Thank God for masks. No-one can see how I really feel.

(Social English in the time of the pandemic)

By Garry Littman

 

Social English or small talk is the stuff that glues us together as humans, whether we are friends, colleagues or even strangers.

The Great Pandemic has changed our lives and with that, the coded meaning of small talk.

What do we really mean when we say: Not too bad (pas mal)? It might mean good, okay, surviving, or pretty bad, depending on the way we say it.

Here’s a guide to the new Covid-coded language of 2020.

We’ve noted the most popular social expressions as BC (Before-Covid) and how their meanings have changed during the pandemic.

 

  1. BC: How are you?

Today this may mean any of the following:

Still alive?

Crazy times, eh?

Keeping it together?

How are you holding up?

Still in one piece?

When did you last breakdown and cry?

Can you breathe under that mask?

I reckon your stress levels are about 7.5 on the Richter scale and I can only see your eyes.

That is you John, isn’t it? Please blink if it is you. Don’t tell me I’ve done it again. I’m really rubbish at recognising people behind a mask.

 

  1. Standard responses to How are you? used to be:

BC: I’m fine thanks. Good thanks. Not too bad. Fine, what about you?

Today’s responses:

Still alive.

What a stupid question.

Thank God for masks. No-one can see how I really feel.

Could be a lot better.

Could be worse.

Let me just check. Yes, there’s a pulse. Thanks for asking.

Do you really want to know? Really?

 

  1. Other more aggressive greetings include:

Mask! and Whoa! This is coded language for:

No conversation under you are covered.

Idiot!

Back off! Do you know six feet is about two metres.

I like you, but not that much. Step back!

No mask! Serial killer!

I heard you were isolating.

Did you just sneeze?

Do you know the song by Police called ‘Don’t Stand so Close to Me’? Please step back and hum it for me.

 

 

  1. BC: You are looking well.

That’s a nice mask. Where did you get it? It matches your eyes.

I can’t really see you, but I what I can see looks kind of okay.

You look better with a mask.

You’d look better with a mask.

It is you Jean, isn’t it? Oh God, have I done it again.

I’m, sorry I think I have confused you with every other person in the park. Everyone is Zorro.

You haven’t coughed and sneezed yet. That’s good, because I am watching you very carefully. And if you do, I’ll be off faster than a herd of buffaloes.

 

  1. BC: See you later

This is coded language for:

Stay safe.

Wash your hands.

Don’t pick your nose.

Please don’t change your mask or I’ll never recognise you.

 

  1. BC: Good to see you

I can’t really see you. It is you, isn’t? Oh shit! I’ve done it again. Who the hell are you?

First. Put on your mask and step back a little. Now!

When did you last wash your hands?

I prefer two metres to 1.5 metres

You haven’t coughed or sneezed yet. But when you do…

 

 

  1. BC: How’s work?

Do you still have a job?

Have you been to the unemployment office yet?

Please don’t talk to me about Zoom.

  1. BC: Are you working from home?

It’s an oxymoron isn’t it, home + work?

Our first meeting with a divorce lawyer was on Tuesday. What about you?

Is there anything to left to watch on Netflix?

Please don’t talk to me about Zoom.

 

 

  1. BC: How were your summer holidays?

Did you spend more time in the lounge, kitchen or bathroom?

Did you go outside?

Surely, you didn’t go near an airport…

You flew. Wow! You are soooo brave.

You flew. Wow! You are soooo irresponsible.

Ha ha ha holidays… what a joke.

Is there anything left to watch on Netflix?

 

  1. BC: Busy?

It’s a full-time job staying alive isn’t it?

Yes, like a mouse on an exercise wheel.

Yes, I’m going mask shopping.

No please, don’t talk to me about Zoom.

 

So you want to move to Mars?

(English comparatives and superlatives)

Level: B1 to C1

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

 

Chances are, one of you is going to Mars.

Several public space agencies – NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, ISRO and the CNSA – and private organisations – SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing – are researching the Mars mission project. The consensus is that we will be able to colonise Mars in the 2030s or 2040s.

If you have read The Martian, an excellent science fiction book by Andy Weir – or watched the movie, which is for once just as good as the book – you’ll know that moving to Mars is not like moving to Texas. You will need more than a suitcase and a green card. You will need oxygen, fuel, water, food, seeds to grow food, building material, spacesuits, and much more. You will also need patience. It will take about nine months to get there. And you will need mementos of Earth, as this will be a one-way trip (no return).

Mars is a chance to build a new culture. People will lead a different kind of life, with different temperatures, lower gravity, different types of housing, different skies and longer years. Children born on Mars will be Martians.

The experiment could go well or it could go wrong. I hope I’ll still be alive to see the intrepid souls go on that great voyage to new territories.

 

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What you need to know about Mars

 

 

 

Mars and Earth: a friendly comparative guide

 

Let’s compare Mars and Earth and the rest of the solar system.

Grammar: Comparatives and superlatives – general rules

To make a comparison using small adjective (one syllable), add -er (or -ier) at the end of the adjective and “than”:

  • Mars is smaller than Earth
  • I am feeling happier now

If you use a longer adjective (two syllables or more) in a comparison, add “more” and “than”:

  • Mars is more interesting than Mercury

Use “the” in a comparison to show that one thing depends on another:

  • The colder it gets, the more dangerous it becomes

In superlatives, add -est (or -iest, as in “happiest”) at the end of smaller adjectives, or add “the most” or “the least” in front of longer adjectives. “Most” is the superlative form of “much” and “many”; “least” is the superlative form of “little”.

  • The lowest temperature on Mars is -140°C
  • Mars is the most interesting planet in the solar system
  • Pluto is the least luminous planet
  • Patrick does the least work in the office (“less” or “the least” are used with uncountable nouns, like money, water, etc.)
  • He makes the fewest mistakes (“fewer” or “the fewest” (few: some, but not many) are used with countable nouns) – NOT “he makes the least mistakes”.

Please note, as well as “little” and “much/many”, these adjectives are irregular:

  • Good: Mars is better than Mercury; Mars is the best (planet)
  • Bad: Pluto is worse than Neptune; Pluto is the worst
  • Far: Mars is farther away from the Sun than Earth is; Pluto is the farthest (or further/furthest)

If the last letter of the adjective is a consonant (b, d, g, t, etc.), it is doubled (example: big, bigger, the biggest):

  • Mars is the reddest planet of the solar system

We use “as” + adjective/adverb + “as” to compare things that are equal. Use “not as” to compare things that are not equal:

  • The weather this summer is as hot as last year
  • Mars is not as big as Earth

We can use “like” (a preposition) to say some things are similar.

  • Poles on Mars are covered with ice, just like the poles on Earth

We can use “whereas” (a conjunction) to compare differences:

  • Mars has two moons whereas Earth only has one

Practice your comparatives and superlatives:

Fill in the gaps with the appropriate adjectives, choosing from the list below, in the comparative or superlative form, or with “like” or “whereas”. The first one has been done for you as an example.

__________________________________________________

 

Small (x2)    red    like     whereas     little     high       low     

high     thin     long       high     large      studied

__________________________________________________

 

  1. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun; Mercury, Venus and Earth are closer to the Sun than Mars
  2. Mars is the second planet in the solar system; Mercury is … … . Mars is a sixth of Earth’s volume
  3. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, Earth has only one moon
  4. The surface gravity on Mars is than the surface gravity on Earth; that means you could jump three times as on Mars, and if you weigh 50 kg on Earth, you would weigh only 19 kg on Mars.
  5. A year on Mars is … … a year on Earth, almost twice as long; it is equivalent to 687 Earth-days
  6. … … temperature on Mars is -140°C (degrees centigrade)
  7. … … temperature is +30°C
  8. The atmosphere on Mars is that on Earth: carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up 96% of the atmosphere, and 0.0415% on Earth
  9. Sunsets on Mars are blue, while during the day, the sky is pinkish-red
  10. On Mars, the Sun appears about half the size it does on Earth
  11. The poles on Mars are covered with ice, just on Earth
  12. … … mountain in the solar system – as far as we know – is on Mars; it is called Olympus Mons; it is 21km high and 600km in diameter
  13. Mars has … … dust storms in the solar system. They can last for months and cover the entire planet
  14. 60 missions (including orbiters, landers and rovers) have been sent to Mars. So far, only 28 have reached their target. Currently, three missions are on their way to Mars. That’s because Earth and Mars are relatively close at the moment.
  15. Mars is … … planet of the solar system. The ancient Greeks called the planet Ares after their god of war; the ancient Romans then did likewise, associating the planet’s blood-red colour with their own god of war Mars. Interestingly, according to Space Facts, other ancient cultures also focused on colour – to China’s astronomers it was ‘the fire star’, while Egyptian priests called it ‘the red one’. The red colour on Mars is due to the surface being rich in iron oxide.
  16. Mars is … … … planet of the solar system – except, of course, for Earth.

 

_____________

 

Check your answers

 

  1. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun; Mercury, Venus and Earth are closer to the Sun than Mars
  2. Mars is the second smallest planet in the solar system; Mercury is the smallest. Mars is a sixth of Earth’s volume
  3. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, whereas Earth has only one moon
  4. The surface gravity on Mars is less than the surface gravity on Earth; that means you could jump three times as high on Mars, and if you weigh 50 kg on Earth, you would weigh only 19 kg on Mars.
  5. A year on Mars is longer than a year on Earth, almost twice as long; it is equivalent to 687 Earth-days
  6. The lowest temperature on Mars is -140°C (degrees centigrade)
  7. The highest temperature is +30°C
  8. The atmosphere on Mars is thinner than that on Earth: carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up 96% of the atmosphere, and 0.0415% on Earth
  9. Sunsets on Mars are blue, while during the day, the sky is pinkish-red
  10. On Mars, the Sun appears about half the size it does on Earth
  11. The poles on Mars are covered with ice, just like on Earth
  12. The highest mountain in the solar system – as far as we know – is on Mars; it is called Olympus Mons; it is 21km high and 600km in diameter
  13. Mars has the largest dust storms in the solar system. They can last for months and cover the entire planet
  14. 60 missions (including orbiters, landers and rovers) have been sent to Mars. So far, only 28 have reached their target. Currently, three missions are on their way to Mars. That’s because Earth and Mars are relatively close at the moment.
  15. Mars is the reddest planet of the solar system. The ancient Greeks called the planet Ares after their god of war; the ancient Romans then did likewise, associating the planet’s blood-red colour with their own god of war Mars. Interestingly, according to Space Facts, other ancient cultures also focused on colour – to China’s astronomers it was ‘the fire star’, while Egyptian priests called it ‘the red one’. The red colour on Mars is due to the surface being rich in iron oxide.
  16. Mars is the most studied planet of the solar system – except, of course, for Earth.

 

 

The Martian – official trailer

Gossip: Nobody claims to like it, but everybody enjoys it

(English reading and vocabulary related to gossip)

Level: B2 to C1

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

 

Gossip is informal conversation about other people’s private affairs. It’s like the news, but on a micro-level; news about your friends, your friends’ friends, your family, celebrities, your colleagues and bosses. Unfortunately, it can also be unkind and not true. Gossiping and lying can often go hand in hand.

We gossip (here “gossip” is a verb) because we need to share information about our community, tell stories, and connect. Gossiping can make us feel important because we have information that we can give to others. 

Who doesn’t like a good gossip? I do it, you do it, most people do it. A study done in the 90s found that men spent 55% and women spent 67% of conversation time gossiping.

Unfortunately, malicious or negative gossip is everywhere.

 

People love gossip. It’s the biggest thing

that keeps the entertainment industry going.

 

Gossip (here “gossip” is an uncountable noun) is not just about rumours, criticism, derision or tabloid-style news; it’s also about sharing information about other people. A recent study found that people gossip 52 minutes a day on average; and most of that gossip is neutral.

Why do we do it? Some believe we started gossiping as soon as we had language.  Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor in Illinois, explains that to succeed in the time of cavemen, we had to know what was happening to the people around us.

“Who is sleeping with whom? Who has power? Who has access to resources? And if you weren’t good at that, you weren’t very successful,” he says. “Sharing gossip with someone is a bonding mechanism,” he adds. “It increases morale.”

 

Check the meaning of the words in bold. See vocabulary exercise below.

 

According to Matthew Feinberg, a professor of organizational behaviour in Toronto, the act of gossiping “helps calm the body,” and can promote cooperation by spreading important information.

He also notes that there are some types of gossip that should be avoided, such as gossip that is purely harmful and serves no greater purpose — like mean comments about someone’s looks. Negative gossiping and complaining can be really bad for your mental health.

Stacy Torres, assistant professor of sociology in California, found that gossip can stave off loneliness, while other studies have found it can help relationship and closeness and serve as a form of entertainment. Celebrity gossip, for example, can be highly entertaining. We see celebrities as ‘socially important’.

“Consciously, you know celebrities don’t matter and you’re not going to meet them, but they press the same buttons in our brains as people who do matter to us,” McAndrew explains.

If you can’t say anything nice,

then don’t say anything at all.

 

Actor Johnny Depp and USA TV host Ellen De Generes, are both the centre of a lot of negative gossip. De Generes said:

“People love gossip. It’s the biggest thing that keeps the entertainment industry going.”

Gossip can be useful to keep good behaviour in check too. For example, if someone lies or steals and people start talking about that person in a negative way, the community understands better the negative consequences of lying and stealing.

But remember: If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.

Sources: Times CNN

 

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Why do we gossip?

 

 

Vocabulary

Match the words with their definition:

  1. News (uncountable noun)
  2. Micro
  3. Average
  4. Resources
  5. Bonding

 

a. extremely small: used with some nouns and adjectives

b. information about recent events that is reported in newspapers or on television or radio

c. (often used in plural form) something such as money, workers, or equipment that can be used to help an institution or a business

d. the development of a special close relationship between people

e. an amount that is calculated by adding several numbers together and dividing the total by the original number of things you added together

 

_________________________

Answer key:

1:b  –  2:a  –  3:e  –  4:c  –  5:d

_________________________

 

  1. Promote
  2. Spread
  3. Harmful
  4. Greater purpose
  5. Mean (adj.)

 

a. a more meaningful (important) reason to live, work, etc.

b. causing harm (injury, damage, or problems)

c. cruel, or unkind

d. to support or encourage something

e. (in this context) if information spreads, it becomes known by more people than before

 

_________________________

Answer key:

6:d  –  7:e  –  8:b  –  9:a  –  10:c

_________________________

 

  1. Stave off
  2. Entertainment
  3. Matter (v.)
  4. Keep (someone/something) in check
  5. Behaviour
  6. Go on about

 

a. to control someone or something that might cause damage or harm

b. performances that people enjoy

c. the way that someone behaves (behave: to do things in a particular way)

d. to stop something from happening

e. to be important

f. to talk for a long time

 

_________________________

Answer key:

11:d  –  12:b  –  13:e  –  14:a  –  15:c  –  16:f

_________________________

 

Definitions from MacmillanDictionary.com

 

Grace VanderWaal – Gossip Girl (with lyrics)

 

 

Idioms and expressions related to gossip:

 

  1. spill the beans

Reveal secret information unintentionally or indiscreetly.

“So who spilled the beans about her affair with David?”

 

  1. dish the dirt

Reveal or spread scandal or malicious gossip.

“He was happy to dish the dirt on his rival”

 

  1. kiss and tell

Recount one’s sexual exploits, especially to the media concerning a famous person.

“This isn’t a kiss-and-tell book”

 

  1. your reputation precedes you

People have heard things about you before they actually meet you.

 

  1. be a blabbermouth

Someone who talks too much and tells secrets.

“You are such a blabbermouth!”

 

  1. let the cat out of the bag

reveal a secret carelessly or by mistake.

“Now that Viola had let the cat out of the bag, she had no option but to confess”

 

  1. keep mum (or stay mum) or mum’s the word

If you keep mum or stay mum about something, you do not tell anyone about it.

“He is keeping mum about his feelings on the matter.”

 

  1. my lips are sealed

Used for saying that you will not tell a secret to anyone else

 

  1. take a secret to the grave

To not reveal a secret for the duration of one’s life.

“My father took the secret to the grave.”

 

  1. Not tell a soul

To not reveal some confidential information to a single other person. Often spoken as a command or a promise.

I heard Greg is getting fired, but don’t tell a soul—I don’t think even he knows yet.”

 

Practise your gossip expressions

Complete the dialogue with the expressions above (make sure to conjugate them if necessary):

 

David: Miranda, have you heard the latest gossip about Antonio Banderas?

Miranda: No, what happened to him? Any juicy gossip?

D: The Daily Mail says he was diagnosed with coronavirus on his 60th birthday.

M: Antonio Banderas is 60?

D: Yeah.

M: What else does The Daily Mail say?

D: Nothing. But The Mirror reveals something about Nicolas Cage. Apparently, he has spent his fortune on islands, cars and zoo animals. He has nothing left.

M: That’s juicy. How much did he spend?

D: $150m.

M: Hmmm…

D: So you have told anyone about our time in the park last month, when I walked around only wearing a swimsuit? You must have l……, somehow. Everyone is talking to me about it.

M: Nope, I have n…….

D: I wonder who s…… about Mark and Jennifer’s affair? It has become common gossip.

M: I think I know who spread the rumour. But m……. I don’t want to d…… on anyone unless l am 100 per cent sure…

D: And have you told anyone about what you caught me doing the other day?

M: No way.

D: So, you are definitively not a b…….

M: So what else are the papers saying?

 

_________________________

Answers:

 

David: Miranda, have you heard the latest gossip about Antonio Banderas?

Miranda: No, what happened to him? Any juicy gossip?

D: The Daily Mail says he was diagnosed with coronavirus on his 60th birthday.

M: Antonio Banderas is 60?

D: Yeah.

M: What else does The Daily Mail say?

D: Nothing. But The Mirror reveals something about Nicolas Cage. Apparently, he has spent his fortune on islands, cars and zoo animals. He has nothing left.

M: That’s juicy. How much did he spend?

D: $150m.

M: Hmmm…

D: So you have told anyone about our time in the park last month, when I walked around only wearing a swimsuit? You must have let the cat out of the bag, somehow. Everyone is talking to me about it.

M: Nope, I have not told a soul.

D: I wonder who spilled the beans about Mark and Jennifer’s affair? It has become common gossip.

M: I think I know who spread the rumour. But my lips are sealed. I don’t want to dish the dirt on anyone unless l am 100 per cent sure…

D: And have you told anyone about what you caught me doing the other day?

M: No way.

D: So, you are definitively not a blabbermouth.

M: So what else are the papers saying?

 

Who said that?

 

Match these quotes with their author (level: C1-C2):

 

  1. “Often those that criticise others reveal what he himself lacks.”
  2. “No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.”
  3. “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”
  4. “When it comes to gossip, I have to readily admit men are as guilty as women.”
  5. “Gossip is when you hear something you like about someone you don’t.”
  6. “Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.”
  7. “The only gossip I’m interested in is things from the Weekly World News – ‘Woman’s bra bursts, 11 injured’. That kind of thing.”

 

a. Bertrand Russell (philosopher)

b. Marilyn Monroe

c. Earl Wilson (journalist and author)

d. Johnny Depp

e. Shannon L. Alder (inspirational author)

f. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

g. Joseph Conrad (writer)

 

_________________________

Answer key:

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

_________________________

Sources:

Goodreads.com

brainyquote.com

 

Gossip often comes back to bite you

 

 

 

Thursday is not a good day to go to the dentist

(Origins of days of the week B2+)

Every day, we unknowingly organise our lives around a handful of ancient gods of war, thunder, wisdom, motherhood and various celestial bodies. Every day and many times a day.

In English, most of the names of days of the week are monopolised by a close-knit group of Gods. In fact, Friday was married to Wednesday.  I bet you didn’t know that Tuesday lost his hand to a ferocious wolf who was later killed by the son of Wednesday.

You better think twice when you open your Outlook calendar in search of auspicious meeting time.

In many languages the days of the week can be traced back to the planets in Hellenistic astrology. In the case of English, these names were substituted with names of Nordic (Germanic) gods. Yes, we are talking Vikings here.

 

Friday was married to Wednesday.

Tuesday lost his hand to a ferocious wolf

who was later killed by the son of Wednesday.

 

German gods have their roots in old English or Anglo-Saxon which date back to the fifth century or the early Middle Ages.

A Thursday appointment with the dentist is a reference to Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. Thor rides a chariot drawn by goats and wields the hammer Miölnir. He is the defender of the Norse gods and destined to kill and be killed by the ferocious Midgard Serpent who makes the Loch Ness monster look like an earth worm.

In the next Thor film we would like to see Chris Hemsworth (below) on a goat.

 

 

Think of Thorsday at the dentist, and you should think of the real Thor and his goats and hammer (below). Ouch! You are likely to leave with more than a toothache. Better to reschedule.

 

 

Let’s check what’s happening during the rest of the week:

Monday is the day of the moon just like lundi.

Tuesday come from Týr, the Nordic god of war, similar to the Roman war god Mars (mardi). By the way, he had only one hand. In Norse mythology, Týr sacrificed his hand to the monstrous wolf Fenrir (see photo at the top of the page). Fenrir was killed by the son of Odin, also known as Woden, who gives us Wednesday. It’s a small world in the higher realms.

 

The ferocious Fenrir

 

The death of Fenrir, killed by by the son of Woden (Wednesday)

 

A Woden’s day, or Wednesday appointment at the dentist will probably be more auspicious.

Odin or Woden is a widely revered god in Germanic mythology. He is associated with wisdom, healing, royalty, death, knowledge, war, battle, victory, sorcery and culture. He is also the supreme deity and creator of the cosmos and humans. That’s quite a resume. Busy chap. Odin (Roman) became Woden in old English, hence Woden’s day (Wednesday).

Woden is one-eyed and long-bearded, and carries a spear named Gungnir, made by dwarfs and wears a cloak and a broad hat. He’s very Gandalf-like.

Woden is the husband of the goddess Frigg (Friday), but more about her later…

Thursday is Thor and thunder.

Friday is a great day. Thank God it is Friggday!  As you leave the office, you should think of Frigg, the German goddess associated with foresight and wisdom, marriage, and motherhood. The Norse name for the planet Venus (vendredi) is Friggjatstjarn (Frigg’s star).

 

Thank God it’s Friggday!

 

And Saturday comes from the planet Saturn.

Saturn is the Roman god of agriculture. He is said to have ruled the earth during an age of happiness and virtue, which sound a like a perfect way to start the weekend.

Sunday is self-explanatory – the day of sun from the ancient Romans.

Whew! That quite a week. I think I need a lie down.

 

 

Machiavelli, the prince of presidents

(English reading and vocabulary related to Machiavelli and politics)

Level: B2 to C1

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

Is it better for a ruler – or a president, or a prince –  to be feared or to be loved?

According to Machiavelli, it is better to be feared than loved; a ruler must not only care about reputation, but also must be willing to act unscrupulously at the right times. A loved ruler maintains authority by obligation while a feared leader rules by fear of punishment.

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved,” Machiavelli wrote in The Prince.

Check the meaning of the words in bold. See vocabulary exercise below.

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian Renaissance diplomat, philosopher and writer, best known for a brief political essay The Prince, written in 1523, published in 1532. The book was about how to win power and how to keep it.

His name has entered the dictionary: If you describe someone as Machiavellian, you are critical of them because they often make clever and secret plans to achieve their aims and are not honest with people. The word can be used as a noun: a Machiavellian is a cunning, amoral, and opportunist person, especially a politician.

 

Video: What “Machiavellian” really means

 

 

Nice people don’t last in politics

It is almost impossible to be both a good politician and a good person (in the Christian sense) at the same time, says Machiavelli.

A good politician, according to Machiavelli, is someone who can defend a state, or a democracy. And to defend a state, you sometimes need to be ruthless.

 

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So there is a divide between Christian morality and the world of power:  Christian virtues have no place in politics. Rulers must leave aside any scruples in order to be effective.

Machiavelli does not recommend immorality; he recommends pragmatism.

“How we live is so different from how we should live that he who studies what should be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation,” he wrote in The Prince.

We want our politicians to be good and honest. But good politicians must have the power of the lion and the cleverness of the fox, he says.

 

It is up to citizens

Everyone faces “difficult decisions” in life. These decisions may be difficult because they conflict with our moral codes. Should we be nice or should we be effective (i.e., not necessarily be nice at all)? Should we deal with the world as it is, or as it should be? In the real world, the wicked tend to win: they can disregard moral codes in order to get what they want. They can lie, intimidate, deceive. We should learn to at least understand them.

Erica Benner, a professor of political philosophy at Yale, recently published a book called Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli in His World. She says that The Prince is also a warning to citizens.

“He thinks that citizens are responsible more than politicians. Yeah, you can sit there and say, “Look at Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin,” or whoever it might be, and point out how they lie here and there, and how that gives them an advantage or allows them to exploit fears. But at the end of the day, it’s up to us, it’s up to citizens, to see through these manipulations.”

Vocabulary

Here are some words from the text. Match the words with their definition.

 

  1. Care about
  2. Unscrupulous
  3. Hardly
  4. Cunning
  5. Amoral

a. used for saying that something is almost not true or almost does not happen at all

b. to be interested in

c. someone who does not care whether or not their behaviour is morally right

d. willing to do things that are unfair, dishonest, or illegal

e. someone who uses their intelligence to get what they want, especially by tricking or cheating people

__________________________

Answer key:

1:b  –  2:d  –  3:a  –  4:e  –  5:c

__________________________

 

  1. According to
  2. Ruthless
  3. Last (verb)
  4. Virtue
  5. Have no place

 

f. to not be suitable or right in a particular situation

g. to continue existing or happening for or until a particular time

h. willing to make other people suffer so that you can achieve your aims

i. used for saying where information or ideas have come from

j. a good quality or habit that a person has, especially a moral one such as honesty or loyalty

__________________________

Answer key:

6:i  –  7:h  –  8:g  –  9:j  –  10:f

__________________________

 

  1. Leave aside
  2. Scruple
  3. Downfall
  4. Conflict
  5. Effective

 

k. a sudden loss of power, status, or success

l. to not consider something because you want to consider something else instead

m. someone or something that works well and produces the result that was intended

n. a moral principle that prevents you from doing something that you think is bad

o. (in this context) a situation in which it is difficult for two things to exist together or be true at the same time

__________________________

Answer key:

11:l  –  12:n  –  13:k  –  14:o  –  15:m

__________________________

 

  1. Wicked
  2. Deceive
  3. At the end of the day
  4. It’s up to (someone)
  5. See through
  6. Citizen

 

p. to recognize that something is not true and not be tricked by it

q. to trick someone by behaving in a dishonest way

r. if something is up to you, you are the person who makes a decision about it

s. morally wrong and deliberately intending to hurt people

t. used for saying what you consider is the most important thing about a situation after thinking about it

u. someone who lives in a particular town or city

__________________________

Answer key:

16:s  –  17:q  –  18:t  –  19:r  –  20:p  –  21:u

__________________________

Definitions from MacmillanDictionary.com

 

Expressions and proverbs

Here are two proverbs which could be related to Machiavelli:

  • The ends justify the means: any methods, even bad ones, are allowed in order to achieve what you want, especially something good.
  • The road to hell is paved with good intentions“: evil actions are often masked by good intentions; or, good intentions, when acted upon, may have unintended consequences.

 

And here are some quotes on politics.

Who said what?

 

  1. “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
  2. “An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.”
  3. “In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times.”
  4. “Politics have no relation to morals.”
  5. “Man is by nature a political animal.”
  6. “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”

 

a. Aristotle

b. Winston Churchill

c. George Jean Nathan

d. Napoleon Bonaparte

e. Albert Einstein

f. Niccolo Machiavelli

__________________________

 

Answer key:

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

__________________________

Source: Sayingpoint.com

 

Videos

 

Political theory of Niccolò Machiavelli

 

 

 

 

Machiavelli’s advice for nice guys

 

Good Roger. Bad Roger.

Think of Roger and you might think of tennis shots that defy geometry and a Swiss role model admired worldwide. That’s if you live in Switzerland.

If you live in the USA, there’s another Roger making headlines. He’s the antithesis of the Swiss Roger and all things wholesome.

His name is Roger Stone. Last week Donald Trump used his presidential power to cancel the three-year prison sentence of his long-time associate and arguably the key enabler in his rise to presidency.

So, who is Roger Stone? And why was his release from serving prison time decried as “unprecedented, historic corruption” by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney?

But first, a little lesson in slang (argot). To roger is verb used in British English that means to bugger (sodomise) someone profusely. It’s about as sexy as grab them by the pussy.

Roger Stone, 67, has made a career out of rogering Washington political players on behalf of his masters.

Stone is a kind of self-proclaimed gangster, fix-it man. He’s a master of dirty tricks; a brawler with bared teeth who loves to wear immaculate, but often odd suits and top hats, not unlike the more eccentric and violent gangsters of Hollywood that both attract and repel. Deep anger boils at the surface. Like Trump he believes he is untouchable. Above the law.

Stone owns it all. He describes himself as a dirty trickster and agent provocateur.

Stone’s rule is: It’s better to be infamous than never famous at all.

His apprenticeship in Washington began in 1972 with Nixon, the second most corrupt President in the modern era. His admiration for Nixon is exemplified by this tattoo he wears on his back, like a gang member (see photo above). The next horse he gambled on for the White House was Trump, who now probably deserves an even larger tattoo on Stone’s body.

 

Roger Stone

This extraordinary video (below) from Politico shows Stone’s rage and fury while replying to questions about a separate deposition for a range of civil suits. There was no judge present and Stone’s verbal language and body language is a performance worthy of Robert De Niro.

This was just days before he was sentenced for perjury and sentenced to three years in jail for making false statements to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

He calls the lawyer who is interrogating him, “a little bitch”, mouths the words “fuck you” and accuses the lawyer of abusing his own children. His hands shake, his lips quiver and he grinds his teeth in fury.

Here we see the real Roger. It’s pretty sinister.

 

 

The Stones and Epsteins of this modern America escape justice, but make fine materiel for documentaries on Netflix.

If you want a closer look at Roger Stone, then the Get Me Roger (Netflix) documentary offers some insights.

 

 

Why did Trump commute his sentences? Some commentators say it was out of loyalty. But loyalty is not a trait the president has in stock. It’s more likely he did it to save his own bacon. Stone has the dirt on Trump and was not going to go down all alone without a fight.

After his presidential pardon, Stone gave a victorious interview on the Murdoch-owned Fox News, also known as Trump TV.

It’s interesting to contrast this interview with CNN which spoke to respected law academic and writer Jeffrey Toobin.

There are two completely different narratives. The fault-lines are widening.

Stone on Fox News 

CNN on Stone

Footnote:  A team of fact-checkers employed by The Washington Post newspaper reported last week that the number of false or misleading claims made by the president while in office has reached 20,000, yes, that’s twenty thousand.

Parler-librement. Parler is a Twitter for the haters.

Aaah… a French name! Quelle prestige! It has a certain je ne sais quoi, n’est-ce pas?

On the one hand foreign, but on the other hand French; deliciously other-worldly; comme un verre de Chateau Margaux Margaux 2015 (oh-so-seductive notes of warm blackberries, cassis and black forest cake with touches of forest floor, sandalwood, anise and cigar boxes plus a waft of lavender).

Or like Guerlian’s Chamade fragrance (a hymn to love that unfurls like the spring with equal grace, femininity, independence and attraction).

Now meet Parler (pronounced Parl-lay). It’s a new social network in the USA that wants you to speak freely (parler librement). Channel your inner racist and your best hate speech. It’s the Twitter you need, when you want to be your most extreme, or when Twitter has decided you are too extreme and has expelled you.

 

Rule number one:

No posting pictures of faecal matter (shit)

when you disagree with someone

 

There’s little chance you’ll be ex-communicated here. Parler is the go-to-place for haters. Anything goes. More or less. There’s room to breathe. The rules are simple, as eloquently explained by 26-year-old chief executive, John Matze.

 

 

Rule number one: No posting pictures of faecal matter (shit) when you disagree with someone. Threatening to kill people is also frowned upon.

You might say:  Parler is a hymn to free speech that unfurls like a sweaty gun holster stained with the oh-so-seductive notes of racism, misogyny, conspiracies, vilification and hate with a bitter-sweet after-waft of neo-Nazis and white supremacy and a touch of alternative truth. (Yeah baby! That’s my stink!)

You can download Parler at your App Store, or at least for the moment.

Qui parle sur Parler?

You can join luminaries such as the Trump boys (Dad has not signed in as yet), the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, most of the Trump team, including motor mouth Rudy Giuliani, Senator Ted Cruz and don’t forget Katie Hopkins, who compares immigrants to cockroaches and called for a “final solution” in relation to Muslims. Remember Milo Yiannopoulos? No, you’d rather not. Understandable. He’s there too.

 

The president has 82.6 million followers

on Twitter, so for the

moment Parler is not so enticing

 

Parler already has 1.5 million users, according to the company. Twitter has 330 million monthly actives users. Facebook has 2.6 billion active users.

But why no Donald? The president has 82.6 million followers on Twitter, so for the moment Parler is not so enticing.

Parler promotes itself as a fee speech utopia. The problem with Parler is that it is an echo chamber. It’s like being at MAGA rally.  There’s no pushback, little debate and little influencing. The converted are giving sermons to the converted. Everyone is wearing red baseball caps. There is a lot of angry noise, but little colour or grace.

Say and tell: What did she say? What did she tell you?

(English verbs: say and tell)

Level: A2 to C1

By Benedicte Gravrand, English language trainer at The Language House

 

The verbs say and tell are very similar, but say is more about expressing something, and tell is more about informing or instructing someone.

Example:

Mary: Where’s John. He said he was coming to the party.

John: That’s funny, he told me he had an important meeting. He said he wouldn’t be here until 9pm.

Mary: He didn’t tell me that. He doesn’t always tell the truth, does he? He often says one thing and does something else.

 

Say (said, said): used for all sorts of speech.

  • ‘Turn right,’ I said.
  • She said it was my last chance / She said that she liked dancing. (indirect/reported speech)
  • He said that he would be late (NOT He said me)
  • Has he said who is coming? (indirect question)
  • Alice said a naughty word this morning (object is: a word/name/ phrase…)
  • And I say to all the people of this great country… (to before personal object)
  • I’ve already said sorry for hurting his feelings. (say sorry)
  • The committee said yes. (say yes/no (give or refuse permission))
  • I want to say something on this subject. I want to say something about this house. (on/about).
  • The castle is said to be (belief/opinion)
  • Say you get £2,000 for the car – you’ll still need another thousand. (imagine what will happen if…)

 

Tell (told, told): used to mean ‘instruct’ or ‘inform’. After tell, we usually say who is told, for example: he only told one person where the money was.

  • ‘Turn right,’ I told him.
  • She told me (that) it was my last chance (indirect/reported speech)
  • ‘What time is the meeting?’ ‘I’ll tell you
  • I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (no personal object here)
  • Grandpa tells wonderful stories about the old days. (tell stories)
  • I’m not asking you – I’m telling you! (order)
  • He’s lying. I can always tell.

 

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Music

 

Say It Ain’t So Joe, by Murray Head

 

 

Say and tell phrases

 

There are many phrases with say and tell. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Having said that: add an opinion that seems to be the opposite of what you have just said, although you think both are true

It’s expensive. Having said that, I must admit that it is very well made.

  1. I wouldn’t say no (to something): you would like something, especially something that has been offered to you

I wouldn’t say no to another piece of cake.

  1. (just) say the word: you are ready to do something for someone

We can go whenever you like. Just say the word.

  1. go without saying (that): completely obvious or true

It goes without saying that I’m sorry.

  1. that’s​/​it’s easier said than done: telling someone that what they are advising you to do is not easy to achieve

He told me not to worry, but that’s easier said than done.

  1. that’s not saying much: emphasize that something is not very unusual, surprising, or impressive

It’s better than the old one, but that’s not saying much.

  1. I couldn’t tell you: you do not know the answer to a question, especially when you do not want to be helpful

What time will he be back?’ – ‘I couldn’t tell you.’

  1. I told you (so): you warned someone that something bad would happen and you have now been proved right

I told you it wouldn’t work.

See, it broke! I told you so.

  1. tell it like it is: to give the real facts about something, even if they are unpleasant

You can always rely on Jane to tell it like it is.

  1. tell me about it: you already know about something unpleasant that someone has just described because you have experienced it yourself

‘I’m so overworked.’ ‘Tell me about it!

  1. to tell (you) the truth: what you really think or feel

To tell you the truth, I’m completely bored.

  1. you never can tell: it is impossible to be certain about something

You can never tell how long these meetings will last.

 

* Definitions and examples from MacmillanDictionary.com

 

 

Say and tell exercise

Complete the dialogue between a man and a police inspector with say or tell (conjugated).

 

  • MAN: The police officer me to stop when I leaving the bank.
  • INSPECTOR: What did he ?
  • M: He , “You’re under arrest.”
  • I: And what did you ?
  • M: To you the truth, I can’t remember what I . I panicked.
  • I: Do you know why you are here?
  • M: I couldn’t The officer didn’t me why I was arrested.
  • I: You are a prime suspect in a bank robbery.
  • M: What? I was never ! What are you ?
  • I: You were carrying a bag full of cash. One million dollars’ worth.
  • M: I’m you, this bag was not mine. And old man me to carry it to his car because it was too heavy for him. I I would.
  • I: Where is the old man now? Can you me?
  • M: I couldn’t He disappeared as soon as the police officer showed up.
  • I: What can you me about him? me what happened exactly?
  • M: This old man was waiting at the door inside the bank, with the bag on the floor. He also he would give me a tip for the service.
  • I: Really? What else?
  • M: I I wouldn’t no to a tip, especially since my bank account is completely empty.
  • I: Can you describe him?
  • M: He was wearing a black beret. And he had a beard.
  • I: That’s not
  • M: Having that, I think now he probably wasn’t that old.
  • I: How can you ?
  • M: He looked quite fit. But you can never .
  • I: Appearances can be deceiving. Did he you where his car was parked?
  • M: He the car was a black BMW and that it was parked right outside the bank.
  • I: And did you see the car?
  • M: No, I didn’t have time to check. I was arrested as soon as I stepped out!

 

Check your answers

  • MAN: The police officer told me to stop when I leaving the bank.
  • INSPECTOR: What did he say?
  • M: He said, “You’re under arrest.”
  • I: And what did you say?
  • M: To tell you the truth, I can’t remember what I said. I panicked.
  • I: Do you know why you are here?
  • M: I couldn’t tell The officer didn’t tell me why I was arrested.
  • I: You are a prime suspect in a bank robbery.
  • M: What? I was never told! What are you saying?
  • I: You were carrying a bag full of cash. $1 million worth.
  • M: I’m telling you, this bag was not mine. And old man told me to carry it to his car because it was too heavy for him. I said I would.
  • I: Where is the old man now? Can you tell me?
  • M: I couldn’t tell He disappeared as soon as the police officer showed up.
  • I: What can you tell me about him? Tell me what happened exactly?
  • M: This old man was waiting at the door inside the bank, with the bag on the floor. He also said he would give me a tip for the service.
  • I: Really? What else?
  • M: I said I wouldn’t say no to a tip, especially since my bank account is completely empty.
  • I: Can you describe him?
  • M: He was wearing a black beret. And he had a beard.
  • I: That’s not saying
  • M: Having said that, I think now he probably wasn’t that old.
  • I: How can you tell?
  • M: He looked quite fit. But you can never tell.
  • I: Appearances can be deceiving. Did he tell you where his car was parked?
  • M: He said the car was a black BMW and it was parked right outside the bank.
  • I: And did you see the car?
  • M: No, I didn’t have time to check. I was arrested as soon as I stepped out!

 

For more crime-related reading, see our post on Agatha Christie: Be careful. That knife is sharp.

 

 

 

Three words that will save your life on the telephone

Telephone conversations can be challenging, or even terrifying, if English is not your first or second language.

Many of you know the scenario. You are working comfortably at your desk. Bleep bleep, the telephone rings. The line is not very clear, the speaker has had four double expressos and English words are being fired at you at 155 kmph. But the rapid fire is not the cause of rising panic. It’s the accent. It’s so alien and thick that you’re finding it difficult to understand every third word.

Aaargh!!!!

 

 

 

Don’t panic. Just calmly reply: One moment please…”, and 99 times out of 100, the person on the line will reply: “Of course”

One moment please is an expression that can save your life on the telephone.

 

Gently put the phone down on the desk.

And breathe…

And breathe again.

 

 

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One moment please is a golden phrase for the telephone. It buys you time. You can use this time to remember your telephone language (see below) and prepare your response.

Yes, how can I help you? Yes, Can I help you?

 

When you don’t understand

I am sorry could you speak slowly please?

Can you repeat that please?

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.

Did you say Tuesday or Thursday?

If I understand correctly, you would like to speak to the marketing director?

If I understand correctly, you would like to cancel your appointment on Friday?

 

Taking messages

I’m afraid Sarah is in a meeting. Can I give her a message?

Can I take a message?

Would you like to leave a message?

Can I have your name please?

Your number?

And your email address please?

Would you like to ring back after lunch?

Would you like her direct number?

Can you spell that please?

  

Check spelling and email addresses

How do you spell that?

Did you say M-I-K-A-E ..?

Is that E-for-elephant?

So that’s Mikaelia –  M-I-K-A-E-L-I-A…?

So that’s Monday, June 5 at 3.30pm in your office?

So that’s George Wilkins…  W- I – L – K – I – N – S?

 And your email address is [email protected] 

So that’s G dot Wilkins – Wilkins -W-I-L-K-I-N-S at greencables (all one word) – G-R-E-E-N-C-A-B-L-E-S dot ch

 

Final check before you end the conversation

If necessary, make a final check at the end of the conversation. Just repeat the important facts.

You: Thanks for your call. I will ask Susanne call you on 079 533 72 98 or she can email you at [email protected] – that’s Mikaelia –  capital M-I-K-A-E-L-I-A dot Hobson capital H-O-B-S-O-N at greencables  – all one word – G-R-E-E-N-C-A-B-L-E-S dot CH.

Mikaelia: Great. Thank you.

 

You: Thanks for your call. I will ask Susan to call you back this afternoon between 3 and 4.30pm.

Your name is Rafael – that’s Rafael with a F, NOUNCI – N-O-U-N-C-I and you are calling from Cisco Systems -that’s Cisco – C-I-S-C-O Systems.

Rafael: Correct. Thanks

 

And breathe. Good job!

Vocabulary:

to buy time: delay an event temporarily so as to have longer to improve one’s own position.

The police kept the gunman talking to buy time for the hostages.

French: gagner du temps

rapid fire: to speak very quickly or shoot bullets very quickly

 

Liverpool: In your darkest moments, you’ll never walk alone

Love it or hate it, football, especially English football, is often the stuff of fairy tales.

It’s a potent mix of tribal passion, tragedy and surrealism. UK premiership football has history. It is a mirror, stained and cracked, that reflects the trials and tribulations of generations where football is not just football. The round ball is life.

In 2016 we witnessed the magical tale of Leicester City Football Club and the re-internment of the bones of King Richard III dug up under a city car-park – read more here.

The story of Liverpool’s 2020 premiership is a grittier and darker story of redemption, exemplified in the haunting club song, You will never walk alone. It’s an anthem of sufferance and hope that transcends the brilliance of King Salah of Egypt, the Dutch centre-half poet, Virgil van Dijk, the goal scorer from Bambali, Senegal, Sadio Mané, and of course, the mastermind with the finest brain and teeth in modern football, Jürgen Klopp from the small Black Forest village of Glatten.

As Klopp says:

It’s the most beautiful song in the world. Everybody feels it, everybody loves it.

 

 

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

 

Klopp and the Kop are of the same family. The Kop is the name of the famous steep stand at Anfield, the Liverpool home ground. It is said the Kop army of 50,000 supporters in full voice can suck the ball into goal.

Pink Floyd recorded the Kop in the last two minutes of their song Fearless from the album Meddle released in 1971.

 

 

But why the name Kop? In 1900, during the Boer War in South Africa, the British Army fought to capture a hilltop, and 300 men died, most of whom were from Lancashire and many from Liverpool itself. The name of the hill was Spion Kop.

 

A greater tragedy, arguably the greatest stain

on modern football, justice and

journalism in the history of the UK,

was to come later

 

A greater tragedy, arguably the greatest stain on modern football, justice and journalism in the history of the UK, and I do not exaggerate, was to come later.

The Hillsborough disaster was a fatal human crush (mouvement de foule fatal) that claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters, men, women and children at the Hillsborough Stadium in a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15 1989.  Four hundred were taken to hospital.

 

 

The investigations, court cases and public inquiries continued right up to last year. We now know that it was a police mistake that led to the crush. We also know that the police lied repeatedly, doctored documents and, with heinous intent, shifted blame onto the supporters.

The lies were lapped up by the Murdoch tabloid, The Sun, which produced this shameful front page the following day:

 

 

It was not the truth. It was LIES. Pure tabloid gutter journalism, from the stable of the Murdoch media.

The newspaper ran claims from anonymous police officers that, as people were dying at Hillsborough, their fellow supporters stole from them, urinated on police officers and beat up “brave cops” trying to help.

 

It was not the truth. It was LIES.

Pure tabloid gutter journalism,

from the stable of the Murdoch media

 

It took 15 years before The Sun finally offered an apology. It read in part:

The Sun’s reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy 23 years ago is without doubt the blackest day in this newspaper’s history. The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into the disaster lays bare the disgraceful attempt by South Yorkshire Police to hide their culpability behind a smokescreen of lies. It highlights a concerted campaign by senior officers to smear the innocent by fabricating lurid allegations about Liverpool fans — and then feeding them to the media.

But it is to the eternal discredit of The Sun that we reported as fact this misinformation which tarnished the reputation of Liverpool fans including the 96 victims. Today we unreservedly apologise to the Hillsborough victims, their families, Liverpool supporters, the city of Liverpool and all our readers for that misjudgment.

Even today, few people buy The Sun in Liverpool.

In 2016, some 27 years after the disaster, a further inquiry finally ruled that the 96 people were killed unlawfully and the actions of police were the principal cause of the disaster. It also refuted all of the scandalous claims made in The Sun. No-one has been found guilty.

 

This was the scene in Liverpool on April 15 this year – the 31st anniversary of Hillsborough.