Category Archives: Politics

574. [2/2] The Rick Thompson Report: Brexit Q&A (January 2019)

My dad answers some questions from listeners about Brexit. Includes conversation about Theresa May’s deal, the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, Parliamentary democracy, the possible reactions to revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit altogether, chances of a second referendum, Scottish independence, the sensitive Northern Ireland situation, consequences for EU nationals in the UK and the question of trading on WTO rules.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners around the world, this is part 2 of a double episode of The Rick Thompson Report on Luke’s English Podcast in which I am talking to my dad about Brexit. We recorded this conversation on Thursday 24 January 2019.

As I said, this is part 2. You should listen to part 1 before you listen to this. In part 1 we chatted about the current Brexit situation, talking specifically about what happened with Theresa May’s Brexit deal, why MPs in Parliament rejected it, what’s going on now in Parliament and with Brexit generally, and what might happen next.

We talked about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit (aka “crashing out of the EU”) and what that might look like. We talked about the possibility of Brexit being postponed or even cancelled completely and we talked about the possibility of a 2nd referendum happening.

We also went into some detail about the Northern Ireland backstop – aka the Northern Ireland border problem and various other aspects of this complicated issue.

This brings us to part 2 and In this part we’re going to respond to some questions from my listeners, and there are a few times when we refer to things we said in part 1. So this will all make a bit more sense to you if you listen to part 1 first, that’s episode 573.

So, assuming that you’ve heard part 1 of this conversation, let’s now listen to my dad’s responses to a few questions from my audience. So here is part 2 of this episode of The Rick Thompson Report on Luke’s English Podcast.


Questions from Listeners

Hiro (twitter)
I was expecting you to have another episode about Brexit with your dad. Thank you in advance.
I have three questions.

1: The result of the referendum in 2016 was 52:48. Do you think the ratio has changed recently?

Luke: The ratio has changed because people who were too young to vote in the previous one have now reached the legal age, and some older people who voted leave in 2016 have died.

TheWeek.co.uk 21 Jan
Britain has seen a “Brexit crossover” where the number of younger Remain supporters who have reached voting age combined with older Leave voters who have died since the referendum has wiped out the 1.3 million majority that voted in favour of leaving the EU.

2: Theresa May’s deal was rejected several days ago, but she survived the no-confidence vote. It seems to me that she was left with a heavy burden and no one else wants to be in her position. Do you think there is any possibility that she will get angry and leave?

3: The British parliament is in a very difficult and complicated situation. I guess it’s showing the worst side of democracy.( It reminds me of the final days of ancient Athens. )
What do you think about it, especially in relation to the dictatorships of other countries?

Mits (twitter)
Hi Luke! I always enjoy the episodes with your dad:) Especially on Brexit. Here are my questions.
What would be the ideal situation for UK?
Would you like a second national referendum?
I am very worried about the current situation and the future..

Lysak_Michael (Twitter)
Hello, Luke! In case of Brexit how will England deal with Scotland, which is going to realize its right to independence?
And, of course, the border between NI and Ireland.
Could your dad share his feelings about actions of IRA in 1972, 1974, 1982? Thank you!

Ladislav (Facebook)
I’m so looking forward to this episode. I was wondering whether you was going to record one. I must say that the The Rick Thompson Report episodes are the best alongside ones with Amber and Paul!
Question: how long will it take to decide what the next step (new government, new general election, referendum etc) is going to be?

Ivan (FB)
What surprises me about Brexit is some “split” of the picture that I am receiving.
Never in my life, have I heard anything positive about Brexit from articles/podcasts/media.
And at the very same time whenever I speak privately with a UK citizen I ask them whether they support Brexit and keep getting answers “it’s complicated but yes”.

Luke: Which media are you consuming? Which people are you talking to?

Ju (maybe Julie or Julia) (FB)
I’ve been waiting for a new episode of the Rick Thompson Report! I’m worried about a no-deal and the consequences for EU citizens who want to stay in the UK…
Do you think that there will be a Brexit without a deal or will they postpone it?
BTW, I’ve been listening your podcast for about a year and I just love it! 👏👏👏

Aritz (FB)
Hi Rick! I’m from Spain, working in London.
What’s going to happen with the pound-euro exchange?
Shall I send my savings in pounds to Spain buying euros?
Cheers!

Igor (Twitter)
Could you talk about the Irish border and the backstop?
And also about Jeremy Corbyn, whether he’s the right person or not to lead the Labour Party in this important issue? Thanks, I always listen to LEP.

Zdenek (FB)

If article 50 is revoked or extended to buy more time for Brexit, isn’t there a huge danger of people losing faith in politics and people wanting to take matters into their own hands, riot risks etc?

What are the chances Scotland will leave the UK and instead join the EU if Brexit happens? In their Independence referendum they decided to stay in the UK, but nobody told them they would have to leave Europe.

Can your Dad give his predictions in percentages of the following happening? New referendum (people’s vote), general election, No deal Brexit, Theresa May’s deal, civil war (just a bad joke- I am actually heartbroken about what is happening in the UK)

Do you think Jeremy Corbyn is playing his cards right? It seems to me that he is lately behaving a bit like Boris Johnson, speculating too much and thinking about his own career rather than the future of the UK? Shouldn’t he just get over himself and campaign for remain?

A lot of people are angry at the prospect of Brexit not happening. They say it would be undemocratic. Don’t you think that ignoring the people’s voice would not be right? On the other hand parliamentary democracy means parliament is the body that decides. Why should ordinary folks have such power, especially if they clearly have no clue what they are doing?

Kauan (FB)
Is Brexit still a thing that’s gonna happen? I thought it got canceled or smth or whatever. At least I heard it somewhere.
Luke: 🤷‍♂️

Chriss from Mexico (FB)
Will we (foreigners) need a visa to enter?

Marcio (FB)
Why did the UK government itself create this bad situation that has stopped the entire country?
(originally written: Why the own English government have created this bed situation that stopped all country?)
Luke: Ask David Cameron

Video
Danny Dyer talks about David Cameron. “Where is the geezer!” “He’s in Europe. He’s in Nice with his trotters up!” “Twat!” (cockney accent) – a very strange moment in television as both Pamela Anderson and  Jeremy Corbyn are also present in the studio.

Stavtsev (FB)
Does it mean that Northern Ireland will be able to reunite with Ireland?

Farshid (website)
What advantages does it give to Britain and most importantly what effects it will have on other countries?


Ending

Thank you again to Dad for his contribution.

Thank you also to listeners for sending your questions. I didn’t manage to use all the questions that I received, so apologies to anyone who I missed out.

Now there are loads of other things I’d like to talk about on this subject but there isn’t really time. I might go back into it at some point.

“Trading on WTO rules” and What are tariffs anyway?

But before we go, I would like to revisit this subject of trading on WTO rules, because this is something you will hear from Brexiters when they talk about the prospect of us crashing out of the EU without a deal. They usually say “We can simply trade with the rest of the world using WTO rules.” I think it’s worth looking at what that really means, and how it’s actually a very dangerous step to take.

I mentioned in part 1 a Twitter user who I have been following. In fact I’ve noticed lots of very well-informed users of Twitter who have been tweeting various information, backed up by genuine understandings of all the technical details of things like the World Trade Organisation.

So, this guy on Twitter is called Edwin Hayward, and this is what he wrote about trading on WTO terms. It’s actually very interesting because not only can you learn about the reality of what that means, you can learn a thing or two about international trade and what tariffs are. This is what he wrote recently. You can find links to this on the page for this episode.

Debunking WTO and what “trading on WTO terms” really means… By Edwin Hayward

@uk_domain_names on Twitter

twitter.com/uk_domain_names/status/1073221524545363973?lang=en

As EU members, we participate in over 750 international treaties. Many relate to trade, enabling us to trade freely with the EU, the EEA, and 40+ other countries.

Other treaties cover non-trade issues, from air worthiness certificates to drivers licenses, UK and EU citizens’ rights, food safety, environmental protections, workers rights, etc.

On Brexit Day, we leave the EU. That means we lose all the benefits of its treaties. Those treaties are gone in a flash, as if we’d fed them into a shredder. (That’s not the EU being vindictive, it’s just how the Article 50 process works.)

Even IF we have a transition period, the treaties will already be gone, but we will be shielded from the immediate shock by the transition arrangement.

Right now, we share in EU trade deals with 78 countries (22 more pending). These deals cover 60.7% of all our of all our goods imports, and 66.9% of our exports. Overnight, we will lose them all, wave goodbye to the painstaking gains of over forty years of trade negotiations. In the absence of trade deals, we will be reduced to trading on WTO terms. WTO is a complicated system of tariffs and quotas…

Luke’s Note: What are tariffs? Tariffs are import charges, a bit like taxes on imports. A country’s government can set tariffs on goods imported into the country. Who pays the tariff? The company which is sending the products into that country. So, if your country produces tennis balls and you want to sell them in the UK, the UK will probably have set tariffs which you have to pay when you send your tennis balls into the UK. The UK government has set tariffs on those tennis balls in order to protect the tennis ball manufacturers that it has at home. Because, if it’s possible to buy super cheap tennis balls from abroad, then British tennis ball makers will go out of business – they would either not be able to compete with the cheap foreign tennis balls, or they’d have to lower their prices to match the cheap foreign tennis balls – in either case they would go out of business. So the UK government sets tariffs on tennis balls to protect those British tennis ball manufacturers. That’s what tariffs are – they are an import charge which protects local manufacturers from super cheap imports. Back to the article by Edwin Hayward…

In the absence of trade deals, we will be reduced to trading on WTO terms. WTO is a complicated system of tariffs and quotas, plus a baseline set of rules designed to make trade a little less painful and a little smoother than it otherwise would be.

WTO provides a baseline for trade, but it is the absolute minimum that all rational countries seek to improve on. That’s why everyone’s trying to sign trade deals all the time. The whole point of trade deals is to improve on the basic terms offered by WTO.

In trade terms, WTO can be likened to fourth division football: it’s definitely a step up from a kick-around in the park using jerseys as goalposts, but it’s by no means a high standard.
Let’s talk about tariffs. WTO has an immensely complex schedule of tariffs, running into thousands of categories. Different products attract different tariffs. For example, under WTO, cars are subject to tariffs of 10%.

Tariffs are paid by importers, but of course they then turn around and pass those extra costs onto the consumer.

Right now, UK manufacturers can sell cars to the EU tariff free. But under WTO, those cars will be subject to 10% tariffs, effectively making UK-made cars 10% more expensive for EU consumers.

But all the major car manufacturers have manufacturing facilities elsewhere, including other EU countries. So if we’re reduced to trading on WTO terms, they’ll just shift production to the EU and avoid the 10% tariffs.

WTO gives us the right to control the tariffs on our imports, even reduce them to zero if we want to.

But that’s when the WTO most favoured nation rule kicks in. “Most favoured nation” is possibly the most misleading expression ever invented, because what it really means is that we are not allowed to favour one nation over another in our WTO dealings.

So if for example if we are desperate for cabbages, we can set a tariff of 0% on them. That makes them cheaper, which stimulates demand and encourages more producers to send us their cabbages.

But we can’t set a tariff of 0% for just one country. If we decide to drop the tariff on cabbages to 0%, that becomes our new tariff for every country in the world. So we get flooded with cabbages from the cheapest producers on the planet.

That’s great if you love cabbages, but absolutely devastating if you’re a UK cabbage farmer.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you shelter behind tariffs to protect domestic producers, or you reduce them or cut them to zero to encourage cheap imports – and destroy your local industry in the process. The rules of WTO force that tradeoff for every product sector. But that’s only half the picture. We have no control over other countries’ import tariffs, i.e. the tariffs imposed on the things UK-based producers export to them. If we’re trading with them on WTO terms, both the EU non-EU countries will impose whatever tariffs the WTO demands.

Overnight, our exports will be more expensive. That, combined with the fact that we will no longer share common standards with the markets we export to (also covered by the treaties we will have lost) will make products manufactured in the UK significantly less competitive in the global market.

For instance, why would any overseas consumer buy a UK-made car if they can get exactly the same car from the EU or elsewhere at a lower cost? Short answer: they won’t.

But what if the EU were to drop their tariff on cars to 0%? That would help our car producers, because our cars would no longer incur tariffs. However, “most favoured nation” would kick in. The EU would be forced to offer every country in the world 0% tariffs on cars.

The mere notion is absurd. After all, the EU aren’t going to leave their domestic market unprotected just to help the UK. It would be completely irrational to expect them to.

So, in practice, trading on WTO terms will mean that everything we make in the UK will be more expensive for overseas consumers at a stroke. Some industries may be able to reduce their production costs to offset the tariffs; most will collapse.

And we will be faced with the impossible task of choosing product by-product, industry by industry, which producers to protect by maintaining our own tariffs, and which to throw to the wolves by cutting or eliminating our tariffs.

If all of the above sounds grim, that’s because it is. There are no countries in the world that trade exclusively on WTO terms with other nations. None whatsoever.

Even North Korea has a couple of trade facilitation arrangements. We will have none. Nothing at all. No country has ever torn up all its international arrangements before (quite frankly, none have been crazy enough to). So we will be in a very lonely, exclusive club.

So if somebody tells you the UK will be OK trading on WTO terms, they either:
A) Don’t understand what that means or B) Are lying to you For example, Patrick Minford (of Economists for Brexit) is on record as stating that WTO would destroy the UK car industry, but that it would be a price worth paying for the freedom afforded by Brexit.

In other words, Brexiters see manufacturers as collateral damage, to be swept aside in pursuit of Brexit.

Perhaps you’re not so sanguine? Perhaps you would quite like the UK to keep manufacturing things?

In which case, you need to take heed of just how destructive, how damaging, trading on WTO terms would be. Estimates for the likely damage range from 7%-10% of GDP. Even at the low-end, that’s worse than the 2008 financial crash.

But unlike the crash, we’d be deliberately, willingly inflicting the pain on ourselves. Incredible, but true.

And the result would be the return of austerity, not for a few years, but for decades or generations to come.

WTO: just say no!

Brexiter James Delingpole promotes a no-deal Brexit on WTO terms, but then can’t explain how the WTO actually works

 

573. [1/2] The Rick Thompson Report: Brexit Update (January 2019)

Part 1 of a double episode of the Rick Thompson Report, talking to my dad about the latest developments in the shambolic Brexit story. This time we’re focusing on what happened in last week’s Parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, what the situation is now, and what might happen in the future. We talk about no-deal Brexit, the possibility of a 2nd referendum, postponing Article 50 and more. Part 2 contains questions from listeners and will be available soon.


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Introduction Transcript

In this episode I’m talking to my dad again about Brexit. We’ve been covering this story in episodes of the Rick Thompson Report since before the referendum in June 2016.

These episodes tend to be popular because although Brexit is a complex situation my dad is able to speak clearly on the subject both in terms of his accent and also in terms of how he presents his ideas.

This one is going to be a double episode. You are currently listening to part 1.

In this first part I just wanted to ask my Dad about 3 main things:

  • What happened last week in the House of Commons?
  • What’s happening now?
  • And what is likely to happen next?

We spoke yesterday and it took us over an hour to answer those three questions, because they’re not easy questions to answer due to the complex nature of the current situation.

That’s what you’re going to listen to in this first part.

Then in part 2 of this double episode I ask my dad some questions which I’ve received from some listeners on social media.

So this first part is a general report on the current Brexit situation (or Brexit shambles as perhaps it should be called) and then the next part will be a Brexit Q&A.

The last time I talked to Dad on the podcast about Brexit it was November and at that time Theresa May had just managed to get agreement from the EU for a Brexit deal.

Basically, after the referendum in which 51.9% of people voted to leave the EU and 48.9% voted to remain, (and the turnout was 72.2%), and after David Cameron resigned, and Theresa May became PM and everyone wondered what was going to happen and she said “Brexit means Brexit” and nobody really knew what that meant because it didn’t actually mean anything – “What will happen? Are you going to trigger Article 50? What kind of Brexit will there be?” “Well everyone, Brexit means Brexit” “Oh, oh ok”

Imagine if I, as an English teacher, defined words and concepts like that. “Teacher teacher, what does shambles mean?” “Well, it’s very simple. Shambles means shambles. Let me be absolutely clear when I say that shambles means shambles.” Strong and stable English teaching.

Anyway, after Theresa May clearly said “Brexit means Brexit” and the UK government triggered article 50 to begin the formal process of the UK leaving the EU, (even though there was no leaving plan in place) the clock started ticking and Theresa May and her government attempted to start negotiating with the EU to create an exit plan that both sides could agree on.

So even though none of the actual specifics of “leaving the EU” had been defined except that Brexit meant Brexit and that she had to carry out the will of the people, well – the will of the 51.9% of 72% of the people, which is actually about 35% of the people, Theresa May attempted to negotiate some kind of agreement with the EU – an agreement to define the terms not only of our exit from the union but also for our entry back into a new relationship with our largest trading partner and closest neighbour – a deal that was surely destined to be unsatisfactory for almost everyone, because of all the different views on what Brexit should look like.

Despite all the problems, the resignations of members of her cabinet, the sticking points of the Northern Ireland problem, the single market, the customs union, the UK’s outstanding financial commitments to the EU budget and so on, despite these sticking points, Theresa May somehow managed to get a deal together that the EU accepted.

The EU said “OK, we don’t like it. We’d rather you stayed. But we will accept these terms. Now you need to get your Parliament to give it the thumbs up too.”

That’s where we were last time, before all the MPs in the House of Commons in Parliament were due to vote on Theresa May’s deal, the deal that took two years to sort out but which nobody at home seemed to like.

Parliament voted on the deal last week on Tuesday 15th January.

This brings us to those three main questions for my dad.

What happened last week? What was the result of the vote?
What’s happening now?
What’s going to happen next?

And that’s what we’re going to talk about, so get ready for some fairly complex conversation about politics and the future of the UK as we know it in part 1 of this episode of the Rick Thompson Report on Luke’s English Podcast.


Some notes for this conversation

Last time we spoke we talked about how the UK Parliament was going to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal that she had agreed with the EU. This deal set out terms in which the UK could leave the EU.

So, what happened?

What was the result of the vote? (15 Jan – Tues last week)

The result of the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. “Noes” = votes for ‘no’, “Ayes” = votes for ‘aye’ (yes)

Why was the deal rejected?

Why didn’t Labour vote for Theresa May’s deal? They want soft Brexit, right?

What happened next?
Corbyn called a no confidence vote the next day.

Why did Corbyn call the no confidence vote when it was obvious what the result would be?

Now what’s going on?

Amendments to the parliamentary process – MPs taking back control from the government.

How likely are these things, how could they happen, and what could they look like?

  • No-deal Brexit (aka Crashing out) [If we don’t get a deal together it can happen. But it would be disastrous and so it might be possible to delay article 50.]
  • Article 50 postponed (but how?)
  • EU Parliament elections at the end of May. MEPs take their seats in July.
    From The New Statesman: It’s been reported that the EU is willing to allow a short extension, but anything beyond July 2019 would be extremely tricky, as that’s when the new MEPs take their seats following the European Parliament elections in May – putting the UK’s role into question. How could it remain a member state without elected representatives? Some solutions have been mooted to this, but they each have their difficulties and EU members would have to unanimously agree.
    www.newstatesman.com/politics/brexit/2019/01/can-government-extend-article-50
  • Another deal led by May/Conservatives
  • A general election
  • No Brexit at all
  • Another referendum

Megathread from Twitter of negative impact of Brexit that is already happening (so, it’s not “project fear”)

twitter.com/uk_domain_names/status/1067715341424431106


Ending Script

Hopefully you haven’t collapsed from exhaustion out there because of all the confusing politics. You’re ok aren’t you? Enjoying this? Yes, of course – it’s the Rick Thompson Report. It’s sort of a privilege to be able to listen to my dad on the podcast. I should say a big thank you to him for his contribution.

This is where I’m going to stop this part, part 1, but the conversation will continue in part 2, and we’re going to answer some questions from listeners which I received this week on social media.

Part 2 should go up pretty soon. It might even be available now. If it’s not up yet, it just means I’m still working on it and it will be published as soon as it’s ready! So check it out.

Thanks for listening. Thanks to my dad for his contribution.

For now,

Bye bye bye.

Luke

566. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 6) 2018 with Amber Minogue

The final part of this series about trending words and issues in 2018, this time with friend of the podcast Amber Minogue. Join us as we talk about jogging, picking up litter, bird watching, VAR & football, veganism, ethnic diversity in Hollywood and more. Notes available.

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Episode Introduction

Here is the 6th and final part of this series about The Collins Words of the Year and in this one I’m still talking to my friend Amber (a friend of the podcast – one of the POD-PALS as you know) about this list of words chosen by the Collins Dictionary team for 2018.

These are words that were used a lot this year, probably because they reflect various issues which are big at the moment and which lots of people are talking about in the media, online and in normal life. Interestingly, it seems that the issues of the moment are things like: the environment, climate change, Brexit, identity politics, mental health, relationships, diet, lifestyle trends, technology, football, gender relations, race relations and the latest dance craze.

So, these are the things we’re talking about in this series. I’m happy to be joined by Amber because it means there are some unexpected funny moments, conversational tangents and general laughter. In this one for example, we end up talking about obsessional bird watching, Marvel movies and what Scarlett Johansson is like in real life.

I hope you enjoy our conversation. I’ll speak to you again on the other side (not in the spirit world, I mean, on the other side of this conversation).

OK, let’s carry on then, with the next word from the Word of the Year list, which is plogging. What’s that then? Well, listen on and you’ll find out…


Plogging

Noun: a recreational activity, originating in Sweden, that combines jogging with picking up litter

Comes from the Swedish word plocka “to pick” + jogging

  • Do you do this?
  • What do you think of littering?
  • Have you ever seen anyone littering?
  • Do you ever say anything to people who litter?
  • Why do people drop litter? What excuses do they give?

Birdwatching 

Footage of flocks of Starlings, as mentioned by us. They’re actually called bird murmurations.

Twitchers

VAR

Abbreviation: video assistant referee

Some notes about VAR – *not actually said in our conversation*

It seemed to create a fairly clean World Cup – cleaner than others in the past, but still not perfect of course. It didn’t stop Neymar from diving, but it did make him look stupid. It’s hard to say if it was a resounding success. For clear “black and white” decisions, it seems to work. Offside, ball across the line, etc. But when there’s still a human element of subjective judgement, it’s still doesn’t quite solve the problems. For example, judging whether a handball is intentional or not – sometimes slow motion can make it look intentional when it’s not.

There’s some doubt over whether it really is fair. Sometimes you see mysterious committees of people discussing the decisions in the VAR room. Some people jokingly called it the Vladimir Assisted Referee, I suppose as a suggestion that it could still be subject to corruption somehow – especially since you can’t hear what is being said in the VAR room. People still disagreed with a lot of the VAR decisions.

Also it meant this was the WC with the highest number of penalties ever. It has changed the game a little bit. We’re still working out how to use it well.

Vegan

Noun: a person who refrains from using any animal product for food, clothing, or any other purpose

No animal products at all.

  • Pros and cons of a vegan diet?
  • Have you ever eaten at a vegan restaurant?
  • Would you consider going vegan?

Whitewash

Verb: to cast a white actor in the role of a character from a minority ethnic group or to produce a film or play using white actors to play characters from a minority ethnic group

E.g. casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Dr Strange. The character is Asian in the comic books. Tilda Swinton is a white British woman.

Is this an example of “whitewashing”? Was the character of The Ancient One already a racial stereotype anyway?

Other examples might include Scarlett Johansson as Major in Ghost In The Shell and Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.


Episode Ending

Right! That’s it! The Words of the Year series is done! We survived!

It was a bit tricky there in places as there were some controversial topics that can be difficult to talk about without getting some people’s backs up, but I think it was good to have Amber with me for the last two episodes. There was a bit more levity there I think.

Levity (noun) = humour or lack of seriousness, especially in a serious situation. It’s like making things a bit lighter than they are.

Levity is often a good thing, because I (personally) don’t like things to get too heavy and for people to disagree with me angrily. I just want everyone to like me and for everything to be ok and never to be challenged or disagreed with in any way, he said, jokingly.

What else do I have to tell you? 

At the beginning of part 4 I mentioned the last-minute special stand up show I was doing with Paul at The Comedy Store in the UK.

The Comedy Store

The show

Meeting some LEPsters. Nice to meet you!

People keep telling me they like the British Comedy episodes. I plan to do more. They just take a bit of time to prepare.

People also like the storytelling episodes. Again, I plan to do more of them! They take time as well, if I’m writing the stories myself. Also I’m a bit reluctant to read out other people’s stories all the time, because they’re not mine, you know. There are royalty free stories in the public domain, but they’re not always perfect (too long, old fashioned language). But we will see.

If you like my storytelling episodes, there are quite a few in the archive. They’re in two categories I reckon, maybe 3 categories.

Cat. 1 – telling a pre-written story, written by me or another author. E.g. The Mystery Story (29) and The Mystery Continues (30), and The Hyde Park Mystery Story (in the App – App-Only Episodes category), also The Hitch-hiker by Roald Dahl (545),  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (320), the Victorian Detective online text-adventure mystery stories (338, 339, 425, 426)

Cat. 2 – telling a story which I’m making up on the spot. Improvised stories (usually quite stupid and comical) like The Pink Gorilla Story (125) and The Pink Gorilla Story 2 (400), The Talking Dog Story (153), The Prawn Story (166) and the Phrasal Verb Chronicles parts 1 and 2.

Cat. 3 – just episodes with some anecdotes and stories from my life. Check out episodes in the archive with the words “anecdotes” or “story/stories” in the title.

(Hi Cat! 3 Cats, in fact!)

So there are some storytelling episodes in the archive and in the app that you might not have heard, and which you can check out. But I do plan to do more of that kind of thing. My episodes have always been quite diverse and I aim to keep it that way. I’ve got more interviews with guests coming up as well in the future.

Feel free to send me your suggestions, if I think they are doable I will add them to the ever growing to-do list. It’s very easy to make the list! It’s harder to make the episodes actually happen.

Also, do check out LEP Premium. There are about 23 episodes/videos now available, plus some phrasal verbs and more content coming every month. To sign up for LEP Premium go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

That’s it! I expect to talk to you again in some form before the Christmas holidays. We are going to the UK to spend a week at my parents’ house. I have no idea if I will get a chance to record anything with my family while we’re there. I will see. You can expect more episodes to arrive in the New Year, and hopefully one before Christmas. We will see.

But for now though, that’s it.

Speak to you soon, bye!

565. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 5) 2018 with Amber Minogue

Talking to my friend Amber about some trending vocabulary and hot topics from 2018, like plastic pollution, dance crazes and the Brexit backstop. Includes discussion, language explanations, David Attenborough impressions and more. Notes available.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello! How is Podcastland at the moment? How is LEPland? Does it look like Lapland at the moment? (It’s Christmas at the time of recording)

*Luke rambles a little bit about Lapland (a part of Finland where Father Christmas comes from) and LEPland (an imaginary place, populated by LEPsters – listeners to this podcast).*

This is episode 565 and it’s called The Collins Words of the Year (Part 5) 2018 with Amber Minogue. So…

I hope you’ve been enjoying this series about the words of the year. I expect you’ve already heard parts 1-4, which were about the words chosen from 2017. It’s now time to move on to the words from this year, from 2018.

Just a reminder – these are words selected by the makers of the Collins Dictionary for a list that they publish every year, their Words of the Year. The words are chosen because they’ve been used a lot this year and because they touch upon some big issues of the moment. So, this is interesting for LEP because of the vocabulary involved but also because it gives me a chance to talk about some trending issues of the moment, on this podcast.

Check out the page for this episode on the website where you’ll see the words (so you can be sure you know how they are spelt), and also various other notes, links and videos. The notes in particular contain other words and phrases that you will hear in these episodes, and this can help you to learn those bits of language too.

So now let’s move on to the words from 2018, this year. Just two more episodes to go in this series. I’m very happy, in this one, to be joined by Amber, so I hope you enjoy listening to the two of us wittering away, and going off on various tangents and telling little stories and so on, as we discuss the Words of the Year for 2018.

So, here we go…


Amber is raring to go! = she’s ready and eager to start

Single-use

Adjective: made to be used once only, and then thrown away or destroyed

It’s almost always followed by the word ‘plastic’

  • Single use plastic
  • Single use plastic bags
  • Single use plastic cutlery
  • Single use coffee cups
  • Single use straws
  • Single use hypodermic needles

In many cases “single-use” is the way the industry says “this is designed to be used once and then just thrown away”. It means “disposable”.

Vocabulary: Verbs for what you do with rubbish

  • to get rid of something
  • to throw something away
  • to chuck something away/out
  • to discard something
  • to dispose of something

Also

  • rubbish (UK) / trash (US)
  • litter (rubbish thrown on the floor)

Have you seen Blue Planet 2? It’s one of the UK’s most-watched documentary series. It’s incredible. It featured a whole episode about how the oceans are being devastated by pollution of various kinds, particularly plastic and it really brought the message home to viewers in the UK.

9 ways to reduce your plastic use (Greenpeace UK)
  • Carry a reusable bottle. In the UK we use over 35 million plastic bottles every day! …
  • Say no to plastic straws. Plastic straws are bad news for our oceans. …
  • Avoid excessive food packaging. …
  • Use refill stations for detergents. …
  • Say no to disposable cutlery. …
  • Get your milk delivered. …
  • Avoid microbeads. … (tiny bits of plastic often used in exfoliating products)
  • Carry a shopping bag.

Just a few small changes by everyone can make a big impact on this problem.

9 ways to reduce your plastic use

Reduce – reuse – recycle

Backstop

Noun: a system that will come into effect if no other arrangement is made

We think of Brexit and the Northern Ireland problem, and the fact that everyone keeps saying that we need a ‘backstop’ in the event of a no-deal. A backstop then is a kind of fallback position or a plan B that we can use if no other arrangement is made.

  • The Irish backstop
  • The border backstop
  • The Brexit backstop

This comes from baseball originally, but it’s been used so much because of Brexit and the Northern Ireland border issue.

Can you explain the Northern Ireland border issue?

*The following notes about the Brexit backstop were not actually said in the episode*

Ireland/N.Ireland is where the only land border between UK and EU will/would be. This is an issue because nobody wants a hard border there. It brings back painful memories of the troubles, when border posts were often the targets of bombs. We just don’t want to go back to those times in any way. Things are still sensitive there and we all want to maintain the peace. Putting a hard border there with border posts might trigger the conditions for conflict again.

So, the UK and EU have both agreed to a guarantee that there won’t be a hard border there. This arrangement is known as the backstop. It’s a safety net to prevent a hard border. As far as I can tell, it’s not very well-defined and it’s not really a good solution because it effectively guarantees some kind of soft border and various advantages for Northern Ireland in which people and goods there will be able to move across the border without having to stop and be checked thoroughly.

Even though Theresa May is guaranteeing that the border issue won’t be a problem because we’ll find a solution and we have this backstop guarantee, The UK and EU are both unhappy with this. The EU are unhappy because it’s essentially like leaving the back door open. You can’t really have an open spot in one part of the EU’s border without it compromising an essential aspect of EU membership, which is the protection of the free trade zone. The UK aren’t happy because Scotland will feel it’s unfair. “We want special treatment too. How come people of N Ireland get this soft deal (moving in and out of the EU freely, while not being part of it) and we don’t? We don’t even want Brexit in Scotland.” This could be a flashpoint for Scotland leaving the UK and the breakup of the UK. It’s just another crack in the whole Brexit shitplate. (Shitplate isn’t really a word. I just came up with it, and I think it means a plate made of shit, which now has a crack in it)

(the) Floss

Noun: a dance in which people twist their hips in one direction while swinging their arms in the opposite direction with the fists closed

This is the latest dance craze.

Describe it

Swing your arms with fists clenched in front and behind your body, while swinging (not twisting) your hips from side to side. It’s more difficult than it looks.

A Brief history

Some time in 2016 a kid with a backpack posted a video of himself doing the floss. It went viral. Then in 2017 Katy Perry filmed a video featuring the floss and it went stratospheric. She then featured backpack kid in a performance on SNL and loads of people posted videos of themselves flossing, tutorial videos and all that, and everyone started doing it.

It completely passed me by, I’ll be honest! Because I’m both too old (because it’s not part of my world) and too young (because I don’t have kids at the right age to know about it).

Other dance crazes from history

The twist, the loco-motion, the mashed potato, the watusi, the funky chicken, the hitch hike, the YMCA, the running man, the robot, the moonwalk, the macarena, Gangnam style, etc etc.

Gammon

Noun: a person, typically male, middle-aged, and white, with reactionary views, especially one who supports the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union

A pejorative term describing a certain type of person. What’s the profile of a typical ‘gammon’?

Appearance
They’re called gammons because of the way they look – they’ve often got these pinkish faces, flushed skin, maybe it’s because of age or drinking or something, but the term is used because they look like gammon.

What’s gammon? It’s a kind of cooked ham, which is a standard pub meal. Gammon steak with chips, maybe egg and a slice of pineapple too.

Attitudes
You often see them on the TV, particularly on shows like Question Time asking angry questions and generally acting like stereotypical small-minded little Englanders. They’re always disgusted, outraged, angry, shocked, and seem to imagine that Britain was best when it was bombing or being bombed by the Germans. 

“We got through WW2, we can get through Brexit!” (a lot of people didn’t get through WW2 though, did they?)

BBC Question Time “Gammon of the Week” (Welsh edition)

The gammon backlash
There is a backlash to this term, from the people targeted by this word. They’re now saying it’s a form of racism.

Is it a racist term?

Arguably the word “gammon” is a form of racist abuse, targeting a certain type of lower-middle class or working class, middle-aged white male. It’s a form of name-calling, which is never good in a civilised debate.

Gaslight

Verb: to attempt to manipulate (a person) by continually presenting them with false information until they doubt their sanity

This word has come up on the podcast before! It’s almost as if us talking about it brought it back into the popular consciousness.

Have you ever been gaslighted? Do you know any cases of it?

MEL B said she was gaslighted by her husband (see link)

www.theguardian.com/music/2018/dec/01/mel-b-i-got-used-to-lying-i-didnt-want-anyone-to-find-out

Gaslighting / Hobson’s Choice / Burlap Sack – Do you remember when Amber and I talked about these words before? 

Amber and I have discussed gaslighting before on this podcast. We also talked about some other phrases we’d noticed a lot. That was in episode 431 of this podcast.

431. Restaurants & Hotels / Really Strange TripAdvisor Reviews (with Amber)

MeToo

Adjective: denoting a cultural movement that seeks to expose and eradicate predatory sexual behaviour, especially in the workplace

Talked about it on the podcast with Jessica from Honestly English.


If you don’t know what plogging is and you would like to know, you’ll have to listen to the next part of this series, which will be part 6 in fact – that’s episode 566, coming very soon (possibly available now in fact, depending on when you’re listening to this).

So that was us talking about single-use, the Northern Ireland backstop, the floss, gammons, gaslighting and MeToo.

Not much conversation between us about #MeToo there, mainly because I’ve already talked about it on the podcast recently and I don’t want to go over the same ground again. You can go back to episode 556 if you want to hear more. We talked positively about it. Obviously, #MeToo is a complex issue which has its critics as well.

For example, I’ve put a video on the page for this episode in which a few comedians from the States talk  about the #MeToo movement (Bill Burr is one of them) in a more critical manner, not just ranting against it for whatever reason, but having an intelligent conversation expressing some degrees of scepticism and all that.

So, if you want, have a look at the video, it’s on the page for this episode. (below)

Otherwise, just stick around for the next part in which we talk about plogging, (and explain what it is – and there’s nothing sexual about that, I think!) and tons of other stuff.

Thank you for listening to my podcast. That’s pretty much the end of this episode. Just a couple of reminders before we finish…

Become a Premium LEPster and get access to the growing library of Premium episodes of this podcast. The premium episodes all focus on language. Often I use conversations I’ve had on the podcast, mine them for vocabulary and grammar (I dig out the vocab and grammar) and then present that language to you in the clearest and most helpful way that I can. They’re basically English lessons from me, with pronunciation drills, PDF worksheets and everything. When you sign up for Premium you get access to all those episodes, plus all the new ones which come out every month. A Phrasal Verb a Day is now in the premium package, which means new mini phrasal verb lessons on a regular basis, plus little bonuses here and there like video versions of some episodes of the podcast and so on. That’s all available for the price of a coffee, tea or beer once a month, and by the way I don’t necessarily use that to drink coffee, tea or beer – the money helps to support this podcast and the time I spend on it. To sign up go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Sign up to the mailing list on my website to get a link in your inbox whenever I upload normal episodes of this podcast. You can use that link to go straight to the episode page where you’ll find the notes, scripts, videos and the comment section. Also, if I post website-only content, you’ll get emails for that too, and sometimes I do upload website-only stuff, including music mixes, DVD commentaries and other stuff that doesn’t go on the podcast. Just go to the website and sign up for the mailing list there, it’s free.

Also, check the episode archive for everything I’ve uploaded to this website.

That’s it then, I’ll speak to you again very soon in the 6th and final part of this episode and then you can hear all about plogging and what the hell it actually is!

Thanks finally to Amber for being my guest in this episode.

Speak to you in the next part. Bye!


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.

[DOWNLOAD]

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…

559. The Rick Thompson Report: Brexit Chaos (November 2018)

Talking to my dad, Rick Thompson about recent developments in the story of Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union. Recorded on 18 November 2018.

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Totally confused about Brexit?

Want to know answers to some basic questions, like What does Brexit mean? What is the Brexit deal? What is the backstop in Brexit? When will Parliament vote on the Brexit deal? Will Brexit even happen? Then read this article from the BBC’s website.

553. Fighting Wildland Fires with Benny the Russian Firefighter

Talking to firefighter Anton Beneslavsky (aka “Benny”) who works as the leader of an international fire fighting project. We talk about becoming a firefighter, the work that he’s doing with Greenpeace around the world and the very serious threat of climate change.

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Introduction Transcript

Hi folks,

This summer I received a message from a listener in Russia called Sasha, suggesting that I talk to his friend Benny on the podcast.

This is what Sasha wrote to me:
I know a guy who works on the Greenpeace Global Fire project. His name is Benny (actually Anton Beneslavsky but that’s just a formality). He has been fighting wildfires almost all over the world and teaching volunteers and Greenpeace staff how to fight wildfires. In fairness, I must say that teaching people how to fight all types of wildfires is not the main purpose of the project. What is more important is raising people’s awareness of wildfires and the consequences of these fires. So they’re trying to do all these sorts of things within the project, fighting wildfires, teaching and mind shifting as they call it. Benny is really of great experience in this topic.
I would like to ask you (with great humbleness:)) if there is any chance that you’ll find it possible to have a conversation with Benny on your Podcast for the sake of pleasure and good things?

Well, since you asked so nicely…!

Anton “Benny” Beneslavsky (Photo credit: Ivan Burov)

Benny sounded to me like an interesting person doing important work and so we arranged an interview over Skype and you’re going to listen to it in this episode.

Benny first became a firefighter as a volunteer 8 years ago in order to fight large wildfires (wildland fires) which were burning near where he lived in Moscow. For the non Russian listeners, 2010 is infamous in Russia as the year of big wildfires in various parts of the country that became a major public health issue.

This from Wikipedia
The 2010 Russian wildfires were several hundred wildland fires that broke out across Russia, primarily in the west in summer 2010. They started burning in late July and lasted until early September 2010. The fires were associated with record-high temperatures, which were attributed to climate change[4]—the summer had been the hottest recorded in Russian history[5]—and drought.[6]
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency in seven regions, and 28 other regions were under a state of emergency due to crop failures caused by the drought.[7] The fires cost roughly $15 billion in damages.
A combination of the smoke from the fires, producing heavy smog blanketing large urban regions and the record-breaking heat wave put stress on the Russian healthcare system. Munich Re estimated that in all, 56,000 people died from the effects of the smog and the heat wave.[8] The 2010 wildfires were the worst on record to that time.

This is what got Benny to become a volunteer firefighter in the beginning, and in this episode you’re going to hear Benny talking all about becoming a firefighter, the work that he’s doing with Greenpeace to fight wildfires and their causes around the world, the impact of climate change, the best and worst things about being a firefighter and projects that he’ll be working on in the future.

Some of the dedicated language learners listening will, no doubt, be paying attention to Benny’s English during this interview, but don’t judge him on his English which he uses every day in his work, instead judge Benny on that work that he’s doing and the important issues relating to climate change that he mentions during our conversation.

And this is quite timely because climate change is back in the headlines again.

This from theweek.co.uk just a few days ago

UN report warns of global warming
A new report from the UN warns of a huge risk if global warming is allowed to exceed 1.5C and calls for unprecedented action within the next 12 years to prevent extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty. The authors of the report, some of the world’s leading scientists, say the goal is affordable and feasible although it is ambitious.

So this is a big issue right now for all of us.

I don’t always feature non-native speakers on this podcast, but sometimes I do and I think it’s worth remembering that as long as you’re communicating effectively and playing your part as a member of a team in English then that’s the main thing. I mean, you don’t necessarily have to wait to have 100% native-level English before you can start doing important work in English. Perhaps knowledge of vocabulary is the most important thing, and being a clear speaker.

On the subject of vocabulary, look out for all the words and phrases relating to fire in this episode.

There is a bit of disturbance in the sound quality unfortunately as Benny’s headset microphone picked up all the plosive sounds that he made. Those are the /p/ / b/ /s/ /k/ /tch/ /f/ sounds, etc. So while Benny is speaking his microphone does sort of explode a bit sometimes, but there it is, this is just what we’re dealing with. I’m sure when you do your conference calls or when you’re on the phone to another part of the world the sound quality isn’t always perfect. In fact, it’s often quite poor isn’t it? So, this is good practice for you, and it’s also good practice to listen to non-native speakers because if you’re working internationally you’re probably going to speaking English to other non-natives and that’s an important thing to consider.

Right, so without any further ado, let’s get started.


Ending

If you’d like to know more there are links on my website for…

Greenpeace Indonesia www.greenpeace.org/seasia/news/-Fires-burning-inside-palm-oil-concessions-linked-to-major-household-brands/

Greenpeace Russia www.greenpeace.org/international/story/15550/the-incredible-firefighting-women-of-russia/

Fighting fires sparks dialogue and builds respect

Want to support Greenpeace Russia and the work they’re doing? Click this link to their crowdfunding page where you can donate money to help them buy equipment and other resources join.greenpeace.ru/firefighters/index.phtml

Thank you for listening.

Don’t forget to visit the website where you can find all those links, and also links for my sponsors, my premium service and everything else, even updates on my next stand-up shows and my Twitter feed and all that, not to mention the active comment section where LEPsters from around the world chat to each other and express themselves in English.

Jump into the comment section whenever you want. Everyone’s welcome.

Coming up next on the podcast…

I’ve got some more interviews. I haven’t done a rambling episode for a while (although they’re usually a bit rambling but I mean one where I’m on my own) so I’d quite like to do that soon. Maybe just have no notes or script or anything and just talk off the top of my head. It’s been a while since I did that. But I have loads of interviews saved on my computer which I’ve been editing. For some reason September was full of Skype calls to different people. So lots of guests with different accents. Also I managed to get another episode with my parents, for more of our slightly inane rambling and I have to say this one really cracks me up. I think it will give you a chuckle on the bus. That might be the next episode, or very soon anyway.

Anyway, bye for now!

Bye bye bye

Luke

544. The Rick Thompson Report: No Deal Brexit

Talking to my dad about the current Brexit situation, including what could actually happen in the UK if we leave the EU with no deal. Expect language relating to politics, economics and the big issues of the day. Intro and outtro transcripts available.

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Introduction Transcript

Hi everyone, how are you doing? Here is a new episode of the Rick Thompson Report. Long-term listeners will be familiar with this type of episode. This is where I talk to my dad about the news, which is almost always about Brexit. We’ve been doing these ever since the referendum happened, tracking the UK government as they attempt to extract the country from the EU. We’ve heard all about the leave campaign and their claims, the impossible job of negotiating a deal with an entity that you’re also leaving – like marrying someone that you’re also divorcing.

The last time I did a RTR was in December last year and we talked about the state of the UK’s negotiation with the EU, with the shaky leader Theresa May attempting to put together a new deal which could somehow keep things as good as possible while also letting us leave. Both my dad and I are quite perplexed by the desperate need to leave the EU, when it looks like just cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Sometimes I hear from people, or read things on social media that suggest that the UK as a whole wants to leave the EU. I might read comments about how Britain wants to leave, or Britain doesn’t want to be in the EU, and I feel a bit annoyed because there are plenty of British people who think Brexit is a bad idea. I’m one and so is my dad, we make no bones about that, but this isn’t for some ideological reason, or because we’ve picked sides. It’s because it doesn’t really make practical sense to close access to our biggest marketplace and a zone which also includes all sorts of environmental, scientific and security communities that we will also be leaving. Also the real prospect of leaving the EU with no deal could be catastrophic in many ways, and even the UK government is issuing advice about stockpiling food and other measures in the event of a no deal Brexit. The deadline is approaching fast and the UK still hasn’t found an agreement with the EU. What will happen next March when we leave officially? How will this affect life in the UK? Listen on to find out.

I do invive your comments of course, so if you feel like you have something to say, leave your comment in the comment section. I’m very curious to know what the rest of the world is thinking.

But now, without any further ado, let’s talk to my dad about the latest Brexit news.


Ending Transcript

So there you have it. There are my dad’s thoughts on Brexit. I certainly hope you have enjoyed this episode of the Rick Thompson Report, keeping you up to date on Britain’s tricky situation.

As I said earlier, please do leave your thoughts in the comment section. I’m curious to know what the rest of the world is thinking. I wonder how Brexit is reported and generally considered in your country? Is the leading narrative that Brexit is a good or bad thing, and why do you think that is? Do you think Brexit would help or harm your country in some way?

Thanks as ever for listening, leaving comments and generally being great audience members.

Have a great day, morning, afternoon, evening or night and I’ll speak to you again soon.

Bye…