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)

 

 

Answers:

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.

 

Vocabulary

 

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 macmillandictionary.com and collinsdictionary.com

 

 

Video

 

TED on the psychology of narcissism

 

Listening

 

BBC: Can too many selfies push you towards narcissism?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0824syw

 

 

Music

 

Carly Simon – You’re so vain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=cleCtBP0o5Y

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.

 

Werewolves

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

How good are you at small talk?

Level B1 to C1 (Social English with exercises)

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

 

Small talk, also known as light conversation or social English, is the ground on which great relationships are built.

Small talk might seem trivial or banal, yet it plays a vital role in social and professional interactions. It often revolves around the weather, sport, the weekend, the news, family and friends, past and future social or corporate events.

It’s almost an art form, difficult for non-English native speakers and challenging for many native speakers. We have all experienced long uncomfortable silences and admired skillful communicators who move effortlessly from small talk to ‘big’ talk.

These interactions are at times almost formulaic and often do not result in a real conversation. But they serve to create a positive atmosphere, a common ground and comfort zone between people who might be total strangers.

Think of small talk as a bonding ritual (the process of developing a special close relationship between people).

Small talk in the time of the pandemic

It is interesting to note that in the time of the pandemic and the resulting isolation periods, there might actually be less small talk in the world than last year. This may mean less new friendships, less new business partnerships, less networking… in short, less connections.

Many of us are coming back to work and will have to make small talk again, even if we feel rusty due to a lack of practice. Because of this, it may be a good idea to review your social English

Here are some phrases and ideas to get a conversation going beyond the run of the mill (ordinary) hello-nice-to-meet-you-my-name-is and the how-are-you themes. You’ll also find two small talk exercises.

 

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Small talk. Tips and tricks.

 

 

 

Small talk and active listening go hand in hand

Small talk can be a very active process where you try to learn about each other in the hope of finding common ground (something you agree about) or something in common (the same interests or experiences), and make a connection. It’s a not just about speaking, it’s about listening.

Small talk is done with strangers (people you don’t know yet) or acquaintances (people you know a little), and is also used as a conversation lubricant among people who know each other well, just to get the conversation started:

Hello mum, how are you? What’s the weather like at the moment? Did you go to your book club on Tuesday?

 

Small talk with strangers and acquaintances

This is a type of conversation where you have to be at your most sociable. Deborah Capras author of “Small Talk” (Collins), recommends the following:

  • Open body language – in person or on video calls (more below)
  • Make positive comments
  • Really? That’s interesting.
  • Show genuine (honest) interest
  • How was your trip?
  • What brings you to this conference?
  • Ask follow-up questions (a question that you ask immediately after another question, in order to get more information)
  • So you do business in Brussels! I know Brussels very well. Do you go there often?
  • Provide extra information when answering closed (yes-no) questions
  • Yes, I do tend to go to Brussels a lot. In fact, I may spend more time there in the future… I miss the moules and frites. Yum!
  • Compliment when appropriate (proper)
  • I couldn’t help noticing your pen. It’s really nice.
  • Be more polite than you would be with people you know very well and don’t hesitate to use modal verbs
  • May I sit at this table?
  • Could I ask you how you know the host?

 

Body language

This is extremely important. Deborah Capras advises the following:

 

  • smile (even if you’re wearing a mask, as it shows in your eyes
  • regular eye contact (but no staring)
  • nod your head to show that you are listening
  • don’t fold your arms in front of your chest
  • try not to infringe on (invade) other people’s space either with your legs or by standing too close to people (especially with that virus running around)
  • And of course, I would add, shaking hands and hugging are a no-no nowadays

 

Personal life

Small talk can include talk about personal life if you use follow-up questions:

  • Oh, you have a son! How old is he?
  • So you speak Russian too?

It is good to:

  • remember details about other person
  • How did the move go?
  • show appreciation
  • Very well, thank you for asking.
  • give appropriate responses
  • That’s wonderful news, congratulations!
  • How awful, I’m so sorry to hear that.

 

Sensitive topics

“Sensitive”, in this context, means “needing to be dealt with carefully”. During small talk, keep the conversation light and:

 

  • As a rule, do not talk about religion, politics, money, sex, death, appearances, tell offensive jokes…
  • Avoid (try to prevent something from happening) asking direct personal questions – such as: are you married?
  • If you accidentally touch on a topic sensitive to the other person, do apologise
  • Oh I’m sorry, I completely forgot, you must think I am terribly rude
  • Sorry, I had no idea.
  • Show understanding
  • Don’t worry about it.
  • If you want to avoid talking about something
  • you know, I really couldn’t say.
  • to be honest, I’d prefer not to talk about it.
  • If you want to terminate a conversation
  • would you excuse me? I have to take care of something.

 

Good byes

You can:

  • Close the conversation politely
  • Anyway, I’d better be going
  • Is that the time? I really must run…
  • Show appreciation
  • It was a pleasure to meet you
  • Thank you for everything
  • And if applicable, look to the future
  • I look forward to seeing you again
  • Keep in touch

 

Related blogs from The Language House:

Giving your opinion

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

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

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

 

 

Katy Perry: Small Talk

 

 

 

Practice small talk: two conversations

 

  1. Bob and Michael

 

Bob and Michael don’t know each other. They’ve just met by the coffee machine in a company.

Fill in the gaps with the words and phrases below. The first one has been done for you.

 

(a) It was nice to meet you

(b) Thank you 

(c) So do I       

(d) she is your new boss         

(e) I didn’t catch your name   

(f) So you normally have Christmas parties here?

(g) where do you work?

(h) Now if you would excuse me

(i) I would love that

(j) Hello, my name is Bob       

(k) Nice to meet you

 

Bob: 1. (j) Hello my name is Bob this is my first day here. Could you tell me if the coffee is good here?

Michael: Hello, 2.    . Sorry, 3. … .

B: Bob.

M: Bob, yes. I’m Michael. Well, the coffee is rather good here in my opinion. Give it a go!

B: 4. … , I will.

M: Where will you be working?

B: I’m the new deputy head accountant, so I’ll be on the first floor.

M: I know Debbie, 5. …, right?

B: That’s right. What about you, 6. … ?

M: I’m on this floor, marketing. I’ve been working here for five years.

B: So you must know the company inside out. Have you met the founder?

M: As a matter of fact, I have. I met him a couple of years ago at a Christmas party. He is actually a very friendly guy.

B: 7. … ?

M: Yes, every year. Although not sure if we’ll have one this year. It might be hard to drink eggnog with the masks on. But I don’t always attend as I usually go to Scotland for Christmas. I have family there.

B: 8. … , my wife is from Glasgow. But we tend to go there during the Easter season.

M: Ah, the rainy season then.

B: Yes, we usually stay indoors and drink whiskey. My father-in-law runs a distillery…

M: I love whiskey too. We should have a tasting one of these days.

B: 9. … .

M: 10. … , I have to get back to my office, I have an important conference call.

B: Absolutely. Me too. 11. … , Michael.

 

Answer key:

1:j – 2:k – 3:e – 4:b – 5:d – 6:g – 7:f – 8:c – 9:I – 10:h – 11:a.

 

Bob: Hello, my name is Bob, this is my first day here. Could you tell me if the coffee is good here?

Michael: Hello, Nice to meet you. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.

B: Bob.

M: Bob, yes. I’m Michael. Well, the coffee is rather good here in my opinion. Give it a go!

B: Thank you, I will.

M: Where will you be working?

B: I’m the new deputy head accountant, so I’ll be on the first floor.

M: I know Debbie, she is your new boss, right?

B: That’s right. What about you, where do you work?

M: I’m on this floor, marketing. I’ve been working here for five years.

B: So you must know the company inside out. Have you met the founder?

M: As a matter of fact, I have. I met him a couple of years ago at a Christmas party. Great party! He is actually a very friendly guy.

B: So you normally have Christmas parties here?

M: Yes, every year. Although not sure if we’ll have one this year. It might be hard to drink eggnog with the masks on. But I don’t always attend as I usually go to Scotland for Christmas. I have family there.

B: So do I, my wife is from Glasgow. But we tend to go there during the Easter season.

M: Ah, the rainy season then.

B: Yes, we usually stay indoors and drink whiskey. My father-in-law runs a distillery…

M: I love whiskey too. We should have a tasting one of these days.

B: I would love that.

M: Now if you would excuse me, I have to get back to my office, I have an important conference call.

B: Absolutely. Me too. It was nice to meet you, Michael.

 

 

  1. Claire and Sarah

 

Claire and Sarah are acquaintances who have just met after a fitness class.

Fill in the gaps with the words and phrases below. The first one has been done for you.

 

(a) Long time no see

(b) No need to apologise

(c) And you must be Sarah

(d) I really didn’t mean to criticize

(e) You have an excellent memory.

(f) Really?

(g) How interesting to hear that

(h) Bye for now

(i) I know what you mean

(j) I’m really sorry, but what was your name again?

(k) I’d better be going…

(l) Umm… have we met before?

(m) Oh lovely, you must be very proud!

(n) See you soon

 

Claire: Hello there. 1. (a) Long time no see. What did you think of the class?

Sarah: Hello. 2. ….

C: We did last year’s class together.

S: Ah, yes, indeed. 3. …

C: It’s Claire. 4. … , if memory serves me well.

S: Yes. 5. … .

C: Thank you.  What did you think of the class? It was hard, wasn’t it?

S: 6. … . I found it hard too, but challenging.

C: I remember your daughter was in the class too. Is she not coming anymore?

S: Oh, no, she’s gone to university, she’s studying pre-med.

C: 7. … Is she thinking of becoming a doctor?

S: That’s the plan, yes.

C: My son did pre-med, but he decided to study languages in the end. He is in Finland now.

S: 8. … That must have been a big change for him. Is he enjoying life in Finland?

C: Very much so. He told me a funny thing the other day: apparently there are some lessons in small talk in Finland. This is because the Finns are very reserved and don’t know how to make small talk. They really don’t like talking to strangers. But the global economy is forcing them to get out of their shell.

S: 9. … . I am from Finland.

C: I’m so sorry. 10. … .

S: 11. … . I know the Finns are a reserved lot. Anyway, 12. …  I don’t want to miss my next appointment.

C: 13. … , Sarah.

S: 14. … , Claire.

 

Answer key:

1:a – 2:l – 3:j – 4:c – 5:e – 6:i – 7:m – 8:f – 9:g – 10:d – 11:b – 12:k – 13:h – 14:n

 

Claire: Hello there. Long time no see. What did you think of the class?

Sarah: Hello. Umm… have we met before?

C: We did last year’s class together.

S: Ah, yes, indeed. I’m really sorry, but what was your name again?

C: It’s Claire. And you must be Sarah, if memory serves me well.

S: Yes. You have an excellent memory.

C: Thank you.  What did you think of the class? It was hard, wasn’t it?

S: I know what you mean. I found it quite challenging.

C: I remember your daughter was in the class too. Isn’t she coming anymore?

S: Oh, no, she’s gone to university, she’s studying medicine.

C: Oh lovely, you must be very proud! Is she thinking of becoming a doctor?

S: That’s the plan, yes.

C: My son did medicine, but he decided to study languages in the end. He is in Finland now.

S: Really? That must have been a big change for him. Is he enjoying life in Finland?

C: Very much so. He told me a funny thing the other day: apparently there are some lessons in small talk in Finland. This is because the Finns are very reserved and don’t know how to make small talk. They really don’t like talking to strangers. But the global economy is forcing them to get out of their shell.

S: How interesting to hear that. I am from Finland.

C: I’m so sorry. I really didn’t mean to criticize.

S: No need to apologise. I know we Finns are a reserved lot. Anyway, I’d better be going…

I don’t want to miss my next appointment.

C: Bye for now, Sarah.

S: See you soon, Claire.

 

10 ways to have a better conversation

 

 

 

More reading

 

48 Questions That’ll Make Awkward Small Talk So Much Easier (with acquaintances)

Be Social: 7 English Small Talk Topics for Starting Friendly Conversations

Preparing for Small Talk: A List of the Best and Worst Topics

The Ultimate Guide to Small Talk: Conversation Starters, Powerful Questions, & More

10 of the best of Banksy

Who is the graffitist/provocateur/collective known as Banksy?

Who cares? In fact, I wish the plague upon those so-called reporters who want to unmask Banksy.

Let’s just say he’s probably from Bristol in the UK and has been linked with the cult music group/collective Massive Attack. The latter is definitely cool.

We can also say he’s got money in the bank. His ‘tribute’ to the impressionist Claude Monet will be auctioned online next month and is expected to fetch between £3 and £5 million. The painting, called Show me the Monet, features Monet’s water lilies as well as two half-submerged shopping trolleys.

We can also say the Brits love him. Banksy was last year voted the UK’s most popular artist, ahead of Claude Monet (minus the shopping trolleys) and Vincent Van Gogh (minus the ear).

Here are 10 of the best of Banksy. If we have left out any of your favorites, let us know in the comments below. You might want to listen to Teardrop by Massive Attack as you scroll down:

 

 

Banksy Top Ten

 

  1. The Walled Off Hotel (Waldorf) in Bethlehem “the worst view of any hotel in the world”

A Banksy 10-room hotel which gets just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day. Why? Because it is right next to the massive barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. The West Bank’s answer to the Waldorf.

Choose from budget rooms “outfitted with surplus items from an Israeli military barracks, this room offers a bed from $60 a night. No frills, includes locker, personal safe, shared bathroom, complimentary earplugs.”

Or you may prefer the presidential suite:

“This palatial suite is equipped with everything a corrupt head of state would need – a plunge bath able to accommodate up to four revelers, original artwork, library, home cinema, roof garden, tiki bar and a water feature made from a bullet riddled water tank. Comes with a complete set of Dead Sea bath minerals and an in-room dining service available upon request.”

Hotel website

 

Room with a view in the Banksy hotel.

 

  1. The self-destructing picture

Moments after Balloon Girl was sold for $1.4 million in a Sotheby’s auction, it promptly shredded itself. You can watch Banksy’s version of events. What is a set-up? Maybe… but what a razor sharp piece of theatre. The piece probably doubled in value with a good shredding. Balloon Girl first appeared on a wall and depicts a young girl losing a heart-shaped balloon in a gust of wind. There is also a small quote etched into a nearby  staircase that reads, “There is always hope…”

 

 

 

Switzerland also has a history of art destruction. In 1960, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York went up in smoke in the garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Tinguely was fined for violating the city’s fire laws.

 

 

  1. Sirens of the Lambs (Silence of the lambs)

Screaming and squeaking stuffed animals travel on a truck in New York on the way to the abattoirs.  Hilarious, cute and horrifying.

 

 

  1. The flower thrower

The subject appears to be involved in a riot, wears a handkerchief and backwards cap and is armed with a bouquet of flowers, instead of a Molotov cocktail. The complete work was created in black and white, except the flowers, which were in colour.

 

The flower thrower copied on a wall in the Westbank

 

  1. Supernurse

Banksy donated this painting to England’s Southampton General Hospital in an effort to raise the spirits of medical professionals working on the front lines of the corona virus pandemic.

The painting shows a young boy playing with a superhero doll dressed as a nurse, wearing a mask, cape and apron bearing the Red Cross symbol. A bin next to the child contains superhero rejects, Spider–Man and Batman.

The artist left a note with the work titled Game Changer:

“Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its only black and white.”

 

  1. Slave Labor (mural)

The piece first appeared a graffiti on a wall in north London in 2012. Then the wall disappeared. It reappeared at an auction in Miami with a price tag of $500,000. After a public outcry the work was withdrawn. It returned to the UK and was sold for £750,000 then sold again in the US for about £560,000 to an artist who vowed to paint over it as a protest against the buying the selling of street art.

Video: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-22741911

 

 

  1. Princess Di banks notes issued by the Banksy of England

In 2004, Banksy printed £1 million worth of his Di-Faced Tenner (£10 bills).

Banksy’s Di-Faced Tenner replaces an image of Queen Elizabeth II with that of Princess Diana, issued by the “Banksy of England.” The bank note also proclaims: “Trust no one.”

Banksy rained the bills down on crowds of people at the Notting Hill and Reading Festivals, and “spilled” a briefcase full of the bills at the Liverpool tube station in London at rush hour. The British Museum acquired a Di-Faced Tenner bill in 2019, where it joined the coins and metals collection.

 

 

  1. Kissing Coppers 2004

Kissing Coppers, a life-size black-and-white street work of two policemen kissing, was stenciled onto a pub wall in Brighton. The work was vandalized and later removed and sold in Miami for $575,000 in 2014.

 

9. Follow Your Dreams (Cancelled), 2010

In 2010, this Banksy appeared in Chinatown in Boston, Massachusetts. The image featured a tired-looking painter standing next to the seemingly painted on word, “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS” stamped with an official ‘cancelled’.

See work and critique here

 

 

10. The bullet-proof vest worn by Stormzy

This customised body-armour can stop bullets and is also stab proof, yet not machine washable. One size only.

As worn by UK grime artist Stormzy at the Glastonbury festival .

Here’s Stormzy is his Banksy.

 

 

Here’s a little more from Stormzy, minus the vest: Blinded by your Grace PT.2 FT. MNEK

 

 

 

EU to evacuate citizens from ‘anarchy jurisdiction’, formerly known as New York

European Union citizens living in or visiting New York will be airlifted out of the city, starting from midnight tonight.

The EU also issued a blanket ban on all travel to New York and two other cities, Seattle and Portland, effective from the moment you read this article.

The decision follows the Trump Government’s announcement that the three cities have fallen into the hands of anarchists.

The three cities, which have seen ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, were officially declared anarchy jurisdictions by the Department of Justice.

Switzerland has about 195,000 citizens in the three cities. It advises citizens to stay indoors, not to wear black clothes or face masks, even in the unlikely case of a pandemic.

Trump said it was a tremendous victory.

“We have successfully brought the axis of evil back home to the USA. Only Trump could do this.

 

“I prefer to go with militias. They’re keen, they’ve got time on the hands, they’re pretty wild and scary, they’ve got heaps of guns, and they’re cheap. Real cheap and they love the Donald.

 

“I am happy to announce to my buddy, little rocketman Kim Jong-un that that we now have evil axes in our own garden – New York, Seattle and Portland.

“All options are on the table. Yes, that does include nuclear. We’ll nuke these anarchists if we have to. Personally, I prefer to go with neighborhood militias. They’re keen, they’ve got time on the hands, they’re pretty wild and scary, they’ve got heaps of guns, and they’re cheap. Real cheap and they love the Donald. These patriots can kneel before me.

“We will de-fund these breeding grounds. I will squash festering terrorist organisations such as Antifarts. They’re so disgusting. We must outlaw people wearing black or just being black. Anyone wearing a mask will be targeted.

“They are everywhere now. They are trying to infiltrate our health system. As I say, all options are on the table.

“Some might say it is business as usual, but no, I’m going to quadruple the production of teargas. I’m sure it will come in handy in November.”

 

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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.