Foreigners, strangers, aliens and Dr Spock

The words foreigner, stranger and alien can be very confusing for French native speakers. Depending on your world view, the words can also invoke different meanings and reactions.

A foreigner is a person who comes from another country. In French, a foreigner is un/e étranger/e.

You might say:

No, he’s not Swiss. He’s a foreigner. I think he’s Egyptian.

It is difficult to work in Switzerland if you are a foreigner.

Bernard Kouchner was the Minister for Foreign Affairs in France.

Tina Turner recorded the song Foreign Affair about a romantic relationship with a Spanish matador.

The tone associated with the term foreigner is increasingly negative. We read about foreign invaders, foreign-backed dissidents, foreign terrorists and foreign fighters. There are growing movements across the world to close borders to foreigners.

There are degrees of being a foreigner. Is your French colleague sitting in the desk opposite really a foreigner? Or is she just French?

You can also say:

Doctors said the foreign object found in the childs stomach was a rusty nail (an object that has entered something by accident and should not be there).

Remember: Un/e étranger/e is a foreigner in English, NOT a stranger.


A stranger is someone that you do not know. In French a stranger is un/e inconnu/e.

You might say:

I sat down in the bus next to a stranger.

There was a complete stranger sitting at my desk.

They got on well together although they were total strangers.

We’ve told our daughter not to speak to strangers.

Franks Sinatra describes two strangers falling in love and lust in his song, Strangers in the Night.

Clint Eastwood developed a genre of westerns as the ‘tall dark stranger’ who rides into a small town and shots all the baddies.

The popular meaning of stranger has also become darker in recent years. Strangers today are viewed by many as a threat and a danger.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats said 100 years ago: There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.

Hospitality towards strangers was not only an obligation, but also a sacred part of many cultures in the ancient world: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares – Book of Hebrews 13:2

Expression (happy sarcasm): Well hello stranger! is an expression used when you see someone you are close to after a long absence, just like in this song by Barbara Lewis, first released in 1962.


Remember: Un/e inconnu/e is a stranger in English


Alien has two general meanings. It refers to a person who is not a citizen of the country in which they live or work (similar in meaning to a foreigner)  and is often used in legal and political circles.  In the USA the expression, illegal aliens, is widely used.

Singer Sting describes himself as a legal alien in New York in the song Englishman In New York.

You can say:

In 1795, the US Congress passed four laws, known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts.

US border police arrested 25 illegal aliens.

You can also say.

For most Anglo-Saxons, kissing a woman (or man) three times on introduction is an alien (or foreign) concept.

Of course, the Hollywood alien is a creature from another world or planet, such as our friend ET or if you prefer, Sigourney Weaver’s nemesis in the Alien films. My favourite alien is Dr Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human of the science fiction series Star Trek.


Photo Unsplash: two aliens in car. 

This is an updated version of a post that first appeared on the Bilan magazine website.





Are you a culture vulture? A bit lardy-dardy? Like a bit of a rumpy pumpy?

Are you a culture vulture? A gender bender? A bit lardy-dardy? Do you like a bit of rumpy pumpy?

The English language is not only rich in content, but is also a lot of fun. It’s not all irregular verbs, weird idioms and incomprehensible phrasal verbs.

There is plenty of humour, with expressions such as nitwit, namby-pamby and lovey-dovey.

These are duplicated rhyming words. They combine two existing words, like flower-power and culture vulture. Often one of the words is meaningless, as in super-duper. Sometimes both words are meaningless, such as namby-pamby which sounds a little like it means (childish, weak and sentimental). Most of these words you will find in a good dictionary. Many of them come from olde English.

Here’s a quick guide to a few of these colourful and witty expressions:

culture-vulture: someone who love the arts

to hob nob: drink and mix socially with people, often in high society

hoi-poloi: (origin Greek): the common people

hoity toity: pretentious people

the bee’s knees: something that is the best; excellent.

a rag bag: an untidy collection of things

airy fairy: vague, dreamy and unrealistic

chock-a-block: full, crowded

mumbo jumbo: nonsense

odd bod: a strange person

nitwit: someone who is stupid or silly

heebie-jeebies: nervousness and anxiety

nitty gritty: the essential information

a lardy-dardy: a dandy with airs

to kowtow (origin Chinese): to show too much respect, to bow down before someone

rumpy pumpy: casual sex

So let me tell you about last night…

I have a friend Pascal who I’d describe as a culture vulture who likes to hob nob with the hoity toity. I prefer the hum drum of the hoi-poloi. He reckons it’s the bees knees to kowtow, all lovey-dovey, before a ragbag of airy-fairy artists.

I am not interested in the arty farty. However, last night I went to an art exhibition with Pascal. The gallery was chock-a-block. Just my luck, I had to listen to a lot of mumbo jumbo from some odd bod for more than an hour. He was a namby-pamby and a nitwit. I lost my patience and we had a bit of argy-bargy. I wanted to get helter-skelter out of there…

Okay, I said, but no hanky-panky and no rumpy-pumpy

Then I met Samson. How could I describe him? A gender bender with a touch of lardy-dardy and a bit of a fuddy-duddy at the same time. He asked if I was ready for some harum-scarum.

Okay, I said, but no hanky-panky and no rumpy-pumpy.

He placed a little blue pill in my hand. “Hooley Dooley! What is it?”  I asked.

He replied: “One hundred per cent razzle dazzle.”

“Mmmm…,” I replied. “I’ll try an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bit. But if I go all happy-clappy or higgledy-piggledy, shilly-shally or wishy-washy, promise you will get me out of here.”

Hooley-dooley! What’s this hocus pocus?”

Okey Dokey,” he replied. Despite my heebie-jeebies, I swallowed the pill. The immediate reaction I can only describe as hurly-burly.

Jeeper creepers! Chit-chat came willy-nilly. Most of it was claptrap, a hotchpotch of stupidity and a hodgepodge of bad jokes. Everything was topsy-turvy. Pascal took me aside and asked me: “Hooley-dooley! What’s this hocus pocus?”

Like Humpty Dumpty, I had had a great fall. Helter-skelter, I headed for the door and departed pell mell. I felt such a dead-head!

And that my friends, is the nitty gritty of my eventful night.

Your feedback is welcome.

Heidi is mad! Really mad! You are warned.


I bought some bonds last week. Swiss bonds. They’re called Heidi bonds. You can’t get more Swiss than that. A solid investment? We’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully, I’ll see the result in the cinema next year when Mad Heidi, part-financed by my 25 bonds, makes its screen debut.

Mad Heidi is the first ever Swissploitation film. Alpine cinephiles have been patiently waiting their turn. After Blaxploitation, Mexploitation and Sexploitation, finally, we have Swissploitation.

The film synopsis is pretty simple: Heidi, bless her heart, has grown up and she is not the sweet, pig-tailed girl you might remember. And Switzerland is darker than the deepest recess in the Gotthard Tunnel. As the film website says:

In the near future the world is sinking into war and chaos, but Switzerland has sealed itself off as an island of the rich. An egocentric heir of a multi-billionaire cheese empire is ruling the country with an iron fist to maintain an artificial postcard-image of Switzerland. When Heidi is abducted by the brutal government troops, she must fight back against the cheese-fuelled machinery of hate. They will soon realize they just fucked with the wrong Heidi!

The film, which is in the first stages of production, mixes all the Swiss clichés with copious litres of blood. Yes, it’s a splatter film. Heidi is seriously mad and a highly capable Victorinox assassin. Cheesy and bloody would be the best way to describe the film teaser. It features magnificent Alpine mountain panoramas, stabbing-to-death by Toblerone, torture by fondue and the memorial line:  I love the smell of cheese in the morning

Yes. I did say cheesy. Did I also say extremely violent and in bad taste? Amusing? I hope so. I want my bonds to deliver dividends. Here’s the teaser.

Warning: Not to be watched while eating chocolate or enjoying a fondue or if you are allergic to blood and excessive over-the-top violence.


Mad Heidi:

Probably coming to your local cinema, if you buy some bonds… Director: Johannes Hartmann. Producer: Tero Kaukomaa. Producer: Valentin Greutert.

A letter to the FBI agents investigating Judge Brett Kavanaugh

Dear FBI agents investigating US Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh,

Before you start interviewing male and female schoolmates and acquaintances of Judge Kavanaugh, I suggest you go online and have a look at a dictionary called Urban Dictionary. The address is

This will help you to decode the slang used by Brett Kavanaugh, then aged 17, in his college yearbook entry. It is quite revealing and will give you a much better understanding of Mr Kavanaugh’s relationship with women and alcohol. Unfortunately, I must warn you that some of the terms are a little unsavoury.

These terms you will not find in the Oxford Dictionary. But you will find them in the Urban Dictionary which is a crowd-sourced dictionary for words and expressions, a great many of them slang. Its motto is “Define Your World.”

Let me explain how it works. The dictionary is open to everyone. People post words and their definitions and language devotees then vote on them according to their perceived accuracy and wit, with thumbs up (approval) and thumbs down (disapproval). The most approved definition ranks number one and is generally considered the most accurate. Each entry shows the date that the definition was posted and how many people approve or disapprove of its accuracy. There are often 30 definitions or more for a word or expression. In many cases the definitions are quite similar. The dictionary began in 1999.

Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry, as you know, lists his accomplishments written in his own hand. It is rich in slang.  Slang was developed by criminals and the working classes as a secret or coded language, incomprehensible to the police and authorities. I am sure you FBI agents have your own slang. Similarly, Kavanaugh’s yearbook slang was meant to be indecipherable to parents and teachers; in fact, all adults, including US senators and, of course, FBI agents.

So, let’s see if we can “define his world” based on his yearbook entries. I’ve picked just three words. I know you have only a week for your investigation. I don’t want to waste your time.

Word number 1: Boofing (verb):  In his year book he writes “Have you boofed yet?” When asked by an elderly senator during his nomination hearing, what boofing meant, Judge Kananaugh replied that it referred to flatulence (farting).  It seems he was asking his classmates if they had ever farted.

The Urban Dictionary has a different definition of boofing. The top-ranked definition posted in 2005 is as follows: The act of inserting drugs, into the anus for a longer effect.

Other definitions include thrusting your genitals into a woman’s face and anal sex. (I warned you the language is a bit unsavoury. My apologies.) But to the judge’s credit, one of 25 definitions does refer to boofing as emitting a smelly fart.

However, FBI agents should note that the most popular definition by far, is the one about putting drugs up your bottom. It has 829 approvals. The definition of farting is the twelfth most popular definition with just 12  approvals and 17 disapprovals.

Here’s the link: Boofing

 Term number 2: Devil’s Triangle (proper noun): Also mentioned in his yearbook entry. It’s the name of a drinking game the judge told the hearing. There are 30 definitions of the Devil’s Triangle in the Urban Dictionary. The most popular definition, and it’s very exact, was posted in 2008:

A threesome with 1 woman and 2 men. It is important to remember that straight men do not make eye contact while in the act. Doing so will question their sexuality.

Once again there are other definitions, such as to insert your penis into three different parts of a woman.

Here’s the link: Devil’s Triangle

Many new definitions have appeared since the judge’s hearing the other day, including the third most popular definition:

“A pretend drinking game made up on 9/27/18 by “Honorable” Brett Kavanaugh when faced with credible allegations of sexual assault put forward by no less than four (so far) women. Devils triangle is a threesome with two men and one woman, not a drinking game like Quarters, as Kavanope would like everyone to believe. Devils triangle can also be defined as a lie told under perjury when a belligerent white male feels cornered when confronted with his own disgusting behavior, most likely with the blessing of a patriarchal and misogynistic system.”

 Term number 3: FFFFFFFourth of July (expression): Another entry in his year book. Judge Kavanaugh shrugged this off during his hearing as the way one of his classmates would purposefully stammer the f-word – ie fffffffuck you! He indicated he and his friends found it quite witty and the expression caught on.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who is representing a Kavanaugh accuser who was at school with him at the same time, tweeted a different definition: “Brett Kavanaugh must also be asked about this entry in his yearbook: ‘FFFFFFFourth of July.’ We believe that this stands for: Find them, French them, Feel them, Finger them, F*ck them, Forget them…”

The Urban Dictionary’s top definition of FFFF (posted in 2005) is: “A one-night stand. Used a lot in the 80s. Find’ em. Feel ‘em. Fuck ‘m and Forget ‘em.”

Here is the link: FFFF

FFFFascinating, isn’t it? I hope this is of some help.


Yours sincerely







How can I expand my English vocabulary? (part one)

Expanding your English vocabulary needs discipline. It’s a little like going to a fitness centre. No pain, no gain. It takes time and a bit of cerebral sweat to build a muscly vocabulary. Curiosity also helps.

The challenge is to transform passive knowledge into active language. Yes, that means speaking.

When you find a new word, or a word that you aren’t quite sure about, you need to give it a thorough workout, and get to know it in all its forms.

Learning vocabulary is NOT about learning individual words. You must learn the words that are commonly used together. We call these collocations. For example, we say fast food, not quick food. You make a cup of tea. You don’t do a cup of tea. We speak about a profit margin and a profit and loss statement.

Let’s start with the word worth. The first simple question you should ask is: Does it have a positive or negative meaning? In this case it’s positive. Can you think of another word that has a similar meaning? In this case a synonym is the word value.

Now it’s time to become Sherlock Holmes.  Start by clicking here: This is a free online dictionary designed for intermediate to advanced learners. It’s English-to-English. Here’s some of the information you will find about worth:

Definition: having a value in money, or a general value (adjective).

Examples: Our house is worth about £300000. How much is this painting worth? It isn’t worth much. If you answer this question correctly, it’s worth five points.

Expressions: to be worth a fortune (a lot of money), worth your/its weight in gold (very useful or valuable) A good car mechanic is worth his weight in gold

Often there are second and third definitions:

For example: to recommend doing something because you think it may be useful or enjoyable. The museum is certainly worth a visit; worth doing something. This idea is well worth considering. It’s worth making an appointment before you go.

You might find the word used in a proverb: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Meaning: it is better to keep something that you already have than to risk losing it by trying to get much more

Worth (noun) – 1. an amount of something that has the value mentioned. 40 dollars’ worth of petrol.  The winner will receive 100 francs’ worth of books.

2. the financial, practical or moral value of somebody/something. Their contribution was of great worth.  The activities help children to develop a sense of their own worth. A good interview enables candidates to prove their worth (show how good they are). She has a personal net worth of $10 million.

When you have a general sense of the word it’s time to investigate its other forms.

Opposites: Worthless (adjective) – having no practical or financial value. The painting is worth nothing. It’s worthless. The meeting was worthless. No-one had anything positive to say.

(of a person) having no good qualities or useful skills. A worthless individual. Constant rejections made him feel worthless.

Unworthy (adjective) (of something or somebody) not having the necessary qualities to deserve something, especially respect. He considered himself unworthy of the prize they had given him.

Worthwhile (adjective) – important, enjoyable, interesting; worth spending time, money or effort on. It was in aid of a worthwhile charity. The smile on her face made it all worthwhile. We all felt we had done something worthwhile for the local community.

Trustworthy (adjective) That you can rely on to be good, honest, sincere. John will help you. Hes trustworthy.

Roadworthy, seaworthy (adjective) In a safe condition. My car didnt pass the inspection. It is unroadworthy.

The best way to increase your vocabulary is to read and read and read more. Don’t skip over words that you don’t know or you’re not really sure about. Stop for a moment. Be curious. Check the word here:

Of course, it’s difficult to learn every meaning and nuance of a new word. Begin with the most common sense of the word and start using it.

Remember: You need to learn the phrases and words associated with your new word.

For example: How much is it worth?  What is it worth?  I don’t think it is worthwhile planning another meeting.  Jenny is a great organiser in the office. She is worth her weight in gold.  This watch belonged to my grandfather. I thought it might be worth a fortune, but it’s worthless.

Remember: If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Photo: Upsplash







Don’t speak English like a robot

(Level A2+)

Some French speakers who speak English as a second or third language have adopted a robotic style of English. This is not their fault. It’s the way English has been taught.
If I ask a student: How are you? I know 90% will respond with this robotic reply: Fine and you?
Robotic or automatic answers lack warmth and charm.
There are many other ways to respond to this everyday question that are friendlier and much more charming and inviting.
Here are a few examples:
I’m fine thank you. And you? (pause) How are you?
Fine thanks. And you? Busy?

Great! Thanks. (pause) How about you?
Not too bad thanks. How are things with you?
I’m well thank you. How are you? How was your weekend?

Advice: Change your response to the question How are you? and you might find that conversations start to blossom. How are you? is often the entry point into a conversation. Respond in a friendly open manner and show your interest in the other person and you never know where it will go from there…


Have a good day

An expression that is terribly overused is Have a good day.  This is the favorite phrase of customer service employees. It now can be found in every customer service manual on planet Earth. For many customer service employees it is compulsory to end a conversation with this phrase. Yuck! Berk! I am personally sick to death of it.

Advice: Instead of saying Have a good day try one of these phrases if applicable…  Enjoy your day or Thank you for your time.


C’est pas vraiment parfait

The French expression: C’est parfait! or simply Parfait! is used to positively agree with the speaker. But does it work in English? Can you say That’s perfect! or Perfect! to indicate you agree or are happy with what is being said?
Yes, you can. But, not all the time! It is better to reply: Great! Excellent! Very good!  Good or even Terrific! if you are very happy with what you hear. A simple Okay is enough to tell the speaker that you are in agreement with what he or she is saying.

Advice: Don’t overuse That’s perfect! You can say: Great! Excellent! Very good! or simply Thanks or Thank you or even just a simple Okay is fine.

But you can say: The car is in perfect condition. She speaks perfect English. The weather was perfect. It is a perfect day for a picnic. The instructions were perfectly clear.

And finally remember: No-one is perfect. Definitely not your English teacher.

Questions and feedback:

Photo: Upsplash

FML! Let’s clean the toilet

Cleaning your apartment is no LOL (Laugh Out Loud) activity. Kneeling in the bathtub, scrubbing pesky dirt rings is more of a FML (Fuck My Life) experience.

No-one knows this better than the global giant of cleaning products, Procter & Gamble. The multi-national has applied in the USA to patent four textspeak expressions – WTF (What The Fuck), LOL (Laugh Out Loud), NBD (No Big Deal) and, wait-for-it, FML (Fuck My Life) – for use in their niche markets of soaps, detergents, cleaners and air fresheners.

OMG! FFS! you might say.

Procter and Gamble (P&G) wants to share the angst of younger floor-polish-carrying consumers and mop-up their dollars.

It’s not such a gamble. P&G has already given us Mr Clean, (you may know him as Monsieur Propre), the sexy gay and straight icon of sparkly floors and benchtops and the follically-challenged.  He’s made cleaning sexy (well, that’s probably a wee exaggeration). He’s also an international brand monster, so lithe and lily-white, that he appeared during the Super Bowls telecast last year.



At this stage the applications have not yet been approved. Media reports say the trademark office has requested clarification and P&G has until January to respond.

But can a company or entity own our common expressions? Surely language is free and belongs to us all?

Well, yes and no. Celebrity Paris Hilton was able to trademark the expression “that’s hot”.

Welsh footballer Gareth Bale successfully trademarked a heart symbol he made each time he scored.

The singer Taylor Swift trademarked various lyrics from the album 1989, including “this sick beat”.

But many attempts have failed. WTF has attracted more than 100 unsuccessful patent applications.

Companies, like P&G, seek the exclusivity to use a phrase or a word only in connection with a certain product, in this case dish-washing liquids, air fresheners and all-surface cleaners. Similarly, Gareth Bale’s trademark heart celebration can only be used for his clothing, footwear and headgear.

P&G’s plans for new consumer speak is part of a major shakeup of the 180-year-old-company. Last year the hedge fund Trian Partners bought a $3.5 billion stake in the company and then secured a seat on the board for its head Nelson Peltz who has been critical of the company’s old-style culture.

If they do succeed in launching ‘FML! but my bath is clean’, sales in the younger demography might go up. Twitter will definitely light up and expressions like WTF will be disinfected and purged of any questionable cultural value.

(Mind you, my 16-year-old son described LOL and WTF as old-fashioned).

The company certainly has the muscle to clean up big-time. P&G spent more than $7 billion worldwide on advertising during the fiscal year 2016/2017.

If the mammoths have their way, we will be all popping our dentures into a glass of WTF (White Teeth Forever) on the bedside table and having a sly old toothless chuckle as we slip on our pyjamas.

Yes. It all sounds a little OTT.


I look forward to hearing from you

I look forward to hearing from you.

(Level B1+)

This is a golden expression that can be used in both written and spoken English.

When I tell a French-speaking client that I will contact them in the next few days with a proposal, he or she often replies: Perfect! I am waiting for your call.

J’attends votre appel is a popular French expression. The English translation is:  I am waiting for your call.  It sounds a little strange to a native English speaker.  It conjures an image of you sitting next to the phone, patiently twiddling your thumbs while you wait for my call.

I am waiting for your call is loaded with urgency and a lack of patience.

A much better response is: I look forward to hearing from you.

This is a classic polite phrase that can be used both in spoken and written English in a variety of formal and semi-formal situations. 

 I look forward to hearing from you

I look forward to meeting you 

I look forward to seeing you

I look forward to receiving your proposal

You can also say:

I am looking forward to my holiday in Australia.

I am not looking forward to my exams.

I am looking forward to seeing him again.

In a formal email you might write:

Dear Ms Winters

Thank you for your time today. Please find attached a proposal based on our discussions. I look forward to hearing from you. Please call me if you have any questions.

Dear Mr Best

I confirm our meeting for Wednesday at 12. I look forward to meeting you.

In a less formal email you might write:

Dear John

Thanks again for the information. I  am looking forward to seeing you at the sales meeting next month.

Dear Michaela

There are still a few problems with the annual report. Can you please check it and send me your thoughts ASAP. I look forward to receiving your feedback.

Advice: I look forward to is a phrase to learn and use

Feedback: I look forward to receiving your feedback and questions. Please send your questions and feedback to:

I look forward to hearing from you.