That’s a Contronym. Yes it is. No it’s not.

The English language is full of quirks (strange things). One of them is contronyms.

Contronyms are words with two opposite meanings. Knowing which of its meanings is being used depends on the context (the words around it).

Here are two contronyms we often see and hear in the news or in daily life.

1. Oversight can mean either:

A) failure to notice or to do something
For example:
– “Was it an oversight or did you decide against inviting your best friend to the party?”
– “The building of our house has been delayed because of an oversight to get the proper permits (official building permission).”

B) supervision of something, often a project or group of workers
For example:
– “Without proper oversight, will the bridge be built on time?”
– “The government has oversight in approving drugs for sale.”

2.  Sanction can mean either:

A) to give official  permission; to be officially approved
For example:
– “Will Jeff sanction my use of his photo in ads to promote my new line of cat toys?”
– “Students can’t hold a celebration at school without the principal’s sanction.”

B) to either threaten or to impose (put in place) a penalty, often to try to force one nation behave in a particular way, or to do what was agreed to in a treaty (agreement between nations)
For example:
– “If we violate (don’t do what is required) the agreement, we may be sanctioned.”
– “McQuillanland was sanctioned for imposing very high tariffs (taxes for importing or exporting items for sale) on U.S. products.”

~ Jeff

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The Sounds of Halloween

It’s Halloween and you’re watching your favorite horror (scary) film today. Can you hear it? It’s the squeak (making a high-pitched sound) of an old door, a high-pitched (with high sounds) scream, the sound of thunder (loud crashing sound during storms). These are all sounds you may hear in popular horror movies thanks to Jack Foley.

Jack Foley (1891-1967) left his mark on (became well known and remembered for) the film industry by developing techniques for many popular sound effects (sounds heard in a movie, play, or TV show, but not made by the actors). He is best known for including environmental or ambient (in the surrounding area; happening around something) sounds into films. In fact, the people who do this type of work today are known as “Foley artists.”

Before Jack Foley’s techniques were invented, films usually used pre-recorded (created and captured earlier) sounds, which were added later. But Foley changed this by creating the sounds in real time (when they were needed in the films). The sounds could include anything from a telephone ring, a squeaky door, footsteps (the sound of one’s feet hitting the ground as one walks), to the sound of clothing rustling (sound of fabric moving) as people walk.

The sound effects are intended to enhance (improve; make better) the film, making it feel more realistic (similar to real life). Without those sound effects, films may feel too quiet and even uncomfortable for viewers. The best sound effects sound and feel seamless (without being separate or different), so the audience doesn’t realize that those sounds are not what the actors are actually producing.

Foley effects are especially important when films are dubbed in another language (with the dialogue being presented in another language), because when the dubbing replaces the original language, it also replaces all other sounds. As a result, those sounds must be added back in with each dubbed version.

So the next time you watch a film, listen for the work these Foley artists. They help to make us believe what’s on the screen.

~ ESLPod Team

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Image Credit: From Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “Culture Note” from Daily English 1226. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.
Posted in Television and Movies | 19 Comments

The World Series is Here – Play Ball!

Today is the first game of this year’s Major League Baseball World Series. The best two baseball teams of 2017 play to determine the champion (winner) this year. My favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is in the series for the first time in 29 years.

It should be a national holiday.

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. They are divided (split; separated) into the American League and the National League, each with 15 teams. The winners of those two leagues play each other in the World Series.

The World Series has the word “world” in it although only teams in the U.S. and Canada are in the Leagues. In fact, there is now only one team from Canada — the Toronto Blue Jays. So that’s a little American hyperbole for you.

Hyperbole refers to exaggerated claims, such as when you say that something is much more or much bigger than it really is. Of course, you should not believe it is literally (actually) true. It isn’t.

For example, I might say, “L.A. traffic is so bad that it takes me years to get home from work.” or “My bald head is so shiny (reflects light so well), it could be used to beam (shine light) messages into space.”

The World Series consists of (has) a maximum of seven games. The team that wins four out of seven games wins the series. We often use the phrase “best out of (number)” — the person or team who/that wins the most out of a number of competitions is the champion. The World Series is a best out of seven competition.

The Dodgers play the Houston (Texas) Astros today here in Los Angeles.

As you can see, I’m ready to root for (support and encourage) my team. Go, Dodgers!

~ Jeff

Posted in Life in the United States | 26 Comments

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Yiddish Words in Daily English

talk-1246935_1280The Yiddish language originated in Central Europe in the 9th century A.D., spoken largely by the Jewish communities there. It spread to other parts of Europe (especially Germany), and was widely spoken in several countries prior to World War II.

Beginning in the 19th century, Yiddish-speaking immigrants started to arrive to the United States, especially to large cities such as New York City. As has been the case with other non-English-speaking waves (sudden large number) of immigration to the U.S., Yiddish has had a noticeable effect on American English.

Many Yiddish words have made their way into the daily conversations of American English speakers. (Some of them are real Yiddish words, but others have been made up (created)). Many of these words begin with the letters “sch(m)” or “sh(m).”

For example, to schlep means to drag (pull an object while it is still partly resting on the ground) a very heavy object, or to carry something on a long, difficult journey: “Maria lives on the fifth floor so every day she has to schlep upstairs with all of her books when she gets home from school.”

Schmuck is a rude word used to refer to a person who is very stupid, foolish, or easily tricked: “Can you believe that schmuck bought that old car for $10,000?” Or, “Some schmuck left the door open and the dog ran away.”

The verb to schmooze means to chat (speak informally) in an intimate or close way with someone who has more power and influence than you do, with the goal of making a good impression on that person and/or to influence them in some way: “Look at David. He’s trying to schmooze with the bosses so he has a better chance of getting a manager job.”

A schnoz or schnozzle is used to talk about a nose, especially a very large nose: “I hope my baby doesn’t grow up to have a schnoz like mine!”

Finally, a shtick is comedy performance or funny routine to make other people laugh that is associated with a particular person: “That comic always uses the same shtick, slipping on a banana peel (outer cover of fruit) to try to make his audience laugh.”

There are many loan words (words adopted from another language) in English and these are just a few of the most common Yiddish ones. Now that you know them, you won’t feel like a schmuck the next time you hear them in conversation.

~ ESLPod Team

P.S. If you’re curious how these words are pronounced, click on the links below to hear pronunciations:

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* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 701. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.


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No Room for a Park? Build a Parklet.

Here I am on Saturday afternoon enjoying my coffee. I’m not sitting outside of a cafe. I’m sitting at a parklet in Santa Monica.

You know what a park is: it’s a green space with trees where people can go to enjoy nature, play sports and games, and just relax. But in a place like LA where there isn’t enough room for a lot of parks, some cities are building parklets.

The suffix “-let” is usually used with nouns to mean something smaller than the original. For example, a booklet is a small or thin book with fewer pages than a regular book. A ringlet is a piece of hair made into a small curl, usually on little girls. When used with animals, “-let” means a baby animal: a sow (female pig) has piglets.

These parklets — or small parks — are placed on the street and take the space of one or more parking spaces, next to the sidewalk (walkway along the street).

Here’s another parklet, this one in downtown Los Angeles:

If you don’t mind a little exhaust (gas from cars, trucks, and other vehicles), they’re a nice place to sit, relax, and people-watch (watching people go by when you don’t have anything else to do).

~ Jeff

Photo credit: City of Los Angeles

Posted in Life in the United States | 11 Comments

Cocaine for Babies

I feel bad for parents dealing with teething babies (babies with growing teeth). It seems nothing can soothe (calm and quiet) them when they have a toothache (pain in the tooth).

But if you were a parent in the U.S. in the 1880s, and you went to the pharmacy (store where drugs and medications are sold) for something to help your baby, the pharmacist may have handed you (given you) some Cocaine Toothache Drops (see photo).

Cocaine is a highly-addictive (something your body wants and needs very badly) illegal (against the law) drug. It is usually used in the form of white powder (very small solid pieces, like dust).

Drops are small solid candies that you put in your mouth and suck on while they slowly dissolve (turn from a solid to a liquid).

These cocaine drops promised an instantaneous (immediate) cure (something that will make you healthy again). It’s not clear how much cocaine was in each drop, but I’m pretty sure the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) would not approve it today. The FDA is the government agency that now regulates (makes rules about) drugs sold in the U.S.

I wonder what parents 100 years from now will say about some of the medicines we give children today!

~ Jeff

Image Credit: National Institute of Health
Posted in Life in the United States | 15 Comments

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

*punk: a worthless person; a young and inexperienced person, who believes he or she is very skilled and knowledgeable
–> “Who is that punk? He says he can beat anyone in a game of tennis.”

*to have (got) nothing on (someone): to not be as good as someone (Jeff is saying he’s a better fighter/shooter than Clint Eastwood)
–> “You’re pretty smart, but you’ve got nothing on me.”

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Posted in Language & Terms | 21 Comments

Happy Birthday, Jeff!

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The Darwin Award

The Darwin Award is an honor (award or prize) that is given as a joke to people who have done stupid things to hurt themselves badly or even to kill themselves. It is given out each year.

The “award” was actually started by different people on the Internet. There is no official organization that gives out this award. One of the most well known lists, however, can be found at here.

This award is of course named after Charles Darwin (1809–1882), who is best known for his theories (general principles to explain something) on evolution, or how different forms of life have changed or “evolved” over their long history on Earth.

One idea that came out of Darwin’s theories is often called “survival of the fittest,” which is the concept that the strongest and smartest people survive (stay alive), and the weakest and dumbest do not. As a result, the weakest people do not pass on their genes (genetic material; the characteristics that a person passes onto his or her children) to future generations.

This award is a tongue-in-cheek (not serious) prize for the people each year who have done the stupidest thing to kill themselves or to hurt themselves so that they can no longer have children.

For example, in 1996, the winners included a man who wanted to prove how brave and strong he was by cutting off his own head! In 2000, one of the winners shot himself with his own gun while teaching his wife about gun safety. In 2005, two men who had been drinking alcohol made a bet while standing on an overpass (road or bridge over a freeway). They wanted to know who was strongest. They decided that the winner would be the person who could dangle (hang by their arms) over the freeway the longest. The winner was too tired to climb back up and was killed when he fell.

And with the help of current technology, in 2014, two men tried to take selfies (photos taken of yourself, while operating your own smartphone/camera) with an elephant. The two men were actually touching the elephant’s face when the elephant got angry and trampled (walked on and crushed) them both.

No one is certain why most of the winners have been men.

ESLPod Team

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Image Credit: From Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 72. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.
Posted in Jokes and Humor | 11 Comments