Free English Lesson: Cultural English 490 – Muhammad Ali & the Golden Gate Bridge

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Posted in Announcements | 23 Comments

Thick as Thieves

When I was growing up, my best friend was Marlene. We became friends in the third grade when we were about 10 years old. We hung around (spent free time) with each other all the time. In fact, we were practically (nearly) inseparable (seldom without the other).

You could say that we were “thick as thieves.” A thief is someone who steals things, and thick, in the 1700s, referred to two (or more) people who were close or who were working closely together. “Thick as thieves” was often used to describe two (or more) people who were conspiratorial. To conspire means to have a secret plan among a group of people, usually something to do something that is against the law or something bad.

But the way we use “thick as thieves” today doesn’t typically have a bad connotation (meaning). Thick as thieves is usually used to describe friends who are close and who share secrets with each other. Marlene and I were thick as thieves, telling each other things we would never tell anyone else (thank goodness!).

Today, thick is most often used to mean “not thin,” as in: “If your fishing line isn’t thick enough, it’ll break when you catch a fish.”

Sometimes, thick can be used as a shortened form of thickheaded, a way to describe someone not very intelligent or stupid, or has a difficult time understanding something. It’s an insult when used that way, of course.

Finally, “through thick and thin” means no matter what happens, even through very bad times. Some marriages survive (continue) through thick and thin — just not most Hollywood marriages.

~ Lucy

Posted in Language & Terms | 13 Comments

You Think You’re a Genius? Ditto.

You will sometimes hear Americans use the word “ditto” in a conversation. Ditto is used as a response to what someone else has said to mean “That is true for me, too” or “The same with me,” as in:

Edmund: I am really cold.
Hillary: Ditto! Let’s turn on the heat.

If you ask Americans where the term came from, most would say it comes from making copies (creating a an exact duplicate of an image using a machine). You see, early copiers* (machines used to make copies) were informally called “ditto machines” or “mimeographs,” and produced copies that we called “dittos.”

When I was a kid (many centuries ago), teachers passed out (distributed) dittos in the classroom. When I was teaching in the 1980s and 1990s, I used to spend a lot of time creating dittos for my students (here’s an example of one from Wikipedia). Nowadays, copy machines use a different process to make the copies, so we no longer use “dittos.”

However, the word “ditto” does not actually come from the old ditto machines. As with a lot of words in American English, it has its origins (beginnings) in another language – in this case, Italian.

“Ditto” comes from the Italian word ditto, a form of the verb “to say” (dire). It was used in accounting (keeping financial accounts) or recordkeeping (an account of information) to represent a word so that it didn’t need to be repeated.

When we started using this word in English, we used it to avoid having to repeat a month or year in a date on accounting or legal documents. For example, instead of writing, “on March 2, March 13, March 22” you could write, “on March 2, ditto 13, ditto 22.”

People still express this same idea sometimes in everyday writing, but instead of putting the word “ditto” they use a quotation mark like this: , which is sometimes called a “ditto mark.” This is placed in a column underneath a row that contains the same information, so you don’t have to write it again.

For example, if you arrive at the doctor’s office and you are asked to sign in (write down your name and the time you arrived), you might see people who arrived close to the same time put a underneath the time above it, like this:

Rob Roy        10:15 AM
John Cho            ”
Maria Alma         “

This means that the Maria and John arrived at the same time as Rob, 10:15 A.M.

As I said at the start, the word “ditto” can be used to agree with someone, but often, it is used to say, “I am the same.” So, for example, if I say, “I stink (smell badly) after exercising,” and you respond, “I agree,” you’re saying that you think I stink, too. However, if you respond “Ditto,” you are saying that you, like me, also stink after exercising, which means we both need a bath.

Now you can understand the title of this blog post: “You Think You’re a Genius (very intelligent person)? Ditto.” By responding with “Ditto,” I’m not saying I also think you are a genius, but rather that I think that I am a genius as well.

~ Jeff

* Ditto machines were made by a company called “Ditto Corporation,” although it seems likely the company itself took its name from this same idea as the accounting expression, from the Italian.

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Free English Lesson: Daily English 867 – Talking About Attractive Men and Women

Are you thinking about joining our Select English Membership but aren’t quite sure what you’ll get? Watch this episode of Daily English which shows you exactly what is included in our PDF Learning Guide!

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Spaghetti Westerns

It’s summertime! Lots of students on summer vacation are flocking to (going to in large numbers) movie theaters.

Students today may be surprised to learn how popular Westerns were before the 1970s. They may be more surprised to learn that some of the most famous classic (well-known and respected) Westerns weren’t even filmed in the U.S.

A Western is a movie about the Western part of the United States during the 1800s, when there were a lot of cowboys (men who ride horses and move cattle (cows) from one place to another), Indians (now called “Native Americans” or “American Indians”), and ranchers (people who owned many cattle).

Even though Westerns were about the American West, in the 1960s, many Western films were made by Italian studios (companies that make movies). These Italian Westerns are known by the nickname (informal name) “Spaghetti Westerns.” (Spaghetti is a common, long type of noodle or pasta from Italy.)

Many Spaghetti Westerns were filmed (recorded) in the Spanish desert (a hot, dry, sandy area) because it looked similar to parts of the American West. Also, because Spaniards spoke Spanish, it was easy to find Spanish-speaking actors to act as Mexicans, usually fighting against the American cowboys.

Spaghetti Westerns were very violent, with a lot of fighting. They were also filmed in a minimalist (simple) style, and many people did not like these movies for that reason. But in the 1980s people began to appreciate (see as being good or worthwhile) Spaghetti Westerns because they realized how influential (having a lot of impact) they were in shaping (causing to change) Americans’ views of the American West.

Three of the most famous Spaghetti Westerns are those in the trilogy (a series of three related movies) called “Man With No Name,” directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone. Before Clint Eastwood became an Academy Award winning director, he was a very popular star (main character) in 1960s Westerns, including in this trilogy.

The three movies in the trilogy are “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The third movie — “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” — is probably still one of the most famous Westerns ever made.

~ ESLPod Team

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Photo Credit: from Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 80. 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 | 12 Comments

Are You a Pig, Owl, Beaver, or Clam?

owl-845131_1920Animals and people have a lot in common, if language is any indicator (something that shows the current state or level of something). We compare people to animals all the time, whether it’s because of their appearance (how they look), personality traits (characteristics), or behavior.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common expressions we use to talk about people’s personalities.

If someone is stubborn (not willing to change their attitude or opinion), they can be called “pigheaded.” We can also say that they’re “as stubborn as a mule” (an animal born to a female horse and a male donkey).

Intelligent people are sometimes described as being “as wise as an owl” (a large bird with round eyes and the ability to turn its head almost in a full circle and is awake at night). And you might hear people say “an elephant never forgets,” referring to a general belief that elephants have long memories (the ability to remember things for a long period of time). (Elephants are very large animals with a long nose called a “trunk.”)

Lions are generally thought to be brave (courageous, not scared of things). But a chicken is someone who is afraid to do something. The phrase “to chicken out” means to change one’s mind and decide not to do something because one is too scared.

Someone who is very enthusiastic (wanting to do something and looking forward to it) about doing something, especially work, can be described as an eager beaver (a rodent-like animal with a large, flat tail that uses its teeth to cut down trees and use them to block rivers to create ponds).

Someone who is nervous, shy, quiet, and lacking (being without) an interesting personality may be called “mousy.” Similarly, shy people are sometimes described as being “as quiet as a mouse.”

Someone who has a lot to say but suddenly stops talking is said to “clam up,” because a clam is a sea animal that lives between two round shells that can close like the lips of a person who doesn’t want to speak.

Finally, people who “eat like a bird” eat very little. The phrase “to pig out” means to eat a lot of something, and people who “eat like a horse” eat a lot of food.

~ ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 729. 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 Language & Terms | 6 Comments

Anasazi Cliff Dwellings

A few weeks ago (in late May), I got a chance to visit a place I’ve wanted to go to for a long time: the Anasazi cliff dwellings. The Anasazi were a Native American tribe (group; people) that lived in the Southwestern part of present-day (what is now) United States in about 1100 A.D. A cliff is the very steep side of a mountain, and a dwelling is a home.

In the southwestern corner of Colorado is Mesa Verde National Park. A national park is a place of natural beauty or importance that is protected by the United States federal (national) government. Mesa Verde is where you will find some of the best preserved (protected from damage) cliff dwellings dating back to the (from the years) 1100 and 1200s A.D.

Nobody knows for sure why, but in the 1190s, the Anasazi, who had lived on the top of the mesa (mountain with a flat top) up to this time, moved to new dwellings they built underneath (below) the hanging cliffs (part of the cliff without supporting rock underneath).

Some of the structures were small and had only one room, probably used for storage (keeping things for later use). Others were as large as 150 rooms, large enough for an entire village (community of people living together). While the Anasazi continued to farm above, they lived below. One theory (guess based on the available evidence) is that they were protecting themselves from other hostile (unfriendly; wanting to harm them) groups.

Again, no one knows why, but by the late 1270s, the Anasazi started moving south. They are the ancestors (people who came before) of the Pueblo Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona today. By 1300, a little more than 100 years after they were built, the Anasazi cliff dwellings had been abandoned (with no one living there anymore).

I was able to go on a tour of one of these cliff dwellings. To reach the dwelling, we had to climb down a tall ladder (see below), crawl (move on hands and knees) through holes in the rock, and scramble (move quickly over rough ground) over the side of the mountain. It was not as strenuous (requiring a lot of physical effort) as it sounds and quite safe, of course. I am not Tom Cruise!

Here are a couple of the photos I took of the “Balcony House,” one of several dwellings that visitors can tour. (A balcony is a place you can step out onto on the outside of a house, and this dwelling was called the “Balcony House” because it had a rock formation (rock structure) shaped like a balcony.)



Below is a photo of the “Cliff Palace.” A palace is a very large home where rich or important people live, such as kings or queens. I couldn’t tour this dwelling because it wasn’t open for tours yet.

Finally, can you see the windows in this photo? There are dwellings behind them. This gives you an idea of the scale (size compared to other things) of these dwellings and the surrounding cliffs.

How did the Anasazi reach these dwellings? The best guess (belief based on little or limited evidence) is that they used ropes (long pieces of strong fabric) and were excellent rock climbers, perhaps using only their hands and feet to climb up and down.

If you ever get a chance to visit Mesa Verde National Park, I highly recommend it. But be sure to get your tour tickets a few days early. There are always more people who want to take tours then there are tickets.

~ Lucy

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Photo Credit: Lucy Tse
Posted in Life in the United States | 12 Comments

Let’s Chat

Another video experiment for today’s blog’s post! Here I explain the meaning and usage (the way we use) the verb to chat.


Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

A Rock versus a Stone: A One-Minute Video Lesson

Here’s a one-minute video lesson on the difference between a rock and a stone in English. Enjoy!



Posted in Language & Terms | 12 Comments

Which Dog Will You Feed?

I heard an echo (something you hear again) from the past a few days ago. From my childhood, actually.

When I was young, I remember hearing a story – first told, I believe, by a religious leader named Billy Graham – about a fisherman who used to bring his two dogs – one white, one black – to town every Saturday afternoon. He had taught the dogs to begin fighting whenever he told them to. The town-people would make bets (pay money to say) on which dog would win. One Saturday the black dog would win. The next Saturday the white dog would win. And the fisherman always won!

One day one of his friends asked how he always knew which dog would win. “It’s easy,” he replied, “I starve (don’t feed) one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.”

The way I heard the story is that we all have both good and bad in us. The part we feed will dominate (control) us.

I heard an echo of that story a few days ago while reading a blog post by Seth Godin. Godin is a really smart guy. He’s written 18 best-selling books, started two businesses, and writes a daily blog followed by many.*

What I like about Godin, and the biggest reason I read his blog, is that he is also wise: he has good sense (understands what is important) and judgement (ability to make good decisions) that he’s learned from his many life experiences.

In his blog post, Godin suggests making two lists on two pieces of paper. The first is a list of negatives – people who don’t like you, bad things that have happened to you in the past, bad situations that you’re experiencing now, and things like that.

The second is a list of positives – like things you know, good experiences that you’ve had, people who trust you, what’s working for you now, and what’s worked for you in the past.

Godin says, “It’s all real” – good and bad. “Don’t hold back (hesitate).” In other words, write it all down.

When you finish the two lists, Godin says to choose one of them and put it somewhere you won’t see it. Once a week, take it out and look at it. Put the second list somewhere you can see it and read it every day.

Godin writes that the daily list will determine what you notice, what you think about, and how you think about what happens to you day by day. The choice is yours. Which list will you put where?

Personal note: The next few months are going to be very busy for me, so I’m going to be taking a break, at least until the end of September. Hope you have a great summer!

~ Warren Ediger, ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

* Editor’s note: Godin’s blog is so popular, you can find it by just typing “Seth” into the U.S.’s Google search engine.

Photo found on Etsy.



Posted in Life in the United States | 3 Comments