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Archive for March, 2008

Friday - March 28, 2008

Tickling Your Funny Bone

It’s been a hectic (busy) few weeks and I needed a good laugh. I came across these sayings that tickled my funny bone. To tickle is to touch someone else lightly to make them laugh. To tickle someone’s funny bone is to make them laugh.  (Did you know that it’s impossible to tickle yourself? This is one explanation why.)

These tickled my funny bone. Do they work on you?images1.jpeg

  • There are three kinds of people in this world: those who can count and those who can’t.
  • The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 (equal) chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability (likelihood; chance) you’ll get it wrong.
  • How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you’re on.
  • Buy one for the price of two and get the second one free!
  • Junk (useless things) is something you’ve kept for years and throw it away three weeks before you need it.
  • If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.
  • Education is what you get from reading the small print (details, usually in a contract or document). Experience is what you get from not reading it.

~ Lucy

Wednesday - March 26, 2008

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

In today’s Cafe, we talk about how to become a lawyer in the United States. Lawyers do not have the best reputation in many countries (including the U.S.). There are many jokes about lawyers and how greedy (wanting to have more money) or dishonest they are. Of course, there are good lawyers and bad lawyers, just as there are good and bad members of any profession (occupation).

The dislike of lawyers is not a new thing. In Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, there is a character who says, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” The character is talking about what would be an ideal (perfect) place, one in which there were no lawyers. That was more than 500 years ago, so I guess things have not changed too much!

Here are two of the thousands of lawyer jokes that you can find in English:

Q: What do you have (what do you call a situation) when a lawyer is buried up to his neck in sand?
A: Not enough sand.

Q: Why did God make snakes just before lawyers?
A: To practice.
*A snake represents the lowest, most evil kind of animal. The idea is that God made snakes to practice how to make lawyers, since lawyers are also evil.


Tuesday - March 25, 2008

“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley

One of the most popular TV shows in the U.S. right now is American Idol. It’s a singing competition, where unknown people from all over the country compete to be the best singer. The winner receives a record deal, so that he or she can record and sell their music. An idol is a person who is greatly admired, someone who others want to be like. This show started in the U.K. (called “Pop Idol”) and this is the seventh season of this show in the U.S. Now, there are many versions of this show all over the world.

A few weeks ago, one of the contestants sang a beautiful song called, “Hallelujah.” Hallelujah is a word used in the Christian religion that means “God be praised,” and you will hear it a lot during a religious service. We also use “hallelujah” as an everyday expression, without the religious meaning, to mean “that’s great,” “I’m relieved,” or “I’m very glad or happy.”

This song was first recorded by Leonard Cohen, but the version that most people know is by Jeff Buckley. You can hear the song below, but to see the official video, you will need to see it on YouTube because the record company does not allow other websites, like ours, to have it on their websites.

I find this song haunting (difficult to ignore or forget), both because of Jeff Buckley’s voice and the beautiful melody (main notes in a song).

~ Lucy

by Jeff Buckley

Well I heard there was a secret chord (a group of musical notes played together)
that David played and it pleased the Lord (God)
But you don’t really care for music, do ya (you)?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift (all musical terms)
The baffled (confused) king composing (writing) Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

Well your faith (belief) was strong but you needed proof (evidence)
You saw her bathing (taking a bath) on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew (removed one’s power) ya
And she tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne (chair that a king or queen sits on) and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

(Yeah but) Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
(You know) I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble (a type of hard stone) arch (a large, curved structure, usually over a door)
and love is not a victory march (soldiers walking in a row together to celebrate after winning)
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do ya?
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove (bird representing peace) was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah…

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew (someone taking out a gun to shoot you before you could take out your gun to shoot them) ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light (made an important discovery or realization)
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah


Wednesday - March 19, 2008

Annotated English: Gun Parties for Women

Here’s another news article with comments and vocabulary using the SharedCopy website. It’s an article from Voice of America about a strange new type of party for women, where they get together to buy guns! Take a look here.

The article has difficult words highlighted in yellow and a list of definitions on the left side. On the right side are some comments to help you understand the article better. You can also listen to the article by clicking on the MP3 link (below the article’s title).

If you want to read the article first without seeing the vocabulary list, just click on the first box on the top, right of the yellow vocabulary list box. That will close the box for you. To open it again, click that same box again.

To annotate means to give additional information about something, to give more detail. Here I am using the word to indicate that I am adding information (background and definitions) to the article. This is a very traditional form of language instruction, useful mostly for text that you want to read but is too difficult. Normally I recommend people wanting to improve their English to read things that they can understand without extra definitions or dictionaries, but for articles that are just too difficult, this use of a glossary (list of word definitions) can sometimes be helpful.


Monday - March 17, 2008

Luck of the Irish

Four Leaf CloverToday is Saint Patrick’s Day, the national day of the country of Ireland. A saint is considered a very holy person in the Christian religion. St. Patrick (notice the abbreviation for “saint” is St.) was a famous priest who worked and lived in Ireland more than 16 centuries (1600 years) ago. There are many stories told about St. Patrick, some of them true, some of them not. One famous story says that he drove (got rid of, eliminated) all of the snakes from Ireland. (But Ireland didn’t actually have any snakes in that period! The Irish are famous for telling good stories, however.)

During the 19th century, there were many Irish who left their country and came to the United States. The Irish in America became powerful in government and in the leadership of the Catholic Church. Even today, more than 150 years later, there are many Irish-Americans in these two areas. One of the most famous Irish-American politicians, John F. Kennedy, became president in 1960. Most of the Catholic leaders today are still Irish-Americans, including the leader of the church in Los Angeles and other big cities.

Many Irish immigrants settled (moved to and lived) in large American cities such as Boston, New York, and Chicago. St. Paul, Minnesota, was also a popular place for the Irish. When I was growing up in St. Paul, many of the leaders of the city were still Irish-Americans. My great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Mary McQuillan, came to St. Paul in the 1840s, and there have been McQuillans there ever since (since that time). I remember growing up, there was always a parade (a celebration with people walking through the streets) on St. Patrick’s Day. My family always went downtown to march (walk) in the parade representing the McQuillans of St. Paul. Everyone would wear green (the color of Ireland) and those old enough would drink beer and have a good time. (Even those not old enough would sometimes drink at times!)

At my elementary (grade) school, about half of the students were Irish-American. There were also a lot of German-Americans who lived in St. Paul, and many students came from German-American families. So on St. Patrick’s Day, we would have the Irish-German Games, a competition between the Irish and German students. (If you were not German or Irish, you could choose which team to play on.) I think the Irish usually won, but perhaps that is because I was always on the Irish team :).

I don’t do much to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here in Los Angeles, but my brothers back in St. Paul usually get together at a bar owned by one of my cousins to have a drink. The Irish are considered to be very lucky (fortunate), and we sometimes speak of the “luck of the Irish.” I feel lucky being able to be part of ESL Podcast, so I guess the saying (expression) is true.


Thursday - March 13, 2008

“Cry Me a River” by Diana Krall

Lucy’s maid: “I clean all day because Lucy is a slob (messy and dirty). ”
Lucy’s dog: “Cry me a river! I have to play with her and pretend I like her. Who has the harder job?”

I don’t have a maid to clean my house, and I don’t have a dog, but if I did, I can imagine conversations like this.

Cry me a river” is a phrase we use when someone complains (say they don’t like something) and we want to tell them to stop because we don’t care what he or she is saying. When one of our listeners recently asked a question about this phrase, it reminded me of one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite singers.

The song is called “Cry Me a River” and it is sung by Diana Krall, a jazz singer who is originally from Canada and now lives in the U.S. This is actually an old song and Diana Krall is not the first to sing it, but I like her version (interpretation).

In this song, she is singing to a man who broke her heart (made her sad because he did not love her). And now, he wants to return to her. When he complains that he is lonely and sad, she says, “cry me a river,” meaning she doesn’t care because she had “cried a river” over him when he said he didn’t love her. Now, she says, he will need to cry a lot, enough to fill a river, for her to forgive him.

~ Lucy

“Cry Me a River”
by Diana Krall

Now you say you’re lonely
You cry the long night through (entirely; from beginning to end)
Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river
I cried a river over you

Now you say you’re sorry
For being so untrue (unfaithful; being with other lovers)
Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river
I cried a river over you

You drove me, nearly drove me, out of my head (made me go crazy)
While you never shed a tear (cried)
Remember, I remember, all that you said
You told me love was too plebeian (low class; common; vulgar)
Told me you were through with me (done with our relationship) and

Now you say you love me
Well, just to prove (to show without doubt) that you do
Come on and cry me a river
Cry me a river
I cried a river over you
I cried a river over you
I cried a river…over you…

Wednesday - March 12, 2008

An ESLPod Experiment

Shared CopyI just discovered this very cool web service called Shared Copy. It allows you to make notes on web pages and share them with others. I tried using it and I think it may be useful for what we do here at ESL Podcast.

I took a news article from today’s Voice of America website and highlighted (made a different color) in yellow certain difficult words. Then on the side I put the definitions of these words so you can get some help if there is a word you don’t understand. It is even possible for you to go on to the page and put your own comments or questions (although in this first experiment, I turned the comments option off).

The article is about the subject of yesterday’s post, the sex scandal involving Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York. Take a look at it here and tell me what you think.


Tuesday - March 11, 2008

Caught With Your Pants Down

Pants DownA scandal is when someone does something wrong, usually a well-known person such as a politician or a movie star. There can be many different types of scandals, including scandals involving sex. In today’s U.S. papers, the American press is reporting on a story about the Governor of the State of New York, Eliot Spitzer. Governor Spitzer is accused (is said to be guilty of) visiting a prostitute (a man or woman who provides sex in exchange for money) while on a trip to Washington DC. The governor has admitted to doing something wrong, and will probably resign (give up his job) very soon.

Sex scandals are nothing new to American politics, or probably the politics of any country. One newspaper ran (published) an editorial cartoon (a visual joke usually involving politics) showing the governor in his underwear with his pants down on the ground. We have an expression, “to be caught with your pants down,” which means to be discovered doing something wrong, often while committing the act. Although the expression relates obviously to a sexual situation, it can also be applied to any situation where you are discovered by other people doing something wrong.

So whatever you do today, try not to get caught with your pants down.


Monday - March 10, 2008

Daylight Saving Time

Yesterday, Sunday, March 9, at 2:00 a.m. was the beginning of Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. Like many other countries, Daylight Saving is used to save energy (electricity, fuel) by adjusting (changing) the hours of the day to better match the hours when the sun is out. One way Americans know whether to turn the clocks ahead or set them back is to remember: We “spring” ahead in the spring, and we “fall” back in the fall. “Spring” is not just a season; it also means to jump. “Fall” isn’t just a season; it also means to move backwards. This is a very useful way for many people, including me, to remember.daylight-savings-time-disrupts-human-daily-rhythms-study-finds.jpg

In the U.S., Daylight Saving Time began during World War I. Since there are later hours of daylight between April and October, it made sense to take advantage of (to use for the best results) that daylight for war production (making things useful for the war). The same thing happened during World War II. The federal government again required the states to observe (to obey) Daylight Saving Time to save energy. After World War II, each states decided whether or not to observe Daylight Saving Time. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which standardized (make the same) the length of Daylight Saving Time.

However, not all states observe Daylight Saving Time. Arizona (except some Native American Reservations) and Hawaii are the two states that do not. (Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa also do not observe Daylight Saving Time.) This decision does make sense (have good reason) for the states and areas closer to the equator (the horizontal (side to side) line in the middle of the globe/Earth). The daylight hours there stay more consistent (the same) throughout the year.

Growing up in Arizona, it didn’t seem strange to me that half of the year, I shared the same time with family and friends in other states, and half of the year, I was an hour ahead or behind. In fact, to this day, I still find Daylight Saving Time strange. The worst parts? Losing an hour of sleep in the spring and changing all of the clocks around the house!

~ Lucy

Thursday - March 6, 2008

TOEIC to TOEFL to IELTS: Comparing English Test Scores

I got an interesting question recently from a listener, Mauricio, about how the different English proficiency tests compare to one another. Mauricio took the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), and wants to know what his approximate score would be on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), another popular test of English skills. All these tests can be very confusing, since there is also a test for university students, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is the most popular of them all.

Unfortunately, these tests are different and cannot always be directly compared. In fact, the publisher of the TOEFL and the TOEIC says that you just can’t compare those two tests because they are so different. However, one Canadian language school published this comparison on their website:

Source: Vancouver English Centre

These comparisons are not official or taken from the companies that make these tests. They are what at least one school uses, so they may be helpful to you.


P.S Did you know that has several lessons to prepare you for taking tests such as the TOEFL? You can find them on’s Guide to the TOEFL Test page. This series also available to download for free on iTunes. We are not currently updating this podcast, but the older lessons will still be useful to you if you are studying for the exam.