When I was a kid, I remember thinking "I'll fight you with my bare hands!" meant that your hands were strong like a bear. Anyway, my four-year-old son came up to me the other day and vowed to fight me with his bare hands and I remembered how I understood this phrase as a kid:
Be careful out there!
I posted a new video to my YouTube channel. Here it is:
They finally give up the fight, hang their head in academic shame, and proclaim me the winner...
Actually, it's more like this:
Anyway, there are still 15 actual sounds in Midwestern American English, so there! (runs away quickly)
This expression came up in class last week. During a complicated explanation, I asked the class to bear with me ("be patient with me"), and then I asked them what that phrase meant, and they only knew about the animal bear:
It actually comes from the meaning of the word "bear" which means "to carry." I think the idea is to carry the burden of the communication encounter (when things aren't clear, the load gets pretty heavy on the part of the listener).
Let's all bear with each other!
I apologized to a friend the other day for flaking on him, and then I drew this cartoon. The phrasal verb "to flake on" generally means to cancel meeting someone with rather dubious or strange reasons, or it could mean behaving in a very strange, dodgy manner or being noncommittal in a strange and unexplained way.
The funny thing is I'm pretty sure getting flaked on metaphorically feels just as annoying as it would if someone were pouring corn flakes on your head.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
P.S. If any of you reading this want to see a cartoon of your favorite idiom or expression, let me know by sending me an email. I will do my best to accommodate, and I enjoy a challenge.
I'm going to take a brief break from writing about plagiarism to share a cartoon I made to illustrate how writing is different than speaking. Namely, this illustrates that a good writer imagines and anticipates questions, responding to them before the reader would have a chance to pose them:
In the lower-right, you get to see how my handwriting is when I'm on the spot in the classroom (I added it quickly to show how student writing typically is without elaboration and explanation).
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Teachers: Like It or Not, Students Use New Approaches to Writing with Sources
TL;DR: Student's new writing practices put them at risk for plagiarism, but it can be helped!
I was having my students practice paraphrasing sentences from an academic article, and so I thought I would make it really meta and have them paraphrase an article about international students paraphrasing.
Here is the paragraph they used which is from page 116 of Introna and Hayes (2011) (which happens to be a very informative article on the issues involved in using plagiarism detection software):
I took the underlined sentence and had them try to paraphrase it. Many of them didn't know the phrasal verb "draw upon" and told me the meaning was to draw and color, so in my head, I was thinking like this:
I had to explain about the old meaning of "draw," which survives in their dresser drawer (not like actually lives in there--it's an old meaning that is fossilized in "dresser drawer").
I can remember when I wrote papers in college, I used the text fragment strategy. Since this is becoming a dominant strategy used by students, rather than viciously cling to the old note card system*, I say go with it and offer these words of caution (if these steps are not followed, there is a BIG risk for accidental plagiarism):
Regarding Step 7, this is something I recommend for my ESL students. When teaching native speakers, we tell them to read the source, understand it, and then look away from the source and write what can be remembered from the gist of it. This sounds practical, but for a non-native with a less-than-native vocabulary, it may be very difficult to find other words. Many of my good students (read: conscientious and hardworking) who have plagiarized insist they did not copy and paste but that they typed every word. I like to take this at face value and assume the student is actually telling the truth. The most likely explanation (in my mind, anyway): The students have no other vocabulary to "fall back on" so to speak, so along with the idea (the gist), they get the exact wording stuck in their heads, and they cannot separate this idea from the wording. Therefore, I tell my students to stare the source text in the face and write their paraphrase below it until they can SEE that it is using different vocabulary and grammar.
Soon I will write about paraphrase strategies for ESL students since the "read it and then look away and write your summary/paraphrase" strategy does not work for non-natives.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
*Comments on the "Note Card Method": When I was in high school, I was required to use note cards for research papers. I loved my high school English teachers, but I hated this approach. It was incredibly frustrating, time-consuming, and unnecessary. I hope no one still does this.
I encountered this one at the CMU English Language Institute's Annual Poetry Contest:
If someone says this and they are not handing you a bottle of glue, then they probably just want you to stay wherever you are and not leave.
I looked across the table at the butter dish the other day, and this is what popped into my head:
For my non-native English speakers, when you "butter someone up," it means you do nice things for them or say nice and sweet things to them in the hope that they will do what you want. For example, you might compliment your boss on his hat or agree to read some pages from his new young adult novel so that you can get a promotion or be put on a nice committee.
Good luck persuading people today, but be careful because butter stains!
I found this cartoon from a few months ago when I had a bad cold. I was almost as frustrated as the guy in the picture:
Have a good one, and remember not to touch the T-zone!
I had a student in the spring who made a joke of inviting me to dinner with the class, and he even correctly used the expression, "dinner is on me." As he was explaining it to the other students, they started laughing about dinner being "on" someone like dinner can be "on" a table. I had to capture this idea:
Have a good one, and don't literally have dinner be on you!
I've added a couple cartoons to illustrate cause and effect. For some reason, this structure causes a lot of trouble for students even in the higher levels. Every semester, I'm bound to hear at least one student say:
"Wait, wait, I'm confusing."
"No, you're confused."
"Yes. Could you explain..."
Sometimes the pictures help (or at least I hope so). These aren't as elaborate as the ones I make on the board in class:
I really like the beard. It reminds me of my dad.
And of course, what would a boring lecture be without someone on a phone, not-so-slyly glancing downward. That's right! I see you!
Have a good one.
Something funny happened the other day that made me think about the ideal mindset for language learning. I was joking with a student about going out and buying a jalopy.
"What is a jalopy?"
"Oh, it's an old, beat up car that's practically worthless."
"Oh. We have a word for this. We get it from English. We call it 'sick crab.'"
"Yeah. It's an English word."
"Oh. Hmmm... I guess those are English words, but they don't mean that in English."
"You don't know this English vocabulary?"
"No, I know it, I would just never use it that way."
Meanwhile, in my brain, the following conversation is playing out...
"They call a jalopy a sick crab?"
"I don't know. A lot of English words get borrowed and then re-purposed so that they don't quite make sense. Maybe it's like that?"
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It could make some sense. I mean, does it make any more sense than 'buying a lemon?'"
"I mean, maybe if you sat down to a fine crab dinner and then it turned out the crab you ate was a sick crab, and then you're like, 'Oh man, I ate a sick crab. I'm so sick now!' Maybe it's like that?"
Finally, one of them offers a dictionary that shows the spelling.
"Oh! Scrap!" (The word 'scrap' has only one syllable, but thanks to epenthesis, some ESL learners may insert a vowel to break up the [skr] cluster, resulting in two syllables, or 'sick crab'.)
We all laughed at the misunderstanding, but it made me think about the mindset we need for language learning. Sometimes, when learning a language, we might get frustrated with expressions that make no sense or with grammar rules that aren't consistent or with native speakers whose handwriting is too hard to read or with people speaking too fast. Nevertheless, sometimes we just have to roll with the punches, accept whatever language facts we run across, and just not fight it.
I notice this with children learning their first language--my three-year-old readily accepts almost any new vocabulary I teach him, and then he quickly busies himself with using it in new contexts. Sometimes I hear him using words he must have heard in a movie or in a conversation he was eavesdropping on. There is this kind of appreciation and welcoming of the new and foreign that we often see fade as we get older.
I guess what I'm saying is, sure, it's silly to think of sick crabs and jalopies (or lemons!), but sometimes we just have to run with it if we're learning another language and not get too embarrassed when we get it all wrong.
Ray Stantz was my favorite Ghostbuster as a kid, and I never forgot that scene where he "chose" the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Just like Ray in that scene, these images just kind of pop into my head when I stop to think about certain expressions and phrases in English.
Anyway, so a week ago, as I sat down to a particularly delicious looking pizza dinner, I said, "I'm going to go to town on this pizza!" and then I stopped to think about what my ESL students might think when they hear phrases like this. This was the image that popped into my head:
I drew more comics as I thought of more English expressions, and so I decided to make a section of my website devoted to these little sketches. I hope you get a kick out of them--but not a literal one involving a foot. Gosh, these things just creep up on you. Oh man! Creeping idioms! Like Night of the Living Dead or something... Okay, I'll stop.
If you have any expressions that you think would make a funny comic, drop me a message and I might try my hand at it, so to speak (or literally).
Hi! I'm Bill.
I'm all about making English more accessible to English language learners and their teachers. Click here to learn more about me and my site.