You, Too, Can Sound Like Shakespeare (Part 1)

If you speak English, you know Shakespeare.

That’s because many of the most well-known sayings in English come from Shakespeare’s plays.

Here are a few very common phrases Americans use:

1. Good riddance – From Troilus and Cressida, Act II, Scene I

We use this phrase when we want to show relief at no longer having to deal with something or someone who is troublesome or that brings us problems.
– If your girlfriend breaks up or ends her relationship with you and you are happy because she has brought all kinds of trouble into your life, then you might say, “Good riddance!”

2. To lie low – From Much Ado About Nothing, Act V, Scene 1

We use this phrasal verb when we are hiding or doing something to not bring attention to ourselves, usually because we have committed (done) a crime or we expect trouble if we’re found.
– If you made a big mistake at work, you might tell your coworker: “I’m lying low until the boss is stops being angry.”

3. Seen better days – From As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

We use this phrase to mean that something is no longer new. It is old, worn, and/or in poor condition.
– I bought my first used car from my uncle for $100. It was 20 years old, and needed a muffler (device on a car that makes it less loud) and a lot of other repairs. That car had seen better days!

That last example is true. My first car really was very old and purchased (bought) from my uncle for $100.

~Jeff

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Columbus Day Controversies

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The United States celebrates (recognizes and honors) Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492 with an official holiday each year. It is celebrated on the second Monday each October.

Columbus Day became a federal (national) holiday in 1937, although Americans have been recognizing Columbus’ voyage (long journey by sea or in space) long before that year.

For example, New York City and other U.S. cities celebrated the 300th anniversary (a date on which an event took place in previous years) of Columbus’ arrival in 1792.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison encouraged Americans to celebrate the 400th anniversary.

However, not everyone believes Christopher Columbus should be honored in this way.

Some activists (people who take actions to try to cause political or social change) oppose (are against) Columbus Day because of Columbus’ and other Europeans’ actions against the indigenous (original peoples) in America.

Native American groups have led the movement for the elimination (removal) of Columbus Day as a holiday, but the idea has not received widespread (among many people) acceptance.

There are two states that do not officially recognize Columbus Day: Hawaii and South Dakota. Instead, these states recognize another holiday on that date.

Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates (remembers and honors) the Polynesians’ discovery of Hawaii.

And in South Dakota, residents (people who live in an area) celebrate Native American Day instead of Columbus Day.

~Jeff

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“Housekeeping!”

If you stay at a hotel in the United States, you may be sitting in your room and hear someone knock on your door. The person will say, in a loud voice, “Housekeeping!”

If you don’t answer the “housekeeping” announcement within 10 seconds or so by saying “Please come back later” or “Not today, thanks,” make sure you’re fully dressed (have all your clothes on), because your housekeeper will open your door!

All hotels provide basic housekeeping (cleaning) services by keeping the rooms clean and well-stocked (with all the necessary supplies). However, nicer hotels provide many additional services.

For example, in nice hotels, housekeeping might provide turn-down service in which the staff (employees) prepare the room before the guest goes to bed.

Turn-down service includes turning down the sheets, or folding back the top part of the blankets and sheets so that the guest can get into bed easily. Turn-down service might also include putting a pair of slippers (shoes worn only indoors to keep one’s feet warm) next to the bed and a mint (a candy that freshens one’s breath) on the pillow.

The turn-down service could also include dimming the lights (making the lights less bright) and turning on quiet, relaxing music.

Housekeeping can also supply (provide) a cot (a folding bed) or a rollaway bed (a bed that can be moved easily because it is on wheels). Guests might request these types of beds when many people are staying in the room.

It is not unusual to request a cot for a young child, for example.

Some hotels pride themselves on (take pride in; take great interest in) little details, like folding hand towels (towels used to dry one’s hands) into special shapes, making them look like birds or flowers.

Housekeeping might also fold the end of a toilet paper roll so that it ends in a point (a sharp edge) rather than a straight line.

If your hotel does most of these things, you’re staying in a nice hotel!

Also in nice hotels, it is customary (normal; expected) to tip (give extra money to) the housekeeping staff members who provide all these services.

A typical (usual; common) tip is between $1 and $5 each day, depending on the type of hotel and the amount of service housekeeping provides.

Of course, if you stay in a cheap (inexpensive) hotel, you won’t get most of these things. As we sometimes say, “you get what you pay for!”

~Jeff

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Happy Birthday, Jeff

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Bird-Brained Ideas

Los Angeles is a big, sprawling (covering a wide area) city. That’s why people have a hard time (difficulty) getting around without cars.

Our public transportation system—buses, subways, trains, etc.—just doesn’t reach enough parts of the city.

About a year ago, a type of electric “scooter” started appearing on city streets. Scooters are normally small motorcycles, but these scooters are different. They are more like skateboards with a motor and a pole to hang on to (see photo).

A company called “Bird” scattered (place randomly) scooters all over the city, putting them on sidewalks (walkways next to the street). They were placed near bus stops, at street corners, and anywhere a lot of people walked.

The scooters are intended to help people travel short distances so they wouldn’t have to walk or drive a car.

Here’s how these paid scooters work: You choose a scooter, insert (place into a machine) your credit card, pay a small fee, and then have temporary use of that scooter.

Ride it to where you want to go and then leave it there. At the end of the day, a team of people retrieves (pick up and return) the scooters for charging (for a battery to again store energy) and then places them around the city again.

The problem was, Bird and other similar companies didn’t have permission (approval; an okay) from the local government to do business, and no one was in charge of making sure people were following the rules and laws.

Soon, riders were leaving scooters where they shouldn’t, like the middle of the sidewalk, on people’s front yards, or in the street.

Children were riding them on busy streets with no helmets (hard hat to protect the head), and riders were causing traffic accidents.

Now, the government is finally stepping in (getting involved). They are setting up new regulations (rules) and limiting the number of companies that can have these scooters in the city. It will be some time before we know how things shake out (work out; come to a result).

I haven’t tried riding one of these scooters yet, but I have seen a lot of people on them. Some people ride responsibly (in the right way). But when someone rides like an idiot, then it seems to me these Bird scooters are a bird-brained idea.*

~Jeff

* Bird-brained is an adjective meaning very stupid or not very smart. The term is perhaps used because birds are small and therefore have small brains. I think “cat-brained” would also be a good way of describing dumb ideas, but that’s just me.

Photo credit: Grendelkhan

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Flu Shot Season is Here Again

A few years ago, I thought I was dying. My body ached (hurt). I couldn’t breathe. I had a high fever (body temperature).

I had “the flu.”

The flu, short for influenza, is a highly contagious (easy to pass from one person to another) virus. A virus is a very small thing you can’t see that gets into your body and makes you sick. There are actually several different kinds of viruses that can give you the flu, and it is often different from year to year.

For some people, like young children and the elderly (old people), the flu can be life-threatening (cause death).

So since then, I’ve tried to get a flu shot every year. (A shot is a drug you get from a needle (sharp instrument that goes through your skin – see the photo).

Like many Americans, I’m part of an HMO, a Health Maintenance Organization, which is basically a type of private medical insurance. I pay a certain amount of money each month and I get health benefits, such as visits to the doctor, laboratory tests, and treatment for illnesses or medical conditions at a lower cost than if I did not have insurance.

One of the benefits of my health plan is a “free” flu shot every year. I go into the medical center, the nurse takes a needle, and injects (puts into my body) a vaccine into my arm.

The vaccine contains a little bit of the flu–not the part that makes you sick–and your body starts to fight it. Later, if you come across (meet) the flu, your body is ready to fight it off and prevent you from getting sick. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as we sometimes say!)

It’s worked for me. I haven’t had the flu in years—knock on wood. (“Knock on wood” is something we say to mean “I hope my good luck continues.”)

So this week I’ll be getting another flu shot. Maybe you should, too?

~Jeff

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New Words in American English, 2018 Edition

One of the leading (most popular) American English dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, has just published a list of 840 “new” words in English. Here are some you may want to know:

TL;DR – “Too long; didn’t read” – This is sometimes used before a summary or short version of a long blog post or document. For example, if you post a long story on your Facebook page about how your boyfriend/girlfriend has left you, you might also write, “So, TL;DR It’s over!”

hangry – This word combines “hungry” and “angry” and refers to how some people are not very happy when they haven’t eaten. “He was hangry when he came home after work, so he yelled at his dog.”

time suck – something that takes up a lot of your time. “Reading long Facebook posts can be a real time suck.”

rando – This word comes from “random,” and refers to a person you do not know or recognize. It is often used to describe a person you don’t know who is somehow annoying you or interfering with what you’re doing. “I was waiting in line at the post office and some rando guy came up to me and asked me for $10.”

I guess I could have put at the beginning of this post, “TL;DR English keeps changing!”

~Jeff

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Honesty is the Best Policy

This cartoon takes place in a courtroom (where legal processes and trials happen). We see the judge behind what looks like a big desk, which in a courtroom we call a bench.

He has a gavel in front of him, a thing that looks like a little hammer and is used to get people’s attention.

Sitting next to the judge is the witness box, where people who are being asked questions by the lawyers sit.

Inside (sitting in) the witness box we see an old man with a hat and a very long nose. A lawyer (attorney) is standing in from of the bench.

The joke here is based on the Italian children’s book, The Adventures of Pinocchio, which became popular in the U.S. when Disney made a movie about it. In the story, if Pinocchio lied (did not tell the truth), his nose would grow longer, so everyone would know that he had lied.

The man in the cartoon has a very long nose, indicating that he has lied about something. So the judge asks him if he would like to rephrase his answer. 

To rephrase means to say something in a different way, in order to be clearer or more easily understood. It is an expression often heard in courtrooms. This man needs to rephrase his answer not to make it clearer, but because he lied.

What if our noses actually DID grow longer when we lied? No doubt we would all look a little like this poor (unfortunate) man!

~Jeff

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“What Should I Read in English?”

If you’ve read my special report on how to improve your English, you know that I recommend you do a lot of listening and reading. (And if you haven’t read my report, hurry up and get it today by signing up below).

But what should you read and listen to? There are really just two guidelines (rules) for the books you choose:

(1) Read something you can understand. If you can’t understand more than 90-95% of the words on the page, it’s too difficult. Find something easier.

(2) Read something you enjoy. If you are bored, you won’t read it for very long.

When I’m trying to improve a second language I’m learning, and I am at least an “intermediate” in the language, I usually look for books written for older children or teenagers. (And if you can understand this blog post in English, then YOU are an intermediate!)

Books written for younger readers are easier to understand, but still have interesting topics and themes.

What books are most popular in English for younger readers? Here’s a list from a national survey (poll; set of questions) of American teenagers. One of these books may be good place to start your English reading.

Harry Potter books. You probably already know about Harry Potter, but if you don’t, it is one of the most popular book series in English published in the last 50 years. This is the #1 book among young readers of all ages. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, the books will be much easier for you to understand. The story (if you don’t know) is about a young boy who has special, magical powers.

I recommend watching the movies first and then reading the books, but that’s not necessary.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid. These books (which I have read in Italian) are written for older children (ages 8-12) and are very funny and entertaining. The story is about a kid in school who always has problems with his family and friends. It also contains illustrations (drawings; images) that help you understand the story, sort of like a comic book or “graphic novel.”

In fact, graphic novels are also a good place to look for reading material. I have read several Italian graphic novels – the photographs and drawings help you understand the language.

Do you like the “superhero” movies like Batman or Spiderman? Try reading some of the comic books with those characters. Some comics even have apps allowing you to read them on your tablet or smartphone.

Goosebumps. This is a series of dozens of books with scary stories. It is very popular among American schoolchildren. If you like “horror” stories, this is the perfect book series for you.

Like all book series, once you read one book, the rest will become easier.

Dork Diaries. I haven’t read this new series, but it is very popular with younger readers. Like Diary for a Wimpy Kid, it has funny stories about kids and their problems, along with drawings or illustrations.

Many of these books are available in electronic format in English through websites such as Amazon.com and others. You can download a “sample” of the book (usually the first chapter or so) before you buy it. I do this all the time before I buy a book.

There is one other obvious place to get reading and listening materials: our Unlimited English Membership. We have more than 10,000 pages of reading and 500 hours of listening that is easy and fun. Learn more here.

~Jeff

Image credit: Scholastic Books

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Why No One Talks to Anyone Anymore

I was back in my home state of Minnesota recently visiting my family there. One day I went into a diner located in a small town just outside Minneapolis.

A diner is a restaurant that usually has breakfast food served all or most of the day, plus hamburgers, salads, and sandwiches. It is a very informal restaurant, popular originally in the Midwest (where Minnesota is) and Northeast parts of the United States, but nowadays (right now, at this time) found in almost any city or town.

A diner usually has a “counter” or bar area where individual customers can sit, lined up in a straight row. There are also “booths” to sit in, which have benches instead of chairs. (A bench is like a wide chair for two or more people.)

Many diners are open 24 hours a day, so you can have breakfast right after leaving the dance club at 2:00 AM (I did that when I was younger!).

I like this particular diner I visited on my trip because it was like “stepping back in time,” that is, going back to some previous time in history. The prices for breakfast were very cheap, perhaps half what it would cost you in a regular restaurant in Minneapolis.

How cheap? You can order eggs, toast (bread), and hash browns (potatoes cut up and fried in a pan) for only $4.35. That meal would cost two or three times that amount in Los Angeles!

Over the counter area, there was a sign that said:

WE DO NOT HAVE WIFI.
TALK TO EACH OTHER.

Of course, we all know that when you go to a restaurant nowadays, you will see at least half of the people – children, teens, adults – looking down at their smartphones instead of talking to one another.

I have a rule never to check my phone when I am with another person without asking for his or her permission, and then only if it is something that seems urgent (must be done immediately). But sometimes I forget, since there always seems to be some reason for “checking our phones.”

My guess is that smartphones, as a new technology, are a bit like automobiles in the early 20th century. When cars were first used, there were few rules and a lot of dangerous driving. Eventually, however, people changed their behavior and started to drive more carefully.

Will people eventually (someday) change the way they use their smartphones? I hope so.

Next time you are with another person, try to NOT look at your phone, and talk to the person instead. You might just enjoy it!

~Jeff

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