A good year for gherkins and tulips

You won’t find the world’s largest gherkin (cornichon) in a carnotzet in the Valais. It’s in London.

Ask any local: Where’s the gherkin? and they will point you in the direction of the East End, once a down-trodden, working-class area of inner London.

This cornichon géant is 180 metres high and has 41 floors. It has always had strong links with Switzerland. The Gherkin was commissioned by Swiss Re, the insurance giant, which today occupies half the building’s offices.

The building was originally named after its address, 30 St Mary Axe, but once the droll Brits laid eyes on it, The Gherkin was born. It’s a name not out of place in a skyline that features The Cheese Grater, the Walkie Talkie and The Shard.

The Gherkin is now owned by banker Joseph Safra, head of the J. Safra Group, which owns the Geneva-based private bank, Bank J Safra Sarasin.

Mr Safra is not an architecturally shy man. He commissioned Norman Foster, the architect/designer of The Gherkin, to design another botanical skyscraper to be planted right next to his gherkin in his East End garden plot.

You may ask yourself: What would complement a gherkin and a cheese grater in a garden of metal, concrete and glass?

The answer, in this case, is a tulip. Yes, plans for the The Tulip, a fantastic 305-metre-high flower tower, are currently being scrutinised by London planning authorities. The Tulip, if approved, will grow to the height of London’s tallest building, the impressive The Shard (éclat de verre).

The Tulip is amazing. It’s already iconic and the seed, or should I say bulb, has only just been planted. It is as controversial as it is high. Depending on your cultural sensibilities, The Tulip is a giant cotton bud (un coton-tige), a penis-in-the-sky (not an unusual description of a skyscraper), a cocktail cornichon on a very long toothpick, science fiction art come-to-life or simply an extraordinary piece of architecture that will be the flower of London’s skyline.

You can judge for yourself from this video, which would not be out-of-place in the opening scene of Star Wars Episode 11.

The Tulip is not for office space. It is an elaborate viewing tower, which seems to be a must-have for all self-respecting world cities nowadays. It will offer a popular high for millions of the planet’s tourists. Everything happens in the flower. The concrete stem (tige) supports a 12-storey glass bubble or flower which will be filled with bars, restaurants and a viewing gallery. It is also being touted as a free educational facility open to the school students, which may boost its chances of getting final approval.

Popular opinion seems to be blowing in the flower’s favour. In a recent survey, most Londoners said they were happy to see a tulip on the skyline. Spring is in the air.

You can read more on The Tulip website here.

Murder, madness and the Oxford English Dictionary

Great creations take time. Some take six days (with divine assistance). The grandest of human handiwork can take a lifetime or two.

The Taj Mahal and the great pyramid of Giza both took about 20 years of blood, sweat, death and toil.  But not all great works are so massive in scale. Some, like Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, can fit on a bookshelf.

The 12-volume New English Dictionary, later known as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was expected to take just 10 years to compile and publish.

Work began in 1857, but after just five years it had barely crawled past ambitious to reach the word ant. It was finally published in 1928. It took 70 long years to create this esteemed guide to the English language.

A third edition of the dictionary (OED3), is expected to be completed in 2037 at a projected cost of about £34 million. This online version, directed by the eighth OED editor, will never sit on a bookshelf.

The OED will always be a work in progress. After all, it is the foremost guide to the planet’s most successful living language which remains in ruddy health today. One day, it may well be viewed as the greatest legacy of the British empire.

But let’s go back to the first edition. Its guiding philosophy was to gather text and quotations to illustrate every meaning, sense and nuance, as well as the history of a particular word. The OED is an historical dictionary.

This prodigious project called on volunteers world-wide to send in their research. This early form of crowd-sourcing attracted dozens of amateur and professional lexicographers and philologists including J J R Tolkien (The Hobbit), who worked on words from waggle to warlock, and his good friend C S Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia).

One prolific amateur contributor was Doctor W C Minor who corresponded with the OED’s primary editor, Sir James Murray, every week for 25 long years.

He contributed more than 10,000 words to the dictionary. The doctor was a mystery. He gave his address as Crowthorne, about 60 kms west of London, but refused countless times to meet with Sir James and his dictionary colleagues. Finally, an exasperated Sir James wrote to Dr Minor:

“You and I have known each other through correspondence for fully 17 years, and it is a sad fact that we have never met. I have long wanted to meet you, and may I perhaps suggest that I come visit you. If this is convenient, perhaps you might suggest a day and train, and if convenient for me I will telegraph the time of my expected arrival.”

A report of the meeting, (a little exaggerated), was later published in a Chicago newspaper as follows:

“When Sir James arrived at the hospital in Crowthorne he was taken to the director’s office and announced: “I, Sir, am Dr James Murray of the London Philological Society and editor of the New English Dictionary. And you, sir, must be Dr William Minor. At long last. I am most deeply honoured to meet you.”

There was a pause. Then the other man replied:

“I regret not sir. I am the Superintendent of The Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Dr Minor is an American and one of our longest serving inmates. He committed a murder. He is quite insane.”

The newspapers loved the story. The headlines ran: American Murderer helped write Oxford Dictionary.

What happened to this American doctor? How did he end up in a British asylum writing the Oxford Dictionary?

Dr Minor was a gifted young army surgeon on the confederate side during the American Civil War. His first action (and his last) was the terrible Battle of Wilderness in Virginia where 27,000 men died during three days of fighting. The trauma of war destroyed him. Minor’s behaviour changed dramatically. He became increasingly paranoid, began drinking heavily, and was often ill.

He suffered paranoid delusions and was discharged and sent to an asylum. A few years later he was released and in 1871 sailed for England and a new life. But he was never to be well again. That same year, he ran onto the street and shot dead a man he claimed had broken into his bedroom. At his trial it was revealed he had complained several times to Scotland Yard about “Irish men who were hiding in the roof and slipping through the windows” and trying to poison and sexually molest him. He was classified a criminal Lunatic; patient number 742 at Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane where he lived for most of his life.

He had two large rooms, a man-servant and a world class library. Every day he worked on the dictionary supplying thousands of quotations per year, despite horrific bouts of illness. He surgically removed his own penis by candlelight one night, convinced that he was being abducted to far away places and forced to commit sexual acts on children.

Dr Minor was the dictionary’s second most prolific amateur contributor.

Sir James Murray visited him regularly. Dr Minor’s other regular visitor was the widow of the man he murdered. Eliza Merrett was pregnant with her sixth child when the doctor murdered her husband. Dr Minor provided her with a weekly pension and in return she supplied him with books for his quotations. But that’s another heart-breaking story…

Recommended reading: This thrilling and sad linguistic tale is brilliantly retold in the book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, written by Simon Winchester.


A Layperson’s Guide to the Decline and (humiliating) Fall of the British Empire

Confused, bored, infuriated or saddened by Brexit? Perhaps, all the above. Here is a simple Brexit guide in bite-size pieces. The hard work has been done for you.  We’ve sifted through 39.7 trillion words, (some witty, some wise and some woeful), which describe the Divorce of the Century: Brittania vs Europa.

The best way to understand the gob-smacking omnishambles that is Brexit, is to compare it with something that you already know and like. Metaphors are fun. In this guide, Brexit has been simplified into categories of hobbies and interests. Choose the category that most appeals to you:

Brexit is like a cup of tea:

Everyone loves a cup of tea. None more than the British. Imagine Brexit is a peppermint tea. What about the tea bag? Do we leave it in, or do we take it out?

Heres another one for tea drinkers:

Why does Britain like tea so much? Because tea leaves.

Brexit is like a cat:

In this life, you’re either a dog or a cat person. A dog will happily lick the face of any European Union official. Brexit, of course, is a cat; a pathologically, self-centred creature.

Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said Brexit is the perfect name for a cat: It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.

Heres a quick one for computer geeks:

With Britain leaving the EU how much space was created? Exactly 1GB.


Brexit was like the UK got drunk and accidentally unfriended Europe on Facebook. Leo Karse, UK comedian

Brexit for film lovers:

If you like films, then you won’t have any problems understanding Brexit. All genres catered for: disaster, pathos, fantasy, comedy and black comedy. Is Brexit the greatest disaster since the Titanic?


For fans of Monty Python:

British Prime Minister Theresa May is a brave, chivalrous knight who will never, never, never give up. I have a lot of respect for Theresa May – she reminds me occasionally of that Monty Python character where all his arms and legs are cut off and then says to his opponent: lets call it a draw. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte


Game of Thrones and mythical dragons:

How the EU became a mythical dragon. A fascinating history of where Brexit came from, narrated by Stephen Fry. (11minutes)

For James Bond 007 fans:

Make a note to yourself: Take water and food supplies to the next James Bond film (out next year). It will be between 35 minutes and two hours longer than earlier Bond films. Why? Because of airport scenes of his passport being heavily scrutinised between exotic European destinations.

For Quentin Tarantino fans (lots of guns and blood and guts):

The UK has shot itself in the foot. This self-harm expression is a Brexit favourite. It means: to say or do something stupid that will cause you a lot of trouble.

This expression has been widely used by onlookers and commentators including Virgin chief Richard Branson and former head of the European central bank, Jean-Claude Trichet. The UK must be running out of feet by now. The actor Hugh Grant changed the angle of the weapon: Brexit is a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face, he said, not so cheerfully.

More suicidal tendencies:

The British government’s negotiating tactics: Unless you give me what I want I’m jumping out the window. Simon Coveney, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister

Brexit for book lovers:

Brexit is a cross between an Agatha Christie thriller and the Sex Pistols.

It’s actually pathetic and distressing for someone like me who has liked and admired Britain all his life, to watch these debates in Westminster. MPs are suggesting solutions, possibilities, that just do not exist in the real world. The Brexit process feels like some weird mix of Anarchy in the UK and one of those Agatha Christie detective stories where all the suspects are locked in a room talking to each other, with no interest in, or grasp of, what’s going on outside. André Gattolin, vice president of the French senate’s European affairs committee

For beer lovers:

Rule number one: You’ve got to pay before you leave the European Union.

If you are sitting in the bar and you are ordering 28 beers and then suddenly some of your colleagues [leave without] paying, that is not feasible. They have to pay, they have to pay. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission

What an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldnt run a piss up in a brewery bunch of jokers there are running the government at the most critical time in a generation for the country. Ed Miliband, former Labour leader

Brexit and a walk in the countryside:

A gentle stroll out of Europe has become a high altitude, risk-taking venture. Avalanches to the left and blizzards to the right. Storm clouds coming in quickly…

Brexit presented the British people with a wide, straight, flat path and are now on a very difficult mountain full of curves and uncertainty. Sandro Gozi, Italy’s former European Affairs minister

Brexit for chefs and foodies:

For many, Brexit is simply indigestible: A mix of omelettes, aliens and nonsense.

Britains reputation is, theres no denying it, much diminished. Some British politicians are on another planet. Brexit is the infinitely complex diplomatic and legal equivalent of trying to take the eggs out of an omelette. Even today, they spout the most monstrous nonsense. Many have still not landed in a place one could call reality. The cognitive dissonance is remarkable. Pascal Lamy, former World Trade Organization head.

Brexit for historians:

Brexit has been bubbling below the surface in Britain for decades, if not centuries. It’s been a long time coming. Here are two takes from Yes Minister, a brilliant political satire from the 80s.

Brexit is having the right-coloured passport (just like the Swiss):

The humiliation of having a pink European Union passport will now soon be over and United Kingdom nationals can once again feel pride and self-confidence in their own nationality when travelling, just as the Swiss and Americans can do. Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP on the possible return of the old blue British passport to replace the burgundy EU one.

Fantasy fiction, fairy tales and they all lived happily ever after:

Brexit was going to be so easy. How easy? Well this is what they said, once upon a time:

The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, April 2016.

Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy the UK holds most of the cards. John Redwood, Conservative MP, July 2016.

Coming to a free trade agreement with the EU should be one of the easiest in human history. Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, July 2017.

What weve got to do as a government and as a parliamentary party is show we are bigger than the sum of our parts. If we take a bit more of that approach a bit more unity of purpose well get a great result out of Brexit. Well also unite the country. Dominic Raab, Departing Brexit Secretary, June 2018.



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.