An apple a day keeps the scientists away

A short story collaboration by Maria Duran and Garry Littman


“Thanks for the apple, mate.”

As my eyes slowly start to adjust, I make out the shadow of a person standing over me.

“You can speak, can’t you?”

“Yes. I can speak,” I reply with difficulty. My body feels like it has been disassembled and reassembled, molecule by molecule. All things considered, that’s probably what has happened.

“Who are you?” I ask weakly.

“My name is Felix, and I suppose your name is Mark,” he replies brightly.

“How do you know that?” I ask, my head spinning.

“Oh! It’s written on your lab coat,” he replies and motions for me to follow him. I do, with great effort.

“You are the one who sent the apple, aren’t you?” Felix asks. I do not reply.

“Where are we?” I ask suddenly. Felix turns and gives me a cryptic smile.

“You’ll see!”

He leads me through a curtain. I cringe from the sudden brightness. I look up and I am greeted by 25 men and five women all wearing white lab coats and almost all of them wearing glasses, and all and every one of them, staring at me.

“Everyone, this is Mark,” Felix exclaims. He turns to me.

“Welcome Mark, to the greatest gathering of teleporting scientists on Earth, or somewhere, sometime, some place, at least!”

They continue to stare at me. I offer a weak smile.

“Oh, you must be hungry,” Felix says suddenly.

“Do you want an apple?”



I shake my head. What is his obsession with apples? I sit down at a table and rub my throbbing temples.

Apples, apples, apples…. Finally, something clicks, and I remember the moment, our very own Gala apple disappeared from the launch portal of our teleporter. And the hush of wonderment that followed.

I remember returning to the laboratory that same night, crouching in the portal, the blinding flash and the feeling of being dismantled organ by organ, cell by cell.

My stomach clenches and I feel the nausea again.

“Mate, you really look like you need an apple,” Felix’s voice brings me back to reality. He sits down in front of me.

“Don’t despair. There is some good news.  First of all, thanks to you and your colleagues we have an endless supply of apples. But the most exciting news is that Martin, the scientist who had been here the longest, just got sucked back home. He’ll be going home to quite some accolades, maybe a Nobel prize!”

I perk up and try to unscramble my head.

“How long has he been here?” I ask as professionally as I can.

“Precisely 16 years, 40 days, 5 hours and 10 seconds,” Felix answers checking his watch. “Unfortunately, that seems to be about 4.76 seconds of what we used to consider normal time. A bit of rude glitch in time, I’m afraid.

“According to our calculations, Emma is going to be sucked back in around an hour,” Felix continues without pause.



“You should come watch! I have to go check on the apple trees, but feel free to look around.”

I watch him leave. My stomach rumbles. I reach for the apple Felix has left on the table. It is a Gala. It looks somewhat familiar. I take a large bite. I feel like Alice in Wonderland.

I think I know what this wonderland is. I am eating a teleported apple in a wrinkle in time between two teleport portals.

How am I going to describe this in the Modern Science Journal? I shake my head. I don’t need to worry about that now. After all, I have a long time ahead of me to think about it, as I take another bite of my Gala apple. Really quite delicious.


“An apple a day keeps the scientists away” is a short story collaboration that originated from a brainstorming session during a writing course at The Language House.

 Maria Duran is a 17 year old student at College Emilie-Gourd.


The clouds of war engulf me every day

Olena is an English language trainer from Ukraine now living in France. She spoke to Garry Littman about her experience during the ongoing war. (Level B2 +)

Photo above: Bombing of shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk


I wake up every morning at around 5.30am. Bang. I’m awake. Falling back into a warm slumber is out of the question. The moment I open my eyes a little seismic shock of fear and stress ripples through me. My overworked adrenalin kicks in. Bang. I’m awake. A collection of hi-resolution images force themselves onto the screen of my consciousness. They have a life of their own. That’s what war does.

There’s me at my kitchen window, watching in silent disbelief as *russian military vehicles roll down Peremogha Ave in Kyiv.


Pandemonium on the platform

There’s the pandemonium on the platform at the Kyiv Central Railway station where the train to Ivano-Frankivsk is due to depart. The platform is overflowing with people, children, pets in cages, and bags. So many bags. Bags of all shapes and sizes, all overflowing, bursting at the seams with belongings. And then inside the dark carriage with the grey plastic curtains drawn and we are told to use only our phone torches. The conductor, a woman in her mid 40s, is calm and helpful. We listen and nod to her every word. On the underpass, a troop train with Ukrainian military equipment thunders passed heading to the east, Kyiv. We are travelling to the west.

The clouds of war engulf me every day. This is my life now. I am lucky, of course. I am a survivor living in exile in France. I had another life, and then on February 24, just over a year ago, the war broke out.

One of the few constants left in my life is my work. I am an English teacher. Let me say that again. I am a passionate English teacher. I have been working for language schools and independently for 25 years.

Today is Tuesday and my first lesson starts at 7 am, so there is plenty of time to prepare. My first student Katya works in logistics, and she really needs English. We’ve been working together for more than two years.  I am in France in a small town near Geneva and she is now in exile in Spain in a small town near Alicante, and we have both electricity and Internet access.


Electricity is a luxury

We both know this is a luxury. In Ukraine, power cuts are a part of everyday life. It was Katya that told me this joke:

“Wikipedia says: ‘I have all the information you need!’ Then Google adds: “And I can find any information in a matter of seconds!” Finally, the electricity grid pipes up: “Well, well, well… only if I come to the party…”

Our teacher-student relationship has changed. We study English, but the discussion is much more diverse. A few grammar points and some exercises and a lot of sharing about our new lives in the countries where we are staying, and the peculiarities of receiving temporary status, the opening hours of the supermarkets, prices for food, medical aid and many other things.

My next lesson is at 9.30 with Aleksandra. She is a lawn tennis coach who works with juniors in a sports school. She lives in Kyiv which means last month we completed just two of eight scheduled lessons.


My heart skips a beat

I have enough time for breakfast, to look over the material for the lesson and to read the dense and depressing, daily load of war updates. Every day I scan Країна_інфо (Country Info) the national channel on Viber and the Telegram channel of Oleg Synegubov, the governor of Kharkiv region to get the latest information and then I go onto Facebook to read about current events detailed by analysts, witnesses, war correspondents or just other people, perhaps like me, who are willing to have their say. Kharkiv is my hometown. Every time a town and village in the region is mentioned in the news my heart skips a beat.


Mariupol hospital airstrike


I have always been a bit of a news junkie. Now I’m trying to restrict myself to a few minutes in the morning and in the evening. It also reduces the panic.

Of course, half an hour before my lesson with Aleksandra, she sends me a short message on Viber:

“Good morning, Lena! After yesterday’s attacks, we are without electricity again :((”

And I answer: “Good morning, Aleksandra! I understand. See you next time.”

I’m so used to receiving such messages from Aleks on short notice. Once upon a time I charged the fee for the lesson if my student cancelled less than 24 hours before the class. Now, it’s out of the question. No talking about the money in this situation.


The war has put everything on hold


A couple of weeks ago she texted me, asking if it would be better to stop the lessons and put them on hold. But we continue. The war has put everything on hold. The fact that we manage to have an occasional lesson together is a victory for normality.

We go on, trying to live our life as close to normal as possible.



I began lessons with Aleks before the war. Her school is now closed, so she is out of work and stays at home. She jokes that she has more free time and that’s what she always dreamt of. She wanted to devote it to studying, but the lack of electricity has ruined her plans. Aleks doesn’t need English for professional reasons. I like that. She learns for her own pleasure, to travel again one day in the future, to communicate with other people, and to read in English. The wonderful news is that she’s going to be a mum, and last week she and her husband held a gender reveal party for their friends and family.


The russians have taught all Ukrainians time-management skills

Last lesson she told me that the russians have taught all Ukrainians time-management skills: now that we have 6-8 hours of electricity per day, if we are lucky, it means we do all the recharging, computer work and house chores much quicker than before.

I’m proud of my people. We are trying to live a normal life: go to work and school when it’s quiet, stay in shelters when the map of Ukraine is covered in red which is the color of air raids. And we return again to our working places, families, computer screens, to do what we have to do. We don’t only earn money to live, but we earn money to donate to numerous funds and organisations which help our soldiers, medical people, children in need and refugees. We all have boundless faith in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We know they can protect us.

Life goes on.

*We spell russia in Ukraine – with no capital R. Since the war began, the people and the country are spelt with a small r, even in official circles.



They’re over there taking photographs in their garden.

(Level A2 and above: On the difference between their, there, and they’re, with examples and exercise)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, English trainer at The Language House in Geneva


There are two children in this picture. As you can see, they’re taking photographs in their garden.

Yes, this blog is about the difference between there, they’re and their. As they are homophones (words that have the same sound, but different spellings and different meanings), they can be a little confusing.


Let’s look at some examples

  • There is a spider in the bath. There is a house on the hill. There is a woman at the window looking at you. There is a pronoun.
  • Wait there until I get back.  Where? Over there, behind the sofa. There is an adverb of place.
  • Workers are afraid to lose their jobs.  They left their books on the train. Their is the possessive adjective for they.
  • They’re very happy. That’s why they’re singing and dancing. They’re is a contraction of they are.


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Your turn!

Fill the gaps with the correct word: there, their or they’re.

  1. … really nice people.
  2. In a democracy, people have the power to decide … own future.
  3. … are 24 teams competing in the tournament.
  4. They have children of … own.
  5. Are … any other suggestions?
  6. I bought these oranges yesterday, but … not very good.
  7. It’s only a hundred miles to Oxford. You could drive … and back in a day.
  8. I’m gender fluid and appreciate they/them/…
  9. They can come in if …  shoes are clean.
  10. … going to Hawaii, and they plan to stay … until the end of March.
  11. Most women didn’t work and were dependent on … husbands.
  12. … seems to be a lot of confusion.
  13. … children loved Disneyland – now mine want to go …
  14. Would you like to sit over … by the window?
  15. … both from Washington.
  16. The information you want is right … in front of you.
  17. If the opportunity is …, we will take it.
  18. We need best friends because …  … for us even if … thousands of miles away.
  19. Hello, Peter, is your mother …?
  20. … so in love.




  1. They’re really nice people.
  2. In a democracy, people have the power to decide their own future.
  3. There are 24 teams competing in the tournament.
  4. They have children of their own.
  5. Are there any other suggestions?
  6. I bought these oranges yesterday, but they’re not very good.
  7. It’s only a hundred miles to Oxford. You could drive there and back in a day.
  8. I’m gender fluid and appreciate they/them/their
  9. They can come in if they’re shoes are clean.
  10. They’re going to Hawaii, and they plan to stay there until the end of March.
  11. Most women didn’t work and were dependent on their husbands.
  12. There seems to be a lot of confusion.
  13. Their children loved Disneyland – now mine want to go there.
  14. Would you like to sit over there by the window?
  15. They’re both from Washington.
  16. The information you want is right there in front of you.
  17. If the opportunity is there, we will take it.
  18. We need best friends because they’re there for us even if they’re thousands of miles away.
  19. Hello, Peter, is your mother there?
  20. They’re so in love.

Many examples are from


Some more advice and tips

How to tell which one to use 

I phoned their (1) parents because I know they’re (2) worried.

  • (1) Can you replace their with my? I phoned my parents… Yes.  It’s the possessive determiner their.
  • (2) Can you replace they’re with you are? I know you are worried. Yes. It is subject+be they’re.


There isn’t much time left.

  • Can you replace there with a possessive determiner such as my? My isn’t much time left. No.
  • Can you replace there with a subject+be such as you are? You are isn’t much time left. No.

It is the pronoun, there.



  • Note about ‘everyone’, ‘someone’, or ‘anyone’:

Everyone has their own way of doing things

Everyone says they’re happy

Someone phoned, but I told them to call back later.

The pronouns ‘everyone’, ‘someone’, and ‘anyone’ normally come with a singular verb. But in spoken English, you can use they, them and their when referring to those pronouns – instead of ‘he or she’, ‘his or her’, ‘him or her’, as in, “Everyone says he or she is happy.”


  • Note about gender fluidity

The singer has come out as non-binary and asked to be addressed by the pronouns they/them.

Use their, they and them for people who identify as non-binary.



February is Black History Month

Photo: Martin Luther King Jr (left) and Malcom X.

(Level B2 and above)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, English trainer at The Language House in Geneva


In North America, February is Black History Month – also known as African American History Month. The rest of the world is not always aware (informé) of this event, but it is a very important one.

Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions and legacy (héritage) of African Americans across history and society.

It is a time to remember activists and civil rights pioneers such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, both 19th century American abolitionists and social activists; Marcus Garvey, an early 20th century Jamaican political activist, writer and orator; Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968; Malcolm X, an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement and also assassinated; and Rosa Parks, best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, as well as leaders in industry, politics, science, culture and more.


Rosa Parks – icon of black rights in America


This February, it’s complicated

African American history is studied in most schools and universities in the U.S., to varying degrees. But this field of education has encountered some major problems this month, as revisions to the first-ever advanced placement (AP) course in African American history were rejected in Florida.

Florida’s department of education, under the leadership of arch-conservative Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, rejected a new Black studies course for high-achieving high schoolers. The decision has led to a backlash (réaction violente) across the country — from other state lawmakers to labor unions and even a potential lawsuit.

According to the Guardian, Ron DeSantis has intensified white racial fear and resentment by having the Florida department of education very publicly reject the course because they claimed it “significantly lacks educational value”. After the public rejection, the College Board, which develops tests for post-secondary education, got busy very quickly and removed references to topics such as Black Lives Matter and reparations from the curriculum. Black Lives Matter is a political and social movement started in 2013 that seeks to highlight (souligner) racism, discrimination, and racial inequality experienced by black people.

As he was accused of whitewashing history, Gov. Ron DeSantis responded that in Florida students already must learn about the triumphs and plight of African Americans. Indeed, Florida has required its schools to teach African American history since 1994. But nearly three decades later, advocates say many Florida schools are failing to teach that history. Many schools only cover the topic during Black History Month in February, and some districts don’t even realize it’s required instruction.


Ron DeSantis – campaign video from November 2022


Why February?

The origins of the African American History Month can be traced back to Carter G. Woodson, a historian who established the field (domaine) of African American studies in the early 20th century.

In 1915, after attending a three-week celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation, Woodson and four others founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to encourage scholars (intellectuels) to study the Black past. This particular subject was not exactly popular in U.S. schools at the time. The following year, Woodson started editing the association’s publication, The Journal of Negro History. Then Woodson and the ASNLH launched Negro History Week in February 1926.

Two figures important to Black history were born in February: U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and Frederick Douglass, who became the leader of the Abolitionist movement. Since the deaths of Lincoln and Douglass (in 1865 and 1895, respectively), the Black community had celebrated their contributions to African American liberation and civil rights on their birthdays. This is why Woodson decided to have the Negro History Week in February. And this event became more widespread (étendu) throughout the U.S. as time went by.


Frederick Douglass


From Week to Month

With the American civil rights movement, a long struggle for Black Americans to gain equal rights, and the rise of Black consciousness, a South African anti-Apartheid activist movement in the 1960s, Negro History Week became Black History Month in more and more places.

Woodson’s association, which had been renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), helped in the widespread institutionalization of February as Black History Month.

U.S. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, asking the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

In 1995, Canada‘s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month.

In the United Kingdom, Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987, a year which coincided with the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation, the centenary of the birth of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political activist, and the 25th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, an intergovernmental organization that aimed to encourage political and economic integration among African states and to eradicate colonialism, which was replaced by the African Union (AU) in 2002.

“Black History Month Ireland” was initiated in Cork in 2010. Cork was the center of abolition in the 19th century, and the anti-slavery societies welcomed several black abolitionists to lecture there, including Charles Lenox Remond, a 19th century American orator and activist, and Frederick Douglass.

Let us remember the great men and women who had a dream and fought for it.




The “who’s who” of who, whom and whose

(Level B1 and above: On the difference between who, whom, whose and who’s, with examples, video and exercise)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, English trainer at The Language House in Geneva


What do you think of this formal reference letter?


To whom it may concern

Mark is a very demanding boss who pays attention to detail and knows exactly who’s who and who’s doing what. He does like how to show us who’s boss. He does not hesitate to fire those who give less than 150% to the company.  Just the other day, he let go of someone in the accounts department, whose name I can’t remember, who had to work from home due to family problems. The company, whose market value has gone down this year due to inflation, is at the forefront of technology. The colleagues with whom I work are all extremely keen to give their best to Mark and the company. I don’t know anyone who comes to work late or who leaves early. Personally, I have worked closely with Mark, whom I have known for 20 years, and it has been the most intense experience of my life. Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information.

Yours truly,

B. Ambiguous

It uses a lot of who, whom, whose and who’s, right? Very strange. Let’s find out more:


When do we use who, whom, whose, and who’s?


Who is used to indicate a person, either as the subject (who did that?) or as the object of a verb or preposition (he took out a photo of his son, who he adores). Whom is only used when it is about the object; it is a formal “who” (he took out a photo of his son, whom he adores). Whose refers to who or what something belongs to (whose dog is it?)

These three words are typically used in questions and in relative clauses.

A relative clause, you say? In the sentence, “The winner was a Brazilian player, whose name I have forgotten,” there is a main clause (The winner was a Brazilian player) followed by a relative clause (whose name I have forgotten).

Simply put, relative clauses specify what we are talking about or just give extra information (in the latter case, the clauses are separated by a comma). Relative clauses often start with who, which or that.

And finally, who’s, is purely a contraction of “who is” or “who has”.


Here are more examples and phrases using who, whom, whose and who’s:



  • Question pronoun: Who killed John F. Kennedy? (“who” here is the subject, the one who does the action)

Who do you give the money to? (“who” here is the object, who does not do the action)

  • Relative pronoun: The woman who spoke at the meeting was very knowledgeable. / She was with her husband, who I had already met.

Read more:  Dr Who, the time traveller


The Who: Who are you?



  • Question pronoun: To whom do you wish to speak?
  • Relative pronoun: The book was written by his wife, Joan, whom he married in 1962 / I don’t know whom you’ve already met.
  • Note: When used with a preposition, the preposition is in front. The man to whom you spoke at the school
  • Note: In sentences like “the man with whom she lived works at this company”, you can omit (omettre) the relative pronoun: “the man she lived with works at this company.” Or: “The professor (whom) I respect received an award.” That’s when the relative pronoun acts as the object of a sentence.



(about possessions)

  • Question pronoun: Whose is this jacket? / Whose garden do you think looks the nicest?
  • Relative pronoun: They live in a house whose roof could collapse at any time.
  • Note: usually followed by a noun.



  • Contraction of “who is”: Who’s this? / I know who’s coming later.
  • Contraction of “who has”: Do you know who’s been invited to Claire’s dinner party?


Dr Who: Time Traveller



  • Who cares? ‘Won’t Terry be upset?’ ‘Who cares? He never thinks about anyone but himself.’ (I don’t care and no one else does.)
  • To whom it may concern – at the beginning of a formal letter not written for anyone in particular.
  • Whose side are you on? (you should support me, not the other(s))
  • Who’s whoThe guest list read like a regular who’s who (the most important people) of the fashion industry.
  • Show someone who’s boss: to show someone that you have more power or authority than they have.


Video BBC English: ‘Who’, ‘whom’ and ‘whose’?

Watch and listen here


Your turn!

Fill in the blanks with who, whom, whose or who’s.

In three examples, the pronoun can be omitted.


  1. The woman … is standing there is a famous YouTuber.
  2. … car did they break?
  3. The boy … I met is a singer.
  4. The table … leg is broken is in the kitchen.
  5. Jane, … is my best friend, has just won the lottery.
  6. There are over 6,000 students, many of … come from overseas.
  7. … else did you tell the secret to?
  8. … did they choose as a leader?
  9. … the winner?
  10. Help is needed for families … homes were destroyed in the bombing.
  11. The writer … he described as talented has published a new novel.
  12. … prefers tea to coffee?
  13. The house … door is open is for sale.
  14. … has finished?
  15. We have to be very careful … we deal with.
  16. … . did they hire for the job?
  17. I recently talked to Michael Hall, … lectures in music at the university.
  18. The writer … wrote this book is my neighbour.
  19. … phone is lost?
  20. … fault is it that we are losing all this money?
  21. Tell me … you admire most.
  22. I’ve found a bunch of keys, but I don’t know … they are.
  23. We only employ people … already have computer skills.
  24. You are free to marry the man … you love.
  25. … been using my computer?




  1. The woman who is standing there is a famous Youtuber.
  2. Whose car did they break?
  3. The boy (who/whom – but can be omitted here) I met is a singer.
  4. The table whose leg is broken is in the kitchen.
  5. Jane, who is my best friend, has just won the lottery.
  6. There are over 6,000 students, many of whom come from overseas.
  7. Whom (or who) else did you tell the secret to?
  8. Whom (or who) did they choose as a leader?
  9. Who’s the winner?
  10. Help is needed for families whose homes were destroyed in the bombing.
  11. The writer (who/whom – but can be omitted here) he described as talented has published a new novel.
  12. Who prefers tea to coffee?
  13. The house whose door is open is for sale.
  14. Who has finished?
  15. We have to be very careful who we deal with (or: with whom we deal).
  16. Whom (or who) did they hire for the job?
  17. I recently talked to Michael Hall, who lectures in music at the university.
  18. The writer who wrote this book is my neighbour.
  19. Whose phone is lost?
  20. Whose fault is it that we are losing all this money?
  21. Tell me whom (or who) you admire most.
  22. I’ve found a bunch of keys, but I don’t know whose they are.
  23. We only employ people who already have computer skills.
  24. You are free to marry the man (who/whom – but can be omitted here) you love.
  25. Who’s been using my computer?


Ideas from and




Goblins and permacrisis are the words of the year for 2022

The Collins Dictionary has chosen the word permacrisis as its word of the year for 2022.

It’s known in grammatical circles as a portmanteau, a word that combines the meaning of two others – (permanent + crisis).

The word is defined as “an extended period of instability and insecurity”, a fairly accurate description of a truly awful 2021 and 2022 and the chronology of catastrophe that swamped our lives; first the Covid pandemic, then slap bang into war in Ukraine and then, hello, here comes an energy crisis followed by rising inflation, and hanging over all of this like the Sword of Damocles, a climate disaster, and of course, if you are from the UK, there’s Brexit, Boris and Truss as well…. Whew! I need a lie-down and some strong medication.

David Shariatmadari, who writes about language, said of the new word:

Permacrisis is a term that perfectly embodies the dizzying sense of lurching from one unprecedented event to another, as we wonder bleakly what new horrors might be around the corner.”

What’s next, indeed?  Permacrisis continues our fascination with the language of doom mixed with things being both out of, and beyond our control.

A favourite term is still omnishambles – first used in the BBC political satire The Thick of It (2009). Another word combination of the Greek omni (all) + shambles (disorder, confusion mess). A shitshow you might say. And there are a few of them going on around us.

Other terms in the running for the Collins’ word of the year 2022 were:

 Partygate – one of the many scandals that led to the downfall of Boris. The parties refer to drink parties during lockdown. The term is taken from the original “gate” – Watergate which was the name of a building in Washington which was burgled and consequently led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. The suffix “gate” now means serious scandal.

Warmbank  – a building such as a public library or place of worship that opens its doors to offer a free, warm and welcoming space for people struggling to afford the cost of heating homes because of spiralling energy costs.

Sportswashing, (following on from greenwashing) a term for organisations and countries that use sports activities to better their reputations or distract from unsavoury practices. No points for guessing why this term took off this year.

Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital under constant bombardment from the Russian army also makes the list. Mark Twain once dryly remarked : God created war so that Americans (and the rest of the world) would learn geography.

The Oxford Dictionary chose a more obscure slang term as its word of the year.


Living in a permacrisis brings out the goblin mode in many of us


Goblin mode means to behave like a goblin (lutin). You can probably guess it’s not behaviour you would find from Madame Blanche Dubois’ Academy of Etiquette for Socialites.



The dictionary says goblin mode is a “type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”

Living in a permacrisis brings out the goblin mode in many of us.


Getting ready for another day of remote work

It appears to born out Covid where lockdowns and working from home led to a rejection of the idea of returning to a normal life and rebellion against aesthetic standards and the perfectly pinched and pouted lifestyle promoted on social media.

Think of raw, unfiltered you. No make-up, unshaven, an old t-shirt and trackie pants. Yep, sounds like a weekend.




Are you being sarcastic? Or just ironic?

(Level B2 and above: On the difference between irony and sarcasm, with examples, quiz, videos and vocabulary exercise)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, English trainer at The Language House in Geneva


For those of you who enjoy watching comedies, we have a little brain teaser:

What is the difference between sarcasm and irony?

Here’s a brief elucidation that we hope will help you spot the difference during your future viewings.


Irony: not literal

Irony – or situational irony – is when something happens that is the opposite of what was expected; it’s a clash between expectations and reality. It is not about coincidence or bad luck. For example, it’s ironic when a police station gets robbed. Or when a cat chases a dog. Or when a flight attendant is terrified of heights.



Verbal irony is when someone says something that is different from what they really mean or how they really feel. For example, you walk out into a horrible blizzard and say: “what a nice weather we’re having!” It can also be an understatement or an overstatement, or a “figure of speech” – when you don’t take the literal meaning. Like when a teacher tells a quiet class, “Let’s not all speak at once!” The word irony comes from the Latin ironia, meaning “feigned ignorance.”


All words in bold are in the vocabulary exercise.



  • Stanley Kubrick used verbal irony in Strangelove: “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”
  • In The Princess Bride, verbal irony is used romantically when Westley says, “as you wish” instead of “I love you.”
  • A woman damages her nail and cries out, “Oh no! My life is ruined!” (overstatement)
  • A boyfriend plans to propose to his girlfriend on the night she cancels on him to stay home and binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy. He replies, “Sure. It’s not like I had anything special planned.” (understatement)
  • In The Cask of Amontillado, Fortunato says “I shall not die of a cough (toux),” to which Montressor says “True…true.” This is an example of verbal (and dramatic) irony because we know Montressor plans to kill him.


Sarcasm comes from the Greek and Latin – “to tear flesh”


When we hear verbal irony, we often assume it is sarcasm – but there is one small difference between irony and sarcasm.


Actor Bill Murray – master of irony and sarcasm


Sarcasm: hostility disguised as humour

From the Greek and Latin for “to tear flesh,” sarcasm has been called “hostility disguised as humour.” Sarcasm is verbal irony with attitude — the intention being to hurt or mock someone. It is insincere speech. The amount of cruelty can range from light-hearted joking to downright nasty. All sarcasm is verbal irony, but not all verbal irony is sarcasm.


All sarcasm is verbal irony, but not all verbal irony is sarcasm



  • When someone is struggling to open a door and you ask them, “Do you want help?” If they reply by saying, “No, thanks. I’m really enjoying the challenge,” you’ll know they’re being sarcastic.
  • “I walked into my hotel room and wondered if the interior decorators thought orange was the new black.”
  • When a roommate is acting bizarre: “is it time for your medication or mine?”
  • When someone says something that is obvious (évident) and you say, “Really, Sherlock?”
  • When someone puts on too much perfume: “Nice perfume. How long did you marinate in it?”
  • When something is uninteresting: “I’m delighted that I get to be here for the next three hours.”

Sarcasm often has a negative connotation; however, research has shown that it can promote creative thinking, something that most forms of humour can do. Sarcasm can also be good for social connection when used in the proper context. For example, to break the ice or subtly tease someone about asking obvious questions.


Ricky Gervais: master at “taking the piss”

“There’s a received wisdom in the U.K. that Americans don’t get irony,” English comedian Ricky Gervais said in Time Magazine. “This is of course not true. But what is true is that they don’t use it all the time. It shows up in the smarter comedies but Americans don’t use it as much socially as Brits. We (the British) use it as liberally as prepositions in everyday speech. We tease our friends. We use sarcasm as a shield and a weapon.” In short, the Brits like to take the piss out of each other.

I hope we will make your comedy viewing a tad bit more enjoyable. No, really, I mean it.

Sources: MasterClassScienceofPeopleYourDictionary, smartblogger, Thoughtco,,, 


Related blog: I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.



In this quiz, I have included ironic and sarcastic comments and I have added satire, paradox and cynicism to make it more interesting. Some of them could arguably fit into more than one category. Which of these statements is:

a. A paradox (a self-contradictory statement that is somewhat true)

b. An ironic statement

c. A satirical comment (use of humour to criticise people and make them look silly)

d. A sarcastic comment

e. A cynical response (not believing in others’ sincerity)


1. It’s as clear as mud.

2. I am busy right now, can I ignore you some other time?

3. Patience (noun): a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue. (The Devil’s Dictionary)

4. “I can resist everything except temptation.” (Oscar Wilde)

5. “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes,” said Leonard. “Yeah! That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes,” replied Peter.

6. A food critic tells the chef, “your steak was as tender as a leather boot.”

7. “I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumour on the brain.” (The Catcher in the Rye)

8. “All animals are equal…but some animals are more equal than others.” (Animal Farm)



1: b – 2: d – 3: c – 4: a – 5: e – 6:d – 7:b – 8:c



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What is verbal irony?

3’28” – TED


Situational irony: The opposite of what you think

3’11” – TED


15 Times Chandler Was The King Of Sarcasm ft. Matthew Perry | Friends

3’47” (must-watch)



Match these 18 words or phrases (from the text above) with their respective definition.

  1. Brain-teaser
  2. Height
  3. Understatement
  4. Overstatement
  5. Figure of speech


a. a statement that makes something seem less important than it really is

b. the degree to which something is high or someone is tall

c. an expression that uses words to mean something different from their ordinary meaning, for example, “Break a leg”, meaning “good luck”.

d. a difficult question or problem that you try to solve for fun

e. something that you say that makes things seem more important than they really are

Answer key:

1: d – 2:b – 3:a – 4:e – 5:c


  1. Literal
  2. Binge-watch
  3. Range
  4. Light-hearted
  5. Downright


f. funny and not intended to be serious

g. a number of different things that are of the same general type

h. most basic meaning of a word

i. to watch several episodes of a TV series at one time

j. (esp. of s/t bad) extremely or very great

Answer key:

6: h – 7:I – 8:g – 9:f – 10:j


  1. Nasty
  2. Connotation
  3. Break the ice
  4. Tease


k. to do or say something that makes people feel less shy or nervous in a social situation

l. an additional idea or emotion that a word suggests to you, in addition to its literal or main meaning

m. to laugh at someone or say unkind things about them, either because you are joking or because you want to upset that person

n. bad or very unpleasant

Answer key:

11:n – 12:l – 13:k – 14:m


  1. Received wisdom
  2. Liberally
  3. Shield
  4. Take the piss (out of)


o. an object that protects a particular part of your body

p. in large and generous amounts

q. beliefs or opinions that most people accept to be correct

r. to say something to try to make someone look silly

Answer key:

15:q – 16:p – 17:o – 18:r


Definitions from and


Sacré bleu Mickey! Disney is a fairy tale that started in France.

(Level B1 and above: the Disney family ancestors were French)

Written and compiled by David Creber, senior trainer at The Language House in Geneva


We all know that Disney is American. It’s as American as apple pie and Mickey Mouse.  

But did you know that Walt Disney’s ancestors were more likely to have preferred a tarte aux pommes followed by du pain et du fromage? Yes, Disney was French! Here’s a Disney fairy tale that is much less well known – of a family from Normandy making a name for itself in the land of opportunity. 

Walt Disney’s great grandfather, Arundel Disney, emigrated to the New World (now the US) back in 1834 from the ‘Old World’ of Europe. The family travelled across the pond from Norton Disney, a small village in Lincolnshire in the UK. That’s right, Walt Disney’s family came from a village called Disney!  


See bottom of the article for explanations of the phrases in bold


But where did Arundel’s family come from originally? Well, the original inhabitants of this UK village were French. In fact, the village’s very name came from an anglicization of the original family name “D’Isigny”.  To an English speaker, Disney and D’Isigny sound almost identical. 


Walt Disney in France

The name D’Isigny (‘from Isigny’) originates from a town in Normandy, France, called Isigny-sur-Mer. It turns out that Disney’s ancestors, Robert and Hugues Suhard, were best buddies of the most famous Norman of them all, William the Conqueror. William the Bastard (as he was also known) named Walt’s ancestors the Lords of Isigny to thank them for their assistance in the invasion of England.


William the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard

They left the town of Isigny, which is famous for its dairy products, including butter, cream and cheese, for their newly awarded fiefdom of Norton Disney. Isigny-sur-Mer is immensely proud of their Disney connection – they even have a museum and garden in Walt’s honour, and  a room filled with Mickey Mouses.



So, there you have it. The D’Isignys – the most famous French family ever to have set foot in Hollywood.


American as apple pie = an expression which means the best of American life and culture.  American soldiers would tell journalists that they were fighting for “mom and apple pie,”

Making a name for itself = Becoming successful and famous. Brad Pitt quickly made a name for himself when he arrived in Hollywood 

The land of opportunity = The USA is known for equal economic opportunities. 

Across the pond = On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean  

Very name = Indicated even in the actual name  

Lords of Isigny = A lord is a rank of nobility – the owner of the land on which other serfs or subjects worked. 


Black Friday 1869: The collapse of the gold market in the US.

(Level B2 and above: the origin of Black Friday)


Black Friday, the ominous name for one of the biggest shopping days on planet Earth, is fast approaching.

You may choose to run or boycott. If you do go, in person, to a Black Friday sale, wear a suit of armour, and carry a shield and truncheon. If you’re a rugby player, you should be okay.

Black Friday has now become a global phenomenon. The Day of Deals. Bargains galore (à gogo) for the brave.

But, why black?

There are a few historical references. The most recent can be traced back to Philadelphia police in 1960s who called it a black day, feared and dreaded by law enforcement, public transport employees and taxi drivers; a day the streets and department stores were noir de monde, swarming with people aggressively hunting for their deals.


“… the streets and department stores were noir de monde”


Another popular, but unproven theory about the origin of the name is that manufacturers and stores operate in the red (debt) all the financial year up until Black Friday when they finally go in the black (profit).

The original Black Friday dates to September 24, 1869. It refers to an elaborate gold scam (escroquerie) that implicated the family of US President Ulysses S. Grant and senior government officials. It led to a collapse of the US gold market and an economic crash.



Scoundrels: Jim Fisk (left) and Jay Gould.

Two get-rich-quick scoundrels (scélérats) , Jay Gould, the Gordon Gecko of his day, and Jim Fisk, together set up an elaborate plan to control the US gold market. They recruited a high-profile financier named Abel Rathbone Corbin who was married to the President’s sister. His job was to get the ear of the President and Treasury and collect secret inside information about government gold trading (today we might call it “insider trading”). The plan was to gradually control the gold market until the price was high enough and then sell-off at enormous profit.


“… he realised he was surrounded by traitors”


Gould also bribed (a soudoyé) the Government’s assistant Treasurer in New York, Daniel Butterfield, who was in charge of gold sales. Gould paid Butterfield $10,000 (his annual salary was $8,000), which Butterfield later claimed in court was an interest-free loan.

Over time, the President became suspicious of Corbin’s sudden interest in the gold market. When he discovered a letter from his sister to his wife discussing the matter, he realised he was surrounded by traitors (traîtres). The furious President swiftly reacted and ordered the sale of $4 million in government gold. The price of gold and then Wall Street plummeted on Black Friday. Tens of thousands lost their investments and livelihoods.

This was the scene (at the top of the page) at the Gold Reserve on Black Friday.

Gould, known as the “Mephistopheles of Wall Street,” not only managed to sell his considerable gold reserves before the crash, but also evade conviction. Five years later, he controlled the Union Pacific Railroad, the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Manhattan Elevated Railroad. There is no moral lesson to this story.




Far be it from us to use the subjunctive

(Level B2 and above: On the subjunctive, with examples, phrases and video)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, English trainer at The Language House in Geneva


Brian: How was your meeting with management?

Andrew: It went well. My advice was that the company invest in new equipment and make savings elsewhere.

B: Did you recommend that they streamline the staff on the shop floor?

A: Well, I suggested that the team there be better paid and that no new hire be made.

B: Heaven forbid. Asking that they be better paid? How will the company afford it?

A: I think it is essential that the company show the team how valuable they are.

B: Be that as it may, it is also important that we pay the gas bill too!

A: About that, I also insisted that savings be made elsewhere.

B: Where?

A: You’re fired.

B: I should have seen that coming. So be it.


The subjunctive is a special kind of present tense, also called a mood, used in the formal style. It has no -s in the third person singular – the verb (in blue) is in its bare form.

It is used to express wishes and possibilities (I wish I were rich) and in that-clauses (I suggest that you stay here) after words which express the idea that something is important or desirable (in red above). For example; suggest, recommend, ask, insist, vital, essential, important, desirable, advice, best

In fact, you use the subjunctive in French in very similar expressions:  Que tout le monde soit heureux ! (wish) Il faut que tu apprennes ta leçon (necessity).

The verb be, as usual, is treated differently. It is be in the present/future form: It is important that Helen be present when we sign the papers. And were in the present/past form; I wish it were Saturday.

Other titbits: The subjunctive uses the same form in both present and past sentences (except with be). And we don’t use do not/don’t: We considered it desirable that he not leave school now.


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We can see the subjunctive in some common fixed phrases (known as formulaic subjunctive):

  1. Far be it from me to criticize, but aren’t you being a little unreasonable? (I don’t want to criticise but I am doing it anyway.)
  2. Heaven help us if there’s a fire (I hope this will not happen). Also: Heaven forbid.
  3. God save the Queen (UK’s national anthem)
  4. God bless America / God bless you (I care about you)
  5. Long live the bride and groom / Long live the king (wishing them a long life)
  6. He’s a sort of adopted uncle, as it were (in a way)
  7. Be that as it may, I still think Mr Livingstone is the best man for the job (whether this is true or not)
  8. If you’ve really decided to quit the music business, then so be it (we can’t do anything about it)


In the 20th century, British English tried to avoid using the subjunctive, seeing it as old and pedantic, and promoted the use of “should” instead. But according to The Economist, thanks to American English which kept the subjunctive alive and well, the use of “should” has declined on the islands as the subjunctive has returned.

In short, in the UK, you will still hear:

  • It is important that every child should have the same educational opportunities


  • It is important that every child has the same educational opportunities

But as the old subjunctive is coming back into fashion, you will also hear:

  • It is important that every child have the same educational opportunities




Hunting for the subjunctive





  1. Streamline: to improve a business, organization, process, etc by making it more modern or simple
  2. Bare: (in this context) basic, with nothing extra: Readers want more than just the bare facts.
  3. Pedantic: giving too much importance to details and formal rules, especially of grammar
  4. Decline: to become less or worse: The number of people buying their own homes has declined.
  5. Still: (in this context) used for saying that a situation continues to exist: Her hair was still damp from her walk in the rain.
  6. Titbit: a piece of interesting information: titbits of gossip.