The captions are in, and so now comes time for people to vote. Choose from the captions below and I will post the winners next week.
I had a student write a paper about Snapchat last week, and I had to ask what it meant to put a "filter" on a picture--part of a growing body of evidence that the older I get, the more I don't know what my students are saying. Then I talked to the whole class about audience awareness, and how if you're writing to an audience who is unfamiliar with your topic, you have to explain more than usual. For example, the sentence, "he made an offensive tweet" would have been pretty meaningless thirteen years ago. Then I got this idea:
I really get a kick out of words or phrases that either no longer mean anything, or in the case of "tweet," mean something completely different today. Some people think it's weird that the president tweets; I think it's weird and kind fascinating that people can even say, "The president tweets" and we know that doesn't mean he's taken to chirping like a bird of some kind.
There's also Facebook's effect on language. I like how "friend" became a verb ("he friended me"), and more ominously, people started "defriending" each other. It sounds so awful: Defriend. ::cue suspenseful music::
Do you have any favorite phrases or words that mean something completely different today?
I always loved watching Law & Order with my dad, and for some reason, a lot of my cartoon ideas take place in a court room. I blame this on him also letting me watch the Three Stooges' Disorder in the Court at such a young age.
When we say, "better to let sleeping dogs lie," it means when you are thinking of broaching a topic that may cause more problems by talking about it or dealing with it directly, sometimes it's better to just let it be and ignore it (lest you wake up the angry dog). However, I never hear "lie" to mean sleep, so when I've heard it, I usually think of "lie" as in "to utter a falsehood." This idiom draws attention to the "lay" vs. "lie" grammar point: In prescriptive grammar, you should say, "I need to lie down," since it's intransitive. Some old school grammarians will say you cannot say "I need to lay down" since "lay" is traditionally transitive, meaning you need to have an object: "I need to lay down some bricks" or "I need to lay tiles." Still, plenty of people say, "I need to lay down for a nap" and everyone knows there are no bricks or tiles involved. I think the real solution is never let your English teachers hear you talk about napping.
I didn't mean to start debating the use of lay vs. lie. Perhaps I should have let sleeping dogs lay down.
I used to live and work in the Flint area when I taught at the University of Michigan-Flint, and there are so many things I miss from that time. Most of all, I miss my friends that I made there and wish I could visit them more easily, but I also miss the little things. There were so many wonderful restaurants. My favorites were Bangkok Peppers, Grill of India, Taboon's. I heard good things about Badawest, but sadly, I never got to try it even though my students all said it was the best Lebanese food. There was also the Korean market that we still stop by whenever we're in the area to buy sweet potato noodles and kim and ddeok and... oh! I have to stop!
One practical thing I missed was low-cost high-speed internet. I remember paying $40 a month for AT&T, and now I pay 50% more for a lower speed. Sometimes I tell myself, "This is ridiculous! I don't need the Internet! I will just cancel it and go to my local library!" but then the bill comes in the mail and I grudgingly pay it, and that makes me think of this:
When something "costs an arm and a leg," it just means it's very expensive. I remember any time I shared this idiom with my students, they always laughed and pantomimed pulling off their arms and legs. "Yeah, well sometimes you really want something," I'd say, "but it really is that expensive! So what do you do?"
Do you have any other idioms you'd like to see drawn that have to do with costs and money (or arms and legs for that matter)?
Have a good one, and don't pay an arm and a leg if you can avoid it!
My kids are in Taekwondo, and so I'm naturally embarrassed about how poorly I can high-kick along with them, so I've taken to practicing in my spare time. Early in the wee morning hours, I set one of my cartoons to scan, so why not practice high-kicks while it processes? I kick a few times, and then wind up for an even bigger one while "You're the best around" plays in my head. Meanwhile, my cat, Mr. F, is so intrigued by the sound of the scanner that he crosses the living room floor (through the path of my kick) to go sniffing around it. Luckily, I was paying attention, but I have no doubt I could have really hurt/killed him if I hadn't stopped myself.
This led to this cartoon:
How so many cats survive is beyond me, but "curiosity killed the cat" is a classic idiom for the dangers of being too curious. Sometimes it's better to let sleeping dogs lie... ;)
Do you have any other favorite idioms involving cats?
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
My composition students have begun a new unit (one class on analyzing rhetoric and another producing a persuasive essay). One of the things we talked about was appeals to emotion, how you don't want to be too cold, but you also don't want to be too emotional and heavy-handed about it:
According to the OED, early uses from the 1600's alluded to stories like Moses' hands being heavy from holding them up during battle, so it used to mean clumsy as from exhaustion. Today, at least when I've heard it, it has come to mean an over-the-top quality like being overly emotional. See Jim Gaffigan's commentary on Sarah McLachlan's animal shelter videos:
While it's possible to be a little too heavy-handed, it's also possible to be a little too emotionless:
So with using emotional appeals, you really have to toe the line (maybe this will be a future cartoon). Sometimes you're writing in an academic context where a cold, emotionless approach is favored, but you might also be writing a letter to the editor or friend and need to show your emotions on an issue so no one thinks you're a robot.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
From a very young age, whenever my dad experienced difficulties, he said, "Kid, sometimes you have to grin and bear it." This was apparently fatherly wisdom passed down from his father. My dad always said it as if the meaning was self-evident, but as a child, I always took it to mean you should grin but be tough like a bear.
I may not have understood the meaning exactly right, but if you bear your burdens, that certainly does make you tough.
Can you think of any other idioms involving bears?
Have a good one and good luck out there!
My Facebook page recently reached over 1,000 likes, and so as a thank you, I thought of an idiom with the word "thousand" in it:
The phrase apparently originated at the turn of the 20th century and came to mean that pictures can sometimes "say" far more than words. I wanted to play on this idea, so I didn't put any words in the second picture. What do you think they're each saying or thinking?
Can you think of any other idioms with the word "thousand" in it?
Hope your day goes well. Good luck out there!
I really like the concept of universal design, especially as it applies to ESL education. Accommodations like wheelchair ramps, elevators, and lever sets enable people that are disabled to do everything a little easier, but it also helps people who do not have a disability. Got a box full of heavy stuff in your hands? A lever is easier to open than a knob. The same applies to education: When you've got Americans and ESL students in the same class, what kind of lessons benefit both parties?
One thing I've noticed is talking about phrasal verbs. ESL students really struggle with phrasal verbs. They are notoriously difficult to parse and understand. Take this one for example:
We'll get off on the next exit.
What do you mean, "off on?"
To complicate matters, some phrasal verbs are separable and others are inseparable when using a pronoun:
I can't figure out the problem.
I can't figure it out. (separable)
NOT I can't figure out it.
We'll check out of the hotel tomorrow.
We'll check out of it tomorrow. (inseparable)
NOT: We'll check it out of tomorrow.
Americans know these rules intuitively; ESL students have to learn with each phrasal verb whether it is a separable phrasal verb (like "figure out") or an inseparable verb (like "check out of").
Regarding usage, American and ESL students tend to have opposite problems: ESL students will often overuse Latinate verbs in conversation when a phrasal verb would be more natural ("I'm trying to determine which apartment to rent" vs. "I'm trying to figure out which apartment to rent"), and Americans often overuse phrasal verbs in academic writing when a Latinate verb would be much better ("The recession ended up costing tax payers" vs. "The recession caused higher costs to taxpayers"). This is helpful to make both types of students more aware.
I think this is a lesson that belongs in mainstream writing classes. My reasoning is this: Many American students have been told, "don't write like you talk," but what exactly does this mean? The actual grammatical features common to speech need to be pointed out to them. I've taught this particular topic to my American students and once they're paying attention to this, I've noticed them self-correct their own writing, and it begins to take on a more academic tone. This is especially helpful for students with a limited vocabulary--it's more challenging for them to substitute their phrasal verbs with their Latinate counterparts, but at the very least, they have a more measurable way of not "writing like they talk" (whatever that means).
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
This is one of my favorite idioms and one I have to explain to students a lot:
A person who can "play by ear" is a person who can imitate and play a song without reading the music for it. In conversation, it has come to mean, "let's improvise" or "let's see how it goes" or quite literally, "let's not plan out every detail ahead of time and instead react to changes in circumstance in the moment as they happen." For example, when Miami Heat player Dwayne Wade dislocated his shoulder in a game against the Rockets in 2007, President Pat Riley said he wanted to "limit Wade's minutes to about 20 a game." Wade was not fully healed, so Riley said:
"He's not back yet... He's going to need seven games. He's going to need whatever time it is. We'll have to play it by ear."
In other words, the player wasn't fully healed, and Riley couldn't speak too soon about when he would be able to play a full game.
Source: Nance, R. (2007, April 10) Wade rejoins Shaq as playoffs loom; Heat didn't lose a step without star guard, USA Today, Sports pp. 3C.
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!
Spelling mistakes used to bother me a lot and get under my skin, but now I just try to see the humor in it and remind students to re-read their papers slowly. Here is my stock advice that is programmed by a macro to populate a Word comment bubble:
Please spellcheck your essay before submitting it. Try to read through your document slowly by using your finger or the eraser-side of a pencil to slow down your reading. This will help you read more slowly and catch mistakes.
Below is an old cartoon I made a couple years ago based on a typo I found in set of chess instructions: "The prawn [sic] moves straight ahead, never backwards." I was so tickled by the image of the shrimp's cousin scuttling across a chess board that I simply had to draw it. I tried to capture a look of defiance on the prawn's face, as if to say, "No, I'm not moving back. Haven't you read the rules?"
Still, I'm thankful for inadvertently funny spelling errors. Without them, grading would be made a little less funny (very easy to do that), and I would never think thoughts like this:
Bonus: A story about my first encounter with a prawn!
A colleague in Japan made a request for tips on teaching the "w" sound, so I made the following video:
This issue doesn't just affect Japanese students. I've noticed it with Koreans, Chinese, and even sometimes Arabic speakers. In the video, and in this post, though, I focus on Japanese students, but the principles are likely at work with other students as well.
With /w/, you likely notice students make mistakes with only certain words, right? Since Japanese has /w/ in words like "watashi" and "wakaranai", or loan words like "week" (ゴールデンウィーク), it might be a matter of a cross-linguistic interference (i.e. they don't realize the "w" sound in Japanese is not the same as the /w/ in English).
With pronouncing [w], I would try to make them aware of what they already know how to do (pronounce [w] at the beginning of words like "water," "why," and "week") and use it as a springboard to what they don't know.
To make matters more complicated, though, you must get them to realize that the /w/ in English is always rounded. They're probably messing it up because in Japanese, the sound they think is like the English "w" only sounds like it (in Japanese, they don't round their lips when pronouncing "watashi" or "wakaranai"). That's the trouble with using your first language to understand a second: They think, "Oh yeah, the 'w' sound--like in the word 'watashi,'" but the problem is that sound isn't the same as the English "w". They then carry over those assumptions into other English words, and while you need not round the w in words like "water", "why", and "which," (i.e. English speakers will probably still understand you), you cannot avoid rounding in words that start with a long and short "oo" sound (would, woo, woman). Not rounding makes them sound like "ould," "oo" and "ooman."
Does that make sense?
It's the same problem as an American thinking the "r" in Japanese is the same as the "r" in English. They are clearly totally different (in Japanese, it's a flap, and in English, it's an approximant), which is why an American who doesn't understand this and tries to say a word like "taberareru" will sound like Scooby Doo.
I hope that makes sense and you can teach these sounds more effectively.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
Here is an old cartoon (for me) but a new cartoon for you. I was teaching the passive voice a while back, and I had to make this point via the white board in response to a very frustrated grammar student asking, "Why can't I say, 'The soup is tasting John'?":
That's why you can't say "the soup is tasting John"! Okay, so it really looks like the soup is eating John (maybe he's a really aggressive taster?), but the point is these two sentences are not equivalent although they may seem like it to students who haven't learned how to use passive voice yet.
Students are also resistant to using it at first and will mark it wrong on a test because they learn that stative verbs cannot take a progressive form. For example, we cannot say "He is being a lawyer now" or "I am seeing a bird out the window now." This sentence ("The soup is being tasted by John") is the passive form of "John is tasting the soup." It is not the copula "is" in the progressive form.
Anyway, have a good one, and don't let any soup taste you!
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)
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.