What am I? You can lose your keys and your virginity. But you can’t lose me.

What am I?

I have been around since the first modern human. I am a part of all you humans. Yes, I am a part of you too.

You can lose your keys, your temper and your virginity, but I am almost impossible to lose. If you haven’t lost me by the time you are a teenager, you’ve probably got me for life.

I carry your identity. For some that means status and power. For others, I may encourage suspicion and distrust. At worst, I have been a tool of death.

Dolly Parton has an unmistakable one. It twangs like a banjo. Maurice Chevalier and Thomas Picketty have strong ones. The United Kingdom, despite its size, is full of them. You can find a different one every 40 or so kilometres.

Yes, we are talking about the linguistic marker that identifies you as an ally or neighbour, or as a stranger or a threat. I am your accent.

Accent is the way of pronouncing a language. It is also a key tool in how we process information about another human. It is one of the front-line litmus tests we use to include, and sometimes brutally exclude.

Historically, the Hebrew word shibboleth refers to an ear of corn (épi de maïs). Today, in English, shibboleth means a linguistic password: A way of speaking (an accent, pronunciation, or the use of a particular expression) that is used by a group of people to identify another person as a member, or more importantly, as a non-member.

The book of Judges tells us that 42,000 Ephraimites failed their language test and were slaughtered. They had a different accent.


Shibboleth appears in a dark and bloody passage in the Bible. The book of Judges tells of the defeat of the Ephraimites by Gileadite soldiers, who armed with spears and holding a shibboleth (an ear of corn) blocked refugees from crossing the Jordan River. Each person who wanted to cross the river was shown a shibboleth and asked what it was. The Ephraimites, unlike the Gileadites, had no ‘sh’ sound in their language. They pronounced the word with an ‘s’.

The book of Judges tells us that 42,000 Ephraimites failed their language test and were slaughtered. They had a different accent.

This is how the King James Bible recounts the massacre:

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said to him, Are you an Ephraimite? If he said, No; Then said they to him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

The Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina organised the slaughter of an estimated 20,000 Haitians (perhaps many more) over a five-day period in 1937. It is remembered as the Parsley Massacre. This time, soldiers were armed with a sprig of parsley (un brin de persil). The Spanish word for parsley is perejil. Haitians spoke French and Creole and did not pronounce the word with the Spanish trill sound. Another failed language test. They paid with their lives.

US soldiers in the Pacific used the word lollapalooza as a shibboleth (language password) to challenge unidentified persons during World War II. For non-Americans it was an unfamiliar term, but for Japanese, who have difficulty pronouncing the letter ‘l’, it was almost impossible to pronounce.

It’s no wonder accent neutralization or accent reduction has become a growing part of language learning. If you sound like a native, your chances of survival, at least financially and professionally, can greatly increase.

The UK is one of the most accent-obsessed countries in the world. The more neutral accent is called received pronunciation or RP.  It is the best known and most exported English accent. Think of BBC newsreaders, Dame Judi Dench and James Bond 007. Ironically, it’s spoken by only about three per cent of the population. It’s the accent that English learners feel most comfortable with. Here’s Rowan Atkinson playing the devil:

Heightened RP is the sound of the English upper class; the sound of the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey and the Queen herself.

Why are the English so obsessed by their tribal accents?

Regional accents not only reveal where people are from, but also reveal social classes. Broad regional accents are a barrier to social mobility. Many people who work in London have a RP or neutral accent for work and on the weekends return to their villages and towns and start speaking with their natural broad accent.

Elocution lessons or softening accents in the UK is a burgeoning business.

The RP British accent was judged the world’s sexiest accent in 2018 by Time Out magazine. French finished in second and Italian was in third place.  But what is a British accent? It could be any of these…

Or maybe even this one.



It’s time we had a talk about time: during, while, for and since…

It’s time we had a talk about time.

There are some English words that almost always trip-up (faire trébucher) French native speakers.

The mots méchants are: during, while, for and since. It is important to use them correctly and with confidence. For many French speakers this involves both learning and more importantly, unlearning bad language habits. If you translate from French to English, you will continue to make mistakes.

Here’s a guide to keep and learn.

DURING is a preposition which is used before a noun. For example, we can say: during the holidays, during the meeting, during summer.

It does NOT indicate how long an activity happened.

During means ‘pendant, durant’. But, I repeat, it cannot be used as a measure of how long something happened.

You CANNOT say: I lived in Barcelona during seven years. He spoke about the new software system during one hour. WRONG

But you can say: During the nineties I lived in Barcelona. He spoke about the new software system during the presentation.

In French, we can say: Elle a travaillé comme thérapeute pendant 9 ans.

But in English we would say: She worked as a therapist FOR nine years. CORRECT

You CANNOT say: She worked as a therapist during nine years. WRONG.

FOR is a preposition which is used to say how long something goes on:

Simon has been sleeping for 8 hours.

I have worked for the Geneva State for 10 years.

We waited for 30 minutes outside your house.

I have known you for more than 35 years. We have been friends for ages.

So, what’s the difference between FOR and SINCE?

Since is also a time expression. It means from a point of time in the past until the present. Since is almost always used with the present perfect tense.

For example: since 10 am this morning, since we last met, since my birthday, since 2012. (These are all points of time in the past).

If we use since, we can change the above examples above to:

Simon has been sleeping since 3 pm. (Simon has been sleeping for 8 hours).

I have worked for the Geneva State since 2009. (I have worked for the Geneva State for 10 years).

We have been waiting outside your house since 5.30 pm. (We have been waiting outside your house for 30 minutes).

We have known each other since our university days. We have been friends since 1984. (We have known each other for more than 35 years. We have been friends for ages).

You can say: for 10 minutes, for a long time, for 35 years, for five centuries, for a moment or two…

You can also say: since my birthday, since April 10, since the late seventies, since we first met, since 10 am this morning…

WHILE is used to talk about two things that are happening at the same time, usually in the past. The length of time is not important.

In French you would say pendant que.

The phone rang while I was watching TV.

While I was walking the dog in the park, I met Sue.

We saw Lady Gaga while we were eating in the restaurant.

Here’s a little test for you. You can send your answers to garry@tlh.ch

  1. I saw him _____ just a second or two.
  2. She hasn’t seen him ­­­­_____ December last year.
  3. _______ our summer holidays we visited the Colosseum.
  4. _______ I was studying English, a bird flew into the classroom window.
  5. Jean: I saw Susan _____ I was walking to work yesterday.         Maria: Oh really, I haven’t seen her _____ at least six months; not _______ Marc’s birthday dinner in October last year. How is she?

Money doesn’t grow on trees

It’s time to talk about money.

You can do a lot of things with money. You can spend, waste, invest, lose and lend money.

But, before you can do any of that, you must get some. As one wise person said: Money doesnt grow on trees.

In French, there is one verb – gagner – which dominates most actions which involve receiving money.

In English, we have a few different verbs to talk about money.

You CANNOT say: I win CHF 7000 per month as an accountant.

You should say: I earn CHF 7000 per month as an accountant.

In English, you earn a salary, earn money, earn a living.

The Oxford Online Dictionary for Learners defines earn as: to get/receive money for work that you do. Most of us earn a salary.


Of course, you can also win money, but NOT a salary or a payment for work.

Win means to get something as the result of a competition, game, bet (un pari), war, race or election.

You can say: Switzerland won five gold medals.

He won £3,000 in the lottery.

How many states did the Republicans win?

Congratulations. You’ve won a trip to New York.

We won the contract.

I won $100 at the casino.


We also use the verb to make when we talk about money.

Making money often involves money or income you receive from an investment, product or business that generates income for you.

Bill and Melinda Gates may earn a salary, but they have made an astronomical amount of money from Microsoft.

They say its easy to make money online. I think its a scam.

You can say:  She makes $100,000 a year.

Our company made a large profit last year.

We need to think of ways to make money.

He made his fortune on the stock market.

He makes a living as a relationship manager in a private bank in Brussels.


IMPORTANT: Generally, we use earn to talk about a salary or a wage as an employee.

I will earn more money in my new position.

He earned his living (enough money to buy the things you need in life) by working as a painter on the streets of Paris

Earn also has a more general meaning: to get something that you deserve, usually because of something good you have done or because of the good qualities you have.

As an English teacher, Joelle earned the respect of her students and colleagues.

He has earned a reputation as a tax expert.


Another verb sometimes associated with money or value is to gain which means to win, to get, or to increase.

The country gained (won) its independence in 1985.

She has gained/earned a reputation as a brilliant painter

I gain (increase) weight at Christmas time.

The euro gained (increase in value) against the dollar again today.


Exercise: Which word is correct: earn, win, gain, make. (You may have to change the verb tense)

She _____ CHF 15,000 on the stock market last week.

In my new job I will________ CHF 1000 more per month.

How much does a judge ­­________? ­­­­­­­­­­

How many medals did Switzerland ­­­­­_____ at the Winter Olympics?

I am going on a diet. I ­­­­­­­______ 5 kilos during my holidays.

She is young, but she has already ________ an international reputation for her study of whales.

If we can export more cars to Istanbul we will ­­­­­_____ a fortune.


Questions and feedback: garry@tlh.ch

It’s raining cats and dogs

The English are obsessed with the weather, probably more than most nations. It’s an odd obsession because the weather is often grey, gloomy, wet, drizzly, foggy, chilly or frosty.

The weather has long been our traditional entrée into social interaction; one of the few remaining, non-threatening doors that lead to simple conversations with another member of our species.

Ben: It’s still raining cats and dogs (pleuvoir des hallebardes or pleuvoir des cordes).

Gill: Yeah, they say it’ll clear over this afternoon. Maybe a spot of sun this afternoon.

Ben: That’s good. More rain tomorrow, they reckon.

Gill: It’s good for the garden. How are the kids?

The English language is full of expressions about the weather. The weather affects our mood. The external climate affects our inner climate and it’s not just psychological. It’s also about survival. We rely on the weather to produce food. A severe frost (gel) is very unwelcome, especially if it destroys our food and threatens our survival. If you receive a frosty or chilly reception from someoneyou know you are not welcome.


Riders on the Storm: The Doors

We can use the following words to describe the weather, as well as people and situations.

gloomy, grey, dull (sad and depressing)

frosty, chilly, cool (unfriendly) NB: Chilly means cold. It has nothing to do with chili, the very hot spice.

stormy (angry)

hazy, cloudy, foggy (confused)


Four Seasons: Antonio Vivaldi

Some people have a sunny disposition (a positive outlook). Many people say it’s easier to warm to (make friends with) Canadians, New Zealanders or Australians and that some northern Europeans can be a little cold (not so friendly).

If you are under the weather, then you are not feeling well. You may have had a few too many glasses of wine last night.

A fair-weather friend is a friend when times are good, but someone who cannot be found when things become difficult. It’s better to have a friend come rain or shine who is loyal and reliable in all situations, no matter how challenging.

So put on your raincoat and rubber boots (and your headphones). Here is today’s weather forecast:


To be a breeze:  to be very easy to do.

Our English exam was a breeze. I’m sure I’ll get top marks.


Call me the Breeze: JJ Cale

Get wind of something: to learn or hear of something that should be a secret.

He got wind of the closure of the company so started looking for a new job.

Throw caution to the wind: act recklessly and forget all responsibilities or commitments.

They threw caution to the wind and left their jobs all on the same day, before finding a new job.


As right as rain: to feel fine and healthy and have no problems

Don’t worry about me, I’ll be as right as rain by myself.


Singin’ in the Rain: Gene Kelly

It never rains but it pours: when things don’t just go wrong but very wrong and then something else bad happens again.

First he lost his telephone, then his credit card and then his car broke down. It never rains but it pours.

It’s raining cats and dogs: it’s raining very hard.

Take you umbrella and a jacket because it’s raining cats and dogs outside.

Save for a rainy day: to save for the future when it might suddenly be needed (unexpectedly).

I know you want to buy a new kitchen, but you should really save that money for a rainy day.

Take a rain check: decline something now, but offer to do it at a later date.

Thanks for inviting me to dinner but I can’t this week. Can I take a rain check on that?


The Sound of Sunshine: Michael Franti and Spearhead


To brighten up – to become more cheerful or to add colour and light to a dull space.

I think we need to paint the room. It needs brightening up.

Your mother really brightened up when she got the flowers you sent.

To take a shine to someone or something– to develop a liking, attraction for someone or something often after the first meeting.

The interview went really well. I think the HR manager took a shine to me.

To make hay when the sun shines – to make the most of an opportunity while it lasts.

You won’t be able to go to Australia if your get the job. Go now. Make hay while the suns shines


Ain’t no Sunshine: Bill Withers

A ray of sunshine – Someone or something that makes others feel happy and positive, often during a difficult time.

My grandson is a little ray of sunshine

everything under the sun – everything on earth.

I would not give you my grandfather’s watch for everything under the sun.

To have a sunny disposition – to have a positive and happy attitude about life.

George is a happy chap. He always has a kind word. He has such a sunny disposition.


To make or to do? This is the question.

Two verbs, to do and to make, are confusing for English language learners.

You can do your homework, do your exercises, do your best, and still make mistakes and make little progress.

In French it’s relatively simple. One verb, faire, fits all. You can do almost everything and make just about any sentence with faire:

faire du shopping, fait la bise, faire demi-tour, faire des progrès and faire la grasse matinée

GRAMMAR RULE: Well, to be honest, there really isn’t one. Sorry. Here is a general guide to do and make. Hopefully, it will make some sense. Ready? Let’s do it.


Of course, we use DO for questions and answers as an auxiliary verb

Do you live here? Yes, I do. She doesn’t see him anymore.

But, in this article, we are interested in DO as the main verb.

We use DO to talk about work, jobs or tasks.

You can say: I did my homework. I never do the cleaning on Sundays. Susan did the shopping. I have done the dishes (washing-up). I’ll do the cooking tonight.

Important: You can do the cooking, do the cleaning and do the dishes, but you make a cake or make some bread and make dinner.

GENERAL RULE: DO is used for a simple task. MAKE is associated with often more complex tasks that make, produce, or transform something.

DO is often used in a general sense with words such as good, something, nothing, everything.

You can say: She did nothing. She can do better. Do your best. I did everything I could. Have you seen the Spike Lee film, ‘Do the Right Thing’?

DO can also be used to replace a verb when the meaning is clear.

You can say:

Georges: We must make a presentation tomorrow at the meeting. Can you do it for me, Elli? (make the presentation)

Elli: I’ll do it (make the presentation).

Maria: I haven’t finished the business plan.

Sébastien: It’s okay, I’ll do the rest. (I will finish the business plan)

Here’s list of DO expressions to remember:

DO your best, do the shopping, do some exercise, do something, do some sport, do the cooking, do the washing, do someone a favour, do your hair (brush it), do business, do a good job, do nothing, do badly, do harm, do your nails.

Idioms with DO:

What do you do? (What is your job?)

Just do it! has become a well-worn mantra of 21st century. Shia LaBeouf explains.


a to-do list: a list of things to do

to do time: to be in prison

do a double take: Look twice at someone or something because you are shocked or surprised.

do one’s duty: fulfil a responsibility or a duty.

do or die: a critical situation, if you don’t act now everything will be lost.

BRAINTEASER: (advanced level) Your challenge is to write two understandable sentences with the following words together: make do and do make. Send your replies to garry@tlh.ch


MAKE has the sense of creating and producing something. It may involve a number of actions. You can make a cake, make dinner, make a cup of tea, make a bed, make a dress, make a presentation, make a plan. Made in Switzerland.

MAKE is also used to describe an action or result. You can say: Cauliflower makes me sick. She makes me jealous. He makes me happy. That makes sense.

Or as Aretha Franklin says: You make me feel like a natural woman.


You can also: make a decision, make a choice, make love, make a complaint, make a mess, make a suggestion, make a comment, make a mistake, make a fool of yourself, make friends, make someone happy, make a call, make a list, make a presentation, make a joke.

A few idioms with MAKE:

make up your mind: to make a decision (informal)

can’t make heads or tails of something: when you don’t understand something

make your blood boil: something that makes you extremely angry.

make your day: something that makes your day happy; an expression made famous by Clint Eastwood.


A SHORT EXERCISE. Do you best. 😊You will need to put the verb make or do in the correct tense.

The children _______ a mess in the kitchen while ______ the cake.

After he ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______ the washing, he ________ the shopping

Can you ______ me a favour and _____ the presentation tomorrow? I know you will ____ your best. We really need to ____ business with companies like this or we will never ____ a profit.

I suggest you ____ her a cup of tea and then ______ your apology.

I can’t eat pineapple. It _____ me sick.

You must ____ a choice. You cannot _____ nothing. You must _____ something.

You must ­­­­_____ a decision. Now is the time to ­­­­______ up your mind. I am sure you will ­­­­­_____ the right thing.

Well done. Go and make yourself a coffee or a cup of tea.

Confusing words (les faux amis). Are you sensible or sensitive? Or both?

Some words are identical or very similar in both French and English. But that doesn’t mean they have the same meaning.

Some are related in meaning and some are what linguists call false friends or les faux amis.

Do you have some favourite faux amis? Leave a comment below with some of the words that confuse you.

Here are some. Tell me which words I have missed…

Society means groups of people living together in communities. A society is NOT a company or a firm.

You can say: I work for a company that makes office furniture.

You can also say: Racism exists at all levels of society.

You cannot say: Our society offers English language courses. You would say: Our company teaches English in Geneva.

There is an exception, of course. There is a type of bank called a building society which lends money to people who want to buy a house. People keep their money in a building society.

 Society, by Eddie Vedder from the film Into The Wild

An avocado is a green fruit that is quite delicious and extremely popular. Not to be confused with un/e avocat (French), a lawyer who is expensive, not so tasty, and not so popular.

You can sit, take or do an exam. When you get the results, you will know if you have passed (succeeded) or failed your exam.

You can say: I sat the exam last Friday and I got the results yesterday. I passed with a B. (I was successful).

You can also say: I was so stressed during the exam that I passed out (fainted).

A résumé (of something) is a short summary or account of somethingIt comes from French and has been absorbed into English. It is pronounced as in French. Résumé has two meanings: 1. a general summary and 2. a Curriculum Vitae which summarizes your professional life.

The verb to summarize (something) is to give a summary of something (= a statement of the main points). It is the act of making a résumé.

You can say: The results of the research are summarized at the end of the chapter.

The verb to resume means to begin again or continues after an interruption.

You can say: She resumed her career after an interval of six years. The noise resumed, louder than before. There is no sign of the peace talks resuming.

You cannot say: She resumed the main point of the meeting. You should say: She summarised the main points of the meeting

Medicine is what you take when you are sick.  It is also the name of the subject that you study at university if you want to become a doctor. A doctor, your GP or a physician prescribe medicine. You buy your medicine at the pharmacy or chemist.

Expression: Laughter is the best medicine (laughter is good for you).

You can say: She studied medicine and she is now a doctor. The doctor told me to take the medicine three times a day.

A library is where you borrow books free of charge. A bookshop or bookstore is where you buy books. Payot has the biggest bookstore in Geneva.

Be careful of the word envy. If you envy someone you have the feeling of wanting to be in the same situation as somebody else; the feeling of wanting something that somebody else has. It’s a form of intense jealousy. It is one of the seven deadly sins, according the Catholic teachings.

It is impossible to envy an ice-cream.

But you can say: I would love an ice-cream or I wish I had an ice-cream or I’d give my right hand for an ice-cream. You can also say: I envy you. You have a great job and a beautiful house and you’re always happy.

A stranger is someone you don’t know. You have not been introduced. A foreigner is someone from another country or another culture (non-Swiss). Read more here

A haven is place that is safe and peaceful where people or animals are protected. A tax haven is a place where taxes are very low. It is often secret and used by wealthy companies and individuals to hide money. There is no such place as a tax paradise. Sorry.

Baskets are containers for holding or carrying things. A shopping basket, picnic basket, a washing basket (for clothes). Baskets are NOT shoes. Shoes that we wear for sport are called trainers or runners.

Most people wear runners or trainers when they go jogging. A person who jogs is a jogger. You might wear shorts, or if it’s quite cold you might wear tracksuit pants or sweatpants. The activity is called jogging.

You can say: I always wear track suit pants when I go jogging in the winter.

As we are talking about clothing, it’s important to know that a bra in English is not a part of your body. It is an item of women’s under-clothing – un soutien gorge. The word bra is short for brassière and has nothing to do with drinking beer.

String or a piece of string is a piece of thin cord used for tying things, such as packages.

He wrapped the book in brown paper and tied it with string.  The key is hanging on a string by the door.

Women’s underwear that has a very narrow piece of material (thin like a piece of string) is called a thong.

A pair of thongs is a type of sandal (open shoe) that has a piece of leather, rubber, etc. that goes between the big toe and the toe next to it. Also known as flip-flops.

Brushing sounds very English. It is the activity to clean, polish, or make smooth with a brush (brossage). I brush my teeth, my hair and my shoes every day.

When your hair is wet or needs to be styled you can use a machine that blows hot air. This is called to blow dry (verb) or a blow dry (noun). The machine is called a blow dryer.

You can say: There is a blow dryer in our hotel room.

You can say: John please answer the phone. I am busy brushing the dog.

A facelift is a medical operation in which the skin on a person’s face is made tighter in order to make them look younger,

There is no such thing as a lifting is English.

You can say: I hurt my back while lifting the boxes.

Smoking is the activity of inhaling or breathing in a cigarette, cigar or other combustible substance. The black formal suit that James Bond often wears to the casino is a tuxedo.

 A jolly woman or man is a happy and cheerful person. They may not be attractive or pretty, but they are definitely happy, which is much more important.

A sympathetic person is kind to somebody who is hurt or sad; showing that they understand and care about your problems. A sympathy card is a card of condolence usually after someone has died.

The French word sympathique mean nice or friendly in English.

Sympathy for the Devil, by the Rolling Stones

People who are sympathetic are sensitive and caring. This mean that they are aware of, and able to understand other people and their feelings.

You can say:  She is very sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Sensitive can also be used  to describe  someone who is easily offended or upset. You can say: He’s very sensitive about his weight. She’s very sensitive to criticism.

A sensible person is someone able to make good judgement, based on reason and experience rather than emotion; practical. It’s a very positive term.

You can say: She’s a sensible sort of person. I think that’s a very sensible idea. Say something sensible. I think the sensible thing to do would be to take a taxi home. John is only 14, but hes very mature. He is very sensible for his age.

The Logical Song, by Supertramp

Photo top of the page: Unsplash


Stairway to heaven loses out to swimming pool in a basement

Greek history tells us that when the Gods are forced into close contact, the heavens rain blood and the earth shakes.

Fast-forward to London today where two deities, Jimmy Page, rock guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin, and pop megastar Robbie Williams are hurtling lightning bolts at each other over their garden fence.

The bone of contention is not a stairway to heaven, but a swimming pool and fitness centre in a basement.

They are neighbours in Holland Park, one of London’s most stately and salubrious quarters. It’s très swish and très sploofy. The mansions are large and the fences are high. But clearly, it’s a little cramped for two titans.

Williams won a five-year battle with his neighbour when he was granted conditional approval to build his basement swimming pool in his London home.

Page lives next-door in a magnificently restored modern castle which could be described as one of the Houses of the Holy. It was designed by the self-styled “art architect” William Burges between 1875 and 1881, in 13th-century French Gothic style. You can read more here. Page fears excavation work will damage his  Grade-1 listed chateau.

It’s clear they don’t share a Whole Lotta Love. Each wishes the other were banished to the Dark Side of the Moon or at least as far away as Kashmir.

Here’s where it all gets a bit distorted. A letter to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, (the local council), claims that Robbie Williams is tormenting his neighbour by “blasting Black Sabbath music” every time he sees Page in his garden. At this stage, (small pun intended), we do not know if he’s channelling songs from the 1970 album Paranoid, the Sabotage album (1975) or Dehumanizer, recorded in 1992.

And not just Black Sabbath. The letter claims Mr William’s mind games also involve blasting Pink Floyd and Deep Purple songs at high volume, when he sees Mr Page in the garden, because “he knows this upsets” the 75-year-old guitarist.

This odd letter, tabled by the local council, is signed by “Johnny”, a friend or neighbour of Mr Page.

It’s clear they don’t share a Whole Lotta Love. Each wishes the other were banished to the Dark Side of the Moon or at least as far away as Kashmir. Holy Smoke (on the water)! You might say. But, it even gets weirder.

The correspondent adds that Williams has also dressed up to imitate Robert Plant, the Led Zeppelin singer by “wearing a long hair wig and stuffing a pillow under his shirt in an attempt to mock or imitate Mr Robert Plant’s beer belly that he has acquired in his older age”.

Their musical realms, unlike their homes, are separated by much than another brick in wall. Page is the Gandalf of the guitar rock, only a place, or two or three, below that of Zeus himself, Jimi Hendrix. Led Zeppelin floated atop Mt Olympus during the late sixties and seventies dwarfing other demi-gods such as Jagger and co.

Robbie Williams ruled the nineties in the UK, first in the boy-band Take That, and then as a solo artist. But he’s just an upstart, with album sales of only 75 million compared to Led Zeppelin’s sales of around 250 million. He did sing at the opening of the Football World Cup in Russia. Sadly, he didn’t sing Party like a Russian. He should have.

Turn it up loud. Torment your neighbours.



PETA has a bee in its bonnet about anti-animal language

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has never been shy when it comes to viral marketing.

The world’s largest animal welfare group is about as subtle as a bull in a china shop when it comes to using shock horror tactics to attract attention to its message. Why? Viral means lots of clicks, lots of attention, heated discussion and, of course, free publicity. And it works. Powerful and shocking messages such as these have helped to change the eating habits of millions.


PETA now has a beef with language. It’s got a bee in its bonnet about anti-animal language. It wants to remove the language of speciesism from our daily conversations.

PETA says we should replace curiosity killed the cat with curiosity thrilled the cat. You might bring home the bacon in your family, however PETA suggests that to bring home the bagels is a cooler and more ethical expression to celebrate a breadwinner.

PETA has even developed a lesson plan for eager teachers who wish to encourage their students to replace expressions such as kill two birds with one stone (faire d’une pierre deux coups), with feed two birds with one scone. (It sounds kind of cute, but when I think of scones, I think of jam and cream. Furthermore, scone as it is pronounced by most English speakers, rhymes with don, not stone, and I am sure scones, with or without jam and cream, would be terrible for a bird’s digestion system.  It would be high tea murder.)

The internet reacted with typical cynicism saying PETA was barking up the wrong tree and that there were bigger fish to fry than trying to change a few animal expressions

Changing language habits isn’t that simple. Or to put it another way, a leopard cannot change its spots, and as you know, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The internet reacted with typical cynicism saying PETA was barking up the wrong tree and that there were bigger fish to fry than trying to change a few animal expressions.

The English language, as against French, is far from static. It’s forever changing, just like our eating habits. We absorb, with differing degrees of success, new words for technology, products, ideas, fads and fashions as well as words that morph in meaning, sometimes almost naturally and sometimes propelled by politics and propaganda.

Some words like selfie, explode into usage. Others like gay, which once meant happy and full of life, and now refer to homosexuality, have taken literally decades to come out of the language closet.

It is less painful and more woke, we are told, to consciously uncouple than to divorce

Workers, once upon a time, were sacked or fired. Now they are made redundant, laid-off, discharged, decruited, outplaced, part of a workforce imbalance correction or simply let go

It is less painful and more woke, we are told, to consciously uncouple than to divorce.

People who speak English as a second or third language (now the largest group of English speakers on the planet, and quite possibly that means you, my dear reader) have also made the language simpler, more standardised, and a little more robotic. Many of these old and odd animal expressions, such as there is more than one way to skin a cat (not particularly uplifting) will over time simply drop out of circulation. Charming old-world expressions like How do you do? are now almost redundant, replaced by Nice to meet you or Pleased to meet you.

The Trump administration recently tried a bit of Orwellian-style language pruning. Seven words; foetus, entitlement, diversity, transgender, vulnerable, evidence-based and science-based were officially banned by one of the Federal Government’s health organisations.

Language is sometimes not very sexy. For many, neither is eating greens and grains all day, every day. This PETA message below, however, will transform the wildest meat-eating Conan or Caren the Barbarian into eager-beaver vegans. It hits the bulls-eye.



Animal idioms explained:

like a bull in a china shop – to behave recklessly and wildly; the opposite of gentle and subtle

to have a beef with someone – to have a dispute or disagreement

to have a bee in your bonnet –a be a little obsessed or agitated about something

curiosity killed the cat – being too curious can be dangerous

to bring home the bacon – to earn a regular income

to kill two birds with one stone -to solve two problems with one action or solution

a leopard cannot change its spots – it is difficult for people to change

you can lead a horse to water (but you can’t make it drink) – you can’t force people to do something

to bark up the wrong tree – to have a wrong idea, or do something in a way that will not give you the information or result you want

an eager-beaver – someone who is very enthusiastic

to hit the bulls-eye – to get something exactly right or be on target.

Ten tips for better emails in English (part two)

Here are some more tips for writing professional emails in English. But first, some email trivia:

How many emails were sent and received in the world each day in 2017?

Yes, you’re right. A lot. A mammoth amount. If we add-in yours and mine the total comes to about 269 billion per day. There are an estimated 3.7 billion email users, and climbing. The most astounding (and scary) statistic is that on-average an office worker will receive about 120 emails per day, according to several studies. We are drowning in emails.

Understandably, the general rule is to keep your emails short. Some purists say a maximum of five sentences and you can always attach a document if you have more information to share.

You can read Ten tips for better emails in English (part one) here


  1. When can I change from Dear Ms Johnson to Dear Sue?

Anglo-Saxons move from formal family names to first names quite quickly. It’s part of their culture. The Swiss, in general, are a little more reserved. French mother-tongue speakers often find it difficult to judge the right moment to drop a level in formality and switch from family name to first name.

There are many factors that affect familiarity, such as jobs, positions in the hierarchy, company culture and, of course, your culture and language and that of the person receiving your emails.

Unfortunately, there are no rules.  Sometimes, you can clearly sense a first-name-relationship in the friendly style of the first email or by the engaging voice on the other end of the telephone. Young people are much more open to first names. The older generation have grown up on a diet of formal letter writing, with phrases such as Je vous prie, Madame, Monsieur, de bien vouloir agréer l’expression de mes sentiments distingués, which are today viewed as olde worlde and impersonal.

Here are a few guidelines on when you can start to reduce the formality:

  • If your recipient signs off with his or her first name.
  • If you are on first names in your telephone conversation
  • If you are basically the same age or have a similar position or are passionate about your shared interest.
  • Mirror the style of your recipient. If his or her style is friendly and informal, keep your emails relatively informal.
  • When a prospective client turns into an actual client it is often the right time to make the written relationship less formal. It’s a bit like welcoming them into the family.

But don’t push it. If you are not sure, play safe. Stay neutral/formal until you get a clear sign.


  1. Subject/title

Use the subject line to help your reader focus on the content of your email. The quicker your reader can focus on the subject the more effective he or she will be in dealing with your request. I get annoyed when I receive an email with a blank subject line.

I want to have an idea of the content just from reading the subject line. Our brains start to load relevant information if the subject line is clear and informative. Re. English course in Australia, Re. Cancellation of Nick Cave concert, Re. Student visa for New Zealand, Re. Your blog in Le Temps


  1. Simple terms for simple understanding

Many phrases or words are totally unnecessary and can be deleted or simplified. Be active and edit your email. Cut and slash. Rewrite. Use your delete button like a sword and kill off unnecessary phrases like these below:

  • as far as I am concerned – I think, I believe
  • at the present time – now
  • due to the fact that – because
  • for the most part – generally
  • in my opinion – I think, I believe
  • in the event of – if
  • let me start by saying – firstly
  • and I would like to finish by saying – finally
  • the point that I am trying to make – I think, I believe
  • what I want to make clear – I think, I believe

Remember to use active verbs:

  • We need to make an improvement – We need to improve
  • We made an application –   We applied
  • I think we need to have a discussion about the matter – Can we discuss the matter?


  1. Punctuation

Good news. Minimalist punctuation is fine for emails. Obviously, you need some punctuation to make the ideas flow and make sense. Look at the differences in the two emails below. Example B is my style.

A: Dear Julia,

I am sorry, I can’t make it on Thursday, January 6th. Can we meet on Friday, November 7th at 4 p.m.?

Kind regards,

Claudia Schenker 

B: Dear Julia

I am sorry I can’t make it on Thursday November 6. Can we meet on Friday 7 at 4 pm?

Kind regards

Claudia Schenker

Some people are far too attached to their exclamation point. It’s crazy!!! Every sentence is followed by one! Or even two!! Life is just so exciting!! I even receive emails with the title: Hello Garry!!!

Using an exclamation point can convey excitement but overusing them can make you look a little pretentious and inauthentic. Let your language speak for itself and keep your excitement for the meeting. Yes!!!

  1. Keep your audience in mind from start to finish

When you have finished your email, take a step back. Have a cup of a tea or coffee or finish another task. Then come back to your email and imagine you are the recipient. Is it clear? Do you know what you have to do? Is all the information there? Is there any jargon or language in the email that the recipient might not understand? Can you cut out some unnecessary words or phrases?

Never forget the KISS principle – Keep it Short and Simple.

Take you time. Always have that final check and read-through. Minimise those “OH, NO!” moments when your eyes and finger are synchronised: Your eyes on a spelling mistake just as your finger presses the SEND key.

Here’s a little exercise for you:

The following paragraph below contains more than 90 words. Can you rewrite it in 35 words or less?

This company document is for the purpose of giving the reader a detailed explanation of the reservation process used by all our hotel affiliates and subsidiaries around the world. It describes the step-by-step process we currently use as outlined in our software system which has been, as of August 2018, installed in all our hotels world-wide. In order to provide an introduction to the process for employees who work on a part-time contract, we also have prepared an overview, which describes the highlights of the global reservation process in just two pages.

You can send your response to me: director@tlh.ch

Photo: Unsplash

You can read Ten tips for better emails in English (part one) here

Ten tips for better emails in English (part one)

Emails are one of our most important communication tools. The email has the immediacy of a phone conversation, and a similar sense of informality. It is like a written conversation; neutral, polite and straight-to-the-point. That’s how we like to get things done, isn’t it? For example:

I am happy to confirm our meeting on December 15 at 3pm.

Please send me a copy of the auditor’s report of May 2018.

Could/Can we please meet on Tuesday (tomorrow) at 3pm? I’m afraid I won’t be free at 2pm.

We have received your payment. Many thanks.

Please find below a proposal for your English lessons at The Language House…

Neutral, polite and straight-to-the point…This sounds a lot like The KISS principle.


1. Keep It Short and Simple (KISS).

The KISS principle is a fine rule to live and write by.

This is the best advice for writing professional emails in English (or for writing anything). Forget those long verbose French phrases. Be brief. You don’t have to be boring. You can be creative and add some personality, and still be succinct. Plain English or simple clear English is faster to write, faster to read and easier to understand.

Which do you prefer; A or B?

A. I trust this clarifies the matter for you and we look forward to hearing from you in due course in respect of your decision whether or not you intend to take out a loan.

B. Please contact me if you would like to take out a loan. My direct line is…

English has become the language of business. Here is one reason why:

A. Je me tiens à votre entière disposition pour tous renseignements complémentaires et vous prie, Madame, Monsieur, d’agréer l’expression de mes respectueuses salutations.

B. Please call me if you have any questions. Kind regards


2. The verb is Queen

Life and work is all about action. In almost all emails the most important information relates to the verb (action): update, cancel, postpone, resend, order, propose, calculate, check, recommend, deliver, invite, send, find…

People want to know “what do you want me to do?” If possible, state this quickly in the first sentence of your emails. Don’t hide the important things to do in the middle or at the end.

The world of work is about action (doing things and getting things done) and action is all about verbs. The verb is Queen. But you don’t need to sound like a dictator. Remember what your mother taught you. You should always say…


3. Please and thank you

You can soften (adoucir) the content with politesse, so you sound more like a benign leader or a caring colleague rather than a dictator. If the email is for a colleague or client who you deal with regularly it is important to get straight to the point; but with politesse:

Please send me a copy…

Please contact John in marketing…

Could/can/would you please organise a meeting with…

Thank you for your email. I will do that immediately…

Please confirm the bank details for client 54A234.

If it is first contact, or needs to be slightly more formal, change the wording to:

Could/Can/Would you please send me…

Could/Can/Would you please cancel our order…

Could/Can/Would you please contact our marketing department… 

The use of please softens any awkward language that may sound a bit direct, clumsy or rude. How many times have you received (or sent) a cold or rude email? A please or two in the right places change the tone completely.

I often reply to emails with: Thank you for your email or Thank you for contacting The Language House. This polite phrase thanks the receiver for selecting my company (instead of a competitor) and for taking the time and energy to write.

Be empathetic: I know you are really busy, but I need you to look at the figures attached. Can you please give me your response before 5 pm? Much appreciated.

If the issue is sensitive. It is a good idea to follow up your email with a telephone call.

I think company B is unhappy with our delivery times. Do you think it would be a good idea to invite them to lunch? Can we have a chat about this? I will call you later this afternoon around 3pm. Please confirm.

Advice: Please use please and thank you. Start and end with polite phrases. For example start with: Thank you for your email and finish with Please call me if you have any questions. My direct line is 022 321 52 63. I look forward to hearing from you (Read more here) Not every sentences has to include please. But most sentences should.


4. Subject-Verb-Object

Generally, humans of the English language variety understand information easily if it is given in the following order: Subject-Verb-Object. This is the most digestible order of words in an English sentence. If you have a complex sentence that’s giving you (and therefore your future reader) difficulty, the simplest way to fix it is to rewrite it in a subject-verb-object format. This reduces confusion. If necessary, turn a long or confusing sentence into two shorter sentences. Make a general rule: one idea per sentence. If you have many ideas to share use bullet points.

Which do you prefer?

A. In the case of a board member announcing their retirement, the retiring member must offer the company the first option to purchase their shares no longer than 30 days after their official retirement date.

B. The company has first option to buy a retiring member’s shares.The shares must be offered to company less than 30 days after the member’s date of retirement.

A. At this point in time, despite our investigations we are unable to ascertain the reason as to why the door was left open.

B. We still don’t know why the door was left open.

When making a request use a simple question.

A. I don’t know what your schedule looks like, but if you’re available, I would really appreciate the chance to have lunch with you sometime next week. I hope you are free.

B. Are you free for lunch next week? Do you prefer Tuesday or Wednesday? Please confirm.

A request presented in a short, simple sentence won’t to be overlooked.

Advice: A general rule: One idea per sentence.  If you have many ideas to share use bullet points.


5. Greetings and signing-off

Dear and Hello are fine for most emails. Dear is a little more formal.

Important: In English, ALWAYS use the name of your recipient (if you know it), even if you haven’t had any contact with him or her.

Dear and Hello are fine for most emails. Dear is a little more formal.

In English we only say Dear Sir/Madame if we don’t know the name of the person who will receive the email, for example a government office. Be careful, these impersonal emails often end up in the spam box.

The correct title for a woman named Sue Johnson is Ms (pronounced MIZZ) eg. Dear Ms Johnson. (Read more here: Ms, Mrs and Miss)

Never write: Dear Mr Garry. It is either Dear Mr Littman or Dear Garry

Don’t start your email with How are you? – an open-ended question, that normally demands an answer. You can, instead use the expressions, I hope you are well, I hope you are keeping well, I hope you had a great weekend, I hope the week started/ended well. No replies are necessary.

Don’t (please) finish an email with the robotic and over-used phrase: Have a nice day – (Read more here)

Sign off with Yours sincerely for a formal email and Kind regards/Best regards or Thank you for less formal/neutral emails.


So, there are five tips to think about. More tips to come next week. Comments welcome.