The Language of Love

Level B1 to C1 (English expressions and vocabulary about love)

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


In the wake of St. Valentine’s Day, I feel like talking about love.

Do you remember the last time you fell in love?

Did you fancy him from the first moment? Were you infatuated with her? Was it love at first sight on both sides? Or was it unrequited?

Was he a heartthrob? Did you idealise her? Were you enchanted? Did you long to hold her in your arms?

Was there a spark between the two of you, or did the feeling grow with time?

Was there a long courting period? Was it full of yearning?

And once you became lovebirds, did you spend a lot of time in your love nest with your sweetheart?

Was it true love? Are you still crazy about your love, or are you in a more quietly loving relationship?


At Last (my love has come along)- Etta  James


Love vocabulary

  • fancy – a strong liking or love for someone or an attraction to them
  • infatuation – intense feelings of love
  • love at first sight – the experience of falling in love with someone as soon as you see them for the first time.
  • unrequited love – a love that is one-sided and not returned.
  • heartthrob – term for the one who makes your heart beat faster
  • idolise – to totally love someone to the point where you don’t not see their faults
  • enchant – casting a spell of love over someone
  • longing – to really want someone; to pine for them
  • spark – chemistry; strong attraction between two people
  • courting – wooing; another word for dating
  • yearning – a very strong urge to be with the one you love
  • lovebirds – partners in a romantic relationship who love each other very much
  • love nest – place where lovers spend time together
  • sweetheart – endearing name for your partner
  • true love – your lover or soul mate
  • crazy about – madly in live with someone, head over heels, infatuated

More from



See Garry’s related blog about describing your love: Let’s talk about love.


I Feel Love – Donna Summer



Enough with the questioning. Here is a true love story for you.


A monument to love

Remember the Taj Mahal? It is a palace built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. The white palace in located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, in the North of India. It has attracted millions of visitors since. And the story behind it, that it is a monument of love, if true, seems very romantic.

The BBC reported a few years ago that a Mr. Faizul Hasan Qadri, 77, a retired postmaster, was building his own monument of love for his wife in a small village also located in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, it was a replica, albeit of a much humbler scale, of the Taj Mahal.

He started the building works after his wife, Tajammuli Begun, died of cancer in 2011.

They got married when they were teenagers in 1953. “We were together for more than 58 years, and love grows with time,” Mr Qadri said. “Now that she is gone, she is always there in my thoughts.”

“You see, my wife and I were childless, so she always used to say, ‘after we are dead, there will be nobody to remember us, we will be forgotten’. So I promised her that if she were to die before me, I would build such a beautiful mausoleum for her that people would remember her for ages,” he said.

He had to sell most of his belongings to fund the building works, and even though he ran out of money before completion, he was determined to finish his project on his own, no matter what.

The one-room palace is his wife’s tomb, he says. He has left space for his own grave next to his wife’s and prays that “we should be together in the afterlife as well”.

The mini palace became famous in the region and attracted many visitors.

Upon hearing about it, the then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav offered Mr. Qadri funds to complete the structure and get the marble work done, reported News India Express. Mr. Qadri politely declined the offer and asked the minister to establish an inter-college for girls in his village instead. He wanted this to be done in memory of his wife, who could not read. The request was accepted and the college is now reportedly up and running.

Mr. Qadri died in a road accident in 2018, aged 83. The monument had not been finished then, but his family said they would do it for him.

Just as the Taj Mahal helps maintain the memory of the emperor’s love, Mr Quadri’s mini replica – and the new school – helps maintain the memory of his own.


Watch the video here:


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And here is another story, with more love-related terms and phrases:


John: Hi Sophia, how are you today?

Sophia: Oh John, I am head over heels in love.

J: Enough with the small talk, then. You’re talking about Oliver, right? You two have been inseparable.

S: No, no, that’s the problem. I have met someone else… and he worships me.

J: Oh, really? How did you meet him?

S: Online dating.

J: But… I though you and Oliver were joined at the hip. I thought he was your main squeeze. Why would you do online dating?

S: My old online dating account is still live. Jeremy contacted me, he sounded nice, we met, and it was love at first sight. I adore him.

J: Could it be puppy love?

S: I’m too old for that.

J: And what about Oliver?

S: Oh, I cherish him. But I feel passion for Jeremy. Jeremy said I stole his heart, and that we are a perfect match.

J: Oh, dear. This is a tricky situation. Trust the internet to confuse us completely.


  • head over heels – to be totally infatuated with someone
  • inseparable – lovers who will stick together no matter what
  • worship – to adore intensely
  • online dating – looking for a partner via a website
  • joined at the hip – term for a couple that is almost always together
  • main squeeze – your partner in an exclusive relationship
  • adore – loving someone very much
  • puppy love – feelings of love between very young people
  • cherish – have great affection and caring for someone; holding a person dear


More from


Love is the Drug – Roxy Music



LOVE quotes: Who said that?

Can you match these quotes about love with their author?


  1. Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.
  2. ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
  3. Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
  4. The more one judges, the less one loves.
  5. Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only with what you are expecting to give — which is everything.
  6. Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
  7. What is love but acceptance of the other, whatever he is.


a. Honoré de Balzac, French writer

b. Katherine Hepburn, American actress

c. Anaïs Nin, French-Cuban American writer

d. Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil’s Dictionary

e. Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher

f. Alfred Lord Tennyson, British poet

g. Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American writer



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


Do you Love me? Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds




Shooting the mafia: Letizia Battaglia

When photographer Letizia Battaglia first began taking pictures of the carnage of the mafia in Palermo in southern Italy in the 80s, she would often arrive on a murder scene at the same time as an elderly photographer in suit and tie.

This gentleman travelled with a prickly pear cactus (cactus de figue de barbarie) in a pot in his car. After inspecting the murder scene, he would return to his car, retrieve the cactus, and place it near the body. And then take his photograph.

It was an odd ritual, but if you have worked in marketing you would instantly recognise his modus operandi: product placement and brand awareness. The prickly pear cactus (opuntia ficus indica) is the national plant of Sicily. It was introduced from central American in the 15th century and colonised Sicily.

Like the mafia, its roots and spikes flourished and embedded themselves into the Sicilian landscape and culture. The prickly pear in a pot next to a corpse says Sicily, a grotesque nod to an honorific code of corruption and brutality.


She was kidnapped, her equipment destroyed and her life threatened numerous times, but she never took her finger off the shutter-release button. She refused all offers of protection.


Ms Battaglia’s work took the focus away from the romanticism of the mafia. Her stark black and white photos over the last 40 years have documented and denounced the atrocities of the mafia. Her stoic presence and eye have played an integral part in galvanising a civil movement that has fought to hold the mafia to account.

Now in her 80s, she is the subject of a book written by writer, journalist and investigative reporter Sabrina Pisu who lives in Geneva.


Letizia Battaglia (left) and Geneva journalist and writer Sabrina Pisu


Mi prendo il mondo ovunque sia (I take the world wherever it is) – explores “a photographer’s life between civil passion and beauty.′′ It is available only in Italian at this stage and examines the life and work of Italy’s most famous female photo-journalist. It was first published late last year and is now in it is second print run. It will be available at Geneva Payot when bookshops reopen.

Sabrina Pisu, like her subject, is no stranger to the workings of the mafia. Her book Il Caso Matttei written with prosecutor Vincenzo Calia examines the assassination of prominent Italian politician Enrico Mattei whose plane exploded in mid-air in1962; and the years of lies and cover-ups, deaths and disappearances that followed. The book has won numerous awards for its fastidious and fearless reporting.

In 2017, Ms Battaglia was chosen by The New York Times as one of its 11 women of the year. She was the subject of the documentary Shooting the Mafia (2019) directed by the British filmmaker Kim Longinotto.  She also inspired and starred in the movie by Franco Maresco, La mafia non è piú quella di una volta, (The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be) which won the Special Jury Prize at the 76th Venice Film Festival.


Trailer: Shooting the Mafia



Film excerpt: Shooting the Mafia



Ms Battaglia began working as a press photographer just as the Second Mafia War began in the late 1970s. In the decade that followed, rival mafia factions turned on each other and anyone who obstructed their grab for control of the drug trade.



Portrait of Rosario Schifani, taken at the funeral of her husband, a bodyguard killed in a car bomb that targeted Giovanni Falcone, a fearless anti-Mafia judge – Letizia Battaglia


An estimated 1000 people died. The death toll included heads of political parties, lawyers, government appointees, judges, trade unionists, young activists and many police, including senior investigators. The bodies of around 300 people still remain unaccounted for.

It was a busy time for a photographer on a daily newspaper whose ear was glued 24/7 to the police radio. At the height of the violence, there were sometimes four or five murders per day.


Triple homicide after a prostitute tried to sell drugs without permission of the mafia. Palermo 1982 – Letizia Battaglia


She used her camera as a weapon. Ms Battaglia and other photographers blew up graphic photos of the murders and pasted them around the square of the mafia village stronghold of Corleone – a public taunt and a dare to the mafioso to admire their gruesome handiwork.

She was kidnapped, her equipment destroyed and her life threatened numerous times, but she never took her finger off the shutter-release button. She refused all offers of protection.

Two of her images were crucial in proving former prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s links to organised crime. They showed him in the company of a high-ranking mafia figure, whom he had publicly denied knowing.

Ms Battaglia was one of the leaders of the Palermo Spring in the mid-1980s, when thousands of Sicilians began to speak out. They took to the streets to denounce the Mafia, alongside Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, who was recently re-elected for a fifth term.


Young recruits – – Letizia Battaglia


Ms. Battaglia herself, won a seat in 1985 on Palermo’s City Council and then later in the regional Parliament.

Ms Pisu says the book aims to preserve the memory of the events and the brave people who took a stand. She says it’s a testimony for future generations; a time that should never be forgotten.

“It’s hard to imagine or understand there was a war around their city when there was peace in the rest of Europe. Letizia is a feminist icon for the young people and woman of Italy. She proved it is possible to be brave and engaged against all odds;  a remarkable woman armed with just a camera and a sense of justice and a big heart filled with love”.


Piersanti Mattarella was assassinated in his car by the mafia while he held the position of President of the Regional Government of Sicily. He was the brother of Sergio Mattarella, who has been the President of Italy since February, 2015 Letizia Battaglia


Photo (top of the page): Palermo street games 1982 Letizia Battaglia


TO versus FOR. Which is correct?

Level A2 to B1 (the uses of ‘to’ and ‘for’ in English)

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


To and for are two innocent-looking words, but for French speakers, they are not so simple. They can be quite confusing. When do you use to and when do you use for in a sentence?

In French you say: Je rentre à la maison pour manger.

In English, you say : I’m going home to eat.

NOT:  I’m going home for to eat. WRONG

Here pour becomes to


In French you say: Je rentre à la maison pour dîner.

In English, you say : I’m going home for dinner.


When you say in French: Merci pour votre aide.

In English, you say: Thank you for your help.

Here pour becomes for.


And when you say in French: Je vais à la plage / au marché.

In English, you say: I am going to the beach / to the market.

Here, à and au become to.


Here is the most important rule about to and for


When it comes to talking about reason or purpose (what you want to do or achieve), you use to when the reason is a verb, and you use for when the reason is a noun.


  1. Use to when the reason or purpose is a verb.

I am writing to thank you for your generous gift.

To call security, just press this button here.

I gave Spanish lessons in order to earn some extra money.


  1. Use for when the reason or purpose is a noun.

We use the basement for storage.

Let’s go out for a drink.

I’m working for the money.



 Other uses of to and for


To and for, when used as a preposition, have many different jobs.

Below is a list of some of these jobs, but please note, as in all rules, there are always exceptions. There is an exercise at the bottom of this article for you to practise.

  1. Which is correct?
  • We drove to Newport
  • We drove for Newport

Use to when you talk about going somewhere or a direction

We drove to Newport.

She’s invited me to her wedding.

She looked to the left and then to the right before crossing the road.


  1. Which is correct?
  • This paper is for writing, this paper is for painting
  • This paper is to writing, this paper is to painting

Use for when you talk about function (followed by gerund (verb-ing))

This paper is for writing, this paper is for painting

The fridge is for keeping food cold.


  1. Which is correct?
  • Thank you to the new shoes!
  • Thank you for the new shoes!

Use for when expressing thanks (followed by a noun or a gerund)

Thank you for the new shoes!

Thank you for teaching me to play the guitar.

Thank you for letting me do this.


  1. Which is correct?
  • She was married to an American lawyer.
  • She was married for an American lawyer.

Use to when you talk about relationship or influence

She was married to an American lawyer.

They were very kind to my mother when she was ill.

They are important to the company.


  1. Which is correct?
  • I’ve been waiting to 20 minutes.
  • I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes.

Use for to talk about a length of time or a distance

I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes.

They must have walked for at least three kilometres.

I have worked here for a very long time.


  1. Which is correct?
  • Everyone says they are to equal opportunities.
  • Everyone says they are for equal opportunities.

Use for when you talk about who or what you support or prefer

Everyone says they are for equal opportunities.

Are you for or against the Green party?

I am all for it.


Other uses of to and for


  1. Forming an infinitive – usually as a complement (not the main verb)

I hope to see you next week.

The system is easy to understand.

I didn’t know what to say.


  1. Until

The shop stays open from 7 am to 9 pm.


  1. Time

It’s a quarter to two.


12.  Comparing

I prefer tea to coffee.

13. Saying how much money is paid

I sold my car for £1,000.


And now for something a little bit more complicated…


  • What did they do to you?
  • What did they do for you?


What is the difference?


  1. to is used for saying who is given or shown or told something. Think of it as a direction – what it is directed at.  

What did they do to you? (This can be a bit negative: did they do something bad to you?)

Prizes were presented to the winners. (The prizes were directed at, or given, to the winners.)

I have already explained to everyone what the problem is.


  1. for is used for saying who or what receives something. Think of it as a recipient or a beneficiary.

What did they do for you? (What did you receive from them?)

I’ve brought a cup of tea for you. (You are the beneficiary.)

Betty will take care of things for us while we’re away.

I’m bringing some cookies for my colleagues.


 (Most examples from

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Now complete the dialogue with to or for:


Audrey: I want to go New York.

Betty: What ? When?

A: I want listen to some live music in a jazz club.

B: I thought you preferred rock music jazz.

A: I want go with Vince. He’s invited me a concert.

B: Isn’t he related you?

A: Yes, he is a distant cousin. He has been very nice me since I lost my job.

B: What did he do you?

A: He got a new computer me.

B: He gave a computer you? Wow, that was really nice of him! How will you go .. New York?

A: I will fly JFK.

B: Where will you stay?

A: Diana has invited me stay with her.

B: Will you bring something her?

A: She won’t be there, but I will take care of her cats her.

B: Is her apartment in New York?

A: No, I’ll have to travel about half an hour get the apartment.

B: Have you bought a ticket the concert?

A: I’ll buy one on the internet less money than in New York.

B: Have you booked your flight?

A: No, but I will do it now. There’s one at twenty five tomorrow.



Check your answers:


Audrey: I want to go to New York.

Betty: What for? When?

A: I want to listen to some live music in a jazz club.

B: I thought you preferred rock music to jazz.

A: I want to go with Vince. He’s invited me to a concert.

B: Isn’t he related to you?

A: Yes, he is a distant cousin. He has been very nice to me since I lost my job.

B: What did he do for you?

A: He got a new computer for me.

B: He gave a computer to you? Wow, that was really nice of him! How will you go to New York?

A: I will fly to JFK.

B: Where will you stay?

A: Diana has invited me to stay with her.

B: Will you bring something for her?

A: She won’t be there, but I will take care of her cats for her.

B: Is her apartment in New York?

A: No, I’ll have to travel for about half an hour to get to the apartment.

B: Have you bought a ticket for the concert?

A: I’ll buy one on the internet for less money than in New York.

B: Have you booked your flight?

A: No, but I will do it now. There’s one at twenty to five tomorrow.


Donny Hathaway – A Song For You (with lyrics)




Knee injury saves Roger from pain in the neck Down Under

Roger Federer might be thankful for his slower than expected comeback after two surgeries on his right knee last year.

The Australian Open, the first grand slam of the year, is at breakpoint after two players and a team member on three different flights tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne.

Seventy-two players are now in full quarantine-lockdown in hotels rooms for 14 days, hitting balls against bedroom walls, with some fuming in social media posts that “it’s just like a prison, except we have wifi.

Everyone entering the country must do the mandatory 14 days quarantine, but can train for five hours a day.

Those players in full quarantine, who arrived on infected flights, may only have two days outside their room before the official warm-up tournaments begin.

The Australian Open has been postponed for three weeks and will start on February 8.

When it comes to the pandemic, Australia, is indeed another world Down Under compared to much of Europe.

The city of Melbourne, population 4.9 million has a total of 34 active cases of coronavirus at the time of writing this article. Yes, that’s right just 34 people who have the virus.

Melbourne went into a brutal four-month lockdown in July last year which saw cases drop from 700 to just a handful. The city achieved 28 consecutive days without an infection.

Geneva, population 200,000, has at present around 160 new cases of infection every day.

Australia, population 25 million, has had 909 deaths attributed to the Coronavirus. In Switzerland, population 8.5 million, the figure stands at 8,100.

The Australian authorities, like New Zealand, are doing their best to defeat the virus in straight sets.

Switzerland is in the middle of a high-attrition, five-set marathon.

Of course, both Australia, and New Zealand have the advantage of being isolated and surrounded by water. But sports crazy Australia decided to go ahead with the Australian Open. It’s a risk that may well backfire on the tournament, nicknamed the Happy Slam by Roger Federer.

Many players aren’t too happy Down Under at the moment.

Novak Djokovic sent a list of requests to the organisers which included the right to quarantine in private housing with tennis courts.

The Victorian authorities indicated with clarity that there would be no special cases. Australian player Nick Kyrgios was more blunt: he tweeted: “Djokovic is a tool” – (Australian slang for penis) which describes a man with a over-inflated ego.

Some players, like the Swiss Belinda Bencic, have claimed that the rules had been changed

“We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about,” she tweeted.

Other players have defended the Australian authorities saying that they knew exactly what they signed up for in coming to Australia.


ABC 7:30 news report


Read more here: The Guardian



A Little Lion in Geneva

Sometimes in life, if you are lucky, a door opens and instinctively you know this is the way. Call it what you like, an epiphany or a calling. The big question is, are you going to follow this path? Are you a believer?

Nicolas (Nico) Meury’s calling was loud and clear, and it had an island beat. He was just 11 years old, a Swiss schoolboy living in Commugny.

His older brother Stéphane was a headbanger, a fan of heavy metal bands like Slipknot, Slayer and NOFX. One day he played a song that opened the door for little brother.

It was Bob Marley. Reggae. So, what did an 11-year-old boy hear?

“Suffering and love,” Nico replied, in that order. “It rang a bell, deep inside me. There was truth to it.”

A remarkable response for a schoolboy barely out of short pants. And the journey began.

Today, Nico aged 28, is the CEO of independent Geneva recording studio and label, Evidence Music and is also the founder and partner in one of Europe’s hardest working reggae sound systems, Little Lion Sound. He is a rising and respected player and influencer in world music, especially reggae and dancehall.

Geneva and Evidence Music studio have become a European stopover for Jamaican artists.

Evidence Music videos

have attracted 34 million views


From their no-name, shopfront studio in Les Grottes in Geneva, Nico and his partners and collaborators have recorded, produced and promoted some of the biggest names in reggae and dancehall such as Sizzla, Anthony B, Shaggy, Luciano, Busy Signal, Brother Culture, Million Stylez, General Levy, Vershon, Johnny Osbourne, Capleton, and the late Wayne Smith.

The Evidence Music YouTube channel which showcases the body of their work with international artists, in the form of music videos, has attracted 34 million views.

In 2017, Evidence Music recorded and produced the album Ego by Danitsa, who went on to win ‘Best Music Act in Swiss-Romande’ at the Swiss Music Awards in 2018.

This week has been big. Lion-size. Evidence Music with Nico at the helm, signed an international deal for Danitsa’s new album with Island Records, the fabled label of Bob Marley, U2, Amy Winehouse and The Clash. It was year-long negotiation and Island Records agreed to let the Geneva independent label keep ownership of the master record and remain producer. Island Records will use its international reach to market and sell Danitsa and her music around the world.

The album was recorded in the Red Bull Music Studio in Los Angeles and Evidence Music studios in Geneva.


Danitsa (centre) wins Best Act Romandie and Nico (second on the left) at the Swiss Music Awards in 2018.


Danitsa: Captain



Behind his rasta dreadlocks, his charming Jamaican-English patois and chill attitude is an astute businessman and deal maker who has navigated the fast evolving and merciless music landscape of the last two decades. Music is a passion, that often doesn’t often feed the cat, let alone fill the master’s belly.

The real dope is that Evidence Records is a trio of go-getters with a business plan and a strong work ethic.

His partners in Evidence Music are Derrick Sound (also a sound system); two brothers Nicolas and Etienne, who have day jobs as an economist and lawyer respectively.

His partner in Little Lion Sound is an Australian-Swiss friend from childhood and university student Jannali ‘Selecta’ Littman (who shares both the same name and genes as the writer of this article).


Little Lion Sound


But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The young Nico, aged 12, managed to convince his parents and his high school in Versoix that he should do his work experience project at Reggae Fever, a record shop in Les Grottes, at the time, one of the largest distributors of reggae in Europe.

He was a roots and culture sponge. His one week work experience stint lasted two years. He could be found in the record shop every day after school between 5 and 8pm.

“They couldn’t pay me. Each shift I worked I would receive two 45s (vinyl singles). When I stopped I had about 400 to 500 reggae singles.


Nico celebrated the skeleton in the family closet. The Little Lion had a little of his own island roots and culture.


“I started digging into the music and culture and always in the back of my mind I was thinking, how can I make this music work for me. I discovered sound systems and DJs who would come into the shop and buys lots for records. But I was too young.”

Around this time Nico began to fathom a long-hidden family secret. His father was born on the French island of Reunion. Little was said about his childhood or Nico’s grandmother. When Nico was 10, he discovered his grandmother was a native of Reunion. Nico celebrated the skeleton in the family closet. The Little Lion had a little of his own island roots and culture.


“It was hard for my parents. I know I gave them more than a fair share of sleepless nights.”


“It was hard for my parents. My father is a banker and my mother a logopedist, and clearly, they wanted me to be an engineer or something similar. They saw my love of reggae as dangerous path, but as the years went by, they realised it offered me extraordinary life experience. Thankfully, I was good at school. But I know I gave them more than a fair share of sleepless nights.

“In some ways my father was quite supportive. He took me to Montreux to see Prince Buster, a pioneer of ska music, which predates reggae. He had a sound system and he sang. He was extraordinary. I could see a future.


Prince Buster:  One Step Beyond



“I had the music and I wanted to play. At the time there was a web radio station called Reggae Vibes based in France. The Saturday night time slot from 8 to 10pm was free. No one wanted this slot because all the best-known reggae sounds were all getting ready to play live for the night.

“I sent a mixed tape from a Geneva DJ to the station and said it was mine. They wrote back: ‘Great. We’re ready to go.’ They didn’t know I was a 13 year old Geneva schoolboy.

“With the help a band of friends the show kicked off with a simple turntable, a CD player and amplifier and many sleepless nights, twisted cables and bad connections. No mixer and of course, no microphone.”

If anyone heard the sweet tones of a 13-year-old, he knew his cover would be blown.

The show started to get picked up and people started to talk about the Little Lion from Geneva. From the record shop he had access to the latest international releases from the giant French label Irie Ites.


I couldn’t tell my parents.  I was only 13.  I would pedal off on Friday night and Saturday night on my bicycle with my cache of records and ride the 45 minutes into Geneva and play the night.

I’d then just wait around until six or seven in the morning and cycle home, exhausted, but happy.


The next step was DJ-ing. At 13 he started working regularly as a pre-show or warm-up DJ around Geneva.

“I couldn’t tell my parents. I told them I was sleeping at a friend’s place and I would pedal off on Friday night and Saturday night on my bicycle with my cache of records and ride the 45 minutes into Geneva and play the night. I’d then just wait around until six or seven in the morning and cycle home, exhausted, but happy.

“My father surprised me one night. He found a picture of me on concert flyer. He pulled up in his car in front of the stage at 1am while I was DJ-ing and hauled me off the stage and took me home.

“It was crazy, but we managed to negotiate an agreement that my brother would come with me when I played in the future.”


Credit: On The Roots


The Little Lion needed his own sound system (powerful speaker system) and Nico announced to his high school that his personal project for the year would be building a mega 12-kilowatt sound system. He negotiated a deal (the first of many); the school would pay for the materials, he would build it, his work would be judged on its acoustic merits by sound engineers and both he and the school would have use of the sound system for three years and after this period it would become the property of Little Lion Sound.

Shortly after, Jannali became the second Little Lion. They were both 16. Jannali ‘Selecta’ keeps the music pumping and Nico is the MC (master of ceremony) who, with microphone in hand, whips up the crowd.

Little Lion Sound has now played hundreds of gigs in Australia, the USA, and throughout Europe. Their YourTube channel is filled with video dubplates, one-off records that celebrate their sound, such as this one sung by a young Danitsa back in 2010 and another by Brother Culture.



Brother Culture



This dubplate below by Antony B has received more than one million views.



Their dubplate videos have had more than 6.6 million views.

During an English language course in the USA Nico met up with Wayne Smith the New York based  Jamaican reggae and dancehall musician best known for his 1985 hit Under Mi Sleng Teng, widely regarded as the track which initiated the digital era of reggae.



After English lessons he could be found with the reggae legend. It was there he realised that the future was a studio, recording and producing music.

“It was a fantastic experience and we became great friends. He was a pioneer and he was my mentor. We later produced his music. Here was this legend living in a tiny studio that was also his recording studio and home for his daughter and girlfriend. You never knew who would arrive.  Shabba Ranks, Johnny Osbourne and Ranking Joe, they all came through the door.”

In  2010, the modest Geneva studio opened and business was brisk. Nico charged just 20 chfs an hour and soon had more work that he could cope with and as well as a steep learning curve.

Around this time, he began organising European tours for reggae artists. He looked after the flights, booking, accommodation, equipment and Little Lion Sound opened and closed the concerts.

Two year ago, Evidence Music and Little Lion Lion Sound flew to Jamaica with a suitcase full of beats. They hired a house with a recording studio and over a over a frenetic two-week period recorded the album Kingston Journey,  an eclectic mix of Jamaican artists including Easah, Jae Prnyse and Natel.

One of the album gems is Capleton’s In the Game  (314,00 views)




Dancehall has overtaken reggae as the most popular form of Jamaican music. Where does it come from?

This is true in Jamaica and around the world today. The mainstream media and international labels lost interest in roots reggae at the end of the 90s. Dancehall is more electronic and up tempo. The lyrics are more ‘party’ rather than a conscious and strong message associated with roots reggae.


What’s closest to your heart: Dancehall or reggae?

Reggae. Definitely. Roots reggae songs are profound and timeless. They carry a universal message. Dancehall is more about having a good time. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that.


Has international exposure diluted the spiritual meaning of Jamaican music?

In Jamaica there is still a big movement to use music to carry a spiritual and political message, but it’s easier for the big labels to push much more neutral songs.


Has the music itself been superseded by the importance or marketing, social networks and videos?

Yes, definitely. Now without a video, social network and good marketing you could have the greatest music ever, but no-one would have access to it. It’s a necessary evil. It’s 90 percent of the success. But it also opens doors for musicians to succeed and find an audience. It has ‘democratised’ music. But the competition is hard. Before, if you didn’t have a signature with a big label it was almost impossible to be heard.


You’ve recently acquired a catalogue of 1,000 reggae tracks. They have already been released. What will do with them?

We will setup a strategy to rebrand, remaster and re-release many of the songs. Most of them were vinyl releases. We will adapt to them to the digital times of today such as streaming, downloading and, of course, videos.


Switzerland has strong reggae connections. Why?

In the 90s people from the Commonwealth countries (including Jamaica) could fly directly from the UK to Switzerland. Switzerland and Holland were the only non-visa accessible European countries. Jamaican communities started to grow in Switzerland and artists started to come for shows and Swiss people started to get involved.


Much is said today about cultural appropriation when members of a dominant culture copy or profit from disadvantaged minority cultures. As a Swiss man, heavily invested in Jamaican culture, do you ever question the legitimacy of your work?

From the beginning when I started and still now, I tend to question myself. What we are trying to do is not to copy or exploit Jamaican culture, but blend our two cultures to create something new that might resonate with a wider audience. It is something everyone can benefit from. But yes, with Black Lives Matter there is a movement to keep reggae music within the Jamaican community. Ultimately we have to earn the respect and trust of the artists to collaborate in the long term. I think we are doing that.


Some people may see your rasta hair and love of reggae and imagine that you consume marijuana for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Of course, that’s true I imagine.

I’m the total opposite of what people expect when they see me. I work about 10 hours per day. I run a company and I don’t smoke weed. Pretty boring, in fact.


Are the larger labels starting to show interest in Evidence Music? Have you had any interesting offers as yet?

Within the musical community we are considered a rising label. We’ve done that in just seven years. People from the industry are definitely showing interest. We’ve had a few interesting meetings, but for the moment, the plan is to keep the label growing and independent.


Some artists have violent homophobic lyrics in their music, such as Beenie Man, Capleton and Sizzla. Evidence Music has worked with these artists. What do you think of campaigns like Stop Murder Music which opposes Caribbean artists that produce music with lyrics alleged to glorify murder of homosexual men? Where does Evidence Music stand on the content of lyrics?

Today’s artists have changed. There are no more homophobic lyrics. The US and Europe has banned travel to musicians who have homophobic lyrics. But is difficult to change views. Jamaican reggae has been targeted by campaigners as homophobic music, sometimes unfairly.  We definitely ban these kind of lyrics. Nowadays artists know that this a no-go zone for international success.



Nico’s selection:

Five of the most influential songs in the history of reggae


My Boy Lollipop – Millie Small 1964 

First international hit for Jamaica, with Millie Small in 1964. This is ska! The song paved the way for Chris Blackwell’s  international success and Island Records selling millions of copies.


54-46 – Toots & The Maytals : 1968

Toots died in September 2020. He was one of the pioneers of reggae and ska. He invented the name reggae. 54-46 was his jail number when he was arrested for marijuana possession, he turn it into a hit record.


Marcus Garvey – Burning Spear 1975

One of my favorite records ! Burning Spear singing about the legendary Jamaican black nationalist and pan-Africanist philosopher Marcus Garvey.


Welcome To Jamrock – Damian Marley – 2005 

One of my favorite Jamaican tunes sung by the youngest son of Bob Marley and arranged by Stephen Marley. It reflects Jamaican life, and expresses the duality between uptown and downtown Jamaica. The original instrumental was from Ini Kamoze with World A Reggae.


Lockdown – Koffee 2020 

My favorite Jamaican tune of the year with Koffee who won a Grammy award last year at just 19 years old. A question about life post-corona and what we will be tomorrow. A sweet twist between dancehall and Afrobeat.



Reggae began in Jamaica in the late 60s. It grew out of ska music. A 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, Do the Reggay was the first popular song to use the word “reggae” and introduced it to a global audience. Reggae is deeply linked to Rastafari, an Afrocentric religion which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, aimed at promoting Pan Africanism.

Roots reggae is concerned with spiritual and social issues. The golden era of roots reggae was the 70s. Bob Marley is the most celebrated roots artist. Others include Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer and The Gladiators.

Ska (fast reggae) originated again in Jamaica in the late 50s as a mix of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. In the 1960s ska was popular with the British mods and skinheads and the punk movement.

Dancehall originated from Jamaican reggae and became internationally popular in the 80s as music to dance to. It can be traced back to Jamaican DJs with sound systems who played in dance halls around the country in the 50s.

Are you happy?

Level B1 to C1 (reading and vocabulary related to happiness in English)

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


What is happiness to you? Take your pick:

  • Well-being (bien-être)
  • Flourishing (i.e. improving health, success or prosperity)
  • A feeling
  • Tranquillity
  • Hedonism (pleasant experiences, pleasure)
  • Supporting relationships
  • Engaging in interesting and challenging activities
  • Material and physical security
  • A sense of meaning or purpose
  • A positive attitude
  • Autonomy or control over your life
  • Practice of religion and virtue
  • Helping others
  • Work and love

According to Stanford, one meaning of happiness is (1) value – a life that goes well according to you. Or one can understand happiness as (2) psychology – a state of mind.

  • “Happiness” in the sense of value concerns what benefits a person: well-being, doing well in life, being fortunate. When you think of happiness in that sense, you make a value judgment: I think that the person has whatever it is that benefits a person. If two people have different values, then they may not agree about what a happy life is.
  • “Happiness” in the sense of state of mind would include life satisfaction (having a favourable attitude toward one’s life), hedonism / pleasure (having more pleasant than unpleasant experiences); or an emotional state, such as a good mood (the opposite of depression or anxiety).




Words in bold are in the vocabulary exercise below


People have tried to measure happiness, but the best attempt so far has been the World Happiness Report.

Furthermore, this report gives us ideas on how government policies can participate in and improve individual happiness.


The World Happiness Report

The World Happiness Report (WHR) is a survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries (there are now 195 countries in the world) by how happy their citizens think they are. The first report was published in 2012 and the World Happiness Report 2020 is the eighth report. It focuses on the social environment, urban and rural life, and the natural environment.

The first seven reports were produced by three co-editors in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, after the country proposed the idea of the gross national happiness (GNH) index to the United Nations. There are now more editors, as well as many more sources of data.

In 2011, the UN unanimously adopted a General Assembly resolution, introduced by Bhutan with the support of 68 member states, calling for a “holistic approach to development”. This was followed in April 2012 by a UN High-Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” designed to bring world leaders, experts, civil society, and spiritual leaders together to develop a new economic paradigm based on sustainability and well-being.


Here are the top ten ‘happy’ countries in the 2020 report:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Norway
  6. Netherlands
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Austria
  10. Luxembourg

Full table here


R.E.M – Shiny Happy People



The Swiss are happier than the French

The good news is that Switzerland is a happy country.

France, on the other hand, came in 23rd. One in two French people consider themselves to be “happy”. But the country still ranks far behind other developed nations where economic and social conditions are broadly similar.

The USA came in at 18 and the UK 13th.

Happy Nordic countries

Since 2013, the five Nordic countries – Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland – have all been in the top ten.

What exactly makes Nordic citizens so exceptionally satisfied with their lives? The report finds that it mostly comes from the quality of institutions and:

  • reliable and general welfare benefits,
  • low corruption,
  • well-functioning democracy and state institutions,
  • better income equality.

Furthermore, Nordic citizens experience subjective well-being and citizen happiness such as:

  • a high sense of autonomy and freedom,
  • high levels of social trust towards each other,
  • social cohesion (i.e. being connected to other people, having good social relations, and having a focus on the common good).

Popular explanations for Nordic happiness such as the small population and homogeneity of the Nordic countries, and a few counter-arguments against Nordic happiness such as the cold weather and the suicide rates, are not closely related to Nordic happiness. Indeed, Nordic countries are quite heterogenous, people adapt to the local weather, and suicide rates are – nowadays – close to the European average.


Three Dog Night- Joy to the World



Ways governments can invest in happiness

The survey shows that part of the citizens’ happiness comes from the way a government runs the country through its institutions. What more can be done?

At the 2018 World Government Summit, where the globe’s most innovative and entrepreneurial thinkers meet each year, participants talked about what politicians and policymakers should be focusing on to create greater happiness during today’s age of anxiety. Here is a list of their recommendations:


  1. More flexible workplaces
  2. More investments in mental health care
  3. Social inclusion, that is, ensure specific socioeconomic, ethnic, or religious groups are not left behind
  4. An education system that focuses more on social engagement and life-skills such as perseverance and resilience
  5. Do more to ameliorate the impacts of climate change
  6. Find new ways to ensure the livelihoods and dignity of workers left behind by the digital revolution
  7. Income equality and access to high-quality public services
  8. Spend more on preventative health
  9. Stronger anti-corruption laws, investigative authorities, greater transparency
  10. Changes in the workplace, like flexible hours and family leave provisions to improve family-work balance

In 2018, only 22 of the 193 governments of the UN had happiness policies in place. But this may be changing.

Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said, “There is global recognition that in the last 20-30 years, we have prioritised economic growth, assuming that well-being would follow. We have been reminded recently that this is a mistake – equality, sustainability and opportunity for future generations is what enables wellbeing. This is what our societies should pursue at the beginning of the 21st century.”

Thomas Jefferson already knew that in 1809 when he said: The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government.



James Brown – I got you (I feel good)



Individual responsibility

Psychologist Ed Diener reminds us that happiness is our responsibility too, not just our government’s.

“Is health the responsibility of the state or the individual?,” he says. “Of course, it is both. The state must provide clean water, and track infectious diseases and develop medicines, and so forth—the individual cannot do these things. But the individual should exercise, and eat well, wear seat belts when driving, and refrain from smoking. The state can encourage these things, but usually cannot demand them effectively unless citizens each take responsibility.” The same goes for happiness, he adds.

The government can do its part, so long as this part does not become paternalistic, and individuals must also do their part.


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Check the vocabulary

Match the words to their definition:

  1. Engage
  2. Purpose
  3. Perceive
  4. Improve
  5. Survey
  6. Rank


a. to make something better

b. to understand or think about something in a particular way

c. to attract and keep someone’s interest or attention

d. to put someone or something into a position according to their success, importance, size etc

e. the aim that someone wants to achieve, or that something is intended to achieve

f. a set of questions that you ask a large number of people or organizations



Answer key:

1:c – 2:e – 3:b – 4:a – 5:f – 6:d



  1. Institution
  2. Reliable
  3. Welfare
  4. Popular
  5. Argument
  6. Closely


g. a popular activity, place, thing etc is one that many people like

h. a system that always works well (in this context)

i. a discussion or debate between people with different views, opinions etc. (in this context)

j. adverb used for emphasizing what is really true or what really happened

k. a large organization such as a bank, hospital, university, or prison

l. care provided by the state or another organization for people in need



Answer key:

7:k – 8:h – 9:l – 10:g – 11:i – 12:j



  1. Workplace
  2. Leave someone/something behind
  3. Like skills
  4. Livelihood
  5. Policy
  6. Recognition


m. something such as your work that provides the money that you need to live

n. to improve or progress much faster than someone or something else

o. a set of plans or actions agreed on by a government, political party, business, or other group

p. the ability to recognise a person or thing (recognise: to know who the person is or what the thing is that you are seeing, hearing etc because you have seen, heard etc them before)

q. the place where you work

r. skills that are needed to deal effectively with the challenges of everyday life, at school, at work and in personal relationships



Answer key:

13:q – 14:n – 15:r – 16:m – 17:o – 18:p



  1. Assume
  2. Sustainability
  3. Enable
  4. Both
  5. Unless
  6. Take your pick
  7. Holistic
  8. Paradigm



s. to give someone the ability or opportunity to do something

t. the ability of something to continue for a long time at the same level

u. used for showing that you are referring to two people or things, and that you are saying the same thing about the two of them: Both my parents are doctors.

v. to believe that something is true, even though no one has told you or even though you have no proof

w. used for saying that if something does not happen, something else will happen or be true as a result: I can’t help you unless you tell me what’s wrong.

x. to choose someone or something

y. a typical example or model of something

z. thinking about the whole of something, and not just dealing with particular aspects



Answer key:

19:v – 20:t – 21:s – 22:u – 23:w – 24:x – 25:z – 26:y


Definitions from



Expressions and idioms to express happiness


Alan: Yippee!

Betty: What’s happening!

A: I have won the lottery! I’m in seventh heaven!

B: Excellent! A big win?

A: No, only three numbers, which I think will get me about CHF10.

B: CHF 10! That’s not much. I wouldn’t get too carried away.

A: I’m over the moon!  Clearly, today is my lucky day!

B: Do you really think so?

A: Yes, that means today is the best day to propose to Amanda.

B: How do you figure that out?

A: I have won the lottery so it’s my lucky day. If it’s my lucky day, Amanda will say yes.

B: It’s true you have been as happy as Larry since you’ve known her.

A: Yes, I have been on top of the world for the last year, that much is true.

B: Well, I guess if she says yes, you will be on cloud nine tomorrow.





This too shall pass… (fingers crossed)

Level B1 to C1 (reading, grammar, vocabulary related to expressing change in English)

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


Game of Thrones fans among us are familiar with the expression, “Winter is coming”. Well, it certainly is here in Switzerland, but on the metaphorical level, this expression announces change; menacing change.

Change is good, change is hard, change is progress. Change is life. Changes demands letting go of the old, stepping outside one’s comfort zone, sacrificing safety, and facing an uncertain future. Even if we want to resist it, change is inevitable.

There is nothing permanent except change,” said Greek philosopher Heraclitus.


(See related blog: Now is the time to be stoic)

Let’s look at different ways we can talk about change in English with expressions, verbs and tenses (exercise and quiz included).



Scorpions – Wind of Change (with lyrics)



Idioms and expressions about change


I’ve been working from home all day, so now I want to go out for a walk and blow away the cobwebs. I’ve had a change of heart recently and decided I don’t like working from home that much after all.

I’ve started working for a new boss, who, compared to the last one, is like a breath of fresh air.

The old one was quite narcissistic. He is about to retire. Out with the old, in with the new, I say.

My new boss is an old hand in the game, but he has fresh ideas. The country needs new blood, but he’ll do.

We need him to shake things up and give the country a new lease of life. With him, we will get a fresh perspective on the pandemic situation. Maybe get back to square one on the trade relations with China. He’ll turn things around on the economic front. I hope he won’t change his mind about Obamacare. His government will certainly be a change for the better on all counts.

As they say, a change is as good as a rest, or as good as a holiday.


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Changes – David Bowie (with lyrics)



The best tenses to express change

The best tenses to express change are the present continuous and the present perfect (and present perfect continuous).

The present perfect can express change over time (you have changed since I last saw you) and the present continuous can express change that is happening now (we are using social media more and more). You can also use will to predict change (we will no longer travel by car next century).

(See related blog: You will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger)

Example: The tourism industry has suffered heavily from the pandemic. People are not travelling as much as they used to. Bookings have been dwindling since February and may not recover for a long time to come. Travellers have been more concerned about health and safety and may remain so for a long time to come. But the industry will adapt.



Lana Del ReyChange (with lyrics)




Some verbs to express change

The verbs become, go, turn, get, come to are great verbs to describe change.

It’s becoming dark

My father is going grey

The leaves are turning yellow

And it’s getting cold.

We’ve come to realise

That Winter is upon us



Can you fill in the gaps with the verb in the correct tense – present continuous or present perfect? The first two have been done for you.

Disruptive technology is a buzzword and it means innovation in technology: for example, telephones have turned into (turn into) smartphones and have changed (change) the way we use that technology. Recent disruptive technology examples include e-commerce, online news sites, ride-sharing apps, and GPS systems. The automobile, electricity service, and television ……………. (be) disruptive technologies in the past.

Established companies focus on what they do best, says Investopedia, but start-ups increasingly ………………. (focus) on technology disruption. Start-ups …………… (take on) more business risks and ………………. (innovate) more. Older companies are more risk-averse, and as a result, some ……….. (lose) market share to new competitors that ………………. (discover) news ways to use technology.

My favourite example of disruptive technology is 3D printers. These days, everyone ……….. (talk) about 3D printers. They ………………. (change) ideas about industrial production in the future. Carmakers ……………… (start) experimenting with 3D printers, and more will follow. What is your favourite example of disruptive technology?


Disruptive technology is a buzzword and it means innovation in technology: for example, telephones have turned into smartphones and have changed the way we use that technology. Recent disruptive technology examples include e-commerce, online news sites, ride-sharing apps, and GPS systems. The automobile, electricity service, and television have been/were disruptive technologies in the past.

Established companies focus on what they do best, says Investopedia, but start-ups are increasingly focusing on technology disruption. Start-ups are taking on more business risks and are innovating more. Older companies are more risk-averse, and as a result, some are losing/have lost market share to new competitors that have discovered/are discovering news ways to use technology.

My favourite example of disruptive technology is the 3D printer. These days, everyone is talking about 3D printers. These printers are changing ideas about industrial production in the future. Carmakers have started experimenting with 3D printers, and more will follow. What is your favourite example of disruptive technology?



Jimmy Fallon does Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin” (with revised lyrics)




Quiz: who said that?

There is an old Persian adage that says, “this, too, shall pass”. It basically means the situation will end, but on a more philosophical level it expresses the temporary nature of the human condition. The actor Tom Hanks used it in connection with the Coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some other quotes about change which you can link to their authors below.

  1. “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.”
  2. “A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.”
  3. “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
  4. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
  5. “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
  6. “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
  7. “We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.”
  8. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”



a. Mahatma Gandhi

b. George Bernard Shaw

c. Steve Jobs

d. Nelson Mandela

e. Leo Tolstoy

f. John F. Kennedy

g. Harrison Ford

h. Spanish proverb


Answer key:


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



Well done. If you have arrived here, please find your reward below. Close the door and put on your headphones and turn up the volume.



Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come (with lyrics)


Misogyny is in the dictionary. Just look up the word “woman”.

It isn’t easy changing the way we speak. We may learn a second language, but we acquire our mother-tongue or first language intuitively by imitating our parents, carers and later our peers. Changing ingrained and unconscious habits such as sexist or man-centred or racist language needs discipline and awareness.

And of course, there is resistance. This week BBC Radio 4 replaced the term fishermen with the word fisherpeople. Admirable, but the word fisherpeople did attract a boatload of criticism.


The fisherpeople

There are probably not a lot of female fisherpeople in the UK. They are thin on the ground and thin on the sea. On all accounts, there are probably as many female fisherpeople as there are sardines in your average can of sardines.

The popularist tabloid screechers who claim to represent the average person (which replaces the common man and the man on the street), slammed the BBC for being ‘too woke. They claim we are drowning in political correctness.


Check meanings of words in red bold below


In this case the idea of fisherpeople is perhaps a bit of a red herring which distracts from an important rule: Use gender-neutral or non-sexist terms as much as possible. (See examples below).


The dictionary that does not keep up with the times

A more interesting development in the language of men and women occurred this month, but slipped under the rudder. The Oxford Dictionary changed the definition of “woman” in its dictionaries after a grassroots movement pointed out that the dictionary’s definitions saw women primarily “as sex objects, subordinate and/or an irritation to men”. Synonyms for woman include “baggage, wench, frail, bird and bitch.”

It all began with a post by London-based communication strategist Maria Beatrice Giovanardi titled – Have You Ever Googled ‘Woman’? I did, and discovered Oxford University is spreading misogyny and sexism online.


Sexism and misogyny have been built into language after thousands of years of female suppression


You can read the original post here.

The post led to a petition which garnered 30,000 signatures, and this month the Oxford dictionary responded with some autumnal pruning of its definitions of women and men.

The changes include:

  • the acknowledgement that a woman can be “a person’s wife, girlfriend, or female lover”, rather than only a man’s
  • The entry for “man” has also been amended to include the same gender-neutral terminology, while many other terms relating to sexual attractiveness and activity have been revised
  • Labels have been applied to terms identified as “derogatory”, “offensive” or “dated”, such as the word “bitch” and “bint”, which are listed as synonyms for the word woman.
  • The definition of “housework” was updated to take out gender. “She still does all the housework,” was changed to “I was busy doing housework when the doorbell rang.”

It’s something. But clearly not enough.


The word woman is associated with dishonesty, disloyalty, behaviour that is anti-family, anti-men and anti-women, being unable to control sexual urges, general weakness, and worrying unnecessarily.


Sexism and misogyny have been built into language after thousands of years of female suppression.


Female suppression in today’s language

Dictionaries are a little like the old testament, full of weird and outdated language and concepts.

Here’s a little experiment. Click on the online Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary here and type in the word man and woman.

On the right-hand side of your screen, you will see ‘other results’, which refers to words that are often linked with the word woman and man.



Most of the terms for woman are negative. The word woman is associated with dishonesty, disloyalty, behaviour that is anti-family, anti-men and anti-women, being unable to control sexual urges, general weakness, and worrying unnecessarily.

Here are the top nine terms associated with woman – you can click on the links for the definitions.

The other woman, a kept women, a fallen woman, a scarlet woman and a fancy woman, all refer disparagingly to women who have sex with men, outside of marriage. These are words of blame. The dictionary reads like an incel handbook. Women are bad.

The term, old woman, describes a man who worries too much about things that are not important.

These terms are outdated and irrelevant. They belong on the musty pages of a puritan 18th century English novel written by an upstanding man, of course. Few people use these terms anymore. But here they are, referenced on the front page, top right, of the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary in 2020.

Where’s Wonderwoman, liberated woman, independent woman, woman of the world, empowered woman, natural woman?

The dictionary’s sad list offers a fascinating insight into sexual guilt and that terrible blame game created in that gorgeous garden where the first woman, the temptress Eve, was created from the rib of a man to keep him company.



Of the nine terms associated with woman, three terms are positive-ish. One of these, wise woman is defined as a woman with knowledge of traditional medicines and magic.

Sounds quite complimentary. However, if you were a wise woman living between the 16th and 18th centuries you faced the risk of being burnt alive, especially if you lived in Switzerland. Read more here.

(The literal translation of wise woman into French is sage femme, which is by far the most beautiful name for a profession.)

The term career women is defined not as a working woman, but a woman whose career is more important to her than getting married and having children. The subtext reads: Oh, how dare she!

One-woman is the sole neutral term of these nine distorted and deprecating visions of being a woman.


God-like man

So how is a man defined?

The word man is associated with work, responsibility, strength, muscles, bravery, friendship, God-like spirituality. Here are the nine terms associated with man.

So, don’t get up in arms about fisherpeople. There are bigger fish to fry, such as dictionaries whose definitions of woman are extremely negative.

In other related news, the United Nations in Geneva updated its language guide to more inclusive language. You can read more in this excellent post by Carol Waites, a writing skills coach at the UN

Here’s a little quiz from Carol’s post:

Old-fashioned terms 

What is the best alternative to this kind of dated language?

Check your answers at below.

  • 1. mankind
    2. man-made
    3. the common/ordinary man
    4. manageress, authoress, air stewardess, actress
    5. chairman, chairwoman
    6. to man the phones, the helpdesk
    7. postman, postwoman
    8. policeman, policewoman
    9. Dear Mrs. Smith, Dear Miss Smith,
  • 10. Dear Sir, (for an unknown recipient)




More modern and inclusive terms:

1. humankind, humanity, human race:

2. artificial; machine-made; synthetic

3. the average person

4. manager (neutral term for both men and women), author, flight attendant, actor

5. chair

6. to answer the phones, to staff the help-desk

7. postal officer, postal worker

8. police officer

9. Dear Ms. Smith, (Mrs. = married woman; Miss = unmarried woman;  Ms. = married or unmarried; it’s irrelevant.)

10. Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Editor, Dear Human Resources Officer, To whom it may concern,


More reading:   Titles for women: Ms, Mrs or Miss


Check vocabulary in the article:


ingrainedhas existed for a long time and is therefore difficult to change

screechers – someone who says something in a loud high unpleasant voice

woke – aware of social and political issues; too woke – excessively sensitive to these issues

a red herring an unimportant fact, idea, event, etc. that takes people’s attention away from the important ones

garner (verb) to obtain or collect something such as information, support, etc.

pruningthe activity of cutting off some of the branches from a tree, bush, etc. so that it will grow better and stronger

incel – an online movement of men who openly dislike women

upstanding behaving in a moral and honest way

temptress a woman who tempts somebody, especially one who deliberately makes a man want to have sex with her

Lessons in narcissism with the stable genius Donald

Level B2 to C2 (reading + vocabulary related to narcissism)


What is a narcissist?

Thanks to the stable genius Donald Trump we now have a pretty good idea. We have all been able to view narcissism in action on a daily basis.

Thankfully, Donald is being dragged towards the exit door, however, narcissism is definitely on the rise. Social media has grown fat on narcissistic behaviour.

Celebrities who pinch their lips, pout their mouths and offer the world their best ‘cat bottom’ smiles are social media royalty.


Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

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


Are you a narcissist if you post videos on Instagram of yourself every day? Not necessarily. It could simply be a sign of extreme self-confidence, or of vanity. But it could also be a sign that you have some narcissist tendencies.

Indeed, some psychologists say that social media promotes narcissism where there are existing traits in the first place.

Excessive selfie posting – like spending several hours a day – is sure sign of narcissism, they say.

With the increase in selfies and Twitter two-liners, there is a general increase in narcissistic tendencies in the world. If that is the case, how does this affect our world? Healthy narcissism can be good because it makes people believe they can do great things. So, there are more great achievements.

The dark side of narcissism is expressed through less empathy and downright lies.

The world is on edge watching to see how a pathological narcissist like Donald Trump will exit the world stage.  It seems likely that he will have to be dragged kicking and screaming. He may well rip up the floorboards, destroy the sets, kick the cat and assault his co-stars in the process.

Indeed, pathological narcissists who do not get their way tend to react abusively.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist,” told Salon:

“Just as one once settled for adulation in lieu of love, one may settle for fear when adulation no longer seems attainable. Rage attacks are common… But when there is an all-encompassing loss, such as the loss of an election, it can trigger a rampage of destruction and reign of terror in revenge against an entire nation that has failed him.”

She added, “It is far easier for the pathological narcissist to consider destroying themself and the world, especially its ‘laughing eyes,’ than to retreat into becoming a ‘loser’ and a ‘sucker‘ — which to someone suffering from this condition will feel like psychic death.”

Trump cannot accept losing the election. He wants to sue the states that he claims miscounted the ballot. His only consolation is that he got about 70 million votes, more than any presidential candidate – except for Biden, who got 74 million votes. Even though the U.S. has more voters than ever before. He will be a difficult leader during the next two months. Narcissists don’t believe in finishing in second place.


Psychology of narcissism


The word comes from Narcissus, a character in ancient Greek mythology. Narcissus was a very handsome hunter. But he rejected many potential love interests, including a nymph named Echo, who was severely heartbroken. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learnt about it and decided to punish Narcissus. One day she lured him to a pool. When he bent down to drink, he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, as if it were somebody else. He could not get away and ended up drowning. Where he died, a flower grew (as often happens in Greek mythology) and we now call that flower the Narcissus or daffodil.




Check the meaning of the words in bold


Narcissists on the whole think that they’re better looking, smarter, more important than other people and that they deserve special treatment.

There are two forms of narcissism as a personality trait: (1) grandiose narcissism, and (2) vulnerable narcissism. There is also (3) the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is more extreme.

  • Grandiose narcissism is expressed through extroversion, dominance, attention seeking, and love of power. Some politicians, celebrities, and cultural leaders are such narcissists.
  • Vulnerable narcissists can be quiet and reserved. They think they deserve special treatment but are easily susceptible or insulted.

Narcissists, whatever the personality trait, tend to act egoistically. Narcissistic leaders may make risky or unethical decisions, and narcissistic partners may be dishonest or unfaithful. If you confront narcissists, they can become angry or aggressive.

“It’s like a disease where the sufferers feel pretty good but the people around them suffer,” says Campbell.

  • The behaviour, if extreme, is classified as a psychological disorder. It affects one to two percent of the population, more commonly men and usually diagnosed in adults. Some of the traits associated with narcissistic personality disorder are: grandiose view of oneself, problems with empathy, a sense of entitlement, and a need for admiration or attention. It causes big problems. The sufferers can, for example, claim everyone is wrong and he alone is right, and put everyone down.


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There may be a genetic element in the disorder, but the environment counts as well; that includes parents who put their child on a pedestal, parents who are cold and controlling, or cultures that value individuality and self-promotion.

“Americans are experiencing an epidemic in narcissistic behaviour in a culture that is intrinsically self-conscious and selfish, and citizens are encouraged to pursue happiness and instant gratification of their personal desires,” said Kilroy J. Oldster, an author.

Narcissists can improve their behaviour through honest reflection (like psychotherapy) and caring for others. But it is a real challenge for those afflicted with the disorder.


Social media: a platform for narcissists?


Social media helps narcissists get all the attention they need. But it is not clear as to whether it can turn someone into a narcissist. You can use social media a lot and still feel empathy and be a good listener. But what is clearer is that social media can promote existing traits.

A Swansea University study claimed, a couple of years ago, that people who repeatedly post photos and videos of themselves online showed a 25% increase in narcissistic traits.

Megan Dew, a model who posts a lot of selfies, disagreed with the study. She said although selfies were displays of vanity, they help improve confidence in people’s body image. “When you take a lot of pictures of yourself, you notice things in your face more. But I wouldn’t say this makes you self-obsessed.” Other people say selfies help them make friends online.




Match the words with their definition.

  1. Casually
  2. Self-confidence
  3. Existing
  4. In the first place
  5. Dark side
  6. Handsome
  7. End up


a. the feeling that you can do things well and that people respect you

b. used for stating the most basic reason for something

c. a handsome man or boy has a very attractive face

d. done in a relaxed and informal manner

e. the side that is sad or evil, metaphorically

f. used for describing something that exists now, especially when it might be changed or replaced

g. to be in a particular place or state after doing something or because of doing it



Answer key:

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



8. Drown

9. Self-involved

10. On the whole

11. Deserve

12. Attention seeking

13. Unethical


h. behaviour, especially bad behaviour, that represents an attempt to get other people’s attention

i. used for talking about the general situation

j. to sink under water and die

k. morally wrong, or against accepted standards of behaviour

l. self-centered; preoccupied with oneself

m. if you deserve something, it is right that you get it, for example because of the way you have behaved



Answer key:

8:j – 9:l – 10:i – 11: m – 12:h – 13:k



14. Unfaithful

15. Entitlement

16. Claim

17. Put someone down

18. Body image

19. Get your way


n. the opinion you have about how attractive your body is

o. to say that something is true, even though there is no definite proof

p. the right to receive something or to do something

q. To get or have what you want

r. having a sexual relationship with someone who is not your husband, wife, or partner

s. to criticize someone, especially when other people are present, in a way that makes them feel stupid



Answer key:

14:r – 15:p – 16:o – 17:s – 18:n – 19:q



20. Tend to do something

21. Settle for

22. All-encompassing

23. Trigger

24. Rampage

25. Sucker

26. Lure


t. to make something happen

u. (informal) someone who is easily tricked or easily persuaded to do something

v. to usually do a particular thing

w. uncontrolled behaviour, especially when this involves damaging or destroying property over a wide area

x. to accept someone or something that is not exactly what you wanted because you cannot have what you wanted

y Something that is all-encompassing includes or affects everyone or everything

z. to persuade someone to do something by making it look very attractive



Answer key:

20:v – 21:x – 22:y – 23:t – 24:w – 25:u – 26:z



Most definitions are from and





TED on the psychology of narcissism




BBC: Can too many selfies push you towards narcissism?





Carly Simon – You’re so vain

Trivia question: Who sang backing vocals on this song? He went on to be ‘quite’ famous. Have a listen to the song again and then google it if you are curious.

Switzerland: Where witch trials began and where the last European woman was executed for witchcraft

Most of you will come face-to-face with a witch in the next week or so.

Relax. These boisterous young esprits, in their ill-fitting, badly-stapled, black-pointed paper hats, will not demand your soul, or that you dance with the devil, but just ask you to fill their bags with bonbons and coins.

There’s no need to round them up and burn them in the stairwell.  Your Swiss ancestors, however, bless their superstitious souls, were rather good at torturing and burning women in the name of witchcraft.

Switzerland has a terrible legacy. It is where witch hunts began and where the last woman was beheaded for sorcery in Europe.


Someone was to blame. In the dank village in the cold mountains, scapegoats for this succession of mischance were never too far away.


The cantons of Valais and Vaud executed some 3,500 people, more than anywhere else in Europe per head of population. In just the first three months of the year 1515, authorities in Geneva burned 500 people, mostly women, at the stake. Do your maths; that’s more than five a day.

From here, the pyres were lit through Germany, Spain and rest of Europe right up to 1782 when Anna Goeldi, a maid from the Canton Glarus,  was executed after confessing, under torture, to conversing with the devil and poisoning the daughter of the house.


First trials in Valais

The first trials began in the Valais in 1428. How did they start? Perhaps a cow gave birth to a stillborn calf and last year’s wine turned to vinegar. Someone was to blame. In a dank cold village, cursed by hunger, scapegoats for this succession of mischance were never too far away.

The neighbour’s fifth child is born with a hunchback, the Wohlen daughter is cross-eyed, the widow Busch has developed a limp and mumbles when she walks and old Grunwald has stopped washing himself and has been seen walking into the night with a lantern on a full moon.

Stories, perhaps like these imagined above, began to fester across the countryside until sufficient pressure forced the authorities in Leuk in the Valais to establish formal witch trial proceedings. They became known as the werewolf witch trials.

There are very few surviving documents, but we do know about 370 people were killed; absolutely mind-boggling when you think that only 20 people perished in the infamous Salem witch trials.

The werewolf witch trials accused the so-called witches of fantastic and horrible offenses:

  • Cannibalism, the abducting and eating children
  • Changing into werewolves and killing cattle
  • Making themselves invisible with herbs
  • Flying and plundering wine cellars
  • Learning magic from Satan
  • Conspiring to overturn Christianity

A short account of the trial was written by Johannes Fründ a trial clerk from Lucerne.


…the “public talk or slander of three or four neighbours” was enough for arrest and imprisonment, even if the accused was a member of the nobility.


Rules of the witch trials

The trial proceedings were new, but witchcraft was nothing out of the ordinary. Witches had been discovered and burnt since the late 14th century in the region.

There were rules and regulations to follow. For example, the “public talk or slander of three or four neighbours” was enough for arrest and imprisonment, even if the accused was a member of the nobility. The use of torture was reserved for victims “slandered by five, six, or seven or more persons, up to the number of ten, who were qualified to do so and not under suspicion themselves”, but also those “accused by three persons who had been tried and sentenced to death for the practice of sorcery”.

It is interesting to note that about two thirds of the victims were male and one third female. This ratio changed radically as witch trials gathered momentum across Europe.


Mostly women

Prestigious works such as Formicarius, written by Johannes Nider and printed in 1475, stated with great authority that witches were uneducated and more commonly female. Nider explained that females were capable of such acts by pointing out what he considered their inferior physical, mental and moral capacity

Historians call this period, from 1500 to 1660, The Burning Times which claimed the lives of between 60,000 and 80,000 – the great majority women. Of the men who died, most were linked to an accused woman by marriage or blood. In Salem, 14 of the 19 people found guilty of, and executed for witchcraft, were women.



Werewolf trials were relatively rare. A werewolf is a human that takes the form of a wolf during the full moon and feasts upon the heart of humans and other animals. People could be transformed into ‘shapeshifters’ if bitten by a werewolf or by drinking rainwater out of the footprint of a wolf.



Those accused in the trials of flying and plundering wine cellars did not use thatched brooms, but according to Fründ’s record they would apply a salve (cream) to their chairs, and then ride the chairs wherever they wanted, and would meet in people’s cellars at night and drink their wine.

Fründ speaks of a conspiracy of 700 witches in Valais during numerous trials that lasted, on and off, for about six years.

From Valais the phenomenon spread to Vaud and then Fribourg, Neuchatel and throughout Europe.

“And no matter how severely they were questioned, during more and more torture, many would not confess but let themselves be tortured. So they died from it, and were all the same judged and burned, some alive and some dead.”


Torture and confession

Once a person was accused of witchcraft three times, they were arrested. Once arrested, there was no way to escape; those that confessed were burned at the stake and those who didn’t were tortured until they did confess. A significant number did not confess and died of torture.

In the chilling words of Mr Fründ:

“And no matter how severely they were questioned, during more and more torture, many would not confess but let themselves be tortured. So they died from it, and were all the same judged and burned, some alive and some dead.”

Torture was delivered enthusiastically in its most barbaric form which almost always guaranteed convictions.

One of the cruelest tests to determine whether or not one was a witch was the so-called “swimming test.” The accused were tied up and thrown into the water. Those who sank and drowned were deemed innocent, while those who managed to break free and swim to the top were proven to be witches who had been helped by the devil.



The “accused” were also also hung by the wrists from behind, or stretched on a frame to the point of having multiple muscles and tendons dislodged and ripped. To put an end to the horrific pain of the tortures, the “accused” in most cases would eventually confess, which would seal her or his fate. The wretched  innocent would often seek clemency by accusing others of wild and fantastic crimes.


The last witch of Switzerland

Europe’s last witch – beheaded for sorcery – was a maid in the small alpine region of Glarus. Switzerland.  Anna Goeldi was executed in 1782 after she confessed, under torture,  to conversing with the devil and poisoning the daughter of the house.


Anna Goeldin – ‘Last witch’ | Cinéma Suisse trailer


Of course, she wasn’t a witch just like the tens of thousands of innocent people killed before her.  Anna Goeldi worked for the family of a rich married politician, who may have sexually assaulted her and then denounced her to protect his reputation. He claimed she fed his daughter pins.

In 2007, the Swiss parliament acknowledged Anna Goeldi’s case as a miscarriage of justice. She was exonerated 226 years after her death on the grounds that she had been subjected to an “illegal trial”.


Witches today

The term’ witch’ is a conundrum. It is being re-appropriated by women today, much like African Americans have reclaimed the term ‘nigger’.

In one of life’s great ironies, the US president and one of the most powerful men in the world, regularly claims he is the victim of a witch hunt and has even claimed he is the victim of a lynching. Trump has tweeted the term ‘Witch Hunt’ more than 300 times.



Noami Fry of The New Yorker wrote about women who identify as witches:

’The witch is often understood as a mishmash of sometimes contradictory clichés: sexually forthright but psychologically mysterious; threatening and haggish but irresistibly seductive; a kooky believer in cultish mumbo-jumbo and a canny she-devil; a sophisticated holder of arcane spiritual knowledge and a corporeal being who is no thought and all instinct. Even more recently, the witch has entered the Zeitgeist as a figure akin to the so-called nasty woman, who—in the face of a Presidential Administration that is quick to cast any criticism as a “witch hunt”—has reclaimed the term for the feminist resistance. (This latter-day witchiness has often been corralled to commercial ends: an Urban Outfitters shirt bearing the words “Boss Ass Witch,” say, or the women-only co-working space the Wing referring to itself as a “coven.”) The muddled stereotypes that surround witches nowadays are, in the end, not so very different from those used to define that perennial problem: woman.’ost