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Archive for January, 2010

Thursday - January 28, 2010

The More (Money), the Merrier

There’s an old expression in English, “The more, the merrier.” Merry is an old-fashioned word that means to be happy, as in “Merry Christmas.”  “The more, the merrier” means the more people you have, say, at a party, the happier everyone is.  We usually say this when somebody asks to join our group or some activity, and we want to make them feel welcome.  But today I want to talk about not more people, but more money, and not “merry” as in happy, but marry, as in becoming husband and wife.

A new study of marriage in the United States has found that, in 2007, 19% of wives had husbands who were better educated (had more education) than they were, and 20% were married to men with less education.  (Presumably (probably, most likely), the rest of the married couples had equal amounts of education, although the newspaper story I read doesn’t mention this.)  But in 1970, 28% of wives had husbands who were better educated, and 20% were married to men with less education.  In other words, it used to be that nearly 30% of women married men who were better educated than they were, but now that figure (number) has dropped to 19%.  In 1970, only 4% of husbands had wives who made more money than they did; in 2007, 22% of husbands had wives who made more money than they did.

What can explain this change?  First, this is the first generation of Americans in which more women have graduated from college than men, a change from previous generations when the majority of college graduates were men.  With more education typically comes more income, although the relationship between education and income (the amount of money you make) is strong but not perfect.  Second, many men clearly do not mind (are not bothered by) the fact that their wives have more education and make more money.  It is still true, however, that women with college degrees are more likely to marry today than less educated women, although the overall percentage of the U.S. population that is married has been declining (going down, becoming less).

Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or neither good nor bad?


Tuesday - January 26, 2010

“Mind Over Matter,” “Relationship Chicken,” & “Not Even Close”


Yana from Russia wants to know the meaning of the phrase “mind over matter.”

Mind over matter refers to the ability to use the power of our thinking, or of our brain, to overcome (succeed in dealing with) some difficulty related to our body or the physical world in general.  We often use mind as a synonym for “brain,” “thoughts,” and other things related to thinking.  For example, when we want to ask what someone else is thinking, we can ask:  “What’s on your mind?”

Matter is anything that has a physical form or shape.  In science, for example, astronomers (scientists who study space) may talk about studying matter in outer space, the area away from the Earth and its atmosphere.

We can use “mind over matter” in many situations.  For example:

Jeff:  “How can you resist eating that cake?  It’s your favorite kind.”
Lucy:  “Don’t worry.  For me, it’s simply mind over matter.”

Lucy:  “You’re too sick to be at work today.”
Jeff:  “It’s a case of mind over matter.  If I believe and behave like I’m well, then I’ll get well more quickly.”


Parham from Canada asks: “What does ‘relationship chicken’ mean?”

In this situation, chicken refers to someone who is a coward, someone who is not brave, someone who does not have courage to do something, or someone who behaves in this way.  A relationship chicken, then, is someone who is afraid of being in a romantic relationship.

You can call someone a “chicken” for any perceived (what you see as) fear or weakness.  For example:

Used as an adjective:
A: “Let’s not go to school today and go the beach instead.”
B: “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
A: “Why not? Are you chicken?”

Used as a noun:
A: “Here’s my new pet snake.  Do you want to hold it?
B: “No way!  I’m a chicken when it comes to snakes.”


Robert from Czech Republic asks: “What does ‘not even close’ mean?”

Not even close
means not nearly, far from the answer, or far from the truth.  Here are a few of examples of how this can be used:

Lucy: “Are you done recording this week’s podcasts?”
Jeff:  “Not even close.  I haven’t even finished the first one!”

Lucy: “Jeff, you’re so smart. You must read 10 books a week!”
Jeff:  “Not even close.  I only read five books a day!”

Lucy: “Try to guess how old I am.”
Jeff: “You’re 60.”
Lucy: “You’re not even close.  I’m 29…still!”

Thanks, to all, for the questions.  I hope this is helpful.

~ Lucy

Thursday - January 21, 2010

Undergraduates Under Water


Ready to graduate?

Most universities require their students to pass (complete successfully) certain courses (classes) in order to graduate. Usually, these are what we call general education classes, classes on topics that the university thinks everyone should know about to be considered an educated college graduate, such as literature, history, math, foreign language, and science.  During the early part of the 20th century (remember the 20th century?), Cornell University (in Ithica, New York) began requiring student to pass a swim test, thinking that knowing how to swim was part of a “complete education.”  Other universities followed suit (did the same thing), and by the 1940s, tests and classes related to one’s physical abilities (such as swimming) became more common at American universities.

By the mid-1990s, however, only five percent of U.S. colleges required students to take a swim test, and the vast (large) majority required no physical education (sports, exercise) courses at all.   My alma mater (university from which I graduated, literally from the Latin meaning “nourishing (one who feeds) mother,” because universities “feed” you knowledge), the University of Minnesota, did not require any physical education classes, for example, which is a good thing for me, since I have zero talent for sports.  The few universities that still require a swim test today include some quite famous ones, including Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), and Notre Dame.

The tests vary (are different) from university to university.  At Columbia, you must swim 75 yards (that’s 68.58 meters for the rest of the world), using any style or method (except with a surfboard, I guess).  For Dartmouth, it’s 50 yards (45.72 meters), and for Notre Dame, 100 yards (91.44 meters).  Most students pass the test, but those who don’t have to take a swimming class in order to (to be able to) graduate.

Is it fair to ask college students to know how to swim in order to get their degree?  I’m not sure, although growing up in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (Minnesota), I can see how it would be a useful skill to have.  Could I have passed such a test had it existed when I was in college?  Well, let’s just say I have never been, and never will be, confused with Michael Phelps (the swimmer who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics).


Tuesday - January 19, 2010

Street Dance and Dance Crews

In last week’s English Cafe, we talked about hip-hop culture. A big part of hip-hop culture is hip-hop dancing, or street dancing. Hip-hop dancing has been around for a long time, since the early 1970s, and it has continued and developed a lot since that time.

Hip-hop or street dancing is known for its battles, formal or informal dance competitions, where each dancer tries to out-dance (dance better than) his or her competitor. Although many dancers dance alone, many others dance in dance crews. A crew is a group of people who work together to do a job, especially a job that involves physical labor (work using one’s body). Dance crews are known for their coordination (ability to dance at the same time or in relation to each other) and their dance tricks (moves that are physically difficult to do and impressive to watch).

In 2008, the popular cable music television channel MTV debuted (showed for the first time) a show called “America’s Best Dance Crew.” On the show, dance crews from all over the country competed for a cash prize and the title of (the position of) America’s Best Dance Crew. Many of these crews developed on the streets, that is, without formal training and not in a formal dance studio, while others met in formal dance training and decided to form their own crew.

Here are a few examples of the type of dancing these amazing dancers can do.

~ Lucy

Thursday - January 14, 2010

Guest Blogger Warren Ediger

Today we have a guest blogger, Warren Ediger. You can read his explanation of 2009 buzzwords in the next post.  (What’s a buzzword, you ask?  Read Warren’s post to find out!) Warren will be writing posts every now and then (sometimes) about American culture and English, and we are very happy to have him writing for us.  He is an experienced ESL teacher here in Southern California, as well as one of the top (best) online English tutors I know.

Be sure to take a look at Warren’s website,, which has some excellent resources and tips for improving your English.  Those interested in online tutoring can contact Warren via (using, by means of) email by going to his website.

Let’s give Warren a warm (friendly) welcome to the blog!


Thursday - January 14, 2010

What’s the Buzz? Buzzwords of 2009


In Jesus Christ Superstar, a rock opera and movie from the 1970s, there’s a song called What’s the Buzz? In the song, the apostles (disciples, Jesus’ followers) ask Jesus the same question again and again:

What’s the buzz?
Tell me what’s a-happening!

They wanted to know what everybody was talking about.

Have you ever walked into a room full of people – perhaps at a party – and listened to the sound of all the conversations in the room? You can’t hear the words, but you can hear the buzz (activity, noise, excitement) of all the conversations.

Buzzwords are words that quickly become fashionable, or popular. They are words people use frequently, sometimes to impress other people. They show that you know what’s going on (what’s happening in the world around you).

Buzzwords don’t usually last (continue to be used) for a long time. In fact, we often get tired of hearing them and wish they would go away. On the other hand, buzzwords can tell us a lot about what people were talking about at a particular time, like last year.

Some buzzwords become a regular part of the language. Usually they begin as colloquial words or expressions – informal, everyday words that are used in casual conversation but not in formal speech or writing.

This morning several buzzwords from 2009 were in the news. One of them – unfriend – was named the word of the year by the people who publish the Oxford dictionary. Unfriend is a verb that means to remove someone as a “friend” on Facebook or some other social networking site.

Here are some other 2009 buzzwords that were considered (thought carefully about) for word of the year:

  • sexting – sending sexual messages or pictures by mobile telephone
  • birther – someone who believes that Barak Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and, as a result, shouldn’t be president
  • netbook – a small, very portable laptop computer for going onto the Internet
  • death panel – a committee that decides which patients receive medical treatment or, supposedly (used when we aren’t sure), are left to die. Some people in the U.S. believe that death panels were included in the new health care program introduced by President Obama, but they weren’t.

If you want to see more 2009 buzzwords, look at the lists from The New York Times and Time Magazine. Another interesting list is the annual (yearly) list of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. These are buzzwords that some people are tired of hearing and want to banish (tell people to stop using).

~Warren Ediger – a student of many things, but especially language, learning and teaching, and technology; mentor-teacher; musician; husband and father; and creator of

Image by Wael Attili; used by permission.

Tuesday - January 12, 2010

Dog as a Second Language

487px-07._Camel_Profile,_near_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007Yesterday, I offered a little ditty to help us all get through Monday. Today, I have a little joke for you.  If we get past Monday and Tuesday, then we should be able to get past hump day, right?  Hump day is what we informally call Wednesday.  A hump is a round area that is higher than the area around it.  If you encounter (meet) a hump in a road, you’ll need a little extra gas to get over it.  (A hump is also what’s on the back of some animals, like camels (see photo).)  If we can get past Wednesday, the hump, than the rest of the week will be a cinch (something easy to do).

Here’s a little language joke, which also helps to explain why Cody was looking for Jeff and how he knew about ESL Podcast.

Laitche-P013There was a mother mouse who was scurrying (running quickly) across the kitchen floor with her six little mice in tow (following).  All of a sudden (suddenly), she came eye-to-eye with a very large and very mean-looking cat.  Mother mouse was terrified (very afraid)!  But she pulled herself up to full height (stood up as tall as she could) and said at the top of her lungs (as loudly as possible), “Bow Wow!”

The cat nearly jumped out of his skin (was very shocked, very scared) and in the blink of an eye (immediately; very quickly) ran up a tree two blocks away.  Meanwhile, mother mouse gathered her little ones around her and explained, “Now, my dears, you see what I’ve always told you about the importance of learning a second language!”

* “Bow wow” or “woof woof” is the way we represent in English the sounds a dog makes when “speaking.”  Of course, it’s different in every language.

I wish you a good and easy Tuesday!

~ Lucy

Monday - January 11, 2010

“Living in a Tree” by Priscilla Ahn

Here’s a little ditty (a short, simple song) to help ease (make something unpleasant easier) your way into a new work week.  When we’re not looking forward to going to work, we sometimes say, “Another day, another dollar,” expressing a feeling that we do routine work, the same type of work day after day, to earn a living, or to make enough money to live.

Even people who like their job as I do sometimes feel like they want to stay in bed on a Monday.  I hope this little song puts a smile on your face, as it did mine.  And to those people who don’t have to get up and work on Mondays, I have special message for you at the bottom of this blog post.

~ Lucy

P.S. At the beginning of the video, the singer says that she has to admit (say without wanting to) that she’s wearing her pajamas, which are clothes we wear to sleep in.

“Living in a Tree”

by Priscilla Ahn

Living in a tree,
Yeah that’s where I’d like to be,
When the world falls down (collapses; is destroyed).

No one can say nothing,
Which I guess means they’ll say something,
But I won’t be around (won’t be here).

I’ll be in my tree,
Living free,
As any child would wanna be.

Chaos (completely without order; complete confusion) in the streets,
Lonely hearts bear (contain; have) lonely beats (each movement of a heart),
In a world carved (shaped from something hard) with steel and stone.

Miscommunication (not communicating well) leads to fear and hesitation (pausing (stopping temporarily) before doing something),
And it won’t leave me alone.

But now in my tree,
I’m living free,
As any child would wanna be.

Maybe you and me can make a home for us and someday free from the strongest wood of the tallest tree and we’ll be,

Living in my tree,
Living free,
As any child would wanna be.


Thursday - January 7, 2010

The Case of the Missing Criminals

When I moved to Los Angeles back in the early 1990s, it was one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.  One year, there were more than 1,000 homicides (murders) in the city of Los Angeles itself.  Even worse for me, when I first moved here I was living in one of the most dangerous parts of town (Echo Park) and going to a school (the University of Southern California) in a mostly unsafe neighborhood (South Central Los Angeles).  But in the almost 20 years since I’ve lived in Southern California, violent crime, such as murder, rape (sexual assault), and burglary (theft) have all decreased dramatically.  In fact, 2009 was one of the safest years in the city of Los Angeles in the past 50 years.  Last year, there were a little more than 300 homicides, the lowest number of killings since 1967.  This drop (decrease) in violent crime is not unique to Los Angeles, however.  Almost every major city in the United States, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas, has seen a significant decrease in the number of violent crimes in the past 20 years.  The big question is: What happened?

We may not be sure of what’s right (correct), but we definitely know what’s wrong, including the popular idea that increasing poverty causes an increase in crime.  Last year was one of the worst years in the U.S. economy in several decades (decade equals 10 years), yet violent crime continued to drop.

There are at least three possible explanations why America is much safer now than it was 20 years ago, and all three might have contributed (had an influence, had an impact) to lower crime rates:

  • Fewer young peopleStatistically (numerically), most violent crime is committed by adolescent and young adult males.  As the population gets older, there are fewer and fewer young people to commit (to do) crimes.  As one researcher noted in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “The largest and fastest-growing segment (part) of the population is people over 50.  People over 50 also happen to be the age group that is least likely to commit crimes.”  The more old people there are, the safer the world is.  (I guess that means that I am a “young” person, since I am not yet 50.  But that also means that I am more likely to commit crimes, so be careful!)
  • More prisons.  The United States incarcerates (puts in jail or prison) more than seven million people, which is about the size of the population of the country of Jordan.  One out of every 31 adults in the US is behind bars (in prison).  Some people argue that putting more violent criminals in prison will logically lead to fewer crimes.
  • Better policing.  Police forces in major American cities have changed their tactics (approaches, ways of doing things) in the past 20 years, including what is called data-driven policing.  Data is just another word for information, facts, or statistics.  Something that is data-driven is something that is influenced or controlled by the information collected, rather than by some theory.  The idea is that the police use computers to analyze, for example, where the most dangerous parts of town are and send more police to those areas.  Police also make sure that petty (less serious) criminals (people who commit crimes) are punished more frequently, ensuring (making sure) that small crimes don’t lead to big ones.

It may be, of course, that there are other reasons to explain this decrease in crime in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, it should be good news for those who want to visit the United States but are worried about their safety.  So come to Los Angeles, and I promise that you (probably) won’t be killed!


Tuesday - January 5, 2010

You Give Me the Creeps!


Benjamin in Thailand wants to know what this sentence means: “You give me the creeps!”

To give (someone) the creeps means to make someone feel frightened or uncomfortable. For example, if you ride the subway every morning and the same woman sits across from you and stares at you with the same strange look on her face, she may give you the creeps. Walking by a dark empty house at night might also give you the creeps.

Interestingly, if we use “creep” as a noun by itself, it has a slightly different meaning. A creep is a person who behaves in a way that other people don’t like or who bothers other people. We often use it to describe someone who does things that we find distasteful or dishonest. For instance, someone who often tells you things you want to hear so that he can get something he wants from you, can be called a creep. We usually associate (relate) a creep with someone who is disagreeable (easy to dislike; nasty), obnoxious (does things to annoy other people), or offensive (does things to hurt or upset other people).

I’ve only heard men described as creeps, not women. Perhaps it’s because we may also use “creep” to describe someone who makes unwanted sexual advances or who treats women disrespectfully. A woman walking down the street who encounters a group of men shouting comments about her appearance or making sexually suggestive comments might yell back at them, “You creep!”

“Creep” can also be used as a verb to mean to move slowly and carefully so other people will not see or hear you. If I wanted to steal Jeff’s candy bar off his desk, I would creep into his office while he isn’t looking and take it.  Similarly, if teenage children come home past their curfew (the time that parents say their children must be home by), they may creep up the stairs hoping their parents won’t hear them.

Thanks for the question, Benjamin, and I hope this was helpful.

~ Lucy