Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

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Ten “most hated” English expressions

I came across this list via the Chosun Ilbo via the Telegraph about the ten most hated English expressions.

I agree with most of the ones on the list:

Oxford University has chosen the 10 most-hated sloppy idiomatic expressions. The Telegraph reports the most hated phrase was “at the end of the day,” while “fairly unique” came in a close second.

Oxford researchers explained that the phrase “at the end of the day” was chosen because it could be summed up in one word: “finally,” while “fairly unique” is an oxymoron.

In third place was “I personally,” which was tautological, while coming in at eighth was “shouldn’t of,” an illiterate rendering of “shouldn’t have.”

Writer Jeremy Butterfield said the ninth most-hated phrase “24/7” was repeated too often and became office jargon. He pointed out that people were growing increasingly tired of repetitive anecdotes, jokes and involuntary linguistic tics.

Although they did not make the Top 10, “literally” and “ironically” were also chosen as expressions that irritated people.

The Top 10 were:

1. At the end of the day
2. Fairly unique
3. I personally
4. At this moment in time
5. With all due respect
6. Absolutely
7. It’s a nightmare
8. Shouldn’t of
9. 24/7 (twenty-four seven)
10. It’s not rocket science

Do you have any you would like to add?

In defense of my vice:

Wait a minute, I thought this was about Tubbs and Crocket and Miami Vice. Oops!

Laos Memory Lane: Southern Laos (via Nye Noona)

Really like the photos and the commentary. I’ve been there once with Aon, Bia, Aon’s mom and some other relatives on my first trip to Laos in 2007.

Laos Memory Lane: Southern Laos Continue from Laos Memory Lane: Luang Prabang.  The accent in this region of Laos is very close to my own accent, Tai Tai.  But I think the local can pickup that we're not from the Pakse area.  My family were from Muang Kao, right across the Mekong River from Pakse. We spent the last part of our trip in Pakse running errands and visiting with relatives. Southern Laos is known for its beautiful waterfalls.  This is a video by by Rafael Amador whic … Read More

via Nye Noona

Jokes and Riddles for Kids

These are some fun jokes and riddles for kids, especially children who are learning English as a Second or Foreign Language (they play on sounds and language).

Over the years, I have gotten a lot of chuckles from kids when they hear these.

A Scary Number

Q:  Why is Number Ten scared of Number Seven?

A:   Because Seven, Eight, Nine.

Repeat After Me

Teacher: One day, two boys—Pete and Re-Pete—went fishing in a pond on their grandfather’s farm. They got in a boat and rowed out to the middle of the pond. Pete stood and fell in the water. Who’s in the boat?

Students: Re-Pete.

Teacher:  Okay, one day, two boys—Pete and Re-Pete—went fishing in a pond on their grandfather’s farm. They got in a boat and rowed out to the middle of the pond. Pete stood and fell in the water. Who’s in the boat?

Students:  Re-Pete.

Teacher:  Okay, one day, two boys—Pete and Re-Pete—went fishing in a pond on their grandfather’s farm….

Usually, it takes children two or three times to get through the story before they catch on. It is a good listening activity for students and a fun story.

Dictatory — Dictation + Story

A novel approach for using dictations in the EFL classroom

I got this idea from and ESL/EFL forum and tweaked it a bit for my classes

A “dictatory” is a dictation that is a continuous short story that spread over 8-10 lessons depending on the length of each dictation (approximately 40-50 words). Instead of an unconnected dictation of English passages, students listen to short paragraphs which together make up a short story. The advantages of using a dictatory is not only the continuity in the story itself with each paragraph dictated to the students, but also gets the students interested in the story by looking ahead to the next paragraph/dictation by asking questions to find out more about the plot and the story as well as predicting what might happen next. As such, the dictation is no longer a mechanical exercise, but a fun-filled activity from which a teacher and students can benefit.

Advantages of using a dictatory in class

  • Students pay more attention so they hear and understand more.
  • Students think ahead to try and guess what will happen next in the story.
  • Students are not merely doing a mechanical exercise, but instead are involved in a real communicative situation by asking questions about the story, making educated guesses about what will or could happen next.
  • Teachers can tailor make dictatories based on vocabulary and structures/patterns taught in a class.
  • Language is recycled.
  • Gives practice for listening comprehension.
  • Forces to students to write at least 40-50 words in English every lesson the dictatory is given that improves their general writing skills as well as increasing their vocabulary.
  • It provides uniformity and continuity for students.

Seoul Foreigners’ Cemetery: A Quiet Stroll Through History

Seoul Foreigners’ Cemetery: A Quiet Stroll Through History

Shared via AddThis

“I never said most of the things I said” – Yogi Berra

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

With the mercury getting close to three digits in Daejeon this afternoon, of all the expressions I could have come up with to describe just how hot it was here today, the first one that came to mind was one of the colorful malapropisms said by New York Yankee great Yogi Berra.

Born Lawrence Peter Berra on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, Berra is a former Major League Baseball player and manager who played almost his entire career for the New York Yankees. Elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Berra is without question one of the most beloved and colorful baseball players to play the game since Babe Ruth.

Berra, who stopped going to school in the eighth grade, was famous for his malapropisms and fracturing the English language in highly provocative and interesting ways. Here’s just a sample of some of his more famous sayings:

  • It’s like deja vu, all over again.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
  • It ain’t over till it’s over.
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • Even Napoleon had his Watergate.
  • He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.
  • You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.
  • You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.
  • The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • If you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Raining Cats & Dogs

Keeping with this rain theme that I’ve blogged about for the past two days, today it’s a look at a popular idiom, “raining cats and dogs’’ and unless you’ve read up a little on the origins of this idiom, be ready for a surprise.

First of all, it is not related to the well-known antipathy between dogs and cats like in the expression, “fighting like cats and dogs” (and probably no way connected to Bill Murray’s utterance in Ghostbusters—“dogs and cats living together”). Nor is this idiom in any literal sense about cats and dogs falling from the sky due to some meteorological freak storm—where smaller creatures such as frogs and fish have been carried up into the sky, by a tornado for example, to later “rain” down.

One interesting possibility of the idiom’s origin is from Norse Mythology. Dogs and wolves were attendants to Odin the god of storms and sailors associated them with rain. That doesn’t really explain the cats in the idiom, so maybe we’ve got to look at witches who often took the form of a cat, and yes, rode the wind. Not quite falling from the sky with dogs, so we can pretty much forget about this one.

One very strong possibility, at least one that made the rounds a few years back, was that cats and dogs were washed from roofs during stormy weather, specifically thatched roof houses. Supposedly, according an account of life in the 1500’s, these thatch roofs were an ideal place for small animals to live, including cats and dogs. And then of course, when it rained, the roof would become slippery and those little animals would slip and fall off the roof, including the cats and dogs. Thus the saying, “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

Well, this theory doesn’t hold water (pun intended) because in order for us to believe this tale, we would also have to believe the dogs live in roofs. Now, I’ve heard about a cat on a hot tin roof, but if we were to accept this bizarre idea—for dogs to have slipped off a roof in the pouring rain—one would have to wonder, what the heck is a dog doing sitting on the roof in the rain? If you require further debunking, hardly the place for man’s best friend to head for shelter in bad weather, right?

Another suggestion for all you etymologists out there is that “raining cats and dogs” comes from a version of the French word catadoupe, meaning waterfall. Well, my French is limited to Perrier, French fries and chaise lounge, so I can’t really say one way or another if this suggestion is also valid. Sacre blue!

Now we can come to the truth behind this idiomatic chestnut. The most likely source of “raining cats and dogs” is the “prosaic fact that, in the filthy streets of 17th and 18th century England, heavy rain would occasionally carry along dead animals and other debris.” Although cats and dogs did not fall from the sky, perhaps the sight of these animals floating by after a storm caused the coining of this idiom. To be sure, Jonathan Swift described such an event in his satirical poem “A Description of a City Shower” (1710)

“Now from all Parts the swelling Kennels flow,
And bear their Trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all Hues and Odours seem to tell
What Street they sail’d from, by their Sight and Smell.
They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid Force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their Course,
And in huge Confluent join’d at Snow-Hill Ridge,
Fall from the Conduit, prone to Holburn-Bridge.
Sweeping from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-tops come tumbling down the Flood.”

While Swift’s poem—a denunciation of contemporary London society—is metaphorical and doesn’t describe a specific flood, it is likely with his description of water-borne animal corpses, he was referring to an occurrence that many readers would know.

However, Swift wasn’t the first one to make such a reference. In 1653 the phrase was used in a modified form in Richard Brome’s comedy The City Wit or the Woman Wears Breeches (that must have been a real shocker back then) with a reference to stormy weather: “It shall raine…Dogs and Polecats.”

But let’s turn our attention to Swift again. He would use the expression again, in a form that we all have come to enjoy to use in his A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation (1738) when he writes, “I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.”

Therefore, Swift’s allusion to the streets flowing with dead cats and dogs in 1710 and his explicit use of it again in 1738 suggests the most likely origin. So, the next time it rains cats and dogs you have poor sanitation and Jonathan Swift to thank for this colorful expression.

Shanghai’d in Shanghai

No, I am not talking about that rockin’ Nazareth tune (hear below) but what I am referring to is the meaning of the verb “shanghai” or “shanghaiing.”

The word came up in class the other day; actually, I brought it up when I was explaining—after I learned that one of the students lived in Shanghai, China—how the term was once used in English to refer to the practice of conscripting men as sailors by coercive techniques such as trickery, intimidation, or violence. (I also explained that a related term, “press gang” referred to the impressment practices of Great Britain’s Royal Navy.)

What I didn’t know was that those involved in shanghaiing were called “crimps” and that they were predominantly found in port cities like San Francisco, Portland and Astoria in Oregon and Seattle and Port Townsend in Washington. The role of crimps and shanghaiing resulted “from a combination of laws, economic conditions, and practical considerations in the mid 1800’s.

Back then, “once a sailor signed onboard a vessel for a voyage, it was illegal for him to leave before the voyage’s end.” The penalty was imprisonment (the result of federal legislation enacted in 1790); however, later acts such as the Maguire Act of 1895 prevented this from happening and sailors could leave causing shortages.

Another reason for shanghaiing was the shortage of labor, in particular when many crews abandoned ships during California’s Gold Rush. No doubt, any able bodied seamen who stayed onboard a ship was literally “worth his weight in gold.”

Finally, shanghaiing came into its own when boarding masters had to find crews for ships. They were paid “by the body” and had a strong incentive to find as many seamen as they could. The pay they received was called “blood money” and in order to place as many seamen on a ship as possible no doubt set the stage for crimps who used “trickery, intimidation, or violence to put a sailor on a ship.”

Some of these crimps were some pretty smooth operators (and were well positioned politically to protect their lucrative trade) and according to one source, the most infamous examples of crimps included Jim “Shanghai” Kelly and Johnny “Shanghai Chicken” Devine of San Francisco and Joseph “Bunco” Kelly of Portland. In one classic story, “Bunco” Kelly “passed off a wooden Cigar Store Indian as a much-needed crewman to a desperate ship’s captain.” That would have been something to see. Wonder what happened when there was muster or roll call on board that ship. That Cigar Store Indian must have had a lot of explaining to do.

From what I learned, the most widely accepted theory of the how the word originated was that it came from Shanghai a common destination of the ships with abducted crews.

Today, the term means to be “induced to do something by means of fraud.”

Okay, got all that?

Now, here’s Nazareth’s “Shanghaied in Shanghai.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlA7iQpmJvo]

I’m going to see a man about a horse

Have you ever stopped to think about some of the English colloquialisms we use and their origin, not to mention why we even use them in the first place?

We use these colorful colloquialisms all the time and they are a rich part of our language and for someone who has made a living out of teaching our language, I am sometimes curious as to the origins and usage of some of these expressions.

To see a man, to see a man about a dog, or to see a man about a horse according to Wikipedia, “is an English language colloquialism, usually used as a smiling apology for one’s departure or absence-generally as a bland euphemism to conceal one’s true purpose.”

The phrase has several meanings but all refer to taking one’s leave for some urgent purpose, especially to go to the bathroom or going to buy a drink. On the other hand, “the original non-facetious meaning was probably to place or settle a bet on a race, thus dogs or horses.”

During Prohibition in the United States the expression took on a different meaning when going “to see a man about a dog” often meant to go meet one’s bootlegger.

The earliest confirmed publication is the 1866 Dion Boucicault play Flying Scud, in which a character knowingly breezes past a difficult situation saying, “Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can’t stop; I’ve got to see a man about a dog.” During a 1939 revival on the NBC Radio program America’s Lost Plays, TIME magazine observed that the phrase is the play’s “claim to fame”.

What’s most interesting is how we often take our language usage for granted; I mean we know when and how to use these expressions but we might not know the origins of these expressions.

So now, the next time you hear someone say they are going to see a man about a horse, you’ll know a little bit of how this expression originated.

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