Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar? English in the Pandemic – 14

(What’s the difference between fun and funny in English).

Fun and funny are two different animals. Like alligators and crocodiles, they look alike and they can be easily confused.

Benedicte Gravrand, an English trainer at The Language House explains.

 

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Fun and Funny

(Level A2-B2)

Fun is a noun. It means enjoyment, or an enjoyable activity. Oh, and it is uncountable (so you can’t have two funs).

  • We had a lot of fun in the snow.
  • Playing frisbee is fun!
  • Let’s do it again. This is fun.

 

Funny is an adjective. It has two meanings:

Something that is funny makes you laugh.

Funny also means something that is strange or unusual, or even illegal.

  • A funny joke (it makes me laugh).
  • Eddie Izzard is really funny (see video below).
  • This tea tastes funny (it has a strange taste).
  • I think there is some funny business going on here (it’s perhaps not legal).

 

Note: in informal American English, fun is sometimes used as an adjective.

  • This was a real fun party.

 

Fun and funny, explained by the BBC

 

 

 

Fill the gaps with fun or funny. The first one has been done for you.

Have fun!

 

  1. I think there’s something funny about their business proposal. It doesn’t seem right.
  2. The drugs did …… things to her head.
  3. She is one of Britain’s …… comedians
  4. Science can be …….
  5. You’re in a …… mood today.
  6. We had great …… comparing our baby photographs.
  7. There’s something …… going on.
  8. Wouldn’t it be …… if we played a trick on him?
  9. You’ll love Jamal – he’s great …….
  10. The kids had a lot of …… with that old tent.
  11. If you love her, you’ve got a …… way of showing it.
  12. I don’t think that’s very …….
  13. It was just a bit of harmless …….
  14. That was ……, wasn’t it?
  15. Optimists have more … than pessimists in life (see our blog on optimism here).

 

Answer key:

  1. Funny
  2. Funny
  3. Funniest
  4. Fun
  5. Funny
  6. Fun
  7. Funny
  8. Funny
  9. Fun
  10. Fun
  11. Funny
  12. Funny
  13. Fun
  14. Fun
  15. Fun

 

Fun Fun Fun – The Beach Boys

 

 

Expressions with fun and funny

(Level B2-C1)

There are lots of expressions that have the words fun or funny.

 FUN

  1. To be full of fun: to get a lot of enjoyment from the things that you do. She was full of life and full of fun.
  2. To be no fun: to not be enjoyable. It’s no fun living on your own.
  3. Fun and games: enjoyable activities. Being an actor isn’t all fun and games.
  4. Have your fun: to do something that you enjoy or think is funny, especially something that annoys someone else. You’ve had your fun – now go home!
  5. Make fun of / poke fun at: to make jokes about someone or something in an unkind way. The other children made fun of her because she was always so serious.
  6. Not my idea of fun: used for saying that you do not enjoy an activity that someone else thinks is enjoyable. Kicking a football up and down a muddy pitch isn’t my idea of fun.
  7. Sound like fun: to seem to be something that you would enjoy. A weekend away sounds like fun.

 

FUNNY

  1. Feel funny: to feel slightly ill. I’ve been feeling a bit funny all day.
  2. Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar: used for asking whether the word ‘funny’ is being used to mean ‘amusing’ or ‘strange’. ‘You are funny, Albert.’ ‘Funny ha-ha or peculiar?
  3. Funny little: strange and small. He’s got a funny little car, hasn’t he?
  4. The funny thing is: used for saying you think something is strange. The funny thing is, they stole my CDs but didn’t take any money.
  5. It’s​/​that’s​/​not funny: used for telling someone that you are annoyed by something they are doing.
  6. See the funny side of something: to realize that something bad that happens can also be funny. Fortunately, Sharon saw the funny side of my mistake.
  7. Very funny: used for telling someone that you do not believe what they have said. ‘The airline has lost your suitcases!’ – ‘Very funny, now tell me where they really are.
  8. What’s so funny? used for telling someone that you do not understand why they are laughing, and that you are slightly annoyed by it. What’s so funny about my hair?

 

Definitions from MacmillanDictionary.com

 

Test your memory. Fill in the gaps in this dialogue. The first one has been done for you.

 

  1. I wake up one morning, go to the kitchen to make some coffee. My brother is there, and when he sees me, he starts laughing. “Did you have fun last night,” he asks, staring at my face.
  2. “Why do you ask? What’s ……… about my face?” I say, annoyed. “You have a moustache painted on your face.”
  3. “Ahah, ……,” I reply. “I don’t believe you.”
  4. “Well, you …… at that party last night,” says my mother coming in the kitchen. “Now it’s time to go to work.” “What?” I say. “Mum, today is Sunday!”
  5. “Oh, I’m just …… you,” she says.
  6. “Well, this house is full …..…… this morning,” I retort with a hint of sarcasm.
  7. “You still have that …… moustache on your face,” my brother says.
  8. “Stop it. You’re ……,” I reply. “Besides, I think I drunk a bit too much at the party, so I’m …… right now.”
  9. “Well,” he says, “You have to see …..…… of that moustache. It makes you look older. Old and …….”
  10. “………………. ?” I ask. “Er, funny peculiar,” he replies.
  11. “The kitchen is full …….. today,” my father says, coming in with a tea pot in his hand. “What’s all this about?” “Do I have a moustache drawn on my face,” I ask him. He looks at me: “No.”
  12. “The ………. is, having a moustache sounds ……….. after all.”

Answer Key:

 

  1. I wake up one morning, and go to the kitchen to make some coffee. My brother is there, and when he sees me, he starts laughing. “Did you have fun last night,” he asks, staring at my face.
  2. “Why do you ask? What’s so funny about my face?” I say, annoyed. “You have a moustache painted on your face.”
  3. “Ahah, very funny,” I reply. I don’t believe him
  4. “Well, you had your fun at that party last night,” says my mother coming in the kitchen. “Now it’s time to go to work.”“What?” I say. “Mum, today is Sunday!”
  1. “Oh, I’m just making fun of you,” she says.
  2. “Well, this house is full of fund and games this morning,” I answer with a hint of sarcasm.
  3. “You still have that funny little moustache on your face,” my brother says.
  4. “Come on, you’re no fun,” I reply. “Besides, I think I drunk a bit too much at the party, so I’m feeling funny right now.”
  5. “Well,” he says, “You have to see the funny side of that moustache. It makes you look older. Old and funny.”
  6. Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?” I ask. “Er, funny peculiar,” he replies.
  1. “The kitchen is full of fun today,” my father says, coming in with a tea pot in his hand. “What’s all this about?” “Do I have a moustache drawn on my face,” I ask him. He looks at me: “No.”
  1. “The funny thing is, having a moustache sounds like fun after all.”

 

A few idioms with fun and funny

 

(level B2-C2)

I always enjoy myself when Katie’s around—she’s a bundle of fun! She can be as funny as a barrel of monkeys!

Anyway, yesterday we decided to make a cake. It usually takes some time to bake it, but with three children in the kitchen, getting there is half the fun!

We finished baking at midnight. It felt like we had just started. Time flies when you’re having fun! And Katie’s antics were too funny for words!

Source: idioms.thefreedictionary.com

 

 

Eddie Izzard on learning French. Very funny.

 

 

 

In, out, on, above, behind, below: Prepositions in the Pandemic – 13

(English prepositions B1+)

How well do you know your English prepositions?

Here’s a little game for you.

Welcome to English in the Pandemic 13.

 

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Complete the sentences with the missing prepositions: after/to/through/under/ at/of/out etc…

You can check your answers below. The first one has been done for you. Let’s play. Good luck. 😊

 

  1. I am looking _ for­­­­_    my face mask. Did you look­­­­ _under_ your clothes on the chair? It might be _next_ +   _to_ the hand wash.

 

  1. I look forward _____ going back to school. I’m not really crazy _____ staying at home. I know some people are fond ____ staying at home.

 

  1. We must look _____ older people and protect them ____ the virus.

 

  1. There is no traffic _______ the road. It took me only five minutes to drive _____ Geneva.

 

  1. Unemployment will rise ____ doubt. Who know how many companies will go _____ + _____ business? We are all _____ the hammer, especially people who work ______ themselves. They’re really stressed _____.

 

  1. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be convinced ____ the seriousness of the corona virus. He is relying ______ private companies to come ____ with solutions.

 

  1. I am surprised ____ the reaction of some people to the virus. My sister is afraid ____ going out without her mask. This morning my son shouted angrily _____ me: You can’t stop me _____ going outside!

 

  1. I am excited _____ reading my new book: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. I hope it will keep my spirits ____.

 

  1. She is recovering _____ the virus at home. I am sure she will be up and _____ again in a few days.

 

  1. Police are keeping an eye ____ groups of people in the park.

 

  1. I insisted _____ helping my elderly neighbour with her shopping.

 

  1. I am an epidemiologist. I specialise ____ pandemics.  I am in charge ____ the pandemic team at the hospital. I am also responsible ______ the hospital pandemic policy. Like most doctors at the moment, I am _____ call 24/7.

 

  1. Most people are satisfied _____ the level of health care at the hospital.

 

  1. The corona virus resulted _____ an almost immediate change of behaviour.

 

  1. It stands _____ reason that we must all practise social distancing with older people.

 

  1. Don’t do that. It goes _____ the social distancing guidelines. It is important that we can count ____ everyone. Irresponsible behaviour can put us all _____ danger.

 

Answers:

  1. for, under, next to
  2. to, about, of
  3. after, from
  4. on, through
  5. without, out of, under, for, out
  6. of, on, up
  7. by, of, at, from
  8. about, up
  9. from, about
  10. on
  11. on
  12. in, of, for, on
  13. with
  14. in
  15. to
  16. against, on, in

Expressions with prepositions:

 

I look forward toread more here

to be under the hammer – to be under pressure in a difficult situation

I have so much work and the deadlines are fast approaching. I am really under the hammer

stands to reason – it is obvious or logical

It stands to reason that we all must practice social distancing.

to keep an eye on – to watch or monitor carefully a person or situation

Can you keep an eye of my bag for a moment please?

John seems to have  few problems at work. Please keep an eye on him.

 

So, how did you go? Easy? Challenging?

Don’t stop now…

Here are some more exercises that might interest you:

To make or to do? This is the question.

 

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

Keep Calm and Carry On – English in the Pandemic 12

We live in challenging times. It is important, as the British say, that we Keep Calm and Carry On.

These famous words were printed a motivational poster to raise the morale of the British people under attack during World War II. Although 2.5 million copies were printed, only a handful saw the light of day.

Welcome to English in the Pandemic 12.

 

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In 2000, a copy  of the poster was rediscovered in a bookshop in the small town of Alnwick in the far north of England (see video below).

The poster’s stoic message evokes the British ideal to keep a stiff upper lip and to remain calm in the face of adversity.

The poster was one of three published by the wartime government. The first two read:

 

‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness,

Your Resolution, will Bring Us Victory’

 

‘Freedom is in Peril.

Defend it with all your Might’

 

The third, and most famous, Keep Calm and Carry On was held in reserve, only to be issued if the Nazis invaded Britain.

 

 

Today, the slogan and its many parodies are everywhere; on tea towels, mugs, knickers and t-shirts.  It has become one of the world’s favourite memes in response the constant barrage of ‘new normals’ such as the corona-virus, climate change etc…

Life present challenges that require us to keep calm, keep a stiff upper lip and a sly smile at the ready.

This short video tells the story behind the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster.  It speak about it origins at the beginning of World War Two and its rediscovery in a second-hand bookshop in the UK in 2000  and how it has become one of the iconic images of the 21st century.

 

 

Video-

 

Vocabulary: Match the vocabulary with the definitions. (Answers below)

  1. raise the morale
  2. handful
  3. stoic
  4. keep a stiff upper lip
  5. remain calm in the face of adversity
  6. knickers

 

a. suffer and not complain

b. increase confidence, discipline and well-being

c. don’t panic in difficult times

d. a few, not many

e. keep calm and don’t panic in difficult situations

f. don’t panic in difficult times

g. women’s underwear

 

 

Answers:

1.b    2.d     3.a   4.c    5.e    6.g

 

Which three terms have a very similar meaning?

What is the origin of the word stoic? Read more about stoicism here

More idioms to describe the pandemic

 

Stiff Upper Lip – AC/DC

 

 

 

 

The New Normal is here. Keep Calm and Carry On.

 

We live in a time of great acceleration. Change is the constant. Every day, it seems the ‘old normal’ is being overtaken by ‘the new normal’.

Unfortunately, the new normal is often a pale or chaotic version of the old normal; a euphemism for things that have become a substantially shittier version of their former selves.

The new normal is a much-loved media cliché which warns us to accept, adapt and get used to more unpleasant aspects of early 21st century life, such as terrorism, global warming, recession, failed states, religious fanaticism, debt, austerity and massive refugee movements.

And of course, pandemics.

A Google search of the new normal comes up with this reassuring list of articles:

Coronavirus pandemic creates ‘new normal’

Terror threats will be the new normal for Europe, experts say…

Right-wing popularism is the new normal

China’s economic slowdown is the new normal

Not married, no kids, is the new normal

Fat is the new normal in America

Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK

Raging dysfunction is the new normal in Washington

Is cyber-terrorism the new normal?

For republicans, bigotry is the new norm

Mass migration is no ‘crisis’: it’s the new normal.

Is violence the new normal?

For Young Women, Sexual Violence Is The New Normal

Disruption is the new normal…

Why Weird Is The New Normal

Indeed, it is weird, how breathtakingly fast things morph from ‘crisis’ or ‘weird’ to new normal. The term was popularised in the US, firstly to describe the world post-9/11 and then to describe the economic landscape after the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Advice: Keep calm and keep a stiff upper lip in a fast-changing world where the old normal is being overtaken by the new normal.

This advice is nothing new.

Stoicism was the most popular philosophy in ancient Rome. It says that virtue can make you happy. And virtue is self-control, courage, justice, and wisdom. Furthermore, stoicism says it is the way we see things which causes most of our trouble. Read more here

 

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards (with lyrics)  – Tame Impala

 

 

Do your remember sport? It used to be quite a big deal.

Do you remember sport? It used to quite a big deal back in the pre-pandemic days, if I remember well.

There was that Roger bloke who made bit of a racket for a decade or two and Manchester whatchamacallit…  I think there were two of them, weren’t there?

So many high priests. Some canonized, like the Messi and the Cristiano, who fired balls into nets using only their feet and their heads. Miracles, we cried. They attracted millions to their weekend services. No-one wore masks, but everyone wore the swoosh. We were all ticked.

Aaah yes sport… it’s all coming back now.  An odd kind of religion. On the one hand, graceful and athletic, and on the other, an untidy mess of grunting, sweating, sinewy bodies in garish colors, all running, leaping, diving, hitting, chasing, falling over, kicking, catching and throwing balls of all sizes.

It’s difficult to watch now. All those men and women falling over each in rapture. The lack of social distancing was appalling. What were they thinking of? Not to mention the thousands crammed into the stadiums like sardines in a can.

At the time, we couldn’t live without it. For many, the weekend was a 48-hour non-stop service. We were poly-worshippers then. With the flick of a finger we could skip between the Church of the Burning Tyres, the Church of the Catgut, the Church of the Cowhide Ball, the Church of the Turning Spokes and The Church of the Flashing Willow.

Then the pandemic came. What a game changer. It was a straight forfeit. Death is the final victor. Step aside Maradona. Meet the real ‘Hand of God’.

The media-bloated demi-gods have grown thinner and thinner in absence until they have all but disappeared. A few have tried to stay relevant, but off the turf, we soon realized they pick their noses just like the rest of us (or at least did so before the pandemic).

The Olympics, the Jubilee of sport, where we attempt to swim faster than fish, run faster than gazelles and leap higher than kangaroos also fizzled into oblivion. Gone with little more than a hop, skip and a whimper.

The pandemic has had that effect. What we thought was meaningful and monumental has turned out to be inessential and irrelevant.

It wasn’t just sport. Remember celebrities? The pandemic got them too. No more nauseous renditions of “Imagine”. You may say I am a dreamer…

No more virgin grandmothers, naked in the bath, whispering banal snippets of wisdom. It’s easy if you try…

The pandemic has replaced our dreams with a harder, colder reality. Our mortality. And that of our loved ones.

Everything else has become trivial.

We applaud a different athlete now. Every night. The defenders of our lives in constant battle with the pandemic. These gladiators we cannot see in action, but we know they risk life and limb on the front line.

Their goal is simple: to keep us alive and healthy, to give us all extra time. And who knows when the siren will sound for half-time.

 

 

Matrix: The truth shall set you free – English in the Pandemic 11

(English vocabulary for science fiction B2 +)

“Neo this is your last chance… you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe what you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland. And I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

The Matrix films were a phenomena. Not just for sales of wrap-around black sunglasses and long black leather coats.

Welcome to English in the Pandemic 11. Which pill would you take? Join Benedicte, a Matrix devotee, for another trip down the rabbit hole.

 

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I think, therefore I am

 

Watching The Matrix trilogy is always a pleasure. It’s the ultimate mind-stretching (or mind-expanding) work of fiction.

The Matrix, probably the best sci-fi (science-fiction) action movie of all time, is packed with action, guns, martial art sequences, spectacular car chases, bizarre creatures, mystery, and superb visuals. And, of course, there is Keanu Reeves.

 

 

Moreover, it explores many philosophical topics such as mind and body, freedom, illusion, doubt, slavery, belief, superman, ignorance as bliss, rebirth, and enlightenment. All these themes have been examined by philosophers over the ages. And certainly by the Wachowski brothers (now sisters), who wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy.

But the principal question The Matrix poses is the question of reality. In the story, reality is discovered and illusions are destroyed. Illusions were all in the mind. They were a dream world.

In the first film, the character Morpheus (the mentor) tells Neo (the hero, “the one”): “You have to see it for yourself… this is your last chance… you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe what you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland. And I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

 

 

Of course, Neo chooses the red pill. And he is reborn into a reality he didn’t even suspect.

How do you know for certain you are reading this blog? If you lived in the Matrix, your reading of this would be an illusion of the mind, necessary to keep your body alive – and to feed the artificial intelligence (A.I.).

As Mark Rowlands writes in his book, “The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: Philosophy Explained Through Science Fiction Films”, the Matrix story is organised around a philosophical idea made famous by the 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and sometimes mercenary, René Descartes: Cogito, ego sum, he wrote, or, I think therefore I am.

 

How do you know for sure

that you are

not dreaming at the moment

 

How do you know for sure that you are not dreaming at the moment, Descartes asks. After all, when you dream, you don’t know you are dreaming. For most of us, this question is not a practical problem. We know we are not dreaming. But it poses a theoretical problem.

Descartes’ point is that is possible, even if extremely improbable, that what we call the world does not really exist; that it is just a dream or a construct manipulated by an evil demon; or that you are a brain in a vat (a vat is a large container for holding or storing liquids).

This question gives birth to scepticism, that is, we cannot be certain of anything. However, according to Descartes, we can be certain of one thing: our own existence. Cogito, ego sum. I can doubt everything, even the existence of my body, but not the existence of me, the one who does the thinking. Although this claim is not completely foolproof, it is an important one in the philosophy of rationalism.

“Human beings are a disease,

a cancer of this planet…”

 

The film also explores how artificial intelligence might view humanity if it could think.  This view is not very optimistic. The character Agent Smith, an A.I. being, compares humanity to a cancer.

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not,” he says. “You move to an area and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern… Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet…”

 

 

In the time of the pandemic, it is good to watch the Matrix and other good science fiction movies. They show different realities. Then, when the film is over, we come back to today’s reality and see the science fiction in our reality.

– Benedicte

 

Vocabulary

Match each word with its definition:

 

  1. fiction
  2. bliss
  3. rebirth
  4. construct
  5. foolproof
  6. pattern
  7. fantasy

 

a. complete happiness

b. (in this context) an object built from various parts

c. the belief, according to some religions, that a person’s spirit is born again into another body after death

d. a series of actions or events that together show how things normally happen or are done

e. a method, plan, or system is so well designed that it cannot go wrong or is certain to succeed

f. books and stories about imaginary events and people. Books that give facts about real events, things, or people are called non-fiction

g. a story that shows a lot of imagination and is very different from real life

 

Answer key:

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

Definitions from macmillandictionalry.com

 

 

 

More reading here:

The best sci-fi movie?

The best sci-fi movies everyone should watch at least once

How many have you seen?

 

 

“Luke. I AM your father.”

Best quotes in sci-fi and fantasy

 

Best quotes from science fiction and fantasy movies (for movie buffs only).

Match the quotes with their movies:

 

  1. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  2. “You shall not pass.”
  3. “I’ll be back.”
  4. “Luke, I AM your father.”
  5. “It’s only a flesh wound.”
  6. “E.T. phone home.”
  7. “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
  8. “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
  9. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.”
  10. “Get away from her, you bitch!”
  11. “The needs of the many outweigh … the needs of the few… or the one.”

 

 

a. 2001: A Space Odyssey

b. Aliens

c. ET-the Extra-Terrestrial

d. Planet of the Apes

e. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

f. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

g. Blade Runner

h. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

i. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

j. The Princess Bride

k. The Terminator

 

Answers:

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

Source: Wired

 

 

 

More quizzes here:

An easy one

Science Fiction Movies Quiz

 

And a more difficult one

Only science fiction film experts can ace this quiz

 

Video: The Matrix explained

A guide to freeing your mind (26 mins)

 

Rocky Horror Show 2015 – Science Fiction Double Feature

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Swiss-born hero of the great pandemic – English in the Pandemic 10

The mother of all pandemics, the Black Death, or simply, the plague, killed an estimated 50 million people between the 14th and 17th century.

It was caused by a bacterium later identified and named Yersinia pestis, after a Swiss man born in canton Vaud; a brilliant, obsessive and eccentric bacteriologist.

His name was Alexandre Emile Jean Yersin.

Welcome to English in the Pandemic 10.

 

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The right man, in the right place, at the right time

 

This is the story of the right man, in the right place, at the right time. Yersin was born in Lavaux near Aubonne in 1863 and studied literature in Germany and then medicine in Lausanne and Paris.

He was the youngest of four children. His Swiss father, a high school biology teacher died three weeks before Alexandre was born.

He was a curious and headstrong boy. At the age of eight, Yersin killed and dissected his mother’s cat and examined its organs under a microscope.

His passion was the growing study of bacteria and in 1886 he joined the celebrated French team of bacteriologists led by Doctor Louis Pasteur.

Yersin worked on the development of an anti-rabies serum and then joined the newly formed Pasteur Institute. There, Yersin and Dr Pierre-Paul Emile Roux proved that the diphtheria bacillus could cause the disease in animals, which led to the development of a vaccine against the deadly childhood disease.

By 1890, aged just 27, the brilliant bacteriologist

suddenly left his test-tubes and growing

reputation and jumped on a

ship bound for French Indochina

 

In 1889 Yersin became a naturalised French citizen.

By 1890, aged just 27, the brilliant bacteriologist suddenly left his test-tubes and growing reputation and jumped on a ship; destination French Indochina.

He led mapping expeditions, funded by the French government, into the wild uncharted mountains of Vietnam. It was here, as an explorer, far from the suffocating manners and politics of Parisian society, where this shy, socially reclusive, but tough and determined scientist was happiest. He was in his element in the mountainous jungle.

In May 1894, the plague resurfaced in the British colony of Hong Kong. The island government appealed for international help and the Pasteur Institute in Paris advised the island authorities that there was only one man for the job, and he was not far away. A week later, Yersin set sail from Saigon for Hong Kong.

Three days before he arrived the British authorities had warmly welcomed an older and more celebrated bacteriologist, the Japanese, Professor Kitasato Shibasaburō and his five assistants. The arrival of the Professor was front page news in the Hong Kong press and he and his entourage of doctors and scientists were feted by the British administration.

 

There was little fanfare for Yersin.

He was an oddity.

 

 

The authorities gave him hospital space and equipment, access to corpses of plague victims and most importantly, political favour.

There was little fanfare for Yersin. He was an oddity. He was only 31, a maverick, a man who lacked and detested the mannerisms of high society, a man who spoke fluent Vietnamese, but little English, and a man who had emerged from the jungles of Vietnam. He was referred to disparagingly as “The Frenchman”.

Edward Marriott recounts in his book, The Plague Race (Picador 2002), the disastrous meeting of the world’s two leading bacteriologists in the middle of the Hong Kong plague. Their common language was school student German. Yersin clearly imagined the two would work in collaboration. His offer was met with ridicule.

Marriott writes:

“Barely had Yersin finished his stumbling open remarks in German that the Japanese scientists, without a cursory response, began ‘laughing among themselves’, and then, to a man, they turned their back to him.”

Yersin was further humiliated when requests for access to the morgue were turned down numerous times. The authorities considered him somewhat of a pest.

 

“The Japanese have bribed the staff

at the hospital so they

that will not provide

me with any bodies for autopsy”

 

“The Japanese have bribed the staff at the hospital so they that will not provide me with any bodies for autopsy”, Yersin complained to his mother in a letter.

The Vaudois and his unlikely aide and translator, an Italian priest, Bernardo Vigano, who was twice his age, befriended and then bribed two guards of the island’s overflowing mortuary. They paid them a fee for each bubo, the horrible, often black swellings in the thighs, neck, groin or armpit glands which Yersin carefully sliced from the corpses inside the dark foul-smelling morgue.

He then needed a place to work. Again, the British authorities were focused on the professor and had little interest or time for Yersin’s requests.

 

Yersin outside his laboratory-residence

 

Undeterred, Yersin paid a Chinese builder to build him a paillotte, a large hut made of bamboo and timber with a roof and walls of grass and with enough space for a laboratory and room for a bed. It took just 24 hours to construct. At one end was a small veranda which looked onto the hospital where Professor Kitasato and his team were at work with the full support of the island administration.

The quest to find the bacillus had become more than a race to save lives. It was race for scientific and historic recognition. Kitasato was perfectly placed and impatient to add another distinction to his exemplary career. He was an ambitious man. Within days he had announced to the world and perhaps more importantly, the prestigious Lancet Medical and Science Journal, that he has isolated the bacillus much to the delight and accolades of the world science community. Within a week he packed up his laboratory and left the island.

In hindsight, he was too hasty and a little blinded by ambition and his own self-importance. His description of the bacillus was imprecise and his cultures were found to be contaminated.

 

The Vietnamese authorities awarded

him the revered title

of the nation’s ‘Fifth Uncle’

 

Yersin was the first person to accurately describe the plague pathogen.

“The pulp of the buboes always contains short stubby bacilli,” he noted in one of the most important  papers ever written about human disease.

Yersin named the bacillus Pasteurella pestis, after his mentor, Louis Pasteur.  In 1944, it was given a newly defined genus, Yersinia.

 

Electron microphotograph of a mass of Yersinia pestis bacteria in the stomach of the flea vector

 

Yersin was part of the French team which developed the first anti-plague serum. This was perfected and produced in Yersin’s laboratory in Nha Trang in Vietnam in 1895, which became a part of the Pasteur Institute.

In 1933, he was made an honorary president of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The Vietnamese authorities awarded him the revered title of the nation’s Fifth Uncle

He died in his adopted country in 1943 at the age of 80. His home became a museum and shrine and given the title, Lau Ông Năm, Home of the Fifth Uncle.

His tombstone says: “Benefactor and humanist, venerated by the Vietnamese people.”

 

Reading and reference:

The Plague Race, Edward Marriott (Picador); The Great Mortality, John Kelly (Harper Perrenial);  Alexandre Yersin (1863-1943): Vietnam’s “Fifth Uncle”, Singapore Medical Journal.

 

Vocabulary:

 

Check the meanings of the words in red bold in the text. Match the words with their definitions. Check your answers below.

  1. suffocating manners
  2. tough
  3. disparagingly
  4. oddity
  5. pest
  6. bribe (verb)
  7. overflowing
  8. foul-smelling
  9. undeterred
  10. too hasty
  11. blinded by ambition
  12. shrine

 

a. more than full

b. a place of worship like a temple

c. to speak about something or someone in a way that suggests that it or they have little importance or value

d. strong, able to manage difficult conditions or situation

e. an annoying person or thing

f. used to describe the behaviour of high society in Paris. Yersin couldn’t breathe or relax in high society.

g. to give somebody money or something valuable in order to persuade them to help you, especially by doing something dishonest

h. disgusting and horrible smell

i. when you do not allow obstacles or problems stop you from doing something

j. done very quickly, often with a bad result

k. when you are so focused on getting a result that will make your famous that you do not see important things or information around you

l. a person or thing that is strange or unusual and doesn’t belong

 

 

Answers:

1.f       2. d     3.c      4.l      5.e       6.g       7.a      8.h      9.i      10.j      11.k.      12.b

 

Expect the best, expect the worst: English in the Pandemic 9

(English vocabulary for optimists and pessimists B2+)

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.”

Welcome to English in the Pandemic 9.

 

Subscribe and receive regular updates by email (details on the right-hand side column).

 

Are you a glass half-full person or a glass half-empty person? It’s probably not quite as simple as that. Our optimism (and pessimism) often rise and wane through different periods of our life.

A global pandemic is a test of our optimism. It’s important we have our feet firmly on the ground. Remember that the pessimist looks down and hits their head. The optimist looks up and loses their footing. The realist looks forward and adjusts his or her path accordingly.

While the pessimist and optimist are arguing about the glass half-full or half-empty, a thirsty realist might just step in and drink it.

Benedicte writes below that optimism is a good mechanism for survival and it is also necessary for relationships, evolution and progress.

 

 

 

You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down

(level: B1-C2)

There is a famous story about young twin brothers. One brother was an optimist. He was always full of hope and always saw the good side of people and situations. The other brother was a pessimist. He was generally quiet and always saw the bad side in everything. Their parents, worried about their boys’ great difference in attitude, consulted a doctor who gave the following recommendation: for their birthday, give the best toys to the pessimistic boy, and a pile of manure (animal faeces, such as a horse, used for fertilizing the garden) to the optimistic boy. That should balance the twins’ personalities, the doctor said. So, the parents did just that.

On their birthday, the pessimistic boy found his room full of shiny toys. But he complained: the toys might break, his friends will be jealous, he could hurt himself on his new bicycle. The optimistic boy received a pile of manure. He ran out to the garden, exclaiming with joy:  “Where is the pony?” He thought that, because there was manure, there had to be a pony to go with it.

Now you might say, the pessimist is more realistic than the optimist. For indeed his toys might break, his friends might be jealous, etc. And you might say, the optimist is full of delusions (delusions are ideas or beliefs that are not true). As indeed, the manure did not come with a pony in this story.

At the end of the day, which attitude is the best one to have in life? Is it better to see the glass half full, or half empty? There are pros and cons to both.

“My expectations were reduced

to zero when I was 21.

Everything since then has been a bonus.”

– Stephen Hawking

 

It is more natural for us to expect the worst possible results. This is because life has always been very hard. Life is an imperfect business. Life wasn’t meant to be easy. Think about prehistoric humans and the kind of life they had. Think about history, full of wars, epidemics and other nuisances. If we expect hard times ahead, we can prepare for and survive the trials of life such as dangerous animals, famines and disasters. Pessimists are more prudent in life, they always have a “plan B”. This makes them feel good, more in control.  They have few expectations (expectations are the belief that something will happen). And they are unconvinced about new ideas. Which isn’t always a bad thing.

The problem with pessimism is that it can make one unhappy or too conservative – or both. On the other hand, pessimists can develop a sense of humour and joke about the difference between life and expectations.

The scientist Stephen Hawking said, “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” Not expecting anything from life and finding that good things happen anyway is one of the joys of pessimism.

Optimism, on the other hand, is a good mechanism for survival too, but it is also necessary for relationships, evolution and progress. Optimism helps us have hope for the future, see the positive in people and in situations, and it makes us creative. Hope generates creativity. Optimists are also more motivated because they strongly believe they can succeed.

The clear problem with optimism is having to meet frustration and disappointment and experience many trials and errors (trying several possibilities and learning from your mistakes). True optimists learn from every disappointment thanks to their positive outlook. They carry on, despite everything. They believe!

 

There is evidence that optimistic people

are healthier, mentally

and physically, than pessimistic people

 

So you might ask, how do these perspectives influence someone’s life? For example, do pessimists have more accidents than optimists – or vice-versa? And do optimists suffer more from anxiety than pessimists because of their many expectations?

There is evidence that optimists are healthier, mentally and physically, than pessimists. However, pessimists can also be very healthy through good habits (diet, exercise, etc.) because they know they will get sick if they don’t make the effort. Always preparing for the worst.

And in terms of success, maybe pessimists have more success in life because they don’t take unnecessary risks and they ensure they don’t fail by preparing for all circumstances. Or maybe optimists have more success in life because they take risks, they are motivated to succeed, and they have more ideas.

But in the end, this is all too black and white. We are not all pessimistic, nor are we all optimistic. We are a mixture of both.

Source: The Optimistic science of pessimism

Here is another story about optimism and pessimism: The Two Travellers (level: C1-C2)

 

 

 

 

Writing

I find that I have both pessimistic and optimistic outlooks on life: I am excessively prudent in certain aspects, and excessively hopeful in others. It’s probably a complicated mixture that comes from temperament, experience and upbringing.

 

  • What about you? Are you more of an optimist, a pessimist, a mixture of both, and how so?
  • How can optimism and pessimism help us in the time of the pandemic?

Please tell us in the commentaires section at the bottom of this page. We’d love to hear from you!

– Benedicte

 

 

Vocabulary

Match the words with their definition. Answers are below.

 

  1. Expect
  2. Twin
  3. quiet
  4. Shiny
  5. Complain
  6. At the end of the day

 

a. making very little or no noise

b. something that has a bright surface that reflects light

c. to think that something will happen

d. used for saying what you consider is the most important thing about a situation after thinking about it

e. one of two children born at the same time to the same mother.

f. to say that you are not satisfied with something

 

____________________________

Answer key:

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

____________________________

 

 

  1. Pros and cons
  2. Trial
  3. Shortage
  4. Anyway
  5. Thanks to

 

g. (in this context) a painful or difficult experience

h. despite something that you have previously mentioned

i. the advantages and disadvantages of something

j. used for saying that someone or something is responsible for something good that happened

k. a lack of something that you need or want

 

____________________________

Answer key:

7:i  –  8:g  –  9:k  –  10:h  –  11:j 

____________________________

 

  1. Outlook
  2. Carry on
  3. Despite
  4. Evidence
  5. Healthy
  6. Fail

 

l. used for saying that something happens even though something else might have prevented it

m. an idea about what a situation will be like in the future

n. physically strong and not ill

o. to be unsuccessful when you try to do something

p. to continue doing something

q. facts or physical signs that help to prove something

 

____________________________

Answer key:

12:m – 13:p  –  14:l  –  15:q  –  16:n  –  17:o 

____________________________

 

 

  1. In the end
  2. Mixture
  3. Upbringing
  4. Gutter
  5. Dwell on

 

r. the way that parents look after their children and teach them to behave

s. the edge of the road, where water flows away

t. finally, after a period of time or thought

u. to spend a lot of time thinking or talking about something unpleasant

v. a combination of two or more different things, people, qualities etc

 

____________________________

Answer key:

18:t –   19:v  –  20:r  –  21:s  –  22:u 

____________________________

 

 

  1. Thorn
  2. Rainbow
  3. Will
  4. Cheer up

 

w. a curved line of colours that appears in the sky when the sun shines while it is raining

x. to become less sad, or to make someone feel less sad

y. a sharp point that sticks out from the stem of a plant

z. someone’s determination to do what is necessary to achieve what they want

 

____________________________

Answer key:

23:y  –  24:w  –  25:z  –  26:x

____________________________

 

Definitions from MacMillanDictionary.com

 

 

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Who said what…

(level: B2-C2)

Match the quotes with their author:

 

  1. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
  2. “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”
  3. Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
  4. “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
  5. “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
  6. “You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down”
  7. “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”
  8. “Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”
  9. “When things are at their blackest, I say to myself, ‘Cheer up, things could be worse.’ And sure enough, they get worse.”

 

a. Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor)

b. Oscar Wilde (poet, playwright)

c. Charlie Chaplin (actor, filmmaker)

d. Antonio Gramsci (philosopher, politician)

e. Thomas Friedman (author, journalist)

f. Roy T. Bennett (author)

g. Alphonse Karr (author, journalist)

h. Robert Asprin (science fiction author)

i. James Branch Cabell (fantasy author)

 

 

Answers:

1:b  – 2:f  –  3:a  –  4:g  –  5:i  –  6:c  –  7:d  –  8:e  –  9:h

 

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/

 

 

 

Videos

 

The School of Life presents “The Wisdom of Pessimism” (2mins 50secs) in this very amusing video:

 

 

 

Hear about the difference between optimism and positive thinking here (1min 20secs):

 

 

 

Alain de Botton, an English philosopher and writer, talks about pessimism in this lecture (39mins):

 

 

I followed the president’s advice and injected disinfectant into my arm

I am not quite as thick-skinned as the American president. So, it was relatively easy to puncture my upper arm with the syringe needle. Injecting disinfectant, he said, will do the trick. He’s not a doctor you know but he is “tremendously intelligent” and “a very stable genius”.

He’s almost a doctor. His uncle was a “great super genius” from MIT. The president knows things. He has a natural ability. He really gets it. He understands things. He’s the president.

You know, if you hear something from high places or you hear it time and time again, it becomes quite truthy. The president is full of truthiness.

I’ve narrowed my treatment down to Mr Clean (Monsieur Propre). It’s the only disinfectant I’ve found in my medicine cabinet. Yesterday it was my cleaning cupboard. Now its my medicine cabinet. The virus has changed our lives so quickly.

I’ve always liked Mr Clean. He’s another lovely guy. Great teeth, a lovely smile and lily-white and clean.

Good for surfaces and the Corona virus. I am sure the president would approve.

Nice earring, too. Mr Clean, I mean, not the President.

I’m following the president’s advice. All of it. I’ve changed the lights in my bathroom. They are now super bright. More watts. A blast of light will also work, he said. I’m going for the two-pronged, double treatment. I’ll burn this virus with a very bright light and a good dose of trusty Mr Clean.

But which Mr Clean? I have quite a choice. My medicine cabinet is home to quite a collection of spring cleaning potions.

I have Mr Clean Clean Freak, Mr Clean Concentrated, Mr Clean Multi-Surfaces to name a few. In the end I choose Mr Clean Anti Bacterial Summer Citrus.

It sounds much more convincing than others. Clearly, it will kill the bacteria. I also like lemons and it’s almost summer. I think the president would agree with my choice. He’s no lemon. I wonder if he likes lemons. I’m sure he does. What’s good for the pesky toilet germs should kick arse against corona. And it smells good.

I am just going to quickly check the video again to make sure I’ve got everything covered.

 

 

Yep, all good. I’m ready. I turn the light on. It’s really bright. All those extra watts. I should have got my sunglasses. The syringe is full. The smell of sweet lemons fills the bathroom. Here goes…

Ouch, I hate needles. It stings. Go and do your stuff Mr Clean. I watch Monsieur Propre disappear into the vein in my arms.

I am waiting. The light is very bright. The smell of sweet lemons is a bit nauseating.

I check my watch. He said “it knocks it out in about a minute.”

If it doesn’t work I can always try bleach or maybe some isopropyl alcohol. That’s what the president said. I don’t have any at home. I wonder if they have it at the Migros. I try to get up, but my legs are not working.

I look at my watch. But I am having trouble focusing.

I feel a bit odd. I can’t really move. I’m really hot. I’m sweating. Is it the bright lights?  I know, I’ll have a clean bill of health soon. I’ll be great again…

English in the Pandemic 8 – Spring concerts

(English vocabulary for birds B2+)

The corona virus has closed down almost all musical performances. Well, most human concerts…

Geneva ornithologist André Bossus writes below that the Spring opera season performed by our feathered friends (birds) has been extraordinary this year.

A season to be praised. The birdsong has been wonderful.

Welcome to English in the Pandemic 8. Today we celebrate birdsong and Persephone, the Greek Goddess of Spring.

Hopefully, this will give you something to sing about.

 

Subscribe and receive regular updates by email (details on the right-hand column).

 

Why do birds sing?

 

During last few weeks, more and more people have told me that this Spring is extraordinary. We can hear birds like we have never heard them before. The birdsong is loud and clear. The corona virus has silenced the background hum of cars and planes, and given centre stage to our feathered friends. And, of course, we are at the height of nature’s opera season. It’s Spring.

Perhaps the collapse of our busy routines had also added to our newfound receptivity for the spring orchestra.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the songs of birds.

No, birds do not sing throughout the year. The song period extends, mostly from March to June, just four months of the year.

No, not all birds sing. Only males are able to tweet, twitter, cheep, chirp, warble, shriek and hoot (with some rare exceptions).

 

Only males are able to tweet, twitter,

cheep, chirp, warble, shriek

and hoot (with some rare exceptions).

 

Birdsong is related to reproduction. The males sing for much than their supper. They sing to seduce, mate and survive.

As much as we would like to imagine, birds do not sing because they are happy. The popular French expression “gai comme un pinson”, or as the English would say, “happy as a lark”, are simply not true.

Then, why do birds sing?

The male bird song is a threefold declaration of intent.  Firstly, to mark a territory, secondly to seduce a female and finally to tell rival males that they should move away. So, if we could imagine Bono or Justin Bieber singing the chaffinch song, the lyrics would be something along the lines of:

I’m the chaffinch of this forest.

Come to me my sweet chaffinch female.

If you’re a male, you’re not welcome. Get lost.

Is birdsong a real language?

The answer is clearly yes. Even the most inventive birds, must abide by certain rules. There is a real syntax. There are grammar rules to follow. If you improvise, you run the risk of not being able to reproduce. A male who sings badly or whose song is not very inventive will have no chance of reproducing.

Do birds learn their song or are they born with it?

Most birds learn their song from their fathers. Birds are extremely talented imitators (see the amazing lyre bird below).

Birds such as the cuckoo, which lay their eggs in other birds’ nests do not grow up with their fathers, and therefore must rely on an innate song.

Ornithologists believe there are also birds that have an innate song, but imitate and embellish their song.

There’s lot of energy that goes into birdsong. Take for example, the inventive and beautiful song of common blackbird (merle noir). The males must be in fine voice (listen below). The females are demanding.

How has climate change affected birds?

Over the last few years, we can observe changes in the migratory instinct of certain bird species. With the rise of temperatures and less harsh winters, some individuals no longer migrate. This is often the case of species in areas bordering the Mediterranean. It should be noted that this is not the case for long-distance birds.

 

It’s estimated that almost 80 percent

of annual bird mortality

occurs during migration

 

Migration mainly effects young birds because they obey their instinct. They are programmed to migrate. By gaining experience, adults tend to move less, sometimes not at all. This behavior adaptation is risky.  If they survive the winter, they’ll be ideally placed at the return of spring to choose the best territories, according to the principle, “first come, first served”.

However, the migrants also face a real risk. It’s estimated that almost 80 percent of annual bird mortality occurs during migration. The main dangers are predators, including humans, climate hazards (storm, fog, cold temperatures), high voltage lines, wind turbines, etc. With climate change this may be another reason why many experienced birds have chosen to stop migrating.

 

 

André Bossus, biologist et ornithologist is a trainer with BirdLife Switzerland, the co-author of ‘Le chant des oiseaux d’Europe occidentale‘, A. Bossus, F. Charron, Delachaux & Niestlé 2003. New edition: 2017

Listen below:

 

 

Blackbird – The Beatles

 

 

 

The amazing lyrebird (and David Attenborough)

 

The lyrebird is ground-dwelling bird in Australia. The males have an extraordinary ability to imitate natural and artificial sounds such as chainsaws, cameras, car engines, car alarms, gunshots, dogs barking, babies crying and even the human voice.

 

 

 

 

How well do you know your birdsong?

 

 

 

 

Persephone – Goddess of Spring

 

In Greek Mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture, and Zeus, King of the Gods. Persephone is raped and abducted by the God of the Underworld, Hades and taken to the Underworld.

Her heartbroken and furious mother Demeter engulfs the world in Winter, preventing growth and causing death on earth.

A worried Zeus decides to reunite mother and daughter. Zeus declares Persephone free from the Underworld for six months every year. Reunited with her daughter, a happy Demeter brings forth the Spring and Summer once again. After six months, she returns to Hades as the Goddess of the Underworld and winter takes over. The seasons are born.

 

 

English in the Pandemic 7 – Idioms are not a piece of cake

(Idioms for English learners B2 +)

Idioms are fun, but dangerous for speakers of English as a foreign language.

They are descriptive and poetic, but unfortunately the literal and dictionary meanings of the words have little to do with the idioms’ meanings.

If you have a chip on your shoulder it doesn’t mean you are an untidy eater. It means that you are angry or upset because you think that you have been unfairly treated.

If something costs an arm and leg don’t go looking for bandages and medicine. It means the item was extremely expensive.

If someone says it is a piece of cake, don’t lick your lips. It means it’s a task or job they can do very easily.

To let the cat out of the bag is to share a secret that wasn’t supposed to be shared.

If you would like to use colourful idioms like these in your conversation, be careful. Get to know them inside out (know them thoroughly) before you start using them. Otherwise they might sound a bit bizarre and leave you with egg on your face (embarrass you and make you look silly).

 

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There is light at the end of the tunnel

Pandemic idioms

 

  1. Some people think that the end (of the pandemic) is in sight.
  2. They say there is light at the end of the tunnel
  3. Others think it is still early days and we are at the tip of the iceberg.
  4. Even some of our brightest minds can’t make head nor tail of this covid-19 pandemic.
  5. It’s certainly thrown a spanner in the works.
  6. What’s certain is that some countries have been slow off the mark.
  7. The number of infections and fatalities have gone through the roof in some countries.
  8. They are definitely sailing close to the wind.
  9. What we do know is that we can’t drag our feet.
  10. We have to keep our wits about us.
  11. We must remain calm and collected
  12. We all need to be on the same wavelength.
  13. If not, we will be skating on thin ice.
  14. Working from home and not going to school is not what it is cracked up to be.
  15. But, it’s not all doom and gloom.
  16. I’d like to finish on a brighter note.
  17. I think it was Nietzsche who said: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
  18. Humans often only seem to learn the hard way.
  19. It’s time we put our house in order.
  20. I’m not sure about these politicians and companies who claim they have our best interests at heart.
  21. In reality, they have been busy feathering their nest.
  22. They have been spending money and using resources like there is no tomorrow.
  23. I think they have been leading us up the garden path.
  24. We need to step back from life in the fast lane.
  25. We will all pay through the nose if this continues.
  26. Some people say we are at the crossroads.
  27. Time is not on our side.
  28. We should never forget that every cloud has a silver lining.

 

skating on thin ice

 

Idioms come from life experience. They are rich with meaning.

To be slow off the mark – refers to a runner who starts a race slowly and will have to catch up to the other competitors.

Some countries were quick off the mark and introduced social distancing and other measures in early February.

To throw a spanner in the works means literally to throw a tool (clés à molette) into a machine which will disrupt or stop the machine from working.

Feathering your nest comes from a bird making a cosy and warm home (nest). But today it has a more negative meaning: to improve your life at the cost of someone else.

Many idioms are historical, and the origin of the terms have been lost.

To pay through the nose is believed to refer to a medieval practice that if you didn’t pay your taxes you would be punished by having your nose cut. In other words, the price is very high and you will suffer.

The idiom it is not what it is cracked up to be comes from the 18th century meaning of word crack – to brag or praise something.

It means something is not as good as people say.

Crack or craic is commonly used today by the Irish to refer to fun and entertainment or generally having a good time, often with the help of alcohol.

 

to feather your nest

How well do you know your idioms?

Check your answers at the bottom of the page

 

  1. Which two idioms (above) mean that there will be an end to difficult times.
  2. Which two idioms means stay calm and don’t panic.
  3. Which two idioms mean to be in a dangerous or risky situation.
  4. Which two idioms mean that is important to be positive and optimistic, despite the difficulties.

Which idiom means:

  1. to rise to a very high level
  2. when you cannot understand or make sense of something
  3. we need to act now, not later

Idioms with Marvin Gaye

 

The great soul singer Marvin Gaye had a huge hit back in 1968 with the song: I Heard It Through the Grapevine.

To hear something through the grapevine means to learn about something unofficially through rumours or from friends of friends or unreliable sources rather than through an official announcement. Rumours and gossip are spread ‘on the grapevine.’

-I heard through the grapevine that they’re planning to cut jobs

-I heard through the grapevine that we’re going to post a substantial profit

-I heard through the grapevine that Celeste and Jean-Jacques are going to separate

-Where did you hear that?

Oh, I heard it through the grapevine. It’s not official yet.

 

Acapella version Marvin Gaye

 

 

The song was written for Motown Records in 1966. It was recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and Gladys Knight & the Pips. But the Marvin Gaye version, released as a single in October 1968, became an acclaimed soul classic. In 2004, it was placed on the Rolling Stone magazine list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Creedence Clearwater Revival made a rockier eleven-minute version on their 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory.

Tragically, Marvin Gaye came to a sticky end (idiom: to die violently). He was shot dead by his father, the Reverend Marvin Gay Sr in a domestic dispute. He was just 44.

So, what did Marvin hear through the grapevine? It wasn’t job cuts; it was romantic loss and heartache

‘I heard it through the grapevine not much longer would you be mine.
Oo… I heard it through the grapevine and I’m just about to lose my mind

So, close the door, sit back, turn up the speakers, or better still, put on your headphones:

 

Original version Gladys Knight and the Pips 1967

 

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival version

 

 

 

Pandemic idioms. Answers:

  1. Which two idioms mean that there will be an end to difficult times.

there is light at the end of the tunnel

the end is in sight

  1. Which two idioms means stay calm and don’t panic.

keep our wits about us

remain calm and collected

  1. Which two idioms mean to be in a dangerous or risky situation.

sailing close to the wind.

skating on thin ice

  1. Which two idioms mean that is important to be positive and optimistic, despite the difficulties

It’s not all doom and gloom

To finish on a brighter note

 

Which idiom means:

  1. to rise to a very high level – to go through the roof
  1. when you cannot understand or make sense of something – can’t make head nor tail of it
  1. we need to act now – time is not on our side.