Category Archives: Culture

563. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 3)

More vocabulary explanations & discussion of big issues, including how social media affects our worldview, the pros and cons of fidget spinners and debates about gender identity, including thoughts on the new female Doctor in Doctor Who. Transcript available.

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Part 3 – Transcript (99% complete)

Welcome back to part 3 of this series I’m doing about the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year. I’m going through the list of words from 2017 and then the plan is to move onto the words for 2018 and talk about them with Amber. She’s coming round here tomorrow morning actually.

So the Words of the Year – Collins select these lists of words every year, based on which words they’ve noticed being used a lot in this 12 month period. They’re not necessarily new words, and they might be phrases made from existing words. The main thing is that these words have risen in use significantly during the period and as a result they tap into issues, events and feelings that are very current.

Talking about the words of the year on the podcast is both a way for me to explore some vocabulary and also just talk about some issues of the moment.

Check the page on the website for this episode in order to see a lot of the things I’m saying written there, as transcripts and for other information.

Talking about these words, and discussing them also involves using various other useful bits of vocabulary that you can learn from me. Listening to episodes of this podcast can help you raise your level of English, starting with your listening skills – but the benefits to your English can be many, including developing your awareness of pronunciation, expanding your vocabulary, noticing aspects of grammar and all of this helps you with your speaking skills too. That’s the plan. Certainly, listening regularly, listening for longer periods and listening to something that I hope holds your attention – this is all really healthy for your English, so let’s keep going.

I have 6 words/phrases to deal with in this episode, so let’s not hang about.

In part 1 of the series I talked about how Collins uses data to make its dictionaries and other language reference books and I talked for quite a long time about the phrase fake news which topped their Words of the Year list for 2017.

Then in part 2 I talked about other words in the list for 2017, including antifa, corbynmania, and cuffing season. 

I’ve got 6 words left. Let’s see if I can deal with them all in part 3 here. Let’s go.

Echo chamber

noun: an environment, especially on a social media site, in which any statement of opinion is likely to be greeted with approval because it will only be read or heard by people who hold similar views .

The concept is, that if you live in an echo chamber, you only ever hear your own opinions coming back to you.

Echo (a verb and a noun) is when you make a sound and it travels away from you and then bounces off a surface and comes back to you. It’s like if you’re in a huge hallway and you go “hello!” and you then hear your own voice coming back to you, saying “hello!”

Hello hello hello ? ? ?

Echo echo echo ! ! !

So the echo chamber idea – when you live in a world in which you only ever hear or read your own ideas.

Nowadays there is so much media content out there, including news and just different opinions and comments about the world, and we have the ability to filter out certain things.

Eventually, if you only choose to see or hear things that you like, you’ll never hear about any conflicting opinions, you’ll never face disagreement, contradiction, challenge or other points of view. This can be quite dangerous. It makes you soft and unprepared for your ideas to be challenged. It can make you small minded because you only get a blinkered view of the world – you don’t get exposed to different opinions and it makes you unaware of what’s really going on in the world. It’s like living in a bubble. When something big happens, it can seem totally shocking and unbelievable.

Weirdly, in this super connected world, we are less and less connected and more and more divided, as we put ourselves into these more carefully defined personal categories and only receive information that fits with that category, we become more separated from the experiences of other groups of people.

That’s the theory behind the expression, echo chamber. Generally, this expression is a buzz word for this whole phenomenon.

Filtering out opposing viewpoints and living in a bubble.

These circumstances can push us away from each other, and make it harder to understand different opinions.

The results of the Brexit referendum and US presidential election in 2016 were both greeted with disbelief and shock by some people. The people on the losing side could not understand how their opponents refused to have their opinions changed by apparently reasonable arguments, while the winners remained convinced of the rightness of their own cause.

Basically, we were surprised and shocked by the existence of other points of view. Experts said that this situation was due to many people living in an ‘echo chamber’, where they only hear the views of people who share and reinforce their own opinions. This is increasingly possible when people form online communities that exclude any voices that challenge or threaten them.

For example, a lot of people no longer read newspapers or get their news from the TV. Instead they perhaps just look at Twitter to see what’s going on, but on Twitter you choose each and every account that you follow so you cherry pick the content, rather than just receiving the same information as everyone else.

Also it’s quite common to block people who disagree with you or argue with you. The result is an echo-chamber. And it’s not just for people who didn’t vote for Trump or Brexit. There are right-wing echo chambers too, including social media sites that welcome the types of opinions that are not really accepted by more conventional social media. So everyone is capable of living in an echo chamber.

The term ‘echo chamber’ originally referred to a room that scientists constructed to create echoes for use in sound recording or experiments.

Echo chambers are used to create real echoes which can be used for music or sound recording, instead of relying on digital echo (delay) effects.

Often the best echo chambers for music are bathrooms because they have those shiny ceramic tiles that let the sound bounce around nicely. That’s one of the reasons it’s nice to sing in the shower. Your voice echoes off the tiles and it sounds pretty good!

The idea of an environment where you can hear your own voice repeated back to you made this a perfect metaphor for the world of social media, where many people only talk with those who agree with them, thus creating a rather distorted picture of what the world is really like.

Do you live in an echo chamber?

A real echo chamber in a music studio. Actual echo chambers are used to create genuine echo and reverb effects. Check it out! What a cool studio!

Fidget spinner

noun: a small toy comprising of two or three prongs arranged around a central bearing, designed to be spun by the fingers as means of improving concentration or relieving stress.

This is so 2016/2017. I don’t know if people still use them or talk about them. Perhaps kids these days have moved on and talking about fidget spinners is not cool at all.

They look a bit like little wheels and you hold them between your fingers, flick them and they spin around and around quite satisfyingly. They’re fun to just fidget with, and fidgeting with them is quite addictive.

So, it’s just a fun toy that spins in your hand, right? No arguments and politics here, right? Nope – even fidget spinners divide people too!

Let’s look at the for & against.

For
It’s fun!
People say they’re good for kids with ADHD and autism.

From iheisthmus.com www.theisthmus.com.au/2017/06/fidget-spinners-the-for-the-against-the-important/

The biggest argument from the pro-spinners side is that they are a useful tool for kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other similar conditions. Occupational therapist Sandra Mortimer said “It can help with emotional regulation for children feeling anxious, worried and nervous.”

While there is no academic research about fidget spinners in particular, fidget tools (such as putty and stress balls) have long been known to help with this. The lack of specific academic research is to be expected though– fidget spinners are only a few months old, and research takes literally forever (well, a really long time at least).

There are some pretty cool creative uses for it (although as far as I can see this just means letting them spin in different places). E.g. balance a spinner on your fingers, make them spin on a table and see how long it spins, throw them between your hands while they spin, spin them and switch them onto different fingers, spin it and put it onto your nose, etc…

Against
As a fidget tool – it’s not a very good one. It’s big, it requires hand eye coordination so kids have to look at it – so it’s actually very distracting. It’s hard to just spin it in your hand and not look at it. So you can’t use it while working for example, or just have it in your pocket. It tends to use all your concentration.

It’s just an annoying trend and they’ll probably be forgotten in a few years until they come back as the latest nostalgia toy.

Have you ever used one?

Do your kids have them?

Gender-fluid

adjective: not identifying exclusively with one gender rather than another

So, it means when people don’t feel they have a fixed gender. They might feel male sometimes and female at other times and perhaps even feel like they belong to some other gendered category that we don’t even really have the language to describe.

Oh no, we’re back on difficult territory again! This is another minefield of a topic.

Now I remember why I kept putting off doing this episode! Too many trigger warnings, potential problems and complexity! But it’s a big subject at the moment, so let’s have a look…

This word relates to people who don’t identify as having a fixed gender.

Noun: gender fluidity

Some quick examples from a Google News search for “gender fluid”.

Pearl Mackie: It’s 2017- the Doctor is gender fluid
PinkNews-Dec 15, 2017
Outgoing Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie has responded to the backlash against a female Doctor, saying that the Doctor is gender fluid and the gender of the actor doesn’t matter.

Loki will be pansexual and gender-fluid in new Marvel novel
Washington Blade Dec 13, 2017
Marvel is releasing a series of three novels focusing on anti-heroes in 2019. One novel will focus on Loki, Thor’s adopted brother and nemesis. Author Mackenzi Lee took to Twitter to answer questions about the project and informed fans that Loki is “canonically a pansexual and genderfluid character.”

Men in skirts: gender-fluid fashion is no longer a novelty
Times LIVE-Dec 14, 2017
The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Zulus, Scots and countless others didn’t wear trousers and no one thought of them as effeminate. [Luke: I challenge anyone to find a bunch of Scottish men in kilts and to tell them they are effeminate! Ha! Good luck with that pal.] The same could be said of jewellery and many other fashion items. We spoke to a couple of experts to find out why gender-fluid fashion is trending.

Some people see this as progress, others see it and just get really angry. They get ‘triggered’ by it, using that expression again from part 1 of this series.

I’m just not going to get into it at great length because I exhausted myself with “fake news” and “antifa” and I’m going to take a pass on this one.

Do you have an opinion on this?

It’s complex. It’s not just – do you mind that people define their identity outside the traditional binary gender roles. It’s not just that. It’s also things like how this affects various changes in society. Some people think it’s all progress, others are really losing their minds about it, other people are just putting their foot down and saying “wait, I don’t mind how you identify – you’re free to be whoever you want, but don’t force me to change my world” – that type of thing.

Gender-fluid people or transgender people are saying “Hey, it would be really nice and respectful if you could just acknowledge my identity and perhaps make a few changes to make me feel like I belong in this world – like maybe you can use different language to make me feel accepted – in fact, we’re working on making it illegal to refuse to do so”, and those who disagree are saying “you can’t force me to do things like use certain language by law”  – and then other people are far less respectful and reasonable in their dialogue, and there’s just a lot of abuse and hate speech flying around too. And then there are people like me who are going “what? Sorry, what? Who said… wait? Who’s right? What’s going on? What year is it???”

Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning Doctor Who again.

The 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker

So, as you may know, Doctor Who is a British science fiction TV show that’s been on television longer than a lot of people have been alive. I think it has the record as the longest running TV series ever, having started in 1963 and still going strong today.

In a nutshell, Doctor Who is about a time-travelling alien (who looks human and speaks English and everything) who travels around in a blue police box, generally saving the earth. It’s a lot of fun and is very inventive, creative and funny and many generations of people in the UK grew up as children watching the show. My parents grew up with it, my brother and I grew up with it, our nieces and nephews are growing up with it.

The character, called The Doctor, has actually died lots of times, but every time the Doctor dies – usually when he comes to the end of his current life-span, he regenerates in a new form.

Basically, at the end of a season the Doctor dies and then is reborn but with a new actor in the next season (or series as we usually say in British English actually!)

It’s a really cool way of keeping a TV series going. Each new incarnation of the Doctor is different in that they have a certain look, they have certain characteristics – brought by the different actor in the role each time, but also the Doctor always maintains certain core characteristics like charisma, leadership, strength, courage, eccentricity, humour, love for the humans and a desire to protect us, certain human companions and the blue spaceship or TARDIS (actually a craft that travels through both space and time).

There have been loads of actors playing the doctor over the years, and millions of us are very affectionate towards this character and the actors who have played him (or her).

Then this year, the producers of the show decided that the new Doctor would be played by a woman. Jodie Whittaker was chosen – a good British actress. So now, The Doctor is a woman. It turns out, the Doctor is a gender-fluid character. She doesn’t always regenerate as a man, she can regenerate as a woman too. Naturally, a lot of people were really pissed off, saying things like “The Doctor is not a woman! You’ve ruined this character and my memories of childhood! Stop this PC nonsense from infecting everything! This is just the loony left at the BBC trying to infect everything with poisonous feminism! Leave our TV characters alone!”

I read some comments saying things like, “It’s The Doctor, not The Nurse – he should be a man!” A lot of it is just sexism. I understand that people don’t like change, and this character is very close to people’s hearts, but there’s actually no reason why The Doctor can only be male. It’s a fictional time travelling alien from another planet, that changes shape when it dies. I think it can turn into a woman, that’s fine!

I haven’t actually seen any of the episodes in their entirety. I must admit that these days whenever I watch Doctor Who, I’m just completely confused! It’s great and there’s something very comforting about the fact that the show still going after all these years, but the storylines always confuse me completely. I have seen clips of the new Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker and it looks good. She’s funny and a bit weird and charismatic and that’s the spirit of the character. I personally don’t mind that the doctor is a woman at the moment. I think the writers can do whatever they like with the character.

As long as the writing is still good, the acting is good, the general hallmarks of Doctor Who are still the same, I think it’s ok.

I’d be more upset if the writers of Doctor Who changed something more important about the character – like deciding she now shouldn’t have a sense of humour, or that she should stop caring about people, or that she loses the Tardis or something like that. That would be worse. The Doctor becoming a woman – doesn’t really change the spirit of the character that much and if anything it brings something fresh to the role, and it looks like Jodie Whittaker is great and loads of fun, like the Doctor should be.

So, female Doctor Who – why not?

But I don’t think this really counts as proper gender fluidity actually, because it’s a fictional alien character. I think gender fluidity is more likely to impact our lives in more real ways than this. Like for example how it is affecting language and conversations about language.

For example, what pronouns do we use to refer to people who have different gender identities, like people who identify as neither a woman nor a man, or some other gender which is a combination of both somehow. People might say “I feel that I am neither a man nor a woman” “I’m both and the language doesn’t have the words to reflect that, so we need to introduce some new words to include us, because if we’re not included in the language, then the culture is extremely prejudiced against us.” Also, trans-gender or gender-fluid people can feel very rejected or unrepresented or offended when their identity isn’t recognised by people, specifically when the wrong pronouns are used.

Pronouns – words like he, she, her, his and so on.

So some people want to introduce new pronouns to reflect the diversity of gender identities out there and they want to introduce new laws which say it’s technically a hate crime to use the wrong pronouns. 

I don’t know if this kind of thing has ever happened before and there are several debates combined in this. There’s the “Do people have the right to change their gender if they feel that way?” and in my opinion I kind of think, well, why not I think people should be allowed to do what they want. But a second debate is, “Do they get to legislate what language we can and can’t use?”

Forcing people to use certain forms of language by law – I just don’t know what to think about that. That does seem a bit like controlling people’s freedom to use language, but this whole thing exists in a very fuzzy and grey area involving freedom of speech and also the problem of hate speech and so on… It’s a moral maze.

And so, that’s where we’ll leave this subject. I’d like to think it’s ok for me not to have an opinion on some things. That’s my “I have rights” card here – I claim the right to just not have an opinion, thanks very much. I’m not ready to decide what I think about it all yet, and that’s ok. I’m allowed to do that, and so are you.

I know, you’re not even asking for my opinion, right? And I have no duty to give you my opinion.

Anyway, it’s interesting and you’re hearing all the words I’m using to talk about it, right?

This is the end of part 3! This series is longer than I expected. Part 4 coming soon…

Dictionary definitions – Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

562. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 2)

Vocabulary explanations and discussions of hot topics from the last couple of years. Talking about some controversial political stuff like the rise of fascism and anti-fascism, the relative popularity of UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, and how the winter season changes people’s feelings about romance and relationships. Transcript available.

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Episode Transcript (99% complete)

Right, so this episode series is all about the Collins Words of the Year. You’re listening to part 2, now. Obviously I recommend that you listen to part 1 of this first because that’s how numbers work. 2 generally comes after 1. You knew that already.

You can do what you like of course. You could listen to part 2 first and then listen to part 1. Maybe English is your favourite subject, not maths, so ok feel free to just forget about numbers and sequences and just listen on.

The Collins Words of the Year

Collins is a company that makes dictionaries and every year they release a list of their “words of the year”. These are words that have been used a lot in the last 12 months and seem to sum up the general mood of the moment. The words represent things that have been happening in culture, politics and general life during the year.

In this series I’m talking about the Collins Words of the Year for 2017, I know that’s last year but the words are still very relevant to what’s going on now in 2018 when I’m recording this.

I’m defining the words and then just talking about how they relate to what’s going on at the moment. When I’ve been through the words for 2017 I’m going to go on to the words for 2018, hopefully joined by Amber, for a bit of conversation rather than just me ranting or rambling on my own.

In 2015 the Collins word of the year was binge-watch. In 2016 it was Brexit.

In the last episode I talked a lot about fake news which was the word of the year for 2017.

So let’s keep going through the rest of the word list for 2017 now then.

Antifa

noun: (1) an antifascist organization (2) a member of an antifascist organization
adjective: (3) involving, belonging to, or relating to an antifascist organisation

I think Antifa are mainly in the USA, but there are probably similar counter-protest antifascist groups in other countries. Antifa though is mainly a US term for a US phenomenon. Having said that, with the pervasiveness of the internet, this word and its associated ideas and vocabulary has spread to many areas of the English-speaking world, because much of the time these so-called fascists and anti-fascists are clashing with each other online, not just within the borders of a particular country.

Certainly, I keep seeing arguments in comments sections of different websites, like YouTube, Twitter etc. I know, I probably shouldn’t read those comment sections because it’s like entering the sewer system or something – it’s smelly and you might catch something down there, but I can’t help myself, I always get fascinated by the often angry comments that people write and the petty arguments and stuff.

It’s often very unpleasant and you can read some shockingly racist views and other ideas that are quite depressing. I find it both amusing and disturbing how even some innocent YouTube videos about non-controversial topics have comment sections which descend into awfulness.

So anyway, the word ‘antifa’ probably relates to people in physical spaces in the USA, but this whole topic area extends beyond those borders when you’re online, in English.

Antifa is a kind of reduced portmanteau word – anti-fascist, reduced to antifa. As Trevor Noah on the Daily Show said,  the name is quite convenient for anti-fascist demonstrators because you don’t need to be able to spell fascist to be able to use it. By the way, fascist is spelt f a s c i s t.

Oh god. This topic’s a bit heavy isn’t it! Fake news in the last episode got a bit deep and dark, and now we’re talking about fascism and stuff. I promise there are more light-hearted words in this list, ok? Fidget spinner is one of the words that’s coming up – that’s less heavy and political, isn’t it? So, don’t worry, fidget spinners are coming, although the world has probably moved on from fidget spinners already, hasn’t it?

Anyway, this word is antifa and it’s kind of all about punching fascists, like Captain America. OK, here we go then.

What I’m going to do here is read from a page on the BBC’s website. Some people listening might say that is biased information because it isn’t negative enough or critical enough of anti-fascists, but I would say that this is just information about Antifa and if you read or listen objectively you’ll see it neither glorifies nor condemns the movement, just describes who they are, what they want and what they do.

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/X56rQkDgd0qqB7R68t6t7C/seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-antifa

The main thing is that Antifa became a phenomenon since Trump’s inauguration in 2016 and continued through 2017 and beyond in response to the rise of the far-right in many places.

The story here is – the far-right are rising. What’s the solution to that? Punching them in the face? I don’t know. That’s not all Antifa do of course, as we just read in that article. According to Antifa, the usual legal methods for resisting this “creeping authoritarianism” are not working because the system doesn’t properly deal with it. They might cite the fact that US President Donald Trump belongs to this movement that they’re fighting against and is kind of the figurehead for it, so to Antifa protesters, the current political administration is part of the problem, and so they take matters into their own hands.

Basically, this shows the extent to which the USA is divided – you have groups fighting online and in the streets. It’s not just the USA too – groups with strongly different ideological or political opinions are clashing all over the place. The far right are rising in many areas and so are groups that want to resist them.

What about in your country? What is the status of the far-right there? Are they actually in government or having a significant influence on the government? Does your political system provide adequate opposition to the current administration? In what way? What kind of movements and counter-movements are there, and where are they? Is there fighting going on? Where is it happening? Between who, and why? Are fascists and anti-fascists clashing? What are the reasons for this and how is it affecting society?

By the way, fascist is a dirty word isn’t it? I mean, not many people these days are proud to call themselves fascists, are they? Some people are, but I think generally the word is not favourable because it obviously has so many negative connotations that people, understandably, want to distance themselves from the word.

What’s more common is that people use the word fascist against anyone they don’t agree with and who they see as exercising too much authority or power. Fascist is generally used as a term of abuse, I think. Everyone seems to get called a fascist these days – including the far right mostly but also movements that come from a left-wing and liberal position, like social justice campaigners or the political correctness movement, who basically want to create equal opportunities for everyone – they just want a level playing field and they get called fascists sometimes by people who see them as being too controlling and even oppressive with their methods of trying to achieve equality, which is ironic.

It’s like right-wing people say “Hey, the way you’re trying to force us to treat everyone equally and fairly is too controlling, it’s fascist! You don’t get to force me to give everyone a fair chance, that’s fascism!” Pretty weird.

But I think in most people’s minds, the word fascist is still associated with things like racism, sexism, homophobia, authoritarian power, militarism and the silencing of political opposition.

I’m sure I’ve got some people listening to this who will feel it necessary to defend the fascists, or to redefine fascism as actually something really quite nice, reasonable and positive – like “hey, it’s just people trying to defend their interests”, but there it is, I think in general, as I said, fascism is still defined in negative terms, and why not?

Going back to the point – this is one of the words of the year because it shows that fascism is on the rise again – or arguably has risen again, and so this response to it – Antifa – be it violent or non-violent, has also risen too, and this is the story.

I’m not going to attempt to deal with this subject any further in this episode of this podcast for learners of English, so I am now stepping away from the topic slowly… Just back away from the whole area Luke… carefully now. Be careful not to trip up on anything, just back away nice and slowly, move away from the subject and close the door quietly…

Corbynmania

noun: fervent enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party

Oh god, more politics.

This is a bit 2017. I think Corbynmania is arguably over now.

We’ll see how things pan out with Brexit. Corbyn still might end up being our Prime Minister if that’s possible, if we have a general election because Parliament loses confidence in the government over a failed Brexit deal and if Labour win the election, we might end up with Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

Try to sum up Corbynmania.

I’ve moved from one political hot potato to another here…

Basically, Jeremy Corbyn is the opposition leader and he doesn’t really fit the ‘mainstream’ profile of a political leader. He’s pretty popular with younger voters who might be university students – the sorts of people who are quite left-wing and don’t like modern Conservative policy and even the policies of the New Labour movement which was created by people like Tony Blair.

Corbyn’s vision for the UK is more like old-fashioned democratic socialism. He doesn’t look or sound like the kind of slick, career politicians you see on TV. He’s a bit like Bernie Sanders in the USA. He’s older, grey, has a beard. In a way he’s like a kind of Obi-wan Kenobi figure, but that doesn’t mean to say everyone loves him, it’s just that the people who do like him, really like him and in 2016 and 2017 this meant a lot of younger voters.

At the Glastonbury music festival in 2017, Corbyn went onto the main stage and delivered a big speech in front of a cheering crowd of music fans flying flags with hearts and rainbows and so on and posters saying “bollocks to Brexit” and things like that.

He’s a bit like the anti-Trump (or in the UK that means anti-conservative or anti-right) and his speech actually included a lot of messages directed at Trump and his policies, for example saying we need to knock down walls between people, not build them up. “Build bridges not walls” and pushing the message that it’s unfair that there’s so much poverty in our society when some people are so very rich. It’s like what Bernie Sanders says – there’s something deeply wrong with our society when a tiny percentage owns the vast majority of the resources and the capital, and this is because of a huge imbalance of power – the 1% owns all the money and therefore also has the power, and are untouchable, and the Conservative government or the establishment don’t do enough to redress this imbalance.

The Glastonbury speech was mainly about those kinds of liberal values and the crowd loved it.

To be fair he was preaching to the converted but anyway, it showed that he’s got a lot of fans.

Not everyone loves him though, of course. He has critics and his party, The Labour party has lots of internal problems – they’re split over the direction Corbyn wants to go and other issues.

Some people feel that Corbyn is too radical or idealistic and that with him as leader, Labour doesn’t stand a chance of winning a general election because he doesn’t attract people from the centre or right, he just appeals to his fans more and more strongly. Maybe we can hear some of that speech.

He sort of stole the show at Glastonbury actually. What does that say about the current situation, that a politician making a speech can be the most popular or talked about event at a huge music festival? Perhaps it shows that politics is alive and well, or that our music scene is terrible, I’m not sure.

A quick dip into the comment section of that video?

The positive
mkur 1 year ago 
If Teresa May did this, she’d get lynched! Never known so many people take to a political leader like they have Jeremy Corbyn. Long may it continue. Corbyn for PM! (121 likes)

Gstar Warmed 1 year ago
The most important political leader of this generation, demanding peace, equality and socialism. This is an incredible moment. JC4PM (146 likes)

The negative
Dave Lombardo1 year ago
You think the uk is fuked now,it will be totally fuked if he bocomes pm…. (3 likes)

The Truth (1 year ago)
Bahahahaha Corbyn, Glastonbury, and the champagne middle-class socialist Glastonbury kids are delusional. (4 likes)

baldieman64
1 year ago
“if you can see that far, look on the wall right over there that surrounds this wonderful festival. There’s a message on that wall for President Donald Trump. Do you know what it says? Build bridges not walls”.
Hilarious!!!!
You couldn’t make it up..
The message is painted on a wall. A wall that exists to keep out those who haven’t contributed to the cost of making the festival happen. Kinda like a border…. (2 likes)

Moving on…

Cuffing season

noun: the period of autumn and winter, when single people are considered likely to seek settled relationships rather than engage in casual affairs

“Cuffing” means to become locked to something with handcuffs. To be cuffed to something – attached to something with handcuffs. I suppose “cuffing season” then means when people get attached to each other, permanently. The idea of handcuffs can either be negative – like being caught by the police and jailed, or it can be kinky – using handcuffs during kinky sex.

But “cuffing season” isn’t really negative and although it might involve sex it’s more about intimacy and making a permanent commitment to being with just one person. Cuffing season refers to this period of the year when people feel like settling down with one person in a secure relationship. Perhaps it’s because during the winter it gets dark and cold and you want one person who you can snuggle up with and feel secure with. It seems that people perhaps are more likely to get into serious long-term relationships at this time of year. I don’t know if there’s any real research to back this up.

From personal experience I can say that I first got together with my wife in the winter, so maybe there’s some truth in this idea. What about you? Are you in a committed relationship? When did you first get together and get serious about each other? Was it in the autumn or winter, during “cuffing season”?

I’ve never actually heard anyone say “cuffing season”. I’ve never used the term. I don’t think people actually say it a lot, but it is the sort of language you might read in articles about lifestyle and relationships. Sometimes these buzzwords are just used a lot in the media, rather than in every day conversation.

Cuffing Season (from the Metro – December 2017)

Read through this article – do you relate?

metro.co.uk/2017/12/07/5-things-that-happen-during-cuffing-season-7133783/

When did you meet and get together with your partner?

How do you deal with the dark and cold periods of winter?

Part 3 coming soon…

561. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 1)

The first part of an episode series about trending vocabulary – words which have been used a lot in the last couple of years. Listen to me talk about words chosen by Collins Dictionaries as their “Words of the Year”. This first episode focuses on how publishers use big data and then lots of discussion about the 2017 word of the year, which was fake news.

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Episode Transcript (95% complete)

Introduction

Hello hello!

This episode series (and it will be a series of at least 3 episodes) is all about the Words of the Year. It’s going to contain vocabulary and some general discussion from me about current issues in politics, life and culture.

I originally prepared this episode a year ago in 2017 when the Collins online dictionary released their words of the year for that year, but I never got round to recording it.

Now it’s a year later and Collins have released a new list for 2018, so I thought I’d record and publish the episodes about the words from 2017 and then do 2018’s words as well. That’s what this series will be – The Words of the Year for the last two years running.

I still doesn’t feel completely ready to record this and I’m sure there’s more preparation work to be done, but I’ve decided “Oh, what the hell, it’s time to record this”. Sometimes you can just spend forever preparing and still not feel like it’s ready, so here it is, even though this will probably get into some slightly touchy areas of politics in some cases.

Actually, I think this is one of the reasons I didn’t record this episode, because it’s quite hard to talk about some of these words and their contexts without getting all bogged down in the politics of the moment, and frankly a lot of things about the politics of the moment are just exhausting and divisive, meaning – the topic just divides people and triggers people and I don’t need to do that. But I will talk about these things a bit on this podcast for learners of English because it’s worth exploring some touchy subjects sometimes so you can hear the language that relates to these topics, and these are very current topics.

By the way, getting triggered – this is an expression that’s been used a lot over the last few years. If someone gets triggered it means they have a quick and strong emotional reaction to something. It could mean getting angry when someone says a particular thing or talks about a certain topic in a certain way. It’s associated with people getting angry online.

For example, if I started talking about Trump in a negative way, any Trump supporters listening might get triggered and might write some quick, angry message in the comment section and it’s obvious that I upset this person just by even mentioning Trump name in a less than flattering context.

That’s just an example, but really triggered has a more serious meaning and it’s when something reminds people of a past traumatic experience. Like, a war veteran who had horrible experiences and is living with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), they might be struggling to deal with the emotional and sensory stress of having been in war and perhaps loud noises in a film or loud fireworks at night could trigger their PTSD, causing them to be brought back emotionally or mentally to the battlefield.

Also, people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction who are clean – they’re avoiding drink or drugs, but something might trigger their old behaviour to come back, like perhaps getting involved with an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend and then arguing and splitting up with that person, this could trigger cravings for the drugs or alcohol they used to use a lot in the past.

Also, a trigger in a gun is the part of the gun that causes it to fire. You press the trigger with your finger, and bang!

So you can see where the words trigger or triggered come from.

This is not even one of the words of the year, but I mention it here because I really hope you don’t get triggered by anything in this episode. Instead I’m just talking about some topics that are very current and which probably affect all of our lives in some way. I hope you don’t get triggered by any of it. Not all of it is of political nature, as you will see.

I think my audience aren’t the sort of people to get triggered easily. I don’t think you’re the sorts of people who have knee jerk reactions.

So anyway this is the beginning of this series about the words of the year for the last two years, starting with 2017 and then moving on to 2018. For the 2017 words I’ll be on my own and for the 2018 words I expect to be joined by PODPAL Amber Minogue. OK? Good.

So let’s start with the 2017 Collins Words of the Year. Here we go.

This episode is all about 10 words which were used so much in 2017 that they were put into a list of “the words of the year” by the makers of Collins Dictionary. In this episode I’m going to go through the words, make sure you all are clear about what they mean and then just discuss the issues that relate to these words.

Basically, this episode could even be called “Some of the big issues of the moment” because these words and phrases represent big movements and issues in culture that have been reported on, discussed and talked about a lot recently.

What are “The Words of the Year”?

Every year Collins (the dictionary publisher) publishes its “Words of the Year” list. It’s also done by other dictionaries including Oxford and Merriam-Webster.

In 2015, if you remember, I talked to Amber and Paul about the Collins words of the year, which included the words binge-watch (meaning to watch lots of episodes of a TV show in one long session) and manspread (the way men sit with their legs wide apart, taking up a lot of room and imposing themselves on a situation).

In 2016 the Collins word of the year was Brexit, for obvious reasons. The Oxford word of the year in 2016 was post-truth, defined by the Oxford Dictionary online as:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
For example, ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.

So that was 2015 and 2016 but now let’s talk about the words of the year again – this time for 2017. I know this is last year (I’m recording this in 2018), but honestly these words are still very much at the centre of what’s going on. I started planning this episode last year and only now am I managing to record it. So it’s a bit overdue, but this is still worth doing, these words and issues are still very current and apply to life today just like they did a few months ago. The plan is to move onto the words for 2018 after this.

The Full Shortlist of Words
www.collinsdictionary.com/word-lovers-blog/new/collins-2017-word-of-the-year-shortlist,396,HCB.html

Etymology and more details for the words
www.collinsdictionary.com/word-lovers-blog/new/etymology-corner-collins-word-of-the-year-2017,400,HCB.html

Generally – The Words of the Year list reveals the words and phrases which have seen a spike in usage during the year. These are words that were used more in this 12 month period than at other times. In some cases it means words which have been around for ages but which have come back significantly this year.

It’s not just a list of the 12 most frequent words. I expect that list would be a bit boring – it would be words like “the” and “you” or “I”. So it’s not the 12 most frequently used words, but the words which have seen the biggest increase in use over the 12 month period. They might also be new words which have suddenly started being used a lot.

Many of the words are actually two-word phrases or portmanteaus made from already-existing words. A portmanteau is a word made by combining two other words, e.g. Brexit, manspread, spork, hangry etc.

These words reveal the year’s hot-topics – the things that have been discussed a lot over the last 12 months, particularly in the media (including conventional and online media).

It’s not completely clear to me how Collins comes up with the list. What’s their criteria? I’ve been trying to find out for ages.

But basically I think it goes like this (and this is interesting because it tells us how dictionaries work).

How do Dictionaries Work?

How do these dictionary makers (Lexicographers) keep track of language? Do they just decide on their own, because they are experts? Nope, they use data.

Generally, dictionaries use these things called corpora in order to monitor the frequency and context in which words are being used.

A corpora is a huge database of language. Imagine a machine which counts words and word combinations. Imagine if you could record every bit of language usage (every conversation, everything written down) and feed it into the machine. That machine could then tell you exactly how often certain words are used (frequency) and how they are used (e.g. with which other words, in what kind of grammatical form, etc).

This would be a corpora containing every single bit of language usage – every single word which is spoken or written down. This isn’t really possible I guess, because dictionary makers don’t have access to that kind of information. They can’t record absolutely everything, right? That would be a bit creepy and scary – imagine them recording everything we said. I know some people think that governments and corporations are actually doing this – like, perhaps using our phones to spy on us and record what we say so they can sell the data to marketing companies, or perhaps for some other more sinister reasons – but that’s another story for another time.

The point here is that it’s very difficult for dictionary makers to know exactly how language is used, but they do their best to get as much data as possible.

This machine I mentioned is not far from being true. The corpora that dictionary makers like Collins actually use are huge databases but they don’t contain records of absolutely all the English that is spoken or written. However – they are often very extensive. They make them as extensive as possible in fact. They get as much English into them as possible. In fact, it’s impressive and amazing how much language usage they manage to record and monitor.

Collins Dictionaries use the Collins Corpus.

This is from Collins.co.uk collins.co.uk/page/The+Collins+Corpus

What’s in the Collins Corpus?

The Collins Corpus is an analytical database of English with over 4.5 billion words. It contains written material from websites, newspapers, magazines and books published around the world, and spoken material from radio, TV and everyday conversations. [Luke: I don’t know which conversations, or who they are listening to and how] New data is fed into the Corpus every month, to help the Collins dictionary editors identify new words and meanings from the moment they are first used.

What does the Corpus tell us?

All COBUILD* dictionaries are based on the information found in the Collins Corpus. The full Corpus contains 4.5 billion words. The Bank of English™ is a subset of that corpus – just 650 million words from a carefully chosen selection of sources, to give a balanced and accurate reflection of English as it is used today.

(*COBUILD, is an acronym for Collins Birmingham University International Language Database, and it’s a British research facility set up at the University of Birmingham in 1980 and funded by Collins publishers.)

So it’s not just a panel of judges or experts who decide which words go in, it’s the data which tells Collins which words people are actually using, and therefore the dictionary becomes an accurate and impartial source of information. Basically – it can tell us how English is really used, not how some people think it should be used.

I feel like it’s worth pointing that out, because when some people think about dictionaries, grammar books and linguistics, they immediately start to think of people judging other people’s English and deciding what’s right and wrong. It’s much more, for want of a better word, democratic than that.

However, in the case of the Words of the Year, I think there are some limitations and these limitations sometimes cause us to think “What? Really?” when we actually see the list of words of the year when it is published.

Because the data comes from mainly written sources and from the media in general (conventional and social media I expect) I think the language is skewed towards the kinds of things that are written about or discussed online or in the press. So, it’s not completely representative of the things people have been saying. It’s more representative of what people have been saying or writing about in the media and online. So the Words of the Year end up telling us a lot about the stories being reported in the press, and trends in the general culture.

These are words that have seen a spike in usage. We might not use these words that much in everyday conversation (well, in some cases yes, but in other cases less so – in my conversations anyway), but they have been used this year more than before and they do reflect issues which have been important in society.

Also, Collins do have judges who help to pick the words of the year, so it’s not just based on data – there is some human selection going on there too.

Dictionaries and grammar books (the ones published by the big publishers) are based on the big data mostly.

I have picked the Collins list this year (rather than, say, The Merriam Webster dictionary) because:

  • It’s generally a British English dictionary, but they do include American English and English from other places. So it’s global English but from the British point of view.
  • Their list just seems to me personally to be better than other lists. E.g. Oxford in 2017 chose Youthquake as their word of the year. I didn’t hear that word at all in 2017, whereas the Collins word of the year is definitely something I’ve heard a lot and I think is really relevant to the current culture.
  • I really like the Collins online dictionary. It’s well designed, works well and they provide all the information you need when looking for a word, including all the things you’d expect like the definition, examples, part of speech, phonetic script, audio of the word – but also things like the frequency of the word over time and a simple rating showing you if it’s commonly used (and therefore worth knowing) or not.

Not every word you find is vital to your English. It’s worth considering how frequent it is used when deciding if you’re going to learn it, remember it and use it yourself. It helps you to be more selective about the vocabulary you’re learning.

Collinsdictionary.com – use it when you’re checking new words. Remember to check what kind of dictionary you’re using, e.g. make sure it’s an English-English dictionary.

Most of these words reveal important trending issues and deep divisions in society today.

Almost all of them involve some level of debate.

Let’s get started

Words of the Year (2017)

Fake news

noun: false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting

Information that has been presented as fact, usually in some sort of news report, but is actually not true and is probably just being used for propaganda purposes.

The phrase “fake news” strikes right at the core of the struggle that currently exists around objective truth and the manipulation of information for political advantage. I think it proves that we’re living in a scary time where our basic right to objective and impartial news reporting is under threat, which in turn threatens our basic human rights.

“Fake news” could mean several things, depending on who you are. It’s very contentious (controversial – likely to cause disagreement) except that everyone is using it. The contentious thing is that nobody quite agrees on which news is the fake news. Different people with different political agendas use the phrase in different ways. I’m going to talk about 2 ways it’s used.

  1. Reporting things that aren’t true, or distorting facts in order to push an agenda.
  2. Calling things “fake news” in order to discredit them for some political reason.

Starting with the first point, the term “fake news” is used to talk about genuinely fake stories which are written and disseminated in the traditional media and online and which are full of mistruths, lies and deception. These sorts of stories are used either just to make profit, or for some political motive. For example, there are suggestions that there are ‘clickbait farms’, targeting certain internet users with clickbait stories or with carefully placed fake news stories which are used as propaganda to serve certain agendas, like to influence public opinion, voting behaviour and so on.

More specifically there are the claims that the voting in the 2016 US presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum were affected by campaigns of fake news on social media. The origins of this fake news could be anywhere – whichever power block or interest group wants to push a certain viewpoint, or in this case, influence the outcome of the election. The allegations are that certain groups would benefit from Trump getting in, and so they disseminated fake news about Hillary Clinton in order to tarnish her image.

This sort of thing is particularly widespread on social media, and it’s not just limited to news outlets. It means certain social media profiles, pages on Facebook, Twitter accounts etc pushing a certain narrative which isn’t really true. It can be done by anyone.

There are other examples of publishing false, distorted or clearly biased information which is passed off as news, but which is there to support a particular motive.

E.g. biased reports about the EU in the right-wing press.

Read the one about children’s playgrounds.

blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/safety-rules-force-the-closure-of-uk-playgrounds/

It appears to say this: The EU is shutting down kids’ playgrounds. Kids are now unable to enjoy old-fashioned fun, like swings, roundabouts, climbing frames – and it’s all because of EU law. The EU is going to ban children from enjoying traditional British playing areas. The EU is crushing the very foundation of British culture again and this time they’re going for our kids.

Reality: This law was in fact just a voluntary guideline from a non-EU body (not even the EU) which also includes a British representative (so it’s not “them and us” – we’re involved too). It’s there to publish advisory safety guidelines, like “Hey, here are some tips if you want playgrounds to be a bit safer. Take it or leave it! OK have a nice day, take care bye!!”

It’s nothing to do with the EU and city councils have no obligation to comply with it. The story was printed as a deliberate distortion as part of an anti-EU bias. And anyway, it was probably really good advice.

I remember, growing up in the 80s in England – our playgrounds were pretty dangerous. They were just concrete on the ground. I cut my head open loads of times, and so did my brother, just falling off roundabouts or the swings. Now playgrounds have to have a kind of rubbery surface wherever there are swings or things like that. Good. British playgrounds of the past were obviously wonderful in the sense that we grew up there and childhood is full of fun memories. But a lot of kids got hurt too. Sometimes certain newspapers in the UK just look at the past through rose-tinted glasses.

Moving onto the 2nd use of “fake news” – this is when people label certain reporting as “fake” just because they want to discredit it as part of their attempt to gain control or power.

For example, people say that Trump, his entourage and his supporters use the phrase “fake news” to discredit any report that criticises him and his agenda.

Media outlets that don’t follow the current pro-Trump narrative, for example, might report on stories such as the number of people attending Trump’s inauguration or even details of inquiries and allegations about criminal acts involving the president. These reports make Trump look bad, and also could get him in serious legal trouble.

However, Trump supporters who just want to believe in the man for whatever reason (even if that reason is somehow an honest one – like, “we think Trump will be good for jobs” – a decent reason) but… people who support Trump, and certain media companies (who perhaps support Trump because the owners of those media companies have some kind of vested interest in keeping him in power) these people and media outlets simply dismiss the reports against Trump as “fake news” and part of a so-called “liberal” or “left wing” conspiracy to remove Trump from office.

Trump himself often talks about how the “mainstream media” is fake, mainly because it doesn’t say positive things about him. Perhaps this is egotism, or perhaps it’s a far more calculated and cynical attempt to silence the media. In any case, Trump and his supporters use “fake news” to discredit negative news reports about him.

You might argue that it works for other people and other groups too. Other people lie as well, or make false accusations. Yep, I’m sure they do. I’m just using Trump here as a very famous case of someone crying “fake news” in response to reporting that doesn’t fit their agenda. Feel free to name other cases of this happening, because there are plenty.

This kind of silencing of the media happens because when you control the information being received by the public you then have a massive amount of influence over how people see the world, which certainly means that you can control how you’re perceived, how your enemies are perceived, what you’re doing and so on.

Basically, when the government controls the media in your country, it’s akin to living in a controlled state. It’s almost like controlling the media, and now online media means you get to control reality itself.

It’s complicated. Things aren’t black and white.

Facts are slippery and the truth can be hard to hold onto.

It’s really hard to know which information is real and which information is fake when you consider that a single story can look very different from various points of view. Maybe we can argue that there is no such thing as objective truth because the position from which you view something can totally affect the way you see it.

Also, our attitude towards the story can cloud our judgement. Even when you don’t mean to put a certain spin on an event, you might subconsciously do it in the way you describe the story. It’s also true about the way people consume news. Confirmation bias is a well-established concept, which basically means that people tend to just understand events in ways that confirm their existing world view.

Some people might see the same event and come away with two completely different conclusions of what it all means. E.g. the London riots of 2011 when protests against police brutality turned into fighting with the police and then the damaging of public property.

This is probably a generalisation, but a Labour voter might see the riots as evidence that the government is not doing enough to support poor communities in London, and Conservative voters might conclude that the rioters just need hard justice and to take more individual responsibility. The way you already see the world affects how you interpret events and this includes the way people react to news.

E.g. I made a YouTube video about the Royal Family in 2010 or 2011 I think. I just wanted to collect footage of various people giving their opinions about the Royals. I wanted to get as many different opinions as I could find, and I wanted to collect samples of language for giving opinions.

Some comments in the comment section on YouTube oscillated between “He’s obviously against the royals” to “He’s not very objective – he’s obviously looking for positive comments about the Royals.” Some people were saying I was obviously biased in favour of the royals, others were saying I was obviously biased against them.

I just wanted to get both sides of the opinion in my video. I was looking for both positive and negative comments and was pushing for both (e.g. if someone said something positive, I asked them about a negative point, and vice versa – if someone told me their favourite royal, I’d then ask about their least favourite. If they said something negative, I’d then ask if they had any positive things to say too – so I was doing it in both directions) but people just saw one aspect – the bits they didn’t agree with. They only saw me pushing either a positive or negative agenda.

Generally, those people who don’t like the Royals thought I was trying to promote the monarchy, and those who love the monarchy just thought I was looking for negative opinions.

So, people’s existing attitude towards the subject influenced their assessment of my video, which was only supposed to provide a record of authentic language and therefore I just wanted to collect some engaging and truthful opinions. This kind of thing happens a lot. People consume information in the way that confirms their existing beliefs and prejudices.

I think this is a major aspect of life today in which we are so plugged into information systems like the internet. It’s like so much of what we experience of the world is mediated. I know it sounds scary and maybe I’m being pessimistic, but it’s like we’re getting closer and closer to the Matrix, where all of our experience is not through primary experience, but through the secondary experience of seeing it in a video, or a social media post.

It’s really hard to know what the truth is and in fact people are so bombarded by information, which is often manipulated to the point where people no longer trust “facts” and they just go with gut instinct. The whole idea of “objective fact or truth” has been worn down. Basically, we’ve been bullshitted and lied to so much over the years, and we’ve become cynical as a result that the entire system of trust has broken down and we just believe what we want to believe and that’s it. This is exactly why “post-truth” was the 2016 word of the year. It’s no longer about the facts. It’s about people being driven by emotion and feelings, not expert opinion.

But even gut instincts are manipulated by information. Go back to the Euromyths for a moment. For decades the right-wing press in the UK has been drip feeding the UK various myths about the EU, to the point that many British citizens have an instinctive distrust of anything EU related, without really being able to explain why.

This is bound to be connected to very powerful inbuilt feelings from thousands of years of British people living on an island and living in fear of the “others” who live beyond the borders of that island. That must be a deep-seated feeling of distrust, which comes from basic tribalism from a bygone era.

Perhaps that kind of feeling is what certain newspapers have profited from over the years. There’s always a large section of the British population that is innately mistrustful of the countries on the European continent. Poking this sense of mistrust is what sells papers. That’s why these papers always bang on about Churchill, show pictures of UK flags, and shock their readers with stories about how Britain is being invaded and controlled in some way. It’s not just Britain either. This happens all over the place doesn’t it?

Perhaps we are all victims of manipulation by the media, or the limitations of the media, and this doesn’t just mean the stuff on TV and in newspapers – but by the way our culture is expressed, represented and consumed by all forms of information delivery today – this means, all the media – TV, papers, advertising, films and absolutely everything online that is now part of our everyday reality. More and more of what we see is a construct, especially when we live our lives through the internet. What’s interesting to me is that reality itself is being negotiated by political forces which use our information systems in strategic ways. What can we do about it? I’m not sure! And I’m not sure I’m the one to come up with the solution!

It’s probably a good idea to get off social media or at least take it with a pinch of salt, because that (particularly Facebook as we know) is a breeding ground for fake news, twisting of facts, emotional storytelling and a lack of accountability, where you don’t really know where the information is coming from or who is behind it.

It’s also worth remembering to use critical thinking at all times. Don’t just accept what you see or read. Think about where this information is coming from, and whether it is being used to push a certain agenda. That’s easy to say of course.

It’s hard to know what to do and what to believe.

But then again, some stuff is just obviously bullshit isn’t it. Yeah.

Part 2 – coming soon…

560. Sarah Donnelly Returns – Writing jokes, public speaking, doing comedy in another language

Talking to comedian Sarah Donnelly about how she writes her jokes, advice on public speaking and how to avoid nerves and negative feelings, performing stand-up comedy in another language, and more. Sarah is a comedian and language teacher from the US,  now living in France.

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Introduction

Today I am talking to friend of the podcast, Sarah Donnelly.

It’s not the first time Sarah has been on this podcast, but it’s been quite a long time since she was in an episode on her own, I mean – as the only guest, not just alone. She wasn’t completely on her own in front of a microphone in an empty room, like “Umm, Luke? Hello? Is anyone here?” I was there too of course. I mean, without any other guests.

Mostly Sarah has been in episodes of this podcast with other people you see. Earlier this year I talked to her and Amber about their comedy show about becoming a Mum in France (episode 515), and before that she was in a couple of episodes with Amber & Paul (episodes 460 & 461) and she was in one with Sebastian Marx in which we discussed the 2016 Presidential Elections in the USA (388 & 389).

Sarah’s first appearance on the podcast was all the way back in 2013 (episodes 155 & 157).

You’ll hear us talk about that episode a little bit, and how Sarah felt about it.

Sarah is from the United States of America (I’m sure you’ve heard of it, it’s quite a famous country). She originally comes from North Carolina but also has lived and worked in Washington DC, which is where she first started performing stand up comedy.

Then in 2012 she moved to France – roughly at the same time as I did, after she met a French guy. Her story is not dissimilar to mine in fact, except for the differences.

Sarah is a primarily a comedian – she’s a stand-up and also a comedy writer. She performs on stage very regularly – as a solo stand up performer and also with Amber Minogue in their show Becoming Maman – which by the way happens every Thursday evening at 20:15 at Théâtre BO Saint Martin 75003 Paris. If you’re in town, check it out!

Sarah also works as an English teacher at university in Paris.

Our conversation covers quite a lot of things but mainly we talk about:

  • How Sarah writes jokes and comes up with material for her stand up comedy performances
  • Some tips for successful public speaking including how to deal with feelings of nervousness that you might have before you do a speech or performance, and any feelings of shame that you might experience if you feel like you didn’t do as well as you wanted – all the usual difficult feelings we experience when doing public speaking. Sarah’s been doing stand up comedy very regularly for years now, and also she has plenty of experience of talking to large groups of students as a teacher, so she knows a lot about speaking to audiences and has some good advice and experience to share.
  • Sarah is also a language learner – French in this case, and we talk about her experiences of performing comedy in French.

There are also the usual tangents and silly stories and things, but I think this conversation should be useful and relevant for anyone doing public speaking, or speaking publicly in another language, and it’s also just nice and fun to spend some time with Sarah. She brought some pumpkin pie for my wife and me, which was nice of her. Pumpkin pie is a bit of a tradition in the states at this time of year and it was delicious.

So then, without any further ado. Let’s get started.


Ending

So, don’t listen to the shame wizard! Don’t listen to those feelings of shame or embarrassment that we do feel from time to time. Try to ignore those voices. Switch it off if possible.

When you’re speaking English, or thinking about your English, the shame wizard might creep up on you and whisper negative thoughts in your ear, making you feel ashamed of yourself. But don’t listen to him. Tell him to get lost.

When you’ve got a presentation to do, the shame wizard might whisper in your ear that everyone thinks you’re rubbish and you have no right to do what you’re doing. Don’t listen to him, he’s LYING!

Good advice from Sarah there.

In the moments before your presentation, stretch out your arms, stand up, take up some space with your body – but don’t punch someone in the face accidentally of course.

Vocabulary

Language to describe stand up comedy, writing comedy and writing jokes

Parts of a stand up performance

A set = the whole performance from start to finish. E.g. “I did a 15 minute set last night” or “Did you see Sarah? She did a 30 minute set and it was hilarious.”

A bit = one part of a comedian’s set. It could be a story or just a series of jokes based on a particular premise. For example, “She did a whole bit about puberty, and it was funny because it was soooo true”

A joke = one single statement that is intended to make you laugh. It could be a line or a few lines. “Did Sarah do her chalk joke last night? Oh, man, I love that joke.” “Yeah she did, but I don’t think the audience knew what chalk was… But they laughed anyway!”

Parts of a joke

A joke can be broken down into parts.

The premise = the basic idea of a joke, the foundation of it. Like just the idea that it’s pretty weird that we used to use chalk all the time to write on blackboards, but now, younger people don’t even know what chalk is and essentially we used to write on rocks with other rocks, that was our technology, and it was a bit weird” (that’s a bit nebulous, I mean vague, but it’s a starting point – that’s a premise, just the general idea of a joke)

The set up = parts of a joke that set up the situation and put all the elements in place

The punchline = the funny line that, hopefully, makes people laugh.

The wording of a joke = the specific way the joke is worded – the specific construction of a joke. The wording of a joke can be very important in making it funny or not. Often if you believe the premise of the joke is funny, but audiences aren’t laughing at it, you just need to reconsider the wording of that joke. Once you’ve got the wording right, the joke might be more successful.

Other vocabulary for comedy

Material = all the jokes, bits and sets that a comedian has in his or her repertoire. “She’s got so much material, she could do several Netflix specials now.”
Tried and tested material = the material you’ve done lots of times. You know it well and you’re confident it should get laughs pretty much every time.

To improvise = to make things up on the spot without preparation

An open mic = the sort of comedy show you do when you first start out as a comedian. An open mic means anyone can perform. Often these “open mics” are good places to try out new material, but often the whole arrangement is not exactly “professional level show business”. It could be just in the back room of a bar with people coming and going and a generally sketchy atmosphere.


What about that whole Louis CK thing?

Didn’t Sarah open one of his shows in Paris recently?

Recently on the podcast I talked a bit about how disgraced comedian Louis CK had made a surprise visit to one of our comedy shows in Paris (Sebastian Marx’s show The New York Comedy Night to be exact) and Sarah was invited to be one of the other comedians on the show. It was quite a tricky decision for her. You’ll see that in the end we don’t talk about that in this episode, mainly because we ran out of time. But if you’d like to hear Sarah expressing her thoughts on that situation, then you can check out an episode of another podcast called The Europeans, which is a podcast about Europe and European life. Sarah was interviewed on that show and she talked about the whole situation very clearly. So, have a look. The name of the podcast is The Europeans, and she was in the episode from 20 November 2018. Her interview starts at about 23 minutes into the episode. There’s a link on the website as usual.

Listen to Sarah’s appearance on The Europeans podcast, talking about performing with Louis CK

Sarah’s appearance is at about 23:00


Videos & media mentioned in the conversation

The TED talk about body language


Big Mouth on Netflix

(Subtitles should be available for this trailer on YouTube)


More Vocabulary

Some more words that came up in the episode

a Nebula [noun] – a cloud of gas and dust in space

Nebulous [adjective] (this is the word I was looking for) – formless and vaguely defined

Puberty [noun] – the period during which adolescents reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproduction.
“the onset of puberty”

Shame [noun] = a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

Self-esteem  [noun] = confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.


Previous episodes with Sarah

515. Becoming “Maman” with Amber & Sarah – Bringing Up Children The French Way

460 Catching Up With Amber & Paul #6 (feat. Sarah Donnelly)

461. 25 Deceptively Difficult Questions (with Amber, Paul & Sarah)

388. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 1

389. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 2

155. A Cup of Coffee with… Sarah Donnelly (Part 1)

157. A Cup of Coffee with… Sarah Donnelly (Part 2)

552. Discussing Comedy & Culture (with Amber & Paul)

Amber, Paul and I listen to a comedy video which is often sent to me by listeners to this podcast. The video is about the experience of trying to understand people when they speak English. Let’s see what the pod-pals think of this comedy from another country. The conversation then turns to comedy, culture, language and some more Alan Partridge. I read out some listener comments at the end of the episode. Notes, transcripts and links available.

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Transcripts & Notes

Introduction

Welcome back to another episode featuring the PODPALS Amber & Paul.

In this episode we discuss comedy in different countries, including what makes comedy funny, what can make comedy culturally inappropriate, whether Brits have a different view of comedy to other cultures, and whether understanding comedy is just about understanding the language or if there’s more to it than that.

This is clearly the topic which I’m a bit obsessed with: How comedy or humour can reveal our cultural differences in the most striking ways. Perhaps comedy is the key to truly understanding our cultural values somehow.

I often talk about how learners of English often don’t find British comedy funny, and that this is a pity for me. One of the worst things I can hear is someone dismissing British humour or comedy as simply “not funny”. I don’t really mind if people say our food or weather is bad, but don’t touch the comedy, I think. But honestly, when I see comedy from other countries – like TV comedy in France where I live, I have to admit that I often don’t find it funny and I do find myself saying things like “oh, this is French comedy…” meaning – French comedy simply isn’t funny or only works on one level. Is that true or am I being hypocritical? I don’t really know.

Anyway, these questions are at the heart of the discussion in this episode, which also involves the three of us listening to and discussing a video – a video that I have been sent many times by listeners. Listeners have sent this video to me more than any other. I wonder if you know what that video could be.

Unfortunately Paul had to leave halfway through this episode because he had a live radio interview scheduled. He’s a busy man who is in demand all over the place. But after he leaves, Amber & I continue the discussion which goes on to discuss my recent episodes about British comedy and we revisit the subject of Alan Partridge.

So without any further ado, let’s get back to my coworking space and jump into the conversation once more.


The video that people have sent me more than any other

I get sent things like videos and memes and stuff. Sometimes it’s the same thing, like the “Eleven” video and also “What British People Say vs What They Mean”.

But this one more than any other.

I’m not going to tell you what it is yet. We’re just going to listen to it and I want you to tell me what you think is going on, and what you think of it.

Outtro Transcript

So there you are folks. Quite a lot packed into that episode. Lots of questions and points about comedy in different cultures and that video from Russia too. About that video, on balance I’d say that I personally didn’t find it funny when I first saw it. I found it a little odd. It’s like a big family entertainment show with a lot of attention being paid to what I expect are (or at least look like) celebrities in Russia in the audience. The comedians are just sitting on the stage, which is fine I think because you don’t always need lots of stage movement and stuff as long as the material is good.

I got the joke, which is that this is how it feels when you listen to people speaking English, but I found it really quite weird the interpretation of the British guy, but also fascinating.

He basically does this … [Luke copies the impression]

…and is stuttery, hesitant and incoherent.

It’s interesting to sort of look at British people through the eyes of Russians.

I guess this means that Brits must seem hesitant when they speak and I expect this also comes from hearing Brits with accents like perhaps the cockney or northern accents, but the result sounds nothing like any of those accents really. It’s a sort of garbled, lost in translation version of a British person with certain traits highlighted and emphasised perhaps because they don’t quite match the Russian way, or something.

I found the impression of the English guy more weird than funny. It felt like, “Is that what they think we sound like?”

The Indian guy is sort of a funny impression in that he’s got the tone and rhythm right but it’s a pretty broad impression and in fact more of a caricature than a full impression. Also there’s just the issue that copying an Indian accent if you’re not Indian is somehow considered a bit inappropriate in the UK.

I talked about this with Sugar Sammy in a recent episode.

534. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 2) Language & Comedy

I still don’t know where the comedian in the Russian video is from but he could be Indian maybe.

But I get the joke. This is how it sounds for you when you hear these people.

I didn’t find it funny at first but actually I’m finding it more and more funny as I watch it again and again.

It’s also funny to me that I often talk about the challenge of showing UK comedy to learners of English and how they don’t get it, and then someone sends me a comedy video from another country and I have the same reaction, more or less!

I expect there are people in the audience who know more about this (video) than us so leave comments telling me more about this Russian TV Comedy Club video.

Also, I’m heartened to read some of your comments relating to the recent episodes about comedy.

Right now: I’ve just uploaded the 2nd Alan Partridge episode. There haven’t been many comments yet. Slightly disturbing silence. Have I confused everyone?

Edit:
**TIMESHIFT**
It’s now a week later.
I’ve received more messages than I did last week when I recorded this part of this episode.
Thanks for sending your comments. I’ll go through those messages in a moment.
But first, here are the messages I had received at the time I recorded this outtro last week, which was just after I’d released the Edinburgh Fringe Jokes episode and the first two Alan episodes.
*TIMESHIFT back to the present*

Here’s a selection of comments

Salwa • Alan Partridge Part 1
Oh that was really funny and enjoyable. Thank you very much for introducing Alan Partridge to us. I did not find the comedy difficult to understand at all. In fact, some of the jokes made me laugh out loud.

Mariangel García • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke, I hope you’re doing alright
I’d like to tell you that you should continue making these podcasts about comedy, they’re quite enjoyable and help us improve our English, as you just said, understanding jokes in our second language can be the hardest thing.
By the way, please don’t forget my proposal of making an episode about British pop music. I’m definitely looking forward to listening to it.
Lots of hugs from Venezuela.

Anastasia Pogorevich • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Thank you, Luke! I’m really keen on your excellent Joke explanations. I think English humour is fabulous and would like to know more about that stuff. You make all things absolutely clear and I like your positive attitude to your work and to life! Cheers!

Tania •Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
That’s a pleasure! Thank you, Luke! I’ve got nearly all of the jokes but some after you read them several times. So It’s fun, of course. I know what learners usually say about English humor:)) I myself thought about it that way from the start, but you know, the humor is not just lying on the surface and turns out to be intellectual. Gives work to your brain. And finally you get it! Cool! This is the first audio i’ve listened on your site, downloaded the app and enjoy! English is becoming closer to me!

Vladimir Yermolenko • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke! I really enjoyed this new episode on Edinburgh Festival Fringe, thank you so much. The jokes got all clear when you explained some of them. My favorite one was “watch and a log” :)
I also recall some funny jokes in my country, but I don’t know what the style of joke that is. I’ve just translated one from my language.
Dr.Watson asks Sherlock “Can you hear this sinister howl, Mr.Holmes?”
Holmes says “Yes, that’s probably the hound of the Baskervilles”

Then, on another day:
“But what is this sinister silence around us?”
“It’s the fish of Baskervilles, Doctor”

Anya Chu •Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke,
A little ninja from Taiwan here! I’ve been listening to your podcast for just over 1 year and have been enjoying it sooo much. Really appreciate your work on all the great content!
I’ve just finished the new episode of jokes from Edinburgh Fringe, and I loved it! I was on a bus when I listened to this episode and I kept getting giggles, which I tried very hard to disguise as coughs. British humor is just always on point.
Anyway, thank you again for all the effort on such excellent episodes. Please keep up the great work! :)

Svetlana Mukhamejanova • LEP Premium 06 Part 3
Hi Luke! Re P06[3] please don’t stop making fun, I love your sense of humor)

***TIMESHIFT!***
It’s now the future again. I’m recording this a week after recording the rest of this outtro and there are now more comments on the Alan Partridge episodes, which I’d like to share with you.

Alan (Part 1)

Hiro • 6 days ago
Hello Luke,
I really enjoyed the Knowing Me, Knowing You (aha)show with the child genius. It was so funny I listened to it 3 times! Without your precise explanations, though, I wouldn’t have been able to get all the jokes. Thank you!

Viktoria Luchina • 7 days ago
I adore listening to your episodes about British Comedy! And the way you explain to us some bits of language is perfect. I’ve listened to “Alan Partridge Interviews Child Prodigy Simon Fisher” at least 5 times and I liked it more than the first clip. It’s really interesting that in this case we laugh with Alan and at him. I’m looking forward to next episodes like this one! World needs to explore British Comedy in depth with you!

Alan (Part 2)

Hiro • 6 days ago
Hello Luke!
This second episode is a little more challenging for me than the previous one because the jokes are more subtle. However, the more I listened to your explanatiosn, the clearer the humorous points became to me! Yes, Alan Partridge is an absolute walking disaster! He makes me cringe so much I cannot listen to each one of his episodes in one go.
Again, without your excellent guide, I wouldn’t be able to understand all the nuances and layers of this comedy. Thank you very much, Luke!

Marat • 7 days ago
Hello, Luke! My name is Marat, I am from Russia. I really enjoy listening to your podcast in general and these Alan Partridge episodes in particular! In the first part you have mentioned The Office series as being full of cringey situations. I haven’t seen the British one, but have seen the American one (with Steve Carell). And that was really all about cringey moments). Have you seen the American one? Which one is more cringey in your opinion? (‘cringey’ is a new word to me, so I use it everywhere now :) ).

Alan (Part 3)

Zdenek Lukas • a day ago
Hi Luke, I just want to let you know that I have been thoroughly enjoying the episodes about Alan Partridge (currently in the middle of the 3rd one). I love this character and I actually played the clip from the first episode (the one with the child prodigy) to teach types of questions and the pronoun “whom”. I am a big fan of these episodes and I think you clearly managed to do justice to this character. Thank you for your podcast!

peppe124 • 2 days ago
After you spent several hours on 3 episodes, I think we all should spend a couple of minutes writing a comment. We own [owe] that to you.
You are THE teacher every school of English should have! The method you used on this series was just brilliant.
Giving the introduction and background (with cultural references as well), letting us listen and guess and then going back over the clips was really helpful to test and improves my listening skill!
I also liked the content itself,that is the comedy, although I must say I liked the first 2 more; but that’s because there were more, kind of, jokes.
Thank you very much Luke for all this. Keep up the great job!

Tatiana • 2 days ago
Hi Luke, it’s the first time I’ve come out of the woodwork, really. Just to say a few words about the Alan Partridge episodes. I have enjoyed all of them. They give a little insight into real English, the genuine one, that is what British people really laugh at! That’s amazing. Thank you for that! They are right, the people who say, ‘If you understand comedy, you understand the language’.
Your explanations before listening are so detailed that I find almost no difficulties to understand most of Alan’s words. And it is valuable! I tried to find those clips on YouTube (they’re all embedded on the page), and they are even better with video, I would say, (because) you can watch the facial expressions and body gestures.
But then I watched some more – those that were not scrutinised on the podcast. It was a nightmare – I could understand hardly half of it, and most jokes just flew over my head. I felt so disappointed, I see now that proficiency level is as far from me as the Moon.
Thank you for doing your job for us: your podcast is, at this point, one of the major ways of improving my English. I listen and re-listen, take notes, revise them from time to time and so on.
Please keep going with your comedy episodes, they are great!

Damian • 3 days ago
[The] Episodes about Alan Partridge (generally, all episodes about British comedians) are brilliant! Many thanks!

Nikolay Polanski • 5 days ago
All three episodes are very nice, even though it is sometimes hard to get, why it is funny, to be desperate, stupid, mean and lonely. )))
I mean – you said before “try to watch it as a drama, and you’ll appreciate the comedy” – it seems like drama to me )
It is funny, but also sad.
But the episodes are top notch, thanks for the great work you’ve done

Ilya • 4 days ago
I love it! I want more episodes about British comedy! One of my favourite topics.

Francesca Benzi • 3 days ago
Just a few comments, but all of them are a big thumbs up!
I’d never heard of Alan Partrige before listening to your podcast, so thank you: I had a very good time with each of the three episodes.
Brits behavior can often be weird, from an Italian point of view, and listening to your podcast builds up my knowledge of how different we are.

Yaron • 3 days ago
Coming out of the shadows for a moment to say that I like the Alan Partridge episodes. In a way, it reminds me of the brilliant episode about Ali G that you did few years ago (which I recommend to anyone who hasn’t listened to it yet)
Thank you Luke.

I find your comments very reassuring and I’m very glad to read them. I’ll do more episodes about comedy in the future. In the meantime, check the episode archive for other British Comedy episodes.

In fact, here are the links (11 episodes)

Previous episodes about British Comedy

156. British Comedy: Ali G

172. British Comedy: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

195. British Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

202. British Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

313. British Comedy: Tim Vine

316. British Comedy: Tim Vine (Part 2)

427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show

428. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show (Part 2)

462. British Comedy: Bill Bailey

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

I also have episodes about telling jokes and explaining humour in social situations. Get into the archive and find out for yourself.

In the meantime, you should sign up for LEP Premium. Get the episodes on the LEP App, sign up at teacherluke.co.uk/premium for hot English action, helping you deal with vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation and have a bit of fun in the process. :)

Thanks for listening!

551. Catching Up with Amber & Paul #8 – Stereotypes

Chatting to the pod-pals Amber & Paul again and this time the conversation turns to the subject of national stereotypes, and why Paul has bleached his hair blond. Notes & transcripts below.

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Intro Transcript

OK Amber & Paul are back on the podcast today and I promise to keep this intro as short as possible.

It’s been a while since the last episode with Amber and Paul so it’s great to have them back. It’s been a little difficult to get the three of us in a room together, because we’ve all been busy, especially Paul who has been doing his stand up and working on a TV show and other projects.

So, anyway, here is “Catching Up with Amber & Paul” #8. The idea behind these catching up episodes is that we just see what my friends Amber & Paul have been doing recently and then see where the conversation takes us.

You can expect the usual mix of us talking quite fast, going off on various tangents and making fun of each other. That’s what usually happens in these episodes, and everyone seems to enjoy that, which is great! It’s the tangential trio, the PODPALs – reunited again for much pod-related fun.

Just to help you a bit, here’s a rundown of what we’re talking about in this episode.

  • In my coworking space, not on the terrace or in the sky pod this time. The co-working space is quite trendy and “hipsterish”, and empty.
  • Paul looks very different. His appearance has changed – what’s going on?
  • Paul’s new TV show about stereotypes, called “Stereotrip” (first revealed on this podcast last year)
  • Some talk of stereotypes, focusing on Italian people, Swiss people, German people, Swedish people and English people. What are the stereotypes of those places and are they true, based on the research that Paul and his team did for the TV show?
  • How is Amber’s show with Sarah Donnelly going? The show is called “Becoming Maman” and is about learning how to become a mother in France.
  • The importance of marketing for things like comedy shows, Vlogs, YouTube videos, podcast episodes and the way that certain episode titles or comedy show titles (names) get more success than other ones, like how “clickbait titles” are often more successful. What makes something go viral?

I just want to say again – when the three of us get together we do get a bit excited and we all have things to say, as a result we end up speaking really quickly, talking over the top of each other and cutting each other off. So, be warned – you are about to hear some quite fast speech. See if you can keep up, I hope you can! Listening several times will actually help a lot, so try doing that.

Just one more thing. You might hear some beeping in the background of this episode. There was an electrician working in the next room at the time.

Right, that’s it for this introduction. Let’s now listen to some superfast English from the PODPALS and here we go!

Ending Transcript

So, we’re going to pause right there and carry on in the next episode.

How’s this going for you? It’s nice to have Amber & Paul back on the podcast again isn’t it.

As usual, I wonder how much of this you understand because we do speak very quickly when we’re together.

I realise it might be difficult to follow, but hopefully that’s not such a big issue because it’s just pretty enjoyable listening to the three of us just rambling on like this. Certainly the impression I get is that people out there in podcastland enjoy listening to us.

You can let me know in the comment section.

Also, share your thoughts on the topics in this episode.

What do you think about stereotypes? What are the stereotypes people have of your country? Do they have any truth in them? Why do people have those stereotypes and where do they come from?

Also, what do you think about the titles of episodes? When you listen to this podcast, do the titles make any difference to your listening choices?

Let us know in the comment section and part 2 will be coming your way soon.

550. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 3)

Here’s the final part of this trilogy of British Comedy episodes about Alan Partridge. This time we’re analysing some of the quieter and darker moments in Alan’s life as he rambles about flasks, cars, seat belts, badges and having an air bag go off in your face, and avoids the problems in his life. Expect analysis of both the comedy and the language. Vocabulary lists and transcript available. 

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Transcript

So here we are with part 3 of this British Comedy episode, hot on the heels of part 2. This series is all about this famous British comedy character called Alan Partridge.

If you haven’t heard parts 1 and 2 yet I recommend that you go and listen to those first.

The plan again is to listen to some clips on YouTube and then analyse them for language. Hopefully you’ll get the jokes and will pick up some nice vocabulary on the way.

3 episodes is quite a lot to devote to one thing like this, but I really like Alan Partridge and introducing this comedy to you successfully (so that you enjoy it) is a sort of personal challenge for me and also there’s so much Partridge content that I feel just one episode or maybe just two would only really scratch the surface. To give this a proper chance we need to spend a bit of time on it.

Listener Emails

Hopefully you’re enjoying these episodes. Actually, I don’t really know what most of you think. I’ve had a few messages from people saying they are looking forward to part 3 of this – emails mostly.

For example, here’s part of a message from a listener called Hanna in Germany.

Dear Luke, I just wanted to get in touch to tell you how much i like your podcast. I’ve listened to the newest Partridge episode today and loved it. I think you’ve done a brilliant job in getting across what’s so funny and weirdly likeable about him. I’m really looking forward to a third episode about him. And in fact to all the upcoming episodes. In the meantime I scroll through your fantastic archive and pick out my favourite topics to enjoy in my everyday life.

Thank you Hannah.

But on the website I have had hardly any comments on these episodes, which is making me wonder what you’re all thinking. I have no idea really… So please let me know in the comment section. Are you like Hanna, who thinks I’ve managed to do a good job of getting across to you the ins and outs of Alan Partridge, or does it all seem hard to understand and totally unfunny? Let me know.

I did get an email from a teacher in Japan. I think he’s a native English speaker. I have to share it with you.

Message: Hello Luke,
I teach English in Japan. My students often listen to your podcast. In a recent episode you had a TV show host interviewing a child genius. My students are split on whether this really happened, or whether this was staged. I think it is pretty clear that a real TV show host would not actually physically abuse a child on TV, but my students are not convinced. They think this (smacking children upside the head in public and making them cry) is an example of British humour. (notice I spelt that with a ‘u’). I noted that you said it was ‘a spoof, a parody” at the beginning of the segment, but they are not convinced. Please clarify and explain the meaning of ‘spoof’. Love your show.

This is the sort of thing I’m talking about. There’s always someone who gets the completely wrong end of the stick and misunderstands something quite essential about the comedy, like for example what is the target of the joke and what are the underlying meanings or assumptions.

I actually can’t believe there’s anyone out there who would think that Alan is a real person and that he actually slapped a child, and that’s where the comedy comes from. Slapping a child is an absolutely terrible thing to do and it’s certainly not funny. No, the sketch in part 1 where Alan appears to slap a child, is obviously not real.

It seems I might need to clarify something. I thought it was obvious, but you should remember that Alan is not a real person. He’s a character made up by comedians. The scene in part 1 when he interviews a child genius, the child is not a real child. He’s played by an actress called Doon Mackichan who is changing her voice to sound like a child. And anyway, Alan doesn’t actually slap anyone. It’s just a sound effect for the radio. Nobody got slapped in real life.

And in the sketch, we’re not really laughing at a child being slapped. That’s not the joke. Just slapping a child is clearly not funny. It’s awful. So we’re not laughing at a child being slapped, we’re laughing at the fact that Alan is a fatally flawed character who is so pathetic that he will slap a child in order to come out on top or to save face. It’s ridiculous.

I understand that in Japan social conventions are so different in some cases that it might be hard to notice where the comedy is in slapping a child, but it’s really about the character of Alan and how he reacts to being wrong in a situation.

Anyway, slapping a child isn’t really British humour, but featuring a character who would slap a child is more typical of British comedy. We often feature characters in our sitcoms who will do terrible things in order to get what they want and they often fail. We laugh at these people, not with them. They are the target of the humour. Alan is not a hero who we support, quite the opposite, we observe him doing all sorts of terrible and pathetic things. Another example… Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers springs to mind. He does lots of terrible things to make sure his hotel business doesn’t get closed down. We cringe at the things he does, but also are amused by what happens to this person who is essentially not very nice when he is put under tremendous pressure that he’s probably responsible for in the first place.

Anyway, for most of you I probably didn’t need to give that clarification but for the students at school (however old you are, I’m not sure) let me assure you – Alan Partridge is not real and none of it is real. He is a character played by an actor called Steve Coogan. Alan Partridge is a parody or a spoof.

Parody, Spoof & Satire

A parody is a humorous piece of writing, drama, or music which imitates the style of a well-known person or represents a familiar situation in an exaggerated way.

When someone parodies a particular work, thing, or person, they imitate it in an amusing or exaggerated way.

So a parody is an imitation of something, in order to make fun of it. Alan is a parody of TV presenters.

A Spoof is a show or piece of writing that appears to be serious but is actually a joke. It’s also like a “fake” show. The Day Today is a spoof of the news.

We often use spoof and parody in the same or similar ways.

A satire is a piece of comedy designed to criticise something by making fun of it. Satire is like spoof or parody but doesn’t always involve imitations and often has serious targets like politics.

Animal Farm by George Orwell is a satire of communism. It criticises and makes fun of communism with this fictional story about pigs running a farm.

So Alan Partridge is certainly a spoof or parody of television and radio presenters. Perhaps at it’s best it’s some kind of satire about television and culture in general. In fact he’s become more of a parody of a kind of small-minded English man.

Alan Clips

Let’s listen to some more clips. This is going to be good listening practice and there will be loads of vocab, but also let’s see this as a kind of little adventure where I take you into something new and you have to try and work out what’s going on.

I’ve chosen two more clips, and I’ve chosen these ones because they are slightly quieter moments for Alan, not the big moments with all the catchphrases, but moments when Alan is perhaps at a weak point, which reveal how restless he is and how flawed he is on a basic social level.

We get a bit deeper into his psyche in this episode.

So in these clips I’m asking you not to look out for jokes like in the Edinburgh episode. Alan doesn’t really do jokes although there are very funny lines. So, don’t look for jokes. Instead look for the way this character expresses himself, how he chooses his words, how he can’t really connect with people around him, how he’s isolated, how he’s actually not a very good person.

There’s a bit of tragedy to Alan. It’s just there, under the surface. You have to read between the lines.

8. Alan calls his son and then Curry’s to ask about getting a surround sound speaker system

This is a glimpse into Alan’s family life and his relationship with his son. You could say it is strained. Imagine having Partridge as your father. It would be awful.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and Alan decides to call his son Fernando, who is 22 years old – around the same age I was when I first watched this. Fernando is named after the Abba song of the same name.

Alan calls Fernando to see if he wants to go for a pint. He catches Fernando in bed with his girlfriend and ends up lecturing him about how he’s wasting his time when the weather is so good outside. The key line is “It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re in bed with a girl, you’re wasting your life!” Alan couldn’t be more wrong of course.

Instead, Alan suggests that Fernando take her out to a local tourist spot, like a local fort or a Victorian folly. These are like the bog-standard local tourist attractions in the UK. You find things like this everywhere and they’re mostly boring. The fort is probably some local old remains of a castle. A Victorian folly is basically a fake medieval building made during the Victorian era to resemble something from the medieval times. In both cases they are very boring and no doubt populated by other such middle-English middle-Educated weekenders with their anoraks and cameras. For Alan this is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Of course, staying in bed with a girl is a far better way to spend your time.

Alan can’t relate to Fernando and patronises him (talks down to him and lectures him), while also rambling on like a broadcaster.

His rambling goes too far and he ends up talking about how he used to make love to Fernando’s mother Carol in various places, even telling the story of how Fernando was conceived, making it sound like Fernando might have been a mistake, or that perhaps Alan wasn’t happy when Fernando was born.

We never hear Fernando’s voice. It’s just Alan’s half of the conversation, leaving us to work out the other side for ourselves, which is a good comedy technique.

We can see there are serious issues in their relationship. It sounds like Alan was probably a terrible father, making his son feel unloved and unvalued, and just lecturing him rather than relating to him on a normal level. Alan tries to be friends with Fernando, but he’s completely unaware of how much he mistreats Fernando.

Alan then calls Curry’s the electronics store to find out about buying some speakers and typically ends up either arguing with the sales assistant, lecturing him, or letting him into close personal details. Alan also talks about the speaker system in a weird, formal way, perhaps using the technical language you might read in the product manual, and even using some latin words. For some reason he feels this technical and formal register is appropriate when asking about buying some speakers from a hardware shop. You can imagine that there is a generation of people who are old-fashioned enough to do that too. At the end he even attempts to invite the guy from Curry’s to go for a pint with him, because he’s bored. The guy says no.

In the end Alan decides to walk up the motorway to visit the local garage to buy some windscreen washer fluid. It’s funny to see these utterly mundane moments in Alan’s life. He’s a bit lost and is living in isolation and obscurity. Nobody else in the Travel Tavern is there, so he just leaves, shouting slightly desperately in case anyone wants to join him.

What to watch out for

  • How Alan makes his son feel unloved
  • How Alan describes how Fernando was conceived and it sounds like he wasn’t happy when
  • Fernando was born
  • How Alan starts going on about flasks and Fernando just hangs up
  • How Alan talks to the sales assistant at Curry’s and expects him to know latin
  • How he fails to invite the guy for a pint of beer

Language

  • You both sound exhausted, have you been running?
  • We did it everywhere. Behind a large boulder on Helvellyn for my birthday.
  • Actually, that is where you were conceived.
  • We just didn’t take precautions (so Fernando wasn’t planned, maybe an accident)
  • No we were delighted! Well, at first I was mortified but then you were born and we grew to like you.
  • I left a tartan flask up there. One of those very fragile ones with a screw on cup/cap.
  • These days they’re much more resilient. They took the technology from NASA. Modern flasks today are directly linked to the Apollo space mission. Hello?
  • I’d like to make an enquiry about two supplementary auxiliary speakers to go with my MIDI hi-fi system apropos (with reference to) achieving surround sound.
  • What time do you knock off? Do you fancy going for a drink?
  • Breath of fresh air?

9. Extended Car Sequence (no laughter track)

It’s interesting how a laughter track totally changes the tone of what you’re listening to.

Friends with no laughter track makes Ross sound like a psycho.

In this case having no laughter track makes Alan better and it sounds a lot more authentic.

Alan & Lynn in the car

I’ve chosen this because I want to play a clip with no laughter and in which Steve Coogan and Felicity Montagu (Lynn) are clearly improvising a lot of the dialogue. There are no big laughs in there, but instead this is just Alan at a bored moment. It’s also perhaps one of my favourite Alan moments because of the improvisation. The characters are totally believable. It’s like we’re just observing them in a quiet moment during the day. As we listen to their naturalistic dialogue it’s possible to notice that Alan is slowly becoming a bit unhinged – I mean, the doors are starting to fall off. He’s bored. He’s isolated. He’s probably quite sad and perhaps desperate underneath it.

Alan is “at a loose end” and so he’s requested that Lynn come and meet him so he can ask her something that’s been bothering him. It’s a small thing really, but Alan makes Lynn travel quite a long and complicated journey to come out and see him.

They just sit in the car and Alan rambles about nothing in particular. The main thing bothering him is that his car is making a weird beeping noise and he doesn’t know why. But it seems he just needs Lynn to be there so he can lecture her, patronise her, belittle her etc as a way of escaping the dark feelings that are probably gnawing away at him. Lynn is very faithful to Alan, and has strong Baptist religious beliefs, but Alan is very mean to Lynn, making her take a taxi and to walk a long way just so Alan can have someone to talk to.

Alan doesn’t even believe Lynn when she gives her excuse for being late, which shows that she’s clearly had a long journey to get there. He’s very ungrateful towards her.

Lynn knows that Alan might be at a very vulnerable point here – he’s been thrown out by his wife, living in a travel tavern and he punched the BBC director general in the face with a piece of cheese, and it’s not having a good effect on his mental state. So she’s supportive.

Lynn is clearly concerned about Alan and offers to talk to him about his problems.

Instead of talking about his problems, Alan just goes on in great detail about the features of the car, clearly in denial about his situation and his depressed state.

By the way I think Lynn was the one who actually bought the car for Alan. Him criticising parts of it is also a way for him to criticise her. He’s subtly telling her that he’s not happy with the car she bought.

Obviously Alan is unhappy about more than the car, but he never talks about that. The only thing he can do is comment on minor details in the car. The more specific he gets about these trivial details, like the design of the badge on the steering wheel, the more he is essentially trying to escape the reality of his situation, which is that his life and career are a mess.

Alan’s weird broadcasting sensibility comes in as he starts reviewing the car, commenting on the way seat belts work and generally patronising Lynn.

The tension is palpable.

It’s hilarious comedy and is improvised.

But it’s 100% not obvious.

So I would say, don’t imagine this is comedy. Imagine you’re just listening in on someone’s conversation. Let’s imagine we’re spying on them, just overhearing two people chatting aimlessly.

Coogan’s ability to stay in character is incredible.
The absence of laughter track makes it 100x better.

I wonder what you will think but this is one of my favourite Alan moments. It’s so natural and the character’s avoidance of talking about his problems while focusing on meaningless details of the car, is very interesting from a character point of view, and shows there is real depth and pathos to the character.

What to look out for

  • How difficult it was for Lynn to come and meet him, and how Alan suspects this is a lie
  • The reason Alan asked Lynn to come out
  • Lynn’s suggestion about why the car is making a noise (the clock is wrong)
  • Alan’s reaction to Lynn’s suggestion that it’s because the clock is wrong
  • What Alan thinks of the car, particularly his disappointment about the badge on the steering wheel.
  • Listen to how Alan loves the sound of the electric sun roof
  • What Alan says about the seat belts

Language

  • I got caught in a taxi that broke down
  • Do you know what that noise is?
  • It wouldn’t be “engine faulty” would it?
  • It’s been irritating me all morning
  • Is it the handbrake?
  • Don’t touch the handbrake. We’ll roll back.
  • Just make sure it’s in neutral there.
  • If you ever learn to drive Lynn, when you stop the car, just give it a bit of a wiggle. Make sure it’s in neutral.
  • My mum always puts it in first (gear)
  • Some people do that to stop it rolling back when you park on a hill but it’s unorthodox. It’s a stop gap for a faulty handbrake, but I personally frown on it.
  • I’ve locked the doors there. That’s a design fault. Design flaw. Just pop your elbow on there, you’ve locked the doors. Sometimes you don’t want to.
  • I thought you’d like this.
  • It’s wood laminate.
  • Pop your seatbelt on.
  • These are inertia real seatbelts.
  • Suddenly a lorry rears in front of you. Impact! LOCK!
  • I’d rather have a few superficial bruises than a massively lacerated face. Ooh, awful.
  • I’d love to feel an airbag go off in my face.
  • What I like about this material is, just to get a little bit of extra purchase, it’s pricked vinyl.
  • Pricked vinyl will allow a certain amount of drainage of hand sweat.
  • The Rover badge on the old car was a lovely enamel beautiful crested thing on the steering wheel boss, whereas this one is just moulded into the vinyl.
  • All I do is sit here looking at this moulded badge where once there was an enamel one and I can’t pretend that doesn’t hurt.
  • The sun roof is a wonderful feat of engineering. Just listen to all these servo motors.
  • Precision engineering.
  • Whirring away.
  • And of course you’ve got the manual flap.
  • You go through a bad patch and you can smile at the end of it, probably.
  • I didn’t say I was going through a bad patch, I said I was at a loose end.
  • [Lynn suggests that Alan takes the car for a drive, but Alan beeps the horn while she’s talking, interrupting her. She tries to continue, talking about how there’s an arcade – games centre – up the road where there’s a fun camel race]
  • Do you want to know the quickest way to drain a battery?
  • [Alan tries to open the glove compartment and accidentally touches Lynn’s leg – plenty of apologising and it’s awkward. There’s no affection in the relationship, from Alan anyway]
  • Alan says the best way to drain a car battery is to leave the glove compartment open.
  • Lynn says you shouldn’t leave your sweeties in there on long journeys because it might pop open and you wouldn’t notice and the battery would get drained. [Alan has no idea what she’s talking about.]
  • You’ve lost me. Boiled sweets, you sound like a lunatic.
  • It isn’t the inticator is it?
  • Inticator? Indicator.
  • Actually, I am low on windscreen washer fluid.
  • They wouldn’t set off an alarm if you’re low on windscreen washer fluid. It’s far too alarmist.
  • Just a light would come on to say, you know, you’re a bit low. But not a big alarm like that, it’s just a panic measure, you know like someone going “Oh my god you’re low on windscreen washer fluid!” You don’t need to say that. Just say, you need a nudge. The car needs to effectively say, “excuse me, I don’t want to distract you from your driving, but you might like to know the windscreen washer fluid is getting low” and they do that with a little light, which has come on – you can see it there.
  • Well the clock’s not right is it. That’s a possible.
  • I’m sorry Lynn. I’m normally patient but the idea that an alarm would be triggered because the clock isn’t right is cloud cuckoo land. Alice in Wonderland.
  • Could you cool me down with the hand fan.
  • [Lynn holds the hand fan too close and Alan turns and hurts his lip on it]
  • Come on I’ll drop you at a cab rank.

Ending

There is a massive amount more of Partridge and almost all if it is excellent – great performance, great writing, great characters. Perhaps I’ll revisit Alan one day on the podcast.

I wonder how you feel about this. My aim has been just to introduce you to some stuff you didn’t know about before, and teach you some English in the process. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to check out more Alan stuff, great. If you didn’t really get it, well – so be it. At least I tried.

Some Alan recommendations.

TV series: I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 & 2
TV specials: Welcome to the places of my life, Scissored Isle.
Web-series: Mid-Morning Matters with Alan Partridge
Audiobooks: I, Partridge, Nomad
Film: Alpha Papa (not exactly the same as normal Partridge, but still good)

Do let me know everything you think in the comment section. It’s impossible for me to predict how episodes like this will be received by my audience – I really do scratch my head and wonder what the hell people in China, Russia, Japan or closer to home in France or any other place will think about some of the content I share with you. The only way I can know is if you write to me and tell me what you think. I’m certain some of you completely won’t get it, but some of you might get it and for me it’s worth doing these episodes even if only some of you get it.

At the least, if you didn’t get into the comedy, I think we can agree that there’s been a lot of language to be learned in these episodes. Check the page for this episode to see all the notes and transcripts. I should do a premium episode covering it all, just to make sure it really goes into your head properly! For example, what’s the phrase Alan uses to describe how he’s bored and has nothing to do?

He’s at a loose end, right?

That’s the sort of stuff I do in the Premium episodes. To sign up for the price of 1 coffee per month, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

BONUS CONTENT: Talking to Raph about Partridge (Part 1)

More videos

Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle (one of the most recent TV specials)

Alan Partridge: Nomad (Audiobook)

 

549. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 2)

Building on the previous episode, this time we’re looking at how Alan Partridge interacts with people in his every day life and how this results in some classic moments of British TV comedy. All the material is explained with plenty of vocabulary to learn.

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Transcript, Notes & Videos

His chat show series ended in disaster when he accidentally shot a man to death during an interview.

3. Alan interviews Tony Hayers (Knowing Me, Knowing Yule – the Christmas special 1995)

There was a Christmas special of Knowing Me Knowing You, which was made as part of a contractual obligation in his BBC deal.

He featured Tony Hayers on the chat show. He was the chief commissioning editor of the BBC – the man who decides which programmes are on the telly. Inviting him is a terrible decision because Alan is hoping to get a 2nd series of his chat show from Hayers, but Hayers hasn’t made his decision yet and is probably not going to give it to him anyway because Alan’s TV show was a disaster.

Alan interviews Tony and it is very awkward. Alan is mainly concerned about whether he has got a second series of his chat show. He is assuming that he has got it – because of his inflated sense of self-worth, which might be him subconsciously compensating for some deep issues he has. Alan is incredibly unaware of himself, which is somehow a social crime in the UK. I think we’re very self-aware.

The interview comes off the rails as Alan gets caught up in attempting to work out if he’s going to get a second series of the chat show.

What to look out for:

  • The awkwardness of Alan having his boss on his chat show
  • How Tony talks about having to cut jobs at the BBC
  • How Alan’s metaphor about Tony “ringing the changes” doesn’t work
  • How Alan keeps pressing for confirmation of a second series
  • How he assumes he has one although it’s obvious to us that he hasn’t
  • How Alan ultimately ruins it for himself
  • How he attempts to appear politically correct but he’s very awkward about certain issues

Later, Alan sort of has a breakdown live on air and ends up punching his boss in the face accidentally, with a turkey stuck on his hand.

I’m Alan Partridge

A year or two later a new series about Partridge arrived. It was called “I’m Alan Partridge”.

For me, this is when Alan really became a brilliant character. In I’m Alan Partridge we follow Alan in his normal life.

Previously we saw his awkward encounters with guests and a lot of very cringe-worthy moments. It worked as a parody and satire of television chat shows and the general clichés of broadcasting.

Now we see Alan in his everyday life and he has similarly awkward encounters. We see behind the curtain. Alan struggles to be normal. He’s always in “TV chat” mode, and it’s awful. He has no social skills, even though he thinks he’s a great conversationalist. He tries to be charming and normal, it all goes wrong, but he doesn’t realise it. He’s completely unaware of himself. In fact, his life is nosediving. It’s all falling apart around him, but he blindly assumes that he’s destined to be a prime time BBC1 TV presenter.

This is really hard to explain. We just have to hear it and find out.

Alan’s career is on the rocks. He’s now hosting a show on local radio – in Norwich. It’s the pre-breakfast show – a very obscure slot, something like 4:30-6:30AM, local radio. He’s drifted into obscurity. Also, his personal life is in disarray. His wife has left him for her fitness instructor. We gradually learn more and more about this and essentially it’s largely his fault because he’s Alan Partridge!

He’s petty, domineering, arrogant, unromantic, selfish, careless, career oriented. Why is this character so fascinating for the viewer? I’m not sure.

Now he’s living in a travel tavern – a kind of roadside motel, but he’s convinced that things will get better because he’s certain that the BBC will give him a second series of his chat show. He’s even about to buy a 5 bedroom house. He’s utterly deluded about himself. It’s sad. There’s darkness lurking just under the surface. In fact, Alan later does have a nervous breakdown and ends up bingeing on Toblerone chocolate bars and driving to Dundee in Scotland in bare feet (with no shoes on) but that’s later on.

I’m Alan Partridge – Series 1 Episode 1 1997

4. Alan meets Michael the Geordie and talks about his accent
Michael works as a caretaker at the travel tavern. He’s from Newcastle and he used to be in the army.

Alan strikes up a sort of friendship with him, but at first Michael is hard to understand because of his accent.

What to look out for:

  • The way the girl Sophie on reception is subtly insulting Alan while remaining professional
  • Alan’s prejudice against people from the north
  • How Alan is fascinated by Michael’s horrible experiences in the army

5. Alan’s pretend meeting with Tony Hayers

Alan’s Personal Assistant, Lynn helps Alan prepare for his meeting with Tony Hayers. Alan grossly overestimates his chances of a second series, and even the pretend meeting goes wrong, with Alan demanding to have a second series from Lynn, and putting Lynn down at the same time. This is how Alan imagines his negotiating style to be, and even in his fantasised versions, he fails.

What to watch out for:

  • How Alan imagines his meeting with Tony Hayers will go, including the locker room banter he expects to have with Tony about smoking cuban cigars
  • How even the fantasy goes completely wrong

I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 Episode 1 09:25

6. Alan’s real meeting with Tony Hayers
Alan is meeting Tony Hayers at the BBC and expects to be told he’s getting a 2nd series. We all suspect that he won’t get it, even though he’s certain he will and has just bought a 5 bedroom house.

Alan is clearly out of his depth in this BBC restaurant where everyone is an executive in a suit.

Alan attempts to appear sophisticated but gets everything wrong.
It becomes clear that Alan doesn’t have a second series and he loses it.
He then attempts to pitch a number of other shows he has in mind, but they’re all terrible.
You see something kind of click and he ends up punching Tony Hayers with a piece of cheese.

“Smell my cheese you mother!”

What to watch out for

  • How Alan attempts to appear classy with talk of wine and other things, and how he reveals that he has no class
    Alan’s ridiculous ideas for TV shows, very similar to stupid TV shows that exist in the real world

I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 Episode 1 16:36

7. Alan and Lynn in the car

“That was a negative and right now I need two positives.”

“Come on I’ll drop you at a cab rank.”

Alan fantasises about calling Chris Rea, the pop star who lives in the area. In his imagined conversation he invites Chris to a barbecue but the invitation ends in an argument. Again, even his imaginary exchanges go all wrong.

What to watch out for:

  • How Alan somehow imagines his life like a hollywood thriller (that was a negative…)
  • The imagined conversation with Chris Rea that goes wrong
  • “Come on, I’ll drop you at a cab rank”

I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 Episode 1 25:00

Thanks for listening!

Alan Partridge TV shows are available on iTunes and other platforms. Also, check out the Alan Partridge audiobooks on Audible.

There should be a part 3 coming soon. Tell me what you think in the comment section!

548. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 1)

Continuing the comedy theme by analysing a character that most British people know but learners of English find difficult to understand. Check the page below for transcripts, notes and videos.

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Transcript

Hi folks, today I’m continuing the comedy theme, with an episode about British TV Comedy.

A while ago I did an episode all about British TV Comedy Programmes. It was pretty popular and I promised that I would do more episodes explaining specific comedy shows, so today I’m going to talk to you about a well-known and well-loved character from British Television culture – Alan Partridge.

I’ll tell you everything I think you need to know about him (all the context and background info), then we’ll listen to some clips on YouTube, see if you get the humour and we’ll use them to do some intensive listening to help you learn loads of real, natural English language and culture.

“British Comedy: Alan Partridge” – that’s the title of this episode.

As usual I’m wondering what the hell you will think of this, because it might be hard for you to understand and it might just go straight over your head. I don’t know. Also, I’m wondering if some of you will be a bit turned off by the title of the episode.

Maybe I should have gone with a more “click-bait” title.

Perhaps – “The British Comedy that only Brits can Understand” or “British people love it but learners of English don’t understand it” or “Learn the 10 Secrets of British Comedy that the Language Schools don’t want you to know!” or “Why British People Hate Mr Bean” or something like that.

Instead I’ve gone with a more functional title, and the assumption that you will just trust me whatever the title is.

British Comedy: Alan Partridge

So, this is an episode about an absolute legend of British comedy that most Brits know, but non-Brits often don’t know and learners of English struggle to understand or appreciate.

You may have heard me mention Alan Partridge before. I’ve often said I need to devote a whole episode to this subject, so here we go.

I have a feeling this is going to take more than one episode. It might require a few episodes. And you know what – if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do. I will talk about this for as long as I think is necessary or until someone physically stops me.

You might be thinking, “Who is Alan Partridge?”

He’s a fictional comedy character who has been on British TV for nearly 25 years.
He is played by an actor and comedian named Steve Coogan, who you may have heard on this podcast before doing Michael Caine and Paul McCartney impressions on the TV show The Trip.

The character is a fictional TV & radio presenter.

Originally Partridge was created as a parody of TV and radio presenters – a way of making fun of the cliches you see and hear in TV news, sports reporting, factual and light entertainment programmes – particularly the cliches of how people speak on TV and radio.

Later, Partridge became a fully-rounded character in his own right. In later shows, we follow Alan closely through his life and the character has become more than just a parody of television presenters. He has become a parody of a certain type of British man. Somehow, so many of us can relate to the experiences and characteristics of Alan, even though the character is someone we laugh at and think is a truly awful person.

Here’s a run down of the shows and things that Alan has appeared in.

  • A parody news TV programme called The Day Today.
  • Three BBC Radio 4 comedy series.
  • 3 BBC TV series and one BBC TV special.
  • 2 best-selling books and audiobooks.
  • A web series on YouTube.
  • Two short TV series on Sky.
  • Several full-length TV specials.
  • A full-length feature film which was released in cinemas.
  • Several big live theatre tours.
  • Lots of other TV appearances on interview shows, charity telethons and more.

The character has won a BAFTA award and two British Comedy awards over the years.

This year Alan is coming back to the BBC with a brand new series.

Partridge is widely praised by reviewers and critics as one of Britain’s best comedy TV characters.

Many of the lines spoken by Alan Partridge have become part of the popular consciousness, including phrases like “A-ha!”, “Monkey Tennis” and “Smell my cheese you mother!”

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a huge fan of Alan Partridge as an excellent work of comedy by the performer Steve Coogan and the script writers Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham the Gibbons brothers, and others.

Many of my friends and members of my family are also huge fans and it’s quite normal for us to communicate in Partridgisms when we spend time together sometimes, quoting lines of dialogue with each other.

In my opinion, if you have any interest in Britishness, British humour, British comedy, British pop culture and British English, you absolutely must know about Alan Partridge.

This is not as simple as you might think. Somehow I find it really hard to explain this comedy to learners of English. It’s very subtle, nuanced and layered. It sort of defies explanation, which is a strength in my opinion.

I think that comedy that is very easy to explain is often a bit basic, and probably quite rubbish.

The fact that Alan Partridge is complex and subtle is a strength for the comedy, but perhaps that’s also a barrier for non-native speakers who just can’t see where the humour is.

They always say that the hardest thing to truly understand in a second language is humour. It requires really good English in this case – the ability to read between the lines, to pick up on very slight verbal and non-verbal clues to understand the comedy – and to do it all instantly.

You need excellent listening skills. You also need to have a lot of context in order to understand what type of character this is, how to interpret what he says, what his attitude is in any given moment, how other people are reacting to him and also to understand how we the audience are supposed to feel about it all. Are we laughing with him? Are we laughing at him? Where is the comedy coming from?

So, perhaps if you’re not really aware of all the cultural and contextual clues and if your English isn’t quite up to it, you will never really get it.

You might think “Nah, this isn’t funny” or “This is british humour” that for some reason only British people understand but which in fact isn’t funny for any normal people.

But the high regard that people have for Alan Partridge, the awards, the recognition from the industry, the longevity of the character – these things all prove that this is genuinely good stuff.

Partridge is also popular in other English speaking countries outside the UK, notably Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. He’s not a household name in America although quite a lot of people know about him there including lots of actors and comedians. For example Ben Stiller is famously a big fan.

Let’s see how it is for you. Let me know in the comment section as we go through some clips, listen, break them down and carry on.

Alan Partridge: Background Information

I have to give you some background information on the character first.

Read from the Wikipedia page a bit – first two paragraphs en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Partridge#Character

Character
Alan Partridge is an incompetent (always fails) and tactless (he’s careless and his words often offend people around him) television and radio presenter from Norwich, England.[5][30]

He is socially inept (has no skill), often offending his guests,[31] and has an inflated sense of importance and celebrity (he thinks he’s more important than he is).[9] According to the Telegraph, Partridge is “utterly convinced of his own superiority, and bewildered (confused) by the world’s inability to recognise it – qualities that place him in the line of Great British comedy characters.

His need for public attention drives him to deceit (lying), treachery (betraying people who trust him) and shameless self-promotion,[30] and sometimes violence; in the Knowing Me, Knowing Yule Christmas special, for example, he assaults a BBC boss by punching him with a turkey.[7]

Alan Partridge lives in Norwich, Norfolk. Armando Iannucci (one of the creators) said the writers chose it as Partridge’s hometown as it is “geographically just that little bit annoyingly too far from London, and has this weird kind of isolated feel that seemed right for Alan.”[1]

Partridge holds right-wing views; Coogan described him as a Little Englander, with a “myopic (uninformed), slightly philistine (uncultured) mentality”.[32] He is a reader of the right-wing tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail, and supports Brexit because, according to Coogan, the Daily Mail “told him to”.[33][33] Earlier versions of the character were more bigoted (prejudiced), but the writers found there was more humour in having him attempt to be liberal;[32] Coogan said: “He’s aware of political correctness but he’s playing catch-up.” His underlying right wing views come out sometimes, even though he tries to be modern. [32]

Alan Clips

I’m going to play you a selection of clips now.

I’ll tell you a bit about the scene, including the basics of what happens.
This is important because, believe me, it will be quite hard to follow some of this.

I expect the first time you listen you’ll be like what?
So, I’ll explain some details and give you some things to listen out for.
Then you can listen to the clip and either get what they’re saying, or get some of it, get confused, have a laugh or whatever.

Then I’ll go through it again and break it down for you.

No doubt there will be useful language to be gained from all of this. In fact, I’m certain there is a tonne of language which will emerge from doing this.

Check the page for this episode. You will find it to be a treasure trove of transcripts, notes, vocabulary, youtube links and more.

After listening, and hopefully understanding each scene, we will go onto the next one and the next until we are done and you’ve had your introduction to the world of Alan, and you can then choose to continue and watch the series or read the books, or if you prefer, just never revisit the world of Alan Partridge again.

For App users, check out the bonus content for these Partridge episodes. There will be at least one bonus audio in which I’m talking to my friend Raphael from Liverpool about the complexities of explaining Alan Partridge to learners of English.

OK, let’s get started for goodness sake!

Sportsdesk with Alan Partridge (from The Day Today 1994)

Alan began as a parody of TV sports reporters in a BBC radio comedy called On The Hour, and then on the TV news spoof comedy The Day Today.

Then he became a parody of cliched television presenters in general, with his own chat show, named after an Abba song “Knowing Me, Knowing You, with Alan Partridge”.

Sometimes sports reporters have to keep talking and talking, even when there’s nothing to talk about really, and their commentaries become full of bad cliches and mixed metaphors to describe what’s going on. Sometimes the commentary lapses into personal experiences and bizarre tangents.

There’s also the tone of voice of the sports reporter. Somehow it’s very high. Everything is up in the air. It’s the atmosphere of tension, it’s the atmosphere of high stakes competition, it’s the atmosphere of the Sunday league cup final.

Sometimes they ramble and end up saying quite ridiculous things. This can be quite revealing about the reporter’s personality. Without intending to, they end up saying bizarre things that make you wonder about their personal lives.

This is a bit like the way some TV presenters will behave, on radio or on live TV chat shows, when things go a bit wrong and the presenters say some weird things or struggle in some way.

Clip 1: Alan’s Sporting Highlights

This is not the funniest of clips, but it gives you an idea of where he first came from – just copying the vocal mannerisms of sports reporters.

Alan describes cycling, athletics, boxing.

What to look out for:

  • The descriptions of cyclists that get a bit carried away (especially when describing their bodies)
  • The tone of voice in the helicopter
  • Metaphors that don’t work “cyclists that look somehow like cattle in a mad way, but cattle on bikes”
  • “Oh good he’s fallen!”
  • Too much personal information / Descriptions get carried away describing bare knuckle boxing (I witnessed bare knuckle boxing in a barn. It was a sorry sight to see men goading them on, and I’m ashamed to say I was party to that goading…)

Alan’s chat show

Somehow Alan managed to climb the greasy pole within the BBC and was given his own chat show on the radio and then one on TV which lasted one series.

The show was called Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge – a cheesy title inspired by a song by Abba.

“Knowing Me Knowing You, Ah Haaa” – that became Partridge’s most famous catchphrase.

Clip 2. Alan interviews a child prodigy (Knowing Me, Knowing You – radio series 1992)

This was recorded in front of a studio audience for radio.

Alan attempts to interview a child genius but the child is obviously way more intelligent and educated than him.

Alan attempts to keep the upper hand, but is constantly proven wrong by the child. It’s humiliating for Alan, but Alan doesn’t have the patience to tolerate being wrong and instead resorts to rudely bullying the child. Alan always needs to be on top, even if it means being very cruel to a child.

There is a live audience and it’s a bit weird because they’re laughing while the performance happens. The performers carry on like it’s not comedy, but there’s an audience laughing.

Still, the moments when the audience laugh tell you there has been a joke.

This sketch just shows how Alan’s interviews always go wrong because of his personal hangups – the underlying problems in his personality.

Laugh AT or laugh WITH?

Are we laughing at Alan, or laughing with him?

Sometimes we laugh at Alan because he’s awful, self-important, arrogant and ignorant, and yet we also somehow support him as the child is really annoying too.

So we’re against Alan and laugh at him, but somehow we are behind him and laugh with him too. It’s an interesting shift in perspective as we both relate to him and also want to distance ourselves from him at the same time. This happens with all of Alan’s comedy.

What to look out for:

  • The ways the child makes Alan look stupid, including references to Shakespeare
  • Alan’s attempt to win the situation
  • The switch to “entertainment mode” at the end of the sketch, as if he hasn’t just insulted this child and made him cry

547. Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Studying some jokes told by stand-up comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival, and dissecting them for vocabulary. Learn English with some jokes and find out about typical joke structures used by stand-up comedians. Transcripts and jokes available below.

[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction Transcript

This episode is going to contain loads of jokes and their explanations. Listening to this might give you a chuckle if you understand the jokes, and at the very least you’ll learn some English in the process.

The Edinburgh Festival is an arts festival that happens every August in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is officially the largest arts festival in the world and it includes all kinds of art, including theatre and dance. However, there is also an alternative festival that runs at the same time and this is perhaps the more famous one these days. This alternative festival is called The Edinburgh Festival Fringe or simply Edinburgh Fringe.

The word “fringe” means “edge” and it’s a way of referring to performances which are alternative, on the edge, different to the mainstream acts.

These days this largely means comedy, particularly stand up comedy – that form of comedy which involves someone standing on the stage armed only with a microphone and their witty jokes and stories.

The fringe gets a lot of media coverage because that’s where the country’s best comedians are often discovered. It’s a huge event for the industry. Also it’s pretty entertaining for us to read the year’s best jokes when they’re published in all the newspapers.

I was going to do an episode about the best jokes from this year’s Edinburgh fringe. Every year a TV channel called Dave chooses their favourite jokes of the fringe, and people vote for the best.
The jokes are then published in the newspapers and shared around on social networks.
Someone asked me to do an episode about it actually. Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t remember who that was! I get messages across lots of different platforms and I can’t keep up.

That was about the best jokes of Edinburgh 2018.

I had a look and some of them are pretty good, but not all of them and I thought instead that I’d find a list of top jokes from all Edinburgh festivals, just as a way to make sure the jokes are basically good enough. Even still, these are just jokes made up by comedians at the festival, sometimes improvised live on stage. They’re not those jokes that just go around and have no author. These are written by possibly desperate 20 or 30 something comedians trying to make their audiences laugh.

I’ve never actually been to the Edinburgh Festival or taken part in the fringe. I did the Brighton Fringe three times, but never Edinburgh. It’s one of the world’s biggest comedy festivals. Every year thousands of comedians from all over the world go there, do their shows and desperately try to get reviewed, get featured in the newspaper articles, try to win awards, try to make a name for themselves.

In my experience, it just costs a lot of money, it’s exhausting and you drink too much. So, no thanks. But still, imagine the main street in Edinburgh at lunchtime in August. The whole street will be lined with aspiring comics flyering for their shows. At those shows the comics will be doing their best to make the audience laugh as much as possible. These jokes are part of their routines.

To be honest, It’s probably not fair to judge these jokes on their own. They belong in these comedians’ routines, performed live. Usually in stand up the comedians don’t just go up and tell some jokes. They go up and tell stories about their lives, share experiences and so on. The jokes are included in the stories and they are weaved in seamlessly. For the joke to properly have a chance, it has to be delivered in context. So much of that is about the person telling the joke – what do they look like? What do they sound like? What kind of stories are they telling? Are they happy, unhappy, desperate, stupid? All this context informs the joke. So, it’s not fair to just pick out the jokes on their own and then scrutinise them out of context.

But, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here and now in this episode.

We’re going to go through a selection of jokes from Edinburgh Fringe over the years. I’ll tell them, and then scrutinise them for meaning and language, leaving the jokes like dead frogs which have been dissected in a science lab at school.

Remember – explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog… it’s  possible to learn something from it, but the frog dies in the process.

Some types of joke / Joke structures

There are certain joke structures or techniques which get used a lot. They’re very commonly used in stand up routines. Let’s identify some.

  • Puns (word jokes) – one word or phrase means two things at the same time.
  • Pull back and reveal – the situation radically changes when we get more information.

  • Observational humour – noticing things about everyday life that we all experience, but haven’t put into words yet.
  • similes – Showing how two things are similar in unexpected and revealing ways. (Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog…)

So, here we go. Lower your expectations now…

First of all, here are some of the jokes from the 2018 fringe, considered the best ones.

“Working at the Jobcentre has to be a tense job – knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day.” Adam Rowe

“I had a job drilling holes for water – it was well boring.” – Leo Kearse

“I took out a loan to pay for an exorcism. If I don’t pay it back, I’m going to get repossessed.” – Olaf Falafel

110 of the best ever jokes and one-liners from the Edinburgh Fringe

“When I was younger I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then I was born.” Yianni (2015)

“I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting’. So we stopped playing chess.” Matt Kirshen (2011)

“Love is like a fart. If you have to force it it’s probably shit.” Stephen K. Amos (2014)

“Life is like a box of chocolates. It doesn’t last long if you’re fat.” Joe Lycett (2014)

“I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister.” Will Marsh (2012)

“I was thinking of running a marathon, but I think it might be too difficult getting all the roads closed and providing enough water for everyone.” Jordan Brookes (2016)

“My wife told me: ‘Sex is better on holiday.’ That wasn’t a nice postcard to receive.” Joe Bor (2014)

“If you arrive fashionably late in Crocs, you’re just late.” Joel Dommett (2014)

“I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: ‘This could be interesting.” Paddy Lennox (2009)

“I’m sure wherever my Dad is: he’s looking down on us. He’s not dead, just very condescending.” Jack Whitehall (2009)

“My granny was recently beaten to death by my grandad. Not as in, with a stick – he just died first” Alex Horne (2008)

“I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Nick Helm (2011)

“I went to Waterstones and asked the woman for a book about turtles, she said ‘hardback?’ and I was like, ‘yeah and little heads” Mark Simmons (2015)

That last joke reminds me of Tim Vine – “Hello, I’d like to buy a watch please” “Analogue?” “No, just the watch thanks”.

Vocabulary

Some vocabulary to notice in this episode:

  • to chuckle / a chuckle
  • a tense job
  • to get fired
  • to get repossessed
  • well boring
  • To take out a loan
  • I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body
  • Let’s make this interesting’.
  • If you have to force it, it’s probably shit
  • I was raised as an only child
  • running a marathon
  • fashionably late
  • he’s looking down on us
  • very condescending
  • beaten to death