam Weller, a character of Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers) are somewhat obnoxious sayings that make fun of established proverbs and clichés when used literally in certain situations. Here are some of them:

  • We’ll have to rehearse that,” said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.
  • The week is beginning splendidly,” said one who was to be hanged on Monday.
  • Much noise and little wool,” said the Devil when he sheared a pig.
  • Everyone to his own taste,” the old woman said when she kissed her cow.

Having come from the remote past, many proverbs carry birthmarks of centuries: old lexical forms (There’s many a slip betwixt/’twixt the cup and the lip), old measurements (three score and ten…), obscure professions (Cobbler’s children have no shoes), outdated weapons, etc. Personally, I liked the advertisement that exploits the proverb Waste not, Want not (the old grammar of the negative form). The ad was promoting reading books that were donated to a special collection center by those who had already read those books: Waste not, Read a lot.

For me, the past is also throbbing in the saying Horses for Courses. An allusion is to the fact that a racehorse performs best on a racecourse to which it is specifically suited. Nowadays the proverb is widely used in the foreign-language industry where a translator is selected for a job not solely based on his/her fluency in a language, but also on knowledge of the subject matter. As one of my colleagues once said, judicial texts should be translated by lawyers, medical texts by doctors, novels by writers, poetry by poets… In short, HORSES FOR COURSES 🙂


August 14, 2017

Macbeth in Modern EnglishFiguratively speaking, an archaism is a language “pensioner” who has got enough vim and vigor to “cultivate his garden” and who is employed by poetry, historical prose, law, science, technology, religion, etc. to do the job of cultivation. An archaism is a feature of an older state of the language which continues to be used while retaining the flavor of its past. Grammar and lexicon provide the chief examples, though older pronunciations are heard from time to time, and archaic spelling is seen.

Among hundreds of others, archaic lexical items include behold (look at), damsel (a young woman), ere (before), fain (rather), hither (toward this place), oft (often), quoth (uttered, said), smite (to strike), unto (toward), wight (person), wot (know), yonder (over there – usually within sight), varlet (a servant), forsooth (in truth, indeed), sire (sir), etc.

Grammatical features include present-tense verb endings (-est, -eth) and their irregular forms (wilt, shouldst, etc.), contracted forms (‘tis, ‘twas, ‘gainst, e’en, ne’ero’er), past tenses (spake, cloth`ed), pronouns such as thou and ye, and vocative constructions beginning with O, which in Middle English glossed the vocative case. (As students in the 1960s, we styled our oath of allegiance to the English language by the opening lines “O English, my love, O English, my bread, O English, my subject… To thee I turn every time…”)

The hunter of archaisms will find them in an unexpectedly diverse range of contexts. Most obviously, they are used in many historical novels, plays, poems, and films about such topics as King Arthur or Robin Hood. Novelists who have used archaic language in a careful way include Walter Scott in Ivanhoe and William Thackeray in Esmond. In poetry, Spenser and Milton were influenced in maintaining an archaic tradition of usage. Children’s historical stories and rhymes also tend to use them (Lucy Locket lost her pocket = …lost her purse). Or let’s take the motto of the Peasants’ Revolt in England in the 14th century: When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? The italicized words in black type delve and spin are archaisms. This rhetorical question was used as an epigraph by the writer Zadie Smith in her novel NM (2012). That’s how archaisms work!

In proverbs, saying and quotations from the past, archaisms give additional weight to the wisdom of these set expressions and thus improve their credibility. Compare the proverb registered in Emanuel Strauss’ Dictionary of European proverbs: “Though thou has ever so many counselors, yet do not forsake the counsel of thy own soul,” or: “Today me, tomorrow thee (something that happens to a person is likely to happen to another who observes it).

Familiar quotations from Shakespeare teem with archaisms. There are quite a few even in a short monologue Polonius delivers to Laertes (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for…

 Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act…

 …Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice

 …Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment…

 Neither a borrower nor a lender be

to thine ownself be true…

If conveyed into modern English, Polonius’ precepts would sound far less unimpressive: The wind is blowing into your sails, and the ship is waiting for you…// don’t say what you think, and don’t do anything without considering it properly// listen to everybody, but speak only to a few// Listen to an opinion of others but don’t be too quick to express yours // Don’t borrow money from other people, and don’t lend money to anybody// be a man of integrity 

Archaisms can be found in religious and legal settings. Rural dialects often retain words which have gone out of use in the standard language. And many older elements, such as thorp (village) and lea (wood) are preserved in place names.



August 14, 2017

ageing languageIn my language blogs I wrote not once about new developments in the English lexicon. As a rule, new words are noticed almost immediately. When they are “born” they are nonce words, i.e. words coined for a single occasion, but when there exist societal trends or events to support their existence, they are recognized by such authoritative dictionaries as the Oxford Dictionary or Merriam-Webster and become full-fledged members of the English vocabulary (cf. the word -gate which is a component of such words as Irangate, Billigate, Camillagate, etc. on the analogy with Watergate, or the borrowing from Russian– sputnik. The latter became famous practically overnight).

It’s more difficult to notice how words are getting “old.” In this regard, a rewarding ground is, of course, slang. Like mayflies, which live only a few days, slang idioms get out of use right before our very eyes due to changing fashions of colloquial usage, the dynamic replacement of generations, the formation of new tastes and preferences – especially among young people, who try to gain a footing in society.

The ageing words are obsolescent words, obsolete words, and archaisms. Lay users of language (which most of us are) lump all of them together indiscriminately, and often avoid putting them into service. However, the approach should be more delicate. My position is that ALL words are our priceless heritage and may be used if not for lively communication, then for understanding our past and present. From this position, drawing demarcation lines between all the three groups of such old words will be helpful.

Obsolescent words are those which are on the way to dying: they are used by fewer and fewer people in fewer and fewer situations. For example, comely is a synonym to “attractive, pretty”, and if you now say “a girl is comely”, people will probably agree but they will classify you as an ”old-timer.” So, comely in this meaning is obsolescent. In the meaning “suitable, seemly” the word “comely” is not used any more (comely behavior), so, it’s obsolete. Obsolete words (meanings) are dead. Very often they are not understood by the majority of language users.

Another recent example of a word becoming obsolescent in one of its meanings is to surf. When the Internet rushed into our lives in the 1990s, the expression to surf the Internet was right on par with to browse the Internet (TV channels could also be both surfed and browsed.) However, when the Web became more important as a source of information, to surf started narrowing its meaning to “to go through the Internet leisurely and casually,” while to browse the Internet began to be functioning more in the meaning “to look for specific information.”

More examples of obsolescent words are dalliance (love affair), ebullience (enthusiasm), to conflate (to come together), to imbue (to infuse), insouciance (light-hearted lack of concern), to lilt (to speak in a cheerful, rhythmic manner), offing (the part of the sea between the horizon and the seashore – although the word is more actively functioning in the idiom “in the offing” = “soon to come”), mellifluous (sweet sounding), ravel (to knit), untoward (unseemly, inappropriate).

Archaisms deserve a special treatment and will be discussed in the next blog.


August 12, 2017

meFirst I found it hard to define what stylistic device was used to create a humorous effect in the jokes that follow. It looked like the closest was onomatopoeia – making words based on sound imitation. However, the term onomatopoeia is mostly applied when it goes about animal noises such as “oink”, “meow”, “roar,” or sounds produced by inanimate objects (a clock – “tick-tock,” a car horn – “beep-beep,” an engine – “vroom,” etc.) In our case, the comic effect is achieved when a reader of the jokes is simultaneously listening to the texts as they are being read, or at least, is reproducing in his sound memory the aural form of word combinations which stand behind the geographical names. Thus, the humor is based on the cooperation of orthography and phonetics, which can be termed as ortho-phonics. I’m sort of proud (:-)) having invented a new linguistic term. Another “innovation” is the verb “to geography” (pronounced “ji-‘o-gre-fai). It’s a nonce word invented only for this particular occasion, and it means to ‘cram the text with geographical names.’ Its logical derivative is “to un-geography.” What the nonce terms are about, the reader may see from the following:


Waitress: Hawaii mister? You must be Hungary?
Gent: Yes, Siam. And I can’t Rumania long either. Venice lunch ready?
Waitress: I’ll Russia table. What’ll you Havre? Aix?
Gent: Whatever’s ready. But can’t Jamaica cook step on the Gaza bit?
Waitress: Odessa laugh! But Alaska.
Gent: Don’t do me favors. Just put a Cuba sugar in my Java.
Waitress: Don’t you be Sicily, big boy. Sweden it yourself. I’m only here to
Gent: Denmark my check and call the Bosphorus. I hope he’ll Kenya! I don’t
Bolivia know who I am!
Waitress: Canada noise! i don’t Carribean. You sure Ararat!
Gent: Samoa your wisecracks? What’s got India? D’you think this arguing Alps
business? Why be so Chile? Be Nice!
Waitress: Attu! Don’t Kyiv me that Boulogne! Spain in the neck!
Pay your Czech. Abyssinia!

Gent (to himself): I’ll come back with my France.



Waitress: How are you, mister? You must be hungry
Gent: Yes, I am. And I can’t remain long either. When is lunch ready?
Waitress: I’ll rush the table. What’ll you have? Eggs?
Gent: Whatever’s ready. But can’t you make the cook step on the gas a bit?
Waitress: Oh, this is a laugh! But I’ll ask her!
Gent: Don’t do me favors. Just put a cube of sugar in my java.
Waitress: Don’t you be so silly, big boy. Sweeten it yourself. I’m only here to
serve you.
Gent: Then mark my check and call the boss for us. I hope he’ll cane you! I don’t
believe you know who I am!
Waitress: Kind of nice! i don’t care a bean. You sure are a rat!
Gent: Some of you are wisecracks? What’s got in you? D’you think this arguing helps 
business? Why be so chilly? Be nice!
Waitress: Attu! Don’t give me that bull on! It’s pain in the neck!
Pay your check, I’ll be seeing you

Gent (to himself): I’ll come back with my friends.



Oh, what did
boys, what did Tenna-see? (Tennessee)
Oh, what did Tenna-see, boys, what did Tenna-see?
Oh, what did Tenna-see, boys, what did Tenna-see?
I ask you men, as a personal friend,
What did Tenna-see?

She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw. (Arkansas)
She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw
She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw
I’ll tell you then, as a personal friend,
She saw what Arkin-saw.
Where has Ora-gone, boys? (Oregon)
She’s taking Okla-home, boys. (Oklahoma)
How did Wiscon-sin, boys? (Wisconsin)
She stole a New-brass-key, boys. (Nebraska)
What did Della-wear, boys? (Delaware)
She wore a New Jersey, boys. (New Jersey)
What did Io-weigh, boys? (Iowa)
She weighed a Washing-ton, boys. (Washington)
Where did Ida-hoe, boys? (Idaho)
She hoed in Merry-land, boys. (Maryland)
What did Missy-sip, boys? (Mississippi)
She sipped her Mini-soda, boys. (Minnesota)
What did Connie-cut, boys? (Connecticut)
She cut her shaggy Mane, boys. (Maine)
What did Ohi-owe, boys? (Ohio)
She owed her Taxes, boys, (Texas)
How did Flora-die, boys? (Florida)
She died of Misery, boys. (Missouri)


August 11, 2017

thepractice2All the jokes that follow are based on some linguistic phenomena: eponymy (joke 1), division of speech into functional styles (2) play on the polysemy of words (3, 6, 7, 10), slang (4, 7), the direct and idiomatic meanings of word combinations (5, 6), jargon (8, 9), homonymy (11), conversion of parts of speech (12). ENJOY:

  1. It is an interesting thought that if the Lords Cardigan and Sandwich had each other’s name we might today have been wearing sandwiches and eating cardigans (a sandwich and a cardigan are named after persons who are in some way or another associated with these items)
  2. A dizzy blonde snuggled up to her escort. “How about giving me a diamond bracelet?” she breathed into his ear.” – “My dear,” replied her companion slowly, “extenuating circumstances coerce me to preclude you from such a bauble of extravagance.” – “I don’t get it,” said the girl. – “That’s just what I said,” was the reply.
  3. There lives one ham actor who is still burning at a Chicago critic’s notice of his performance as King Richard the Third. “Mr. So-and-so played the king as if he were afraid someone else might played the ace.” (“a ham actor” — an actor or performer who overacts; “to play the king” — also: to play the card of king)
  4. Cannibal – “We’ve just captured an actor.” Chief – “Hurray! I was hoping for a good ham
  5. A confirmed woman-hater looked up from the piece of wood he was whittling by the old cracker barrel. “Women wouldn’t be here except for a little misunderstanding,” he snarled. “The Lord came down from the sky one day and asked Adam how things were going. Adam felt a little pernickety that day and he said, “Lord, you ain’t keeping me no company.” – “That’s right”, said the Lord. “Maybe what you need is a nice woman.” Adam turned white at that, “Aw, Lord, can’t you take a rib?” Well, sir, that’s just what the Lord did. The next day Eve put in an appearance and you, fellers, know the rest of the terrible story.” (1. a “cracker barrel” suggests the simple rustic informality and directness thought to be characteristic of life in and around a country store — like “home-spun, cracker-barrel philosophy.” A symbol of talkers who supposedly gathered round it in a country store; 2) “to take a rib” — also: to understand a joke)
  6. A customer told a hardware-store clerk that she wanted a three-quarterinch pipe plug. The man asked, “Do you want a male plug, a female plug or both?” – “I just want to stop a leak,” the woman replied. “I don’t plan to raise them.” (a female plug is a connector with recessed holes which have electrical terminals inside; a male plug is a plug with exposed conductors which can be inserted snugly into a female plug to insure an electrical connection; to raise —  to breed and care for to maturity)
  7. A (with a newspaper) – “It says here that cooks are often decorated in France.” Mr. A – “I sometimes feel like crowning the one we’ve got.” (to crown: 1) to put a crown on one’s head; 2) slang: to hit on the head)
  8. “In God we trust. All others cash” (a notice in a village shop); “to trust — to give credit.
  9. “Do you know that Noah was the greatest financier that ever lived?” – “How do you make that out?” – “Well, he was able to float a company when the whole world was in liquidation.” (to floatto keep financially healthy and stable; to be in liquidation — to go bankrupt)
  10. This is a circular of the Zanesville (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce: “Zanesville is an exceptionally rich city; so rich that every blade of grass has a green back, every bird has a bill, the chimneys have their drafts, every horse has a check, and every ditch has two banks, even our streets are flushed and the lawns get a rake off; every cloud has a silver lining, and every flower in the city has a scent, when you put a five-dollar bill in your pocket you double it, and when you take it out, you find it in creases. Now, do you want to live here or not?”
  11. There were three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. What did they do? – They threw out one cigarette and made their boat a cigarette lighter (also: more light, not so heavy).
  12. A wise man is one who noes a lot (the third person singular of the converted word “no” = “to no”, which is homonymous with “to know”. A similar situation: the ex-Foreign Minister of the ex-USSR Andrey Gromyko was nicknamed Mr. Nyet for his frequent objections to international decisions).


August 10, 2017

ESL lesson adv vocab school slang-2A geography teacher in Savannah, Ga (U.S.A.) gave his students a pop quiz on how they knew school slang of the past. The assignment was a Geography Jumpstart, probably not so much connected with geography proper, but teachers are always trying to find engaging ways to make it fun for students. One dialogue dating back to the 1990s was a street slang conversation between two “homeys” (=close friends):

“Yo, dog. I’m tired of getting punked by the popo for sportin’ my bling-bling. “ – “ True dat! You know they be trippin’ ‘cause our gear is da bomb. I mean all that and bag of chips with us.” Under the text a list of the slang idioms contained in it was given, and the students had to fill in a blank against each idiom with a corresponding “normal” word. Practically, all the students coped with the task: the 1990s were not distant past: yo – you, dog – man, punked – caught, popo – police, sportin’ – showing, bling-bling – jewelry, trippin’ – to overact or getting all bent out of shape over something small, gear – clothes; the bomb – something excellent, bag of chips – a friend (male/female) who “has it all” (is hot, athletic, has a sense of style and has a good personality).

The second dialog was from the 1980s. Only ten years “older”, the conversation was far less understood by the students. However, yours truly put his nose to the grind stone, looked up the slangy words in dictionaries, and here you are: the following text goes with the glossary.

“Like, do you see that barney over there? Can you believe that poser was even trying to talk to me? I mean, gag me with a spoon!” – “Like, for sure, what a dork! He’s like grodie to the max, and we are like bodacious babes. That’s like, really bogus.”

Like — with some teenage girls this word is spoken in between each word in a sentence; a barney – a despised person, socially awkward, boring, unstylish; a poser – who pretends to be someone he’s not; gag me with a spoon! – exclamation that describes displeasure on the part of the speaker due to something being distasteful or otherwise sickening; a dork – someone who has odd interests and who can be himself and not care what anyone thinks of him; grodie – nasty, gross, disgusting; bodacious – (predominantly used during the 1980s ) a combination of the words “bold” and “audacious.” To be bodacious is to be impressive, awesome, brave in action, remarkable, prodigious; bogus – unfortunate, unbelievable, opposite of “excellent.”

The above assignment happened to be uploaded on the Internet and went viral. Many parents said now they understood why American education was in such a dire state, they also said that their children should probably spend their class time doing something more useful and important. But there were also those who said the kids should get some “slang awareness.”

This morning I shared some articles on Facebook which show concern of both teachers and parents about how students speak. No secret that students’ future career may heavily depend on the impression they will produce during their job interviews, or when they go to universities, etc. Campaigns are launched which aim at abolishing certain “unparliamentary” (= rude and abusive) words from school. At some point even political celebrities (David Cameron among them) participated in such campaigns.

For all that, a lot of slang idioms were eventually adopted by the majority of language users and moved from the sphere of being “not appropriate in good contexts” to quite acceptable colloquial idioms. The following school slang is quite safe. You may enjoy it, just the same as the short test after the vocabulary definitions and examples (the key is at the bottom)


American English Slang – School And Studying

1.To “ace a test” is to get a very good grade.

How’d you do on the chemistry test?”

“I aced it!


2.If you “cram,” it means you study a lot in a short period of time.

“Are you going to the party tonight?”

“Nah, I have to cram for my history test.”


3.If you “cut class,” it means you don’t go to class.

“I’m gonna cut math class so that I can finish this project for biology.”

“OK. I’ll tell the professor you’re sick.


4.If you “drop a class,” it means you stop taking that class.

“I’m really stressed out this semester. I’m thinking of dropping a class.


5.To “hit the books” is to study.

“I gotta go hit the books. I have a final exam tomorrow.”

A “pop quiz” is a surprise quiz.

“We had a pop quiz in philosophy class today. I was completely unprepared!”

6.To “flunk” a test or a class is to fail.

“I’ve flunked economics three times.”

“Really? Maybe you should get a tutor.

If a person flunks so many classes that they stop going to school or college, we say they “flunked out.”


7.If you slack off, it means that you get lazy and don’t work hard.

“A lot of students start to slack off near the end of the school year.


8.“Dorm” is short for dormitory – the place where students live.

“How’s your dorm?

“It gets a little noisy on weekends, but in general I like it.”


9.The “quad” is a rectangular area surrounded by buildings on a college campus.

“Where’s Jenny?”

“She’s sunbathing out on the quad.


10.Many students gain weight when they start college. People often say that first-year students (freshmen) gain 15 extra pounds during their first year of school – this is called the “freshman 15.”

“I go to the gym every day so that I don’t gain the freshman 15.”


11.In high school and college, there are names for students in each year:

  • freshman= first-year student
  • sophomore= second-year student
  • junior= third-year student
  • senior= fourth-year student


  1. If someone has or gets a “full ride,” it means they have a scholarship that pays for 100% of their education.

“She got a full ride to the state university thanks to her good grades in high school.”


13.“Senioritis” is when students who are in their last year of college get lazy and stop working hard, because they know that they will finish their studies soon.

“Even the best students often get senioritis just before they graduate.”


  1. If you “pull an all-nighter,” it means you stay awake the whole night, usually studying.

“I had to pull an all-nighter to finish writing my paper for history class.”

  1. Frat” is short for “fraternity,” which is a social organization of male college students. The word for a social organization of female students is “sorority.” These organizations are often called by Greek letters, like Alpha Theta Chi or Kappa Delta, and members are called “brothers” and “sisters.”

“My brother joined a frat his first year of college to make new friends.”

  1. hang in there” – not to give up:“If you hang in there, you’ll get it!”
  2. busted” – caught :“My brother got busted for skipping class.”
  3. to bomb” – to fail, to do horrible: “I bombed the Chemistry quiz this morning.”
  4. “101” – a beginner’s course: “I’m in Spanish 101 this semester.”
  5. “busy work” – worksheets and activities that keep students busy: “Ms Anderson gives us tons of busy work.”
  6. cheat sheet” – a paper with information on it to help a person cheat on a test: “Eric made a cheat sheet for the exam because he was too lazy to study.
  7. A” – the best grade (mark): “I’ve got straight A’s on my report card.”



Question 1

“My ______ room was so small that my desk wouldn’t even fit.”

A  quad
B frat
C dorm
Question 2

“I drink about 10 cups of coffee whenever I have to ___________. It gives me energy.”

A pull an all-nighter
B ace a test
C join a frat


Question 3

“My son has _________ – I’m trying to find a way to motivate him.”

A senioritis
B hit the books
C gotten a full ride
Question 4

“I _______ all of my final exams!”


A crammed
B aced
C flunked


Question 5

“I think I only got two or three questions wrong on the __________.”

A pop quiz
B quad
C freshman 15
Question 6

“Stop ________ – turn off the TV and work on your philosophy paper.”

A slacking off
B acing
C cramming


Question 7

“We should really __________ – I think the tomorrow’s physics test is going to be tough.”

A get a full ride
B pop the quiz
C hit the books
Question 8

“Paul ________ so many times this semester that the professor forgot his name!”

A dropped class
B cut class
C pulled an all-nighter


Question 9

“My parents would kill me if I _________ of college.”

A pulled an all-nighter
B slacked off
C flunked out
Question 10

“It took me until my junior year to lose the ____________.”

A  pop quiz
B  freshman 15
C Frat


Question 11

“It’s not a good idea to put off studying until the last minute and then try to _______ the night before the test.”

A  ace
B  cram
C  flunk
Question 12

“You’re lucky you __________ – it means you’ll graduate without debt.”

A   cut the class
B pulled an all-nighter
C  got a full ride


KEY: 1C, 2A, 3A, 4B, 5A, 6A, 7C, 8B, 9C, 10B, 11B, 12C


August 9, 2017

valentines-cartoons-10-ssFortunately or unfortunately, but learners of English as a foreign language study slang only from afar. As a rule, they acquire their knowledge of English in the formal atmosphere of the classroom, where slang is out of place. Some teachers of English try overcome this difficulty by teaching their students slang idioms, but there are dangers in this practice. Slang changes so quickly that it is likely to be out of date before it reaches the classroom. Besides, the effective use of slang demands a feeling for delicate shades of formality that cannot be expected from anyone who needs classroom instruction. I would compare a native user of slang to a teenager who walks down the steps in a stairwell of a multistoried building, and then decides to slide down the rails of the staircase instead. The teenager knows how to do it, he has done it many a time before and feels quite confident about his downrun-route. A foreigner, however, is an adult person who is quite inexperienced in this type of descent. He may, of course, follow the teenager’s style, but will definitely cut a ridiculous figure and will hardly be a success in his attempt. It would be more befitting if the adult (= the foreigner) simply OBSEREVED the skill of the young man (i.e. , in our case, understood slang and appreciated it for what it is), and walked quietly on. “Make it flat”, my teacher of English used to say.

Being an “adult foreigner”, I’m not likely to catch up with such aspects of slang as its degree of novelty or its permitted intimacy, but as a linguist, I will be able to admire its dynamics and imaginative power. The first group of slang idioms which I’m offering today is military slang. Why military? Because that was my first encounter with colloquial English when I served in the military as a conscript in the 1970s. I took lots of English books with me from the civvy street into the barracks, and collections of American military humor brought color into my soldier’s life. Here are some findings discovered by me on the Internet today.

brain bucket (U.S., Canada) Combat helmet.

camel jockey used to refer to Arabs. Pejorative.

Dead Man Walking (U.S. Army) A person who has a permanent profile (see profile below) which allows him/her to walk two and a half miles rather than run 2 miles as part of the Army Physical Fitness Test.

ASAP – As Soon As Possible: This has become slang in normal speech but in the military it means “immediately.”

First Shirt – First Sergeant (Usually the senior NCO within a military unit)

boot – Someone lacking in experience. A reference to “boot camp”.

on the double – (US Navy, Marines) As quickly as possible; without delay.

blue nose (U.S. Navy, Marines) Anyone who has served above the Arctic Circle.

Cycled (U.S. Navy) or “getting cycled”  In boot camp, the act of being “beat” by your company commanders via strenuous work-out, or “PT” sessions. Cycling normally occurs after a member or the entire company has made an error of some kind either in drilling, training, etc. Cycling has no time limit, it lasts as long as desired by the company commander(s), and it can include any physical training that has been imagined. Oftentimes company commanders will make their recruits put on multiple layers of clothing, while closing windows and turning off fans, etc., in an effort to make it “rain indoors”. Lore states of “rain makers”, company commanders often rumored to be in charge of other units who will make guest appearances at cycles in an effort to achieve the results of “raining indoors”, due to the fact that the sweat from the recruits will cause condensation to build in the room and leak down from the ceilings

GI (U.S.) Always pronounced as initials “gee ai”, coined during WWII it reputedly stands for “government issue(d)”. As a noun, GI refers to a member of a U.S. military service, as in “G.I. Joe”; originally pejorative as it implied that U.S. Soldiers were nothing but interchangeable units (Government Issue(d) Joe) that could be requisitioned like any other supplies. As an adjective, it can be applied to any item of U.S. military materiel or procedure. When used as a verb it means to put into military shape, as in “to GI the barracks”.

get some Navy (U.S. Navy) A verb used to describe a situation where someone has some pain inflicted on them due to something associated to the Navy. (e.g., A Sailor is told that he has to stay past his duty time and do extra duty due to the whim of a higher ranking person – he is “getting some Navy”).

Garatrooper (Canada) used to describe a Soldier who excels in garrison but is lacking where it counts in the field. This term was used by WWII U.S. Army Cartoonist Bill Mauldin “Up Front” to describe those who were “too far forward to wear ties, and too far back to get shot” However the term proved unpopular with the Paratroopers who saw it as a slur on their designation and it never gained popularity with U.S. forces.

G.I. party (U.S. Army & Air Force) A term used to describe scrubbing the barracks from top to bottom. This sort of “party” is seldom, if ever, fun.

grunt (U.S.) Originally, a derogatory term for Army or Marine infantrymen (referencing the sounds made by men carrying heavy gear). This term has become more acceptable over time, and today, most, if not all, infantrymen are proud to be “grunts,” as opposed to other MOSes in the military. Also known as “Ground Pounders.” Although “grunt” is not an acronym, common backronyms include: “Ground Replacement Unit, Not Trained.”

gun bunny (U.S.) An artilleryman – often specifically a cannon crewman. Often used as derogatory and implies simplemindedness because of simple job – “Pull string, gun goes boom”

ID10T Form (U.S.) Idiot form. A non-existent form that ignorant airmen/marines are sent to find. Usually they are new to their unit.

jack (U.K., AUS) Selfish, as in “Don’t be a jack bastard” or “Don’t jack on your mates”. One of the most serious. things a British Soldier can be accused of by his comrades.

K.I.A Killed In Action

KP (U.S., Canada) Abbreviation for the obsolete term “Kitchen Police”, a duty assigned (to other than food service personnel) to perform menial, but necessary, kitchen chores such as dishwashing, serving and kitchen cleaning, oftentimes as a punishment for bad behavior. It has been jocularly backronymed to “Keep Peeling”, in reference to the popular perception of Soldiers peeling potatoes; however, in the United States, current Army regulations prohibit non-food services personnel from food preparation.

Latrine Wisdom (U.S. Military) Jokes and quotes left by military personnel in porta potties and bathroom walls.

LN (U.S.) Acronym for a Local National (pronounced ELL-N). used to describe “friendly” locals who work on Army Bases in Iraq.

Meat shield (Canada) An infantryman

Meathead (Canada): An MP, descriptive of the red berets they wear as part of their uniform .

Ocifer (Singapore) A derogatory term for a conscript officer

On your face (U.S. Army) Do pushups.

Penguin (U.K. RAF) Aircrews term for ground crew. “All flap and no fly.”

Shirt (U.S. Air Force) Respectful term to address an Air Force First Sergeant. For example, “Hey Shirt, got a minute?”

sniper check (Canada and U.S.) A salute rendered to an officer in a field environment, where salutes are normally proscribed because they identify officers to the enemy.

spook (U.S., U.K.) A spy. Used for anyone in the CIA, MI5 or MI6.  In the military, one who deals with the gathering of electronic intelligence.

two digit midget (U.S.) A G.I. who has less than 100 days ‘in country’ left before they rotate back to the U.S.A and/or before discharge. Coined during Vietnam War. See “short”.

short, or short-timer (U.S.) Term coined during Vietnam era to describe personnel approaching the end of their tour and/or term of service. Usually announced in an obnoxious and rowdy manner — examples: “I’m so short I had to parachute out of bed this morning and accidentally landed in my boot!”, “I’m so short I could sit on a piece of paper and dangle my legs over the edge!” Modified into “short-timer” in the modern military era.

six, six and a kick (U.S.) Six months confinement, six months loss of pay, reduction in grade to E-1, Bad Conduct Discharge; formerly the most severe penalty that could be awarded by a special court martial. A special court martial can now adjudge 12 months confinement.

suck, the (U.S.) The field, bad conditions, rotten duty, used to describe the military as a whole. One might say “embrace the suck” to tell someone to stop complaining and accept the situation.

suck it up (U.S.) See “suck, the” above. Similar to “embrace the suck.”

suck thumb (Singapore) Shut up and stop complaining

waste of money U.S.) Derogatory term used to describe a woman Marine, a.k.a. WM

Weather Guesser (U.S. Navy) Slang for a Sailor in the AG (Aerographers Mate) rating. Weather forecasters. Self-explanatory.

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