Tag Archives: vocabulary

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

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

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Episode Transcript (95% complete)

Introduction

Hello hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are “The Words of the Year”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do Dictionaries Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collins Dictionaries use the Collins Corpus.

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

What’s in the Collins Corpus?

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

What does the Corpus tell us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost all of them involve some level of debate.

Let’s get started

Words of the Year (2017)

Fake news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the one about children’s playgrounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2 – coming soon…

556. With Jessica Beck from Honestly English

Talking to English teacher Jessica Beck about her new website, “Honestly English” and some typical topics she talks about and teaches, including the #MeToo movement and our favourite female superheroes and comedians. Videos and links below.

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Introduction Transcript

Today on the podcast I have another interview for you to listen to as part of your learning English routine. This time I am talking to Jessica Beck, who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast.

I have spoken to Jessica before on this podcast, back in episode 297 when we talked about using humour in the speaking part of the IELTS test.

297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

IELTS Energy is an appropriate title for that podcast because Jessica has loads of energy as you will hear. When we recorded this conversation it was 7AM for her (because of the time difference) which is pretty early for podcasting but she was already wide awake and ready to go. Maybe it’s that American can-do attitude, or the coffee she’s been drinking, I don’t know, but her energy is infectious. It’s one of the hallmarks of the IELTS Energy Podcast in fact, and the All Ears English podcast, which she is also associated with.

Just in case you don’t know, Jessica Beck is an English teacher who lives in Portland, which is in Oregon, which is in the north-west of the USA, which is in North America, which is in America, which is on earth. So you’re going to be listening to a combination of Jessica’s American English and my British English in this conversation.

So, Jessica does IELTS Energy, but she’s on my podcast today because she has just launched a new website and YouTube channel called Honestly English, and I thought we could talk a bit about that and some of the topics she’s been teaching recently in her videos. honestlyenglish.com/

So “Honestly English” – this is her own channel, her own project and therefore is a space where she can teach English in her own way and cover topics that mean a lot to her personally and since Jessica is a huge pop culture nerd her videos and blog posts all contain loads of references to movies and comic books and things like that. She is also very passionate about feminism and raising the status of women in society today.

So these are the things we’re talking about in this episode: The MeToo movement, some language relating to that, then women in pop culture and some superhero characters from the Marvel cinematic universe (specifically Captain Marvel, who will be arriving in cinemas early next year in the Captain Marvel movie and then in Avengers 4 I think) and we also talk about some female comedians from the UK and the USA that we’d like to recommend.

#MeToo

I mentioned the MeToo movement there. I think this is a global phenomenon but you might call it something else in your country. In France it was called #BalanceTonPorc which directly translates as “Balance your pork” or “balance your pig” which doesn’t really mean anything does it – the proper translation of that would be something like “denounce your pig” or “name and shame your abuser”. That’s how #MeToo is known in France, and it may have another name in your country.

Wikipedia defines #MeToo like this:
The Me Too movement (or #MeToo movement), with many local and international alternatives, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement 

So MeToo is all about encouraging women to come forward and share their experiences of harassment of various kinds. Speaking personally, I knew that women often have to put up with dangerous and just plain weird behaviour from creepy guys – like being approached in the street, feeling unsafe in certain places or just putting up with dodgy comments and behaviour at work. I knew that, but the MeToo movement did open my eyes to how much of this kind of thing Women have to put up with every day. I think about my daughter and the kind of society she’s going to grow up in and I want her to grow up in a culture in which she feels safe, she feels she can talk about things that happen to her, in which she won’t have to just accept certain behaviour from men, and I want her to have cool characters and comedians on TV and in films that she can relate too, just like I did during my childhood.

I know this is actually a bit of a touchy subject. There’s a lot of pushing and pulling going on in terms of people arguing about the place of men and women in society and both men and women feeling targeted, victimsed or demonised and things like that. I’ve seen so many arguments in online comment sections. I find all of that stuff quite exhausting to be honest.

I see arguments on YouTube and people getting really angry on both sides about something like a perceived feminist agenda in Star Wars or Doctor Who, for example and then I see other people getting really angry about those people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who and I’m just sitting here trying not to get angry about people getting angry about other people getting angry about some people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who or movies and culture in general and I just think oh can we just have a normal conversation? I don’t know.

In any case, let’s find out from Jessica about her new website, let’s learn some of the words and phrases she can tell us about the MeToo movement and also let’s talk about Marvel movies and some great comedians that you might like to check out.

There are links and videos on the page for this episode as usual if you want examples of the comedians we are talking about, and links for Jessica’s website and stuff. So check those out.

Alright then, so this is Jessica Beck, energetic at 7 o’clock in the morning. American English and British English combined in one conversation, and here we go…


Honestly English

Nerdy English lessons focusing on vocabulary and pop culture!

www.HonestlyEnglish.com

Slang, idioms, natural phrases, the origins and context of that vocabulary.

For example, “Nailed it” (see video below)

The Language of the #MeToo Movement

A recent post on Honestly English about the #MeToo Movement

honestlyenglish.com/honest-blog/2018/9/16/what-metoo-means-to-me-and-slang-for-dirty-dudes?rq=me%20too

Language to describe “dirty dudes”
A perv
A pervert
A creep
A creepy guy
A monster
Being menacing
Also:
To harass someone / harassment

Favourite Female Comedians

Mentioned by Jessica

Kathleen Madigan (stand up comedian)

Kristen Wiig

Bridesmaids (film)
Annie (Kristen Wiig) vs the “perfect” best friend

Melissa McCarthy (comedian / actress)

St Vincent (film)

Mentioned by Luke

Maria Bamford
Maria captures the experience of being a woman dealing with mental health issues, by recreating the voices and attitudes of other people in her life, particularly her mother and sister who she imitates. They sound patronising and subtly judgemental and of course there are jokes in there but they are so cleverly weaved into her routine. She does brilliant voices and shifts her attitude quite radically. Her normal voice sounds very vulnerable, and the other voices are so much more confident and strident.

OK, she’s strange but that’s the point.

Maria Bamford Netflix show – Lady Dynamite

Maria Bamford interview on WTF with Marc Maron

French & Saunders
On TV all through my childhood. Came out of the anarchic post-punk era in UK comedy. Two English women who were just funny in the way they bickered with each other and also took the piss out of Hollywood movies and celebrities. They’re national treasures.

French & Saunders making fun of Mama Mia

Victoria Wood
Another national treasure who was on telly all the time. She was like a housewife who was also a comedian. Not like Rosanne Barr, but a normal middle class English woman – a bit like the mum of one of your friends, but she did stand up, sketches and did comedy songs on the piano. She was one of the first stand ups I ever saw, along with various other UK comedians at the time. Her comedy was quite local in flavour, meaning she made reference to things like accents and local identity. Died in 2016 along with loads of other celebs. Bowie, Ali, Prince etc

Sarah Pascoe
A stand up who describes the kind of life that most women (of my generation) experience in the UK, while making it very funny. She talks about all the things that women go through relating to relationships and work. She’s very relatable and it’s like observational comedy about relationships and life (but it’s not shit observational comedy).

Sarah Pascoe in Edinburgh

Podcasts recomended by Jessica

  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)
  • Paula Poundstone
  • Spontanianation
  • Tawny Newsome

YouTube “Honestly English” – videos every Thursday

www.youtube.com/channel/UCBqOicwVfb__YxbsL-5R3tA

Website www.honestlyenglish.com

Facebook Honestly English www.facebook.com/HonestlyEnglish/

548. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 1)

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British Comedy: Alan Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

The character is a fictional TV & radio presenter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Partridge: Background Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Clips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, let’s get started for goodness sake!

Sportsdesk with Alan Partridge (from The Day Today 1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clip 1: Alan’s Sporting Highlights

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

Alan describes cycling, athletics, boxing.

What to look out for:

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

Alan’s chat show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh AT or laugh WITH?

Are we laughing at Alan, or laughing with him?

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

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

What to look out for:

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

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…

531. Crime Vocabulary Quiz (with Moz)

Test yourself and learn various verbs and nouns related to crime. Features some amusing chat and anecdotes with Moz from the Murder Mile True Crime Podcast. Transcripts and vocabulary available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is a chance for you to test your knowledge and probably learn some new vocabulary relating to crime.

In the last episode I talked to my friend Moz who, as we know, does a true crime podcast and organises murder-themed walking tours in London.

I thought that since we’ve been talking about crime, that I’d prepare a crime vocabulary quiz and use it to test Moz’s knowledge of different types of crime.

I’ve created a word list with nouns and verbs – names of crimes, the verbs associated with them and also what we call people who commit those crimes.

You can see the word list on the page for this episode if you want to have a look.

Otherwise, you can just listen on and see if you can guess the names of these crimes as well as their associated verbs and nouns.

This episode contains some swearing but none of the explicit imagery that we had in the last episode.

I’m focusing on general English here – the kinds of words that people generally use to talk about crimes. When talking about crime and crime there’s a wide range of vocabulary that exists. Some of it is the sort of official language used by the police or by the justice system, and some are slang words used by ordinary people.

The main aim here is to present the vocabulary that I think most people know and that most people use when talking about crime in general life. There is a lot more vocabulary on this topic of course, so there’s always more which I can cover in later episodes.

But let’s start now and you can see how many of these words you know, and don’t forget to check out the website if you want to see the list of crime words that come up in this episode. You can check their spelling, add them to your word lists and so on.

Right then – let’s get started!

Vocabulary List

Table

The words are also written in lists below so you can copy+paste.

Nouns (crime names)

  1. Theft / stealing
  2. Robbery
  3. Shoplifting
  4. Pick-pocketing
  5. Mugging
  6. Armed robbery
  7. Burglary
  8. Assault / Verbal assault / Sexual assault
  9. Arson
  10. Speeding
  11. Drunk driving / drinking and driving
    Drunk in charge of a vehicle / a pram (!) / a skateboard
  12. Fraud
  13. Manslaughter
  14. Revenge Porn
  15. Handling stolen goods / fencing (informal)
  16. Giving information to the police (not actually a crime)

VERBS

  1. To steal / to take / to snatch / to grab / to swipe / to nick / to lift
  2. To rob
  3. To steal from a shop
  4. To pick someone’s pocket
  5. To mug someone
  6. To rob / to be armed
  7. To burgle someone’s house
  8. To assault/attack someone
  9. To commit arson / to burn
  10. To speed / to break the speed limit
  11. To drink and drive
  12. To commit fraud
  13. To kill / to commit manslaughter
  14. Sharing explicit images
  15. To handle stolen goods / to fence (informal)
  16. To grass someone up / to inform the police

Noun (person)

  1. A thief
  2. A robber
  3. A shoplifter
  4. A pickpocket
  5. A mugger
  6. An armed robber
  7. A burglar
  8. An attacker / assailant
  9. An arsonist
  10. X
  11. A drunk driver
  12. A fraudster
  13. A killer
  14. X
  15. A fence (informal)
  16. A grass / an informer / an informant

Slang words for the police

The old bill, the rozzers, the filth, bobbies.

Useful links

www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime
www.met.police.uk/stats-and-data/crime-type-definitions/

492. Becoming a Dad (with Andy & Ben) Part 2

The second part of this conversation with Andy Johnson and Ben Butler, and we talk about the moment of childbirth and take a quiz about becoming a father. Vocabulary is explained in the second part of the episode. Vocabulary list available.

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Introduction Transcript

Welcome back to part 2 of this double episode called “Becoming a Dad with Andy and Ben” – I may need to rethink that title. It sounds a bit misleading. “Becoming a Dad with Andy & Ben” – It sounds like I’m becoming a Dad with Andy & Ben – as if somehow Andy and Ben are involved. I’m not sure about that idea. I mean, they definitely weren’t involved.

Nevertheless, here is Becoming a Dad with Andy and Ben part 2, in which I am talking to my friends Andy and Ben about their experiences of becoming a father for the first time. I’m trying to learn a few things about what it will be like when I become a Dad in a matter of weeks.

Andy & Ben are like seasoned professionals at this now as they both have two kids.

In part 1 you heard about things like conception, trimesters, epidurals and all sorts of other things.

We left it on a bit of a cliffhanger with me asking Andy & Ben about the moment their first children were born, so we get straight into it here talking about the big day, the moment when it’s time to get to the hospital and all hell breaks loose! Now, this is probably the most crucial moment of the whole process and can also be quite a dangerous day as well, so there is often drama and a lot of nerves. It’s a nerve-wracking experience, and we’ll be talking about it in some detail – so if childbirth is a topic that you are sensitive about, just have a think before embarking on this episode.

I think I’m prepared for the big day (mentally and also in terms of our home) but it’s going to be a big rush to deal with and no doubt quite emotional! Even going for scans is quite a big deal, so it’s a bit hard to imagine what the birth will be like.

Anyway, let’s carry on. See if you can identify the things Andy and Ben are saying and stick around because in the second part I’ll be going through lots of the vocab you’ll be hearing, turning this into a great learning opportunity for you.

—- Conversation Continues —–

So that was my conversation with Andy & Ben. Did you catch everything?

You know what’s happening now, right?

That’s right it’s vocab time.

Let me now go through some vocabulary for you.

Vocabulary List

  1. She told me that she thought her water had broken
  2. I was training someone to fill my role while I was taking paternity leave
  3. The contractions were pretty slow actually
  4. Braxton Hicks
  5. It took her ages to start contracting properly
  6. We went to the hospital after 36 hours of labour
  7. She was already 9cm dilated
  8. My wife was out of it
  9. They just whisked my wife away to the theatre.
  10. I’m not a man for a crisis. I wouldn’t know what to do. I’d be running around like a headless chicken.
  11. My wife developed gestational diabetes.
  12. Too much sugar going through the placenta can make the baby grow too quickly.
  13. We got a cab in and it was great (not a cabin).
  14. The umbilical cord had got wrapped around his neck
  15. They cut the umbilical cord and took him over to the resuscitation table
  16. First of all I saw this massive… junk. Because when babies are born their genitals are swollen. So, first thing I saw was it’s a boy.
  17. That was me finished, I just burst out crying.
  18. And then he weed all over the nurse.
  19. I held it together. I don’t know how I did because I’m quite squeamish.
  20. As soon as I got outside, that’s when I really broke down.
  21. If there are dramas, don’t worry, you’re in safe hands.
  22. You just have to go with the flow and it’s alright in the end.
  23. This is easy, I’ve nailed this parenting lark!
  24. Once they start to wake up, that’s when it kicks in, is it?
  25. If you can manage the people who want to see the baby, who hound you…
  26. I tell you what, I’ve got a little quiz here…
  27. She’s just gone through childbirth so she needs to be pampered
  28. What would the native Americans do? They’d probably use buffalo turds
  29. When the baby is born the mother and father are flooded with a hormone – the happiness hormone.
  30. Your wife is your number 1 person, but she is going to be relegated, and so are you.
  31. They start gurgling and making noises
  32. The youngest, he looks at me and his whole face lights up with a big smile.
  33. You get a good couple of nights’ sleep (in a hotel) and your body remembers and goes “Oh I want more of this” and you end up still being knackered!
  34. Once things have settled down we can have another chat and we can see you with the big bags under your eyes.

Thanks for listening! I look forward to reading your comments.

491. Becoming a Dad (with Andy & Ben) Part 1

A conversation and vocabulary lesson about childbirth and becoming a father, with Andy Johnson and Ben Butler from The London School of English. Listen to Andy and Ben talking about their experiences of becoming parents, how their babies were born and more. Vocabulary is explained in the second half of the episode. Vocabulary list available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is all about becoming a Dad.

If you have heard the podcast recently you’ll know that my wife and I are expecting a child… (expecting a child to do what Luke…?) Well, expecting a child to be born… we’re having a baby, well she’s having a baby, as I said before, I will mainly be just standing there, hoping for the best.

“Expecting a child” is just the phrase we use for that – when you’re going to have a baby. We’re going to have a baby daughter in December. Thank you if you have sent me messages saying congratulations, that’s very nice of you.

I don’t plan to talk about children all the time on this podcast. Having a child is a big deal, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record by going on about it all the time, although it’s bound to come into the things I say because it will be major part of my life.

But I thought that it would be worth talking about it in some depth in at least one or two episodes because it is something that a lot of people experience (many of you will have had children, or will go on to have children and if not you then your friends or family – or at least it’s the sort of thing that people talk about a lot) and since this is happening to me I think talking about it could bring some authenticity to an episode, and that can really make it more interesting and therefore more engaging for you to listen to . Also there’s quite a lot of specific vocabulary that will come up that you can learn.

I did record a conversation with Amber nearly 4 years ago when she was pregnant with her son Hugo. She talked about what it was like for her to be pregnant and I did a follow-up episode with vocabulary of the subject too. You can find those two episodes in the episode archive – episodes 161 and 162. That was quite a long time ago, so let’s revisit the subject, and see if any of the same language comes up again.

161. She’s Having a Baby (with Amber Minogue)

162. Having Babies: Vocabulary / A Male Perspective

This time I thought I’d talk to Andy Johnson and Ben Butler about their experiences of becoming parents, to see if they can give me some general advice as I am just about to become a dad for the first time.

They’ve both had several children now, so they’re very experienced at the sort of thing I’m going to start going through in a matter of weeks.

So I’m going to do a lot of listening and learning in this episode, and you can join me too. Let’s see how much we can learn from this.

Watch out for some nice language relating to the whole subject of childbirth, parenting, and so on.

This episode is in two parts – that’s because I’ve decided to spend the second half of each episode explaining some of the vocabulary that comes up in the conversation.

What’s going to happen is that I’ll play you the first part of the conversation in a moment. Just try to follow it. I think it might be difficult for a lot of you. I think that there could be quite a lot of detail that you won’t catch. There are 3 of us, talking on skype, fairly quickly about quite a specific and detailed subject. So, remember, if you don’t understand it all – you should keep listening and hold on because I will be going through a lot of the language and clarifying it afterwards.

That should help you understand more and also turn this into more than just a conversation – it’ll become an English lesson and a chance to learn some natural English expressions. So, don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. I expect to catch a lot of that stuff in the second half.

There’s also a vocabulary list on the page for this episode and the next one.

Now, having children is wonderful and fantastic and all that – but it can also be quite scary – I mean, it’s fairly serious business, especially the moment of birth. I think we’re going to get into some fairly personal details in this conversation, and there will probably be a few descriptions of childbirth experiences which were quite emotional and even frightening at the time so please just bear that in mind if this is a sensitive topic for you for any reason.

Another thing I’m aware of is the fact that there are various cultural differences around childbirth and so the things you will hear about in this conversation might be different to how it is in your country. I’m quite curious to read your comments and to know if things are done at all differently where you are from.

Anyway, let’s now talk to Andy and Ben now and see what they can tell me about becoming a dad, and by the way – this conversation was recorded on Skype. I was at home in Paris and they were in a classroom at the London School of English, which is just next door to where I used to live in my flat in London. In fact, from some of the classrooms there it is possible to see my old flat through the windows. In fact, that’s the first thing that is mentioned in this conversation…

—————————- Part 1 ——————————–

Ok that’s the end of part 1 of the conversation!

What I’m going to do now is go through some of the language you just heard but may have missed. You can hear the rest of the conversation in part 2, which should be available soon.

Now, a lot of the language in this list for this episode is about childbirth and parenting – but not all of this language is about those things. There’s also plenty of vocabulary that you can use to talk about things in general, for example there are a few football analogies that Andy and Ben used as well.

Check out the page for this episode where you’ll see a the word list that I’m going through here. You can take those phrases, put them in your word lists, your flashcard apps, and so on.

Create your own word lists

By the way, it might be a good idea to create a word list of your own. It’s so easy with the internet today. When you find new words online, copy + paste them into a list (maybe on a spreadsheet, a word doc or a google doc or something). Add examples, definitions, pronunciation, even links to podcast episodes or whatever, and also any details that will help you remember the word. That’s so easy to do, right? Just copy + paste and bob’s your uncle. Use an online dictionary like Oxford Dictionary online to get examples and definitions. Then you can keep going back to your list, testing yourself and making sure that you remember these phrases and that you don’t just immediately forget them.

Just a tip there for how you can use word lists, notes or scripts on my website to help expand your active vocabulary with this podcast.

Vocabulary list

  • It’s exciting and slightly nerve-wracking
  • Football expressions (to describe the sequence in which Andy & Ben had kids – as if it was a football match)
    Ben, you went first with your baby and then Andy you came next.
    Andy: I equalised.
    It was 1 – 1.
    It was 1 – 0 (one – nil) and then Andy equalised.
    Then Ben took the lead again.
    Then more recently you drew level again.
    We’re both on a hat trick now but it’s more likely that the match has been abandoned now.
    It’s full time (no more kids!)
    Match abandonedinclement weather.
  • We’re going to call it quits at two.
  • The scans tell us that she’s healthy
  • How am I going to change a nappy?
  • Those kinds of things are easy in hindsight.
  • There was quite a lot of apprehension around the birth.
  • The midwife is talking about the birth in French.
  • Whether you want to have a caesarean section.
  • A natural birth – (in the UK this means a birth in the conventional sense, not a cesarean) but I use it to mean a birth involving no epidural (or pain reducing medication)
    So, here in France, when people say “a natural birth” they mean one with no pain killers.
    In the UK “a natural birth” just means “not a cesarean”.
  • So, will it be a c-section?
  • An epidural – a nerve blocker which goes into the spine
  • She had an epidural and she said it was a game changer
  • We conceived on Valentine’s Day
  • We had IVF so we know exactly when it happened
  • With the second one we were induced
  • My wife would certainly advocate having an epidural because it makes things so much easier
  • A chemical induced state
  • A numb state
  • My wife is pretty hardcore, she’s hard as nails
  • She’s got no qualms about that. She’s happy to just have the epidural.
  • We tried for 3 years and never fell pregnant again
  • In the end we went through IVF
  • They take the eggs out and inseminate them in a test tube and then they go back in
  • Talk about taking the fun out of it! (Talk about… = a way of emphasising something)
  • Our friends were plying us with champagne
  • Did your wives have morning sickness?
  • It’s the first trimester when they get sick
  • She was narcoleptic
  • Her body was generating new cells and it took it out of her
  • When is your due date?
  • You’re almost in the drop zone mate
  • By the time this has been published the sprog might have even arrived
  • Think about your social commitments and try and scale those back

— Part 2 Available Soon —

487. Learning Languages and Adapting to New Cultures (with Ethan from RealLife English)

A conversation about travelling and learning languages with Ethan from RealLife English. Ethan is very well-travelled, having lived in at least 6 different countries. He’s also learned a few different languages to a good level as an adult. Let’s talk about his advice for adapting to new cultures and learning languages in adulthood. Vocabulary notes and language test available below. 

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A Summary of what Ethan said

How to adapt to a new culture

  • Arrive with an open mind and be ready to try anything
  • Don’t just hang out with people from your country
  • You have to make an effort to integrate into the country
  • Things might be weird, but you’ll end up having some really memorable experiences
  • Push yourself to live like a local, even if at first you feel like the lifestyle isn’t as good as it is in your country
  • Get over yourself! Get out of your comfort zone
  • Don’t go just to learn English, go somewhere for the whole experience – and if you do that you’ll probably learn English more effectively as a result

Ethan’s advice for learning English on your own

  • Watch a popular TV show with subtitles – it’s important to choose a show that you like.
  • Listen to music and taking the time to look up the lyrics.
  • He just talked to people, even though he was really awkward and shy because he made lots of mistakes.
  • Motivation is key – he fell in love with Catalan and this gave him the motivation to push through the difficult moments, the awkwardness etc. So build and nurture your motivation to learn a language. Realise how good it is for you to come out of your shell and remember that you can get over your barriers if you really want to.
  • Find the right people to talk to, find people who are understanding and sympathetic to your situation (someone who’s learning a language too).
  • Do a language exchange because the other person will be much more likely to tolerate your errors, and will be willing to help you out because you’re going to do the same for them. (you can use italki to find language partners in many countries – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk )
  • Be voraciously curious – cultivate the desire to do more. If you’re listening to music, check the lyrics and look them up. While watching TV use a notepad or an app like Evernote on your phone to note down vocab and then look it up later.
  • Practice by speaking to other non-native speakers of the language you’re learning. Other learners of the language are likely to be more sympathetic, they’ll probably have more in common with you, they might have some good advice, you’re going through a similar experience. Having peers with whom you can share your experience is really important.

Some language from the first part of the conversation (Quiz below)

Listen to this episode to get some definitions and descriptions of this language.

  • Refurbished buildings (made to look new again)
  • You can see some random smokestacks and things sticking up (tall chimneys)
  • Three blocks from the beach. (distance between his place and the beach)
  • I tend to go running there (I usually go running there. Not – I am used to going running there)
  • The weather hasn’t really been beach-appropriate (appropriate for a beach!)
  • We’re just rolling into fall here (entering) (fall = autumn)
  • I enjoy running by the beach, especially because the whole area around the beach is very iconic from when they had the Olympics here (impressive because it’s a famous symbol of something)
  • A modernist humongous whale structure (massive)
  • Every time I look at it I’m just astounded, it’s beautiful. (amazed)
  • Language for describing Ethan’s background (background – narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous, maybe some past perfect)
  • I moved back here (already) two months ago.
  • I was living here two times before, once for a year and a half and once for 3 months. (normally I’d use ‘I lived’ but perhaps he was thinking of it as a temporary thing in both cases)
  • Ways he talks about his current situation – present perfect to describe past events with a connection to now.
  • I’ve come back to stay, probably indefinitely, hopefully for a couple of years. (this is the only example actually)
  • Describing your background and your current situation 

    Describing your background

    You need to use narrative tenses to describe your background story, and you need to learn how to do this in English and to be able to repeat it with some confidence. It might be worth thinking of how you can make your background story quite interesting or entertaining, or at least say how you felt about it. It just helps in social situations.
    Remember:
    Past simple – the main events of the story – the main sequence
    Past continuous – the situation at the time, or longer events which are interrupted by shorter actions
    Past perfect – background events to the main events of the story
    E.g. I went to university in Liverpool and studied Media & Cultural Studies. It was a really interesting degree, but it wasn’t very useful. I stayed in Liverpool for a while and played music in a band but we didn’t make it and I left and moved back in with my parents which was a bit of a nightmare. I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a while, but I decided I wanted to travel and go somewhere quite different, and I‘d always been curious about teaching, so I trained to be an English teacher and I got my first job in Japan. I stayed there for a couple of years, had a great time but decided that I wanted to come back because of family reasons. I taught English in London for 8 years, did my DELTA, got a job in a good school in London and then I met a French girl and I moved to France so we could be together. I’m very romantic. (actually that was almost exclusively past simple, wasn’t it?)Describing your current situation
    Then you also need to talk about your current situation. We do this with present simple (permanent situations) and present continuous (temporary situations) and present perfect to talk about past actions with a connection to now.
    E.g. I live in Paris these days. I’ve been here for about 5 years. I’ve worked for a few different schools, teaching English. These days I teach at The British Council. I’ve been there for about 3 years now. I’m also developing some online courses which I hope to release on my website before too long!
  • I’m from Colorado in the USA. Luke: Oh cool.  (I said cool – because you should say cool when someone tells you where they’re from, or at least you should show some interest or curiosity, and be positive about it.)
  • It’s below Canada and above Mexico, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (my non-specific description of where Colorado is – basically, it’s somewhere in the USA, haha etc)
  • It’s (to the) north east of Arizona, (to the) east of Utah, above New Mexico.
  • What’s the difference between ‘east of London’, ‘to the east of London’ and ‘in the east of London‘?
  • The four corners – it’s just a couple of hours away from the town I grew up in. (how would you put that in your language? “It takes two hours to get there”, “It’s a couple of hours from here”
  • It’s a tourist trap now. You go and put your hand in the middle and you’re in four states at once. (a place that attracts tourists and is probably best avoided)
  • I was born in my house. Durango, Colorado. That’s the town I lived in.
  • When I was 17 I moved to Germany for 6 months.
  • It’s interesting to see that, when you’ve lived in a place for 20 years, how it evolves. (how it changes gradually over time)
  • Colorado is wonderful, it’s spectacular. (magnificent, amazing, breathtaking)
  • We’re so active, we’re always outdoors. There are spectacular hikes you can do.
  • There are 4,000 or 5,000 metre peaks. (summits, mountain tops)
  • It’s very different to Europe because you get that kind of old-west feeling. (from the period of western expansion) (wild west – cowboys and lawlessness)
  • My only criticism is that I lived there for 20 years, which is more than enough. (nice way to start a sentence with something negative in it)…. (more than enough = too much)
  • I’ve never seen a grizzly, and they are dangerous. (grizzly bear)
  • Mountain Lions – if you were by yourself and you encountered one, it might not be a great end for you. You might get eaten alive by a huge cat. (You don’t meet a wild animal, you encounter one.)
  • We have deer and elk and in the north we also have moose, and a lot of, we’d say, critters, like small animals. (deer = animals that look like they have trees growing out of their heads – you know what I mean. Like Santa Claus’ reindeer. Elk = big deer. Moose = really big elk. Critters – little animals like rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, raccoons, skunks)
  • In the US you drive from city to city and you see endless expanses of mountains and plains. (wide open spaces)
  • That’s a fun question so I’d have to think. (a nice way to buy time for yourself when someone asks you a question, like saying “that’s a good question, let me think”)
  • When I was in high school I did a 6 month exchange in Germany and during that time I also got to live in Poland for 2 weeks. (difference between for and during?)
  • I lived in Spain in Majorca for a year during college, which is when I fell in love with this place.
    Some time expressions to help you tell a story:
  • After that, after school, I moved to Brazil.
  • I joined RealLife English because they had started a few months before I moved there.
  • That’s when I moved to Barcelona. Then I moved to Chile for 6 months. Now finally I‘ve moved back here.
  • After that you can imagine I’m a bit tired of jumping around so much and living out of a back pack. Now I’m here to stay for a while.

Were you listening carefully? Test yourself.

[os-widget path=”/lukethompson2/language-test-for-ethan-s-episode” of=”lukethompson2″ comments=”false”]

Did I mention this? I was recently interviewed on the RealLife English Podcast – you can listen to it here…

We talked about using comedy TV shows and humour in learning English. Check it out below.

RealLife Radio #161 – How to Be Funny in English (Special Guest: Luke’s English Podcast)

RealLife English – Links

RealLife English Global Website

RealLife English Podcast

487 pic

479. Holiday Diary (Part 6) The Madness of Las Vegas / 11 Gambling Idioms

This episode includes anecdotes and descriptions of our short visit to Las Vegas, including stories of more rental car issues, Las Vegas craziness, winning and losing $$$ and 11 English idioms that come from gambling.

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⬇️ Episode script and notes (Idioms list below) ⬇️

Why Vegas?

It was just as a stopover between L.A. and other areas, and to have a one look in your life, see what all the fuss is about sort of experience.

Take the rental car back to the car rental company.

Remember them, from part 1 of this?

Wrong Cars™

When we picked up the car in LA – just a Nissan hatchback by the way, nothing fancy, at the start of the trip we had to go and wait in a boiling hot car park in Inglewood or somewhere, where I stood waiting on my phone for ages waiting to get through to someone to tell them we had arrived, standing there on hold with my arm going numb and the sun beating down on both me and my pregnant wife, and after about 40 minutes a guy in a rental car came and picked us up, and told us “oh yes, the shuttle busses are in the garage – they broke down on Tuesday”.

We drop off the car, pay the money, ask about the difference in price between the bill and the receipt –
“Sorry Mani, isn’t here today.”

“Can you do it?”

“Sorry, I can’t. He’s the manager.”

(We got fobbed off by the girl behind the counter)

There’s supposed to be a shuttle (bus) service back to the airport.

But it’s obvious that this is a crappy little rental car company that is cutting corners and fobbing everyone off with this talk of the “shuttle” that is mysteriously always in the garage.

Again we’re told that the shuttle is in the garage so we squeeze into another rental car with a German couple this time.

My wife is in the front, and I’m squeezed in with the Germans.

The Germans are quite nice, but it’s pretty clear they didn’t have the best experience with their car and they’ve driven a really long distance, without cruise control (which is standard for rentals usually) and they’re saying to the driver,

“Do you not have cars with cruise control? Because it’s very uncomfortable to drive 4,000 miles without cruise control, you know?”

I’m thinking – 4,000 miles! Without cruise control. His leg must be knackered.

The driver goes “Cruise control? Yes, there is cruise control.”

“No, there is no cruise control in this car.”

“This was your rental?”

Turns out the “shuttle” is just the same car the Germans just rented.

“Yes, there is no cruise control in this car. It was very difficult for us. Do you not have cars with cruise control?”

The driver is not interested in taking questions. He says “Some of them do and some of them don’t.”

“I think it would be good if your cars have the cruise control”

“I’m just the driver man”

I note in my head that our car had cruise control, and I never used it, not once, but I don’t say anything. I don’t think it would have helped.

“Well, our car had cruise control, and guess what we never used it! Ha ha, it would have been useful if we’d swapped, right? I bet you would have appreciated that after the first 3,000 miles!!”

But I didn’t say that. I just ‘enjoyed’ the really awkward vibe in the car, and the knowledge that my wife was pretty much steaming, but keeping herself under control.

After the Germans got out my wife chose to cross-examine the driver.

“So, where are the shuttles?”

“Oh, they’re in the garage, we had some trouble with them.”

“Both of them?”

“Yes, it’s just a coincidence.”

“OK. When did they go in the garage?”

“Oh just on Friday.”

“Well last week you said they broke down on Tuesday.”

“I’m just the driver”

“I know you’re just the driver but…”

“You’re getting driven there, I’m driving you personally…”

“I know but we just don’t appreciate being lied to, that’s all…”

At this point he got really angry and started making it personal.

“OK, you’re getting personal with me now, and I don’t appreciate you making personal attacks against me, ok?

As I was taking the bags out of the back, I was trying to say, “Look, it’s not personal we’re just commenting on the service. We were told one thing, we get another thing. It’s not you, right? it’s your management, right?”

He just went “Well I deliver you to the airport and you make it personal” and he just got in the car and drove off.

I couldn’t help feeling bad for the guy. I think he probably has no choice but to lie about the shuttle thing because the crappy management of this company keeps telling their customers there will be a shuttle. It’s written in their emails and stuff. I imagine he’s just trying to keep his job.

He couldn’t really say “Yes, well to be honest sir our company is lying to you. We don’t have any shuttles, it’s not worth it – you know? Because we don’t get enough customers to justify using a whole bus, and there’s obviously nowhere for us to park one anyway, so we just use these cars and I’m always dealing with these problems, but it’s because the management keep lying.”

He can’t admit that the company lies or is wrong. It’s unfair on him. I know, I’m making excuses for the guy, but what can he do?

The management should just say they have a personal car service, it would solve the problem.

That’s the solution. We don’t care about shuttles. Just say there’s a personal car service. The driver can introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Carlos, I’m your driver, where are you guys from?” Etc. That would solve the problem. Instead, Carlos (or whatever he’s called) is on the defensive and can’t start talking to the customers because he knows they’re not happy. Poor Carlos, and poor customers.

I wonder what’s really going on there – at this particular franchise of Wrong Cars™.

Anyway, after that we got on our plane for the short flight to Vegas. We could have driven but we planned this to make sure there was as little driving as possible, because when you’re pregnant it’s not good to sit in a vibrating car for hours on end, and anyway it sucks to be stuck in a car all the time.

We arrive in Vegas

It’s hot.

It’s in the middle of the Mojave Desert for goodness sake.

We rent a car from another company this time – more established. Enterprise. Admittedly, it’s a bit more expensive but we don’t want to risk it because we’ll be driving in some fairly deserted spots and we want a car that will not break down and that has customer service that’s actually available by telephone.

So we get to the car rental area – a massive building in airportland. Dazzling service. We’re in the car in a matter of minutes and it looks brand new. We rented a small SUV. The main thing was that it was comfy and could deal with bits of rough terrain if needed. We get a Jeep Renegade. It’s pretty cool. Wife is happy and in comfort. OK.

Staying at New York New York Hotel.

Vegas is completely insane and, honestly, not a great place. In fact it’s the most tawdry, sleazy, tacky place ever.

Pick the most touristy part of any town and amplify it by 1000. It’s like that.

It’s boiling hot outside but inside it’s freezing, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build this massive place with all these things like swimming pools, hotels and golf courses in the middle of the desert.

God knows how they get their water.

And it’s just a weird place cut off from reality in which you are constantly being seduced and distracted by flashing lights and big things and encouraged to gamble your money away. It’s like one huge sales pitch in the form of a city.

Inside the casinos there are no windows. They’re like huge circus tents on the inside, with big restaurant facades around the edge, tables for gambling – playing poker or roulette or the one where you throw the dice and there are loads of different numbers and letters and it’s a bewildering illusion of choice, big individual gambling machines, lamp posts (inside the hotel), fake little streets, massive Irish pubs (which is never really a bad thing in itself) but all this stuff and you look up to the sky and it’s the black ceiling of the hotel above you, quite high and in the background. It’s probably daylight outside, but you can’t see the desert sun. Inside the hotel’s gambling area there’s this black canopy of the ceiling above all this trashy fake stuff.

It’s so weird to come to the desert and then find yourself in this totally synthetic place all set against a black backdrop.

This is some people’s idea of a wonderful place – a vast plastic playground with so many attractions, but there’s something very unnatural and twisted about it.

Weird things

People smoke indoors and this feels wrong now after 10 years since the smoking ban. No big deal, but still… I think the reason is that they prioritise the gambling, so even though it fills the air with harmful smoke, it means people stay at the tables and don’t go outside to smoke their cigarettes.

There are tourists wandering around, families and stuff but also you spot these grizzled gamblers losing fortunes.

You see some old people who have travelled for miles to spend their money because they don’t really know what else to do with it, so it all goes in these machines.

There are some really drunk people, sitting at the bar.

But also families with kids walking around.

Even some bars have gambling machines built into them, so you can lose money (or maybe win) while you’re taking a break from the bigger tables.

In one casino, where we went to the theatre – there was a girl in suspenders dancing erotically on a table, and kids were wandering around.

Seriously weird.

It was like a strip club in Disneyland. It was like a cross between Disneyland and a lap dancing club. Adult Disneyland, but with families wandering around in it.

Our hotel had a rollercoaster going around it.

Yep, a rollercoaster, with tracks that actually went around the outside of the hotel.

You can stand in the bedroom and every now and then you hear the rumble of the rollercoaster and the muffled screams of people outside the window. This is from inside your hotel room..

If you part the curtains and look out you can see part of the track twisting around past the window and eventually you’ll see the rollercoaster race past, people screaming.

Take a look into the distance and there are the mountains, some desert and then closer to you just weird, big shiny bright buildings and Trump tower. A massive tower with his name at the top in huge gold letters.

“We’ve got the greatest buildings folks, all the best casinos. You’re gonna have fun, and you’re gonna make so much money. We’re gonna Make America Great Again. Believe me folks.”

And the house always wins.
That’s the thing with these casinos.
You have to enjoy the process of it, because you’re basically paying money to experience the excitement of possibility of having more money, even if the probable outcome is that you’ll end up with less.
You’re paying for the excitement of losing, it’s exciting because there’s a possibility that you won’t lose, but the fact is you will probably lose.
So the chances are that you’re going to lose
but you might win
and that’s what makes it exciting
to throw your money away.
The house always wins.
Sometimes somebody wins.
But most people are losing.
And the house is always winning.

Fair enough though, people choose to gamble and they probably enjoy it. People seem to enjoy it – that’s their choice, but it doesn’t appeal to me very much, beyond just having a go to see what the fuss is all about.

But there are some good things about Vegas, ok!

It’s not all awful! It’s fun for a night or maybe two, depending on what you do.

It is a big spectacle – some of the hotels look amazing and massive, and also there are some spectacular shows that you can see – like dance shows such as Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group and magic shows like David Copperfield or Penn & Teller.

We chose to go there as a stopover but also to experience it and we did have a laugh!
You have to just go with it a bit and just go ‘ wow, look at that, that’s ridiculous!’

A lot of the time we were walking around, couldn’t believe our eyes, saying “this is insane” “Look at that! It’s a massive Egyptian pyramid!

Our hotel was basically a recreation of the New York skyline. Other hotels have things like an Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian Sphinx, massive fountains and light shows.

It was pretty weird to see the Eiffel Tower considering we see it every day in Paris.

Also, it’s a very convenient place – in the sense that it’s really easy to access the airport, it’s not all that big, things are open 24 hours a day.

People are helpful and friendly.

There was a wholefoods there. In fact there are a few Wholefoods supermarkets there – say no more!

Some of the stuff is good fun.

So, that’s that then isn’t it.

Penn & Teller

Gambling in the Casino

We played some one of the “one armed bandits” – the fruit machines. It’s like one dollar to pull the arm and watch some things spinning around. We put aside about 50 dollars for fun. My wife enjoys the one armed bandits and she’s actually very lucky. I’m a lot more sceptical about it.

But she thinks she’s blessed with luck or something.
(Actually she’s blessed with Luke, but anyway… I’m not sure “blessed” is the right word – “married to” is probably better)

In England, when we had first met each other, we took a trip to Brighton, on the south coast, and we went to the pier (a wooden walkway that stretches out over the sea, wooden legs supporting it – a pier) where there are lots of arcade machines and gambling machines and other attractions, and she was convinced she would win money on the machines and I was going “ but the house always wins” and she was saying “no I’m magic!”.

I was shaking my head thinking “there is no magic, only the force” and she put one pound in a slot machine and promptly won £20, and said “I told you I was magic”. We walked away £20 richer. We didn’t continue gambling. I think she’s smart enough to know that you quit while you’re ahead.

The same thing happened years later, we were in a little resort in the north of France where you find some casinos. She’s not a gambling addict or anything. She just likes playing the machines a few times when we’re on holiday sometimes.

We went to a casino and chose to spend no more than 50E. A 50E limit. Ooh, big bucks, right?

We were walking around trying to find a good machine. There were some slightly sad looking people just sitting there plugged into these persuasive light shows – it’s a sort of low level basic addiction (or high level for some people) – an addiction to the sales pitch, basically.

I was being very sceptical, and making various sceptical noises.

We ended up leaving with 80E, 30E up from when we went in.
Not bad.

We quit while we were ahead.

In Vegas we did some gambling on the machines. I was thinking, “Well, she is magic. Maybe we’ll win enough to get a half decent dinner.”

We lost all the money we took in. All of it.

It was a steady one directional flow of us putting money into the machines and getting nothing in return. Las Vegas just ate our 50 dollars like a crocodile eats a chicken. One gulp, all gone, didn’t even chew. It didn’t even touch the sides as it went down.

We won nothing.

Well, almost nothing. We always seemed to win a few credits just before our money ran out, which I’m sure is a little trick to encourage you to put more money in because you think the machine is going to ‘start paying out’ at some point.

Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing. We had no clue and I’m sure those machines were the wrong ones to be playing, and some of the casinos are better than others, but anyway we weren’t really there for the gambling. We were more interested in playing it safe.

11 Gambling Idioms (that don’t just apply to gambling)

  1. to be on a winning streak (when you’re winning)
  2. to be on a losing streak (when you’re losing and nothing is going your way)
  3. to break even (when you take the same amount of money that you spent – in gambling or in business. No profit, no loss.)
  4. to quit while you’re ahead (stop when you’re winning)
  5. the house always wins
  6. to bet (to gamble) “I bet you £20 that Arsenal win the game” or (a challenge) “I bet you can’t throw this paper ball in the bin from there!” or (an expectation) “I bet all the tickets are sold out”
  7. to show your hand (show the cards in your hand / reveal your position)
  8. a poker face (a facial expression which reveals nothing – used while playing poker, or in any other situation where you keep a straight face)
  9. don’t push your luck (take a big risk and try doing something that could end in failure – it’s a bit like saying “watch what you’re doing” or “be careful”)
  10. to raise the stakes (the stakes = the money which you have to gamble in a round of poker. The expression is used to mean to increase the amount of money you can win or lose in a gambling game, but also to raise the general level of what you can win or lose – e.g. this line from a recent Daily Mail news article “Mr Trump raised the stakes in the escalating crisis over North Korea’s nuclear threats, suggesting drastic economic measures against China and criticising ally South Korea.”
    www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-4847836/North-Korea-conducts-nuclear-test-making-hydrogen-bomb-claims.html
  11. the chips are down (chips = the plastic coins you use while gambling. The expression means – when you’re feeling bad, or when the situation is bad) E.g. in cricket – “When the chips are down for England, Moeen is often the side’s most useful player.”

I once saw a great documentary by Louis Theroux about high stakes gamblers in Vegas. Some of them lose thousands of dollars, but they keep gambling because they think they’re going to eventually start winning it all back. I’ve put some videos from the documentary on the page for this episode. I love Louis Theroux’s documentaries. They’re fascinating.

The phrase that I take away from one of the videos: Louis and a high-stakes gambler are standing in the biggest hotel suite in the city, looking out of the window at the huge hotels and Louis says “Vegas – they didn’t build these casinos on winners you know” and the guy says “I think in the lifetime, everyone’s a loser. But the thrill of being able to win today, lose next month, win the year after. I think it’s the challenge. I think it’s the thrill. I think it’s the entertainment in this city.”

Louis Theroux Gambling Documentary – video clips

Louis hangs out with a high-stakes gambler in a very expensive hotel suite in Las Vegas

Here’s the same guy, after losing about $400,000 dollars in 3 days

Louis gambles with a couple of gambling “enthusiasts” (addicts?)

Louis plays the “one armed bandits” with Martha (these are the machines that took our $50 in just a few minutes) Martha says “I lost 4 million dollars in the casino in 7 years.”

Louis gets lucky playing Baccarat
“Because I resigned myself to failure that night, Lady Luck had decided to tantilise me by making me win.”

How gambling can be dangerous

It seems that this is how it goes:

  • You might begin by winning some money. Then you feel lucky so you bet bigger, but you lose it.
  • You then start digging yourself in deeper and deeper, expecting your luck to change but there is absolutely no certainty that it will.
  • Some people talk about ‘the law of averages’ – suggesting that in time any sequence will balance out. E.g. you might spend a certain amount of time losing, but ultimately this will be balanced out by the number of times you win.
  • But that’s assuming that gambling in a casino is random. Usually it is subtly weighed in favour of the casino so that the pattern is that the casino wins more often than you. Even if you win a lot, the casino can afford it because more people have lost overall.
  • Often these high stakes gamblers keep betting because they think they’ll eventually start winning. They often don’t and then leave utterly devastated by the loss.
  • The house always wins.
  • Then what might happen is that you’ve lost, you’re dejected. You resign yourself to failure but play another game because why not, and then you hit a winning streak.
  • What a powerful combination of defeat and then victory, all out of your control. You’re at the mercy of this external force, playing around with “luck”. (Not Luke)

And the house always wins.

We drove along the strip. It’s madness out there! Just all the flashing lights and the spectacle, it’s like Picadilly Circus on steroids and the steroids are also on steroids.

Unbelievably massive plate of pancakes for breakfast.

Then we got out of town.


I told you I would talk about nature and canyons, and big rocks! All that stuff I really loved seeing, but I got carried away – distracted by tales of gambling in Vegas.

Las Vegas – a place that seems diametrically opposed to somewhere like Bryce National Park or The Grand Canyon.

I’m glad we only spent an afternoon, one evening and a night there.

Natural beauty is so much more real.

Well, anything is more real than Las Vegas, I suppose.

Thanks for listening.

Join the mailing list.
Thanks to the Orion transcription team and Andromeda proofreading team.
Shout out to the comment section crew.
Shout out to the Long-Term LEPsters, you know who you are.
Shout out to the new listeners, I hope you stick with us.
Shout out to every single one of you all around the world, listening to this right now and united by the fact that you are all citizens of LEPland or Podland or whatever we are calling this community which crosses international boundaries.
Be excellent to each other and party on!

Speak to you in the next episode.

Luke

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475. Holiday Diary (Part 2) Modern Art: Is it amazing, or is it rubbish?

Talking about some modern art which I saw while visiting several galleries in Los Angeles. Includes descriptions of different movements in modern art, details about some famous artists and their work, some thoughts about whether modern art is really amazing, or maybe just a load of pretentious rubbish! (Spoiler alert: it depends)

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Notes & Transcriptions for this Episode

Hi everyone, here’s part two of my holiday diary and in this one I’m going to continue describing things I saw and did on my recent holiday in the USA. The plan is not just to describe our trip but also to use it as a springboard to talk about some other subjects in a bit of depth, and in this episode that includes things like modern art (describing some different types of art from the modern period and giving my thoughts on some art work that we saw in a couple of galleries) astronomy and astrology, flat-earth conspiracy theories and probably some other things too, depending on how long this takes! It looks like this is going to be a series of episodes with what I hope will be an interesting variety of topics beyond just me talking about my holiday.

I’m recording this on the same day as I uploaded the last one. So I’m already seeing some messages coming in from people on Twitter and FB and stuff (in response to part 1), so thanks a lot for your kind messages saying congratulations for the fact that we’re going to have a baby.

Ok, let’s carry on!

Just to recap
We went to USA to have a blow-out before the arrival of our baby in December. A final trip just the two of us. Los Angeles via Montreal, then the canyons and Navajo Nation, then back to LA and home again.

Modern Art

Downtown Los Angeles
Tried to go to an art gallery called The Broad. This is a flashy-looking new art gallery. We went to see an interesting installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, but there was a huge queue outside – probably attracted by the installation, which is proving really popular. Apparently it’s called “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” which is…

“a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. This experiential artwork has extremely limited capacity, accommodating one visitor at a time for about a minute” The Broad website.

www.thebroad.org/art/exhibitions/yayoi-kusama-infinity-mirrored-room

An installation = a work of art constructed within a space in a gallery.

We ended up in The Museum of Contemporary Art LA, just down the road from the broad.

Also went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) at one point during the trip.

Artists whose work we saw

We saw work by some celebrated artists from several important movements in modern art.

Including:

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Cubism, surrealism – mainly in the first half of the 20th century and middle of the 20th century)
Jackson Pollock (American, Abstract expressionism – late 1940s)
Rothko (American of Russian Jewish descent, Abstract expressionism, 50s and 60s)
Franz Kline (American, Abstract expressionism, 50s and 60s)
Roy Lichtenstein (American, Pop art, abstract expressionism, 60s)
Andy Warhol (American, Pop art, most well-known stuff is from the 60s)

And lots of others too.

Movements in Modern Art

Here’s a timeline of art movements in history from www.dummies.com

www.dummies.com/education/art-appreciation/art-history-timeline/

I’m describing art movements from the early part of the 19th century.

Contemporary art = art being made now
Modern art = art from the modern era – late 19th Century and through the 20th century. Arguably we are now in the post-modern era
Cubism (n) = an art movement in which artists went away from realistic representations of things and instead used geometric shapes, different kinds of perspective, lines, as if objects could be viewed from a number of different points of view all at the same time. Things exist in a kind of prism of perspective and the way you or the artist looks at something, changes its form.
Surrealism (n) = an art movement in which objects or ideas are presented in a strange way, as if in some kind of dream or perhaps representations of the subconscious mind
Abstract (adj) = this concept refers to things that aren’t real or tangible, but which exist in the world of the mind or outside reality as we usually see it (e.g. not just illustrating a bowl of fruit)
Expressionism (n) = representing feelings or emotions rather than objects or things
Abstract expressionism (n) = the name of the post WW2 art movement that combined the freedom of expression from expressionism and the use of abstract forms
Pop art (n) = the name of another art movement, this one involved techniques, methods and styles from popular culture like product design, comic book style or photos of celebrities.

What do you think of contempary art, or modern art?

You might think:
“It’s just a bunch of colours or shapes!”

“Anyone could do that!”

“It’s just a load of pretentious nonsense!”

Very common reactions. I think like that too, quite often, especially if I think it’s not very good art.

What makes art good or bad?

You just know it when you see it. If it really doesn’t move you, please you or interest you, you might say it’s bad art, because ultimately it’s in the eye of the beholder – but not completely, because you also have to invest a bit of time and effort into it and also it helps to understand how the work fits into the overall history of art. You have to have some respect for it in order to start appreciating it as work, and ultimately then it can start to enrich your life in some way, but I think art is quite pretentious, which many people have a problem with.

What does pretentious mean Luke?

Something is pretentious (spell it) when it’s trying to seem important, clever or sophisticated, but it isn’t really.

E.g. talking about a work of art like it is the grandest, most important, most emotionally resonating work of genius in human history, and it’s just a blank piece of paper, or a picture of a willy or something.

I think it’s more than just a willy, it’s a statement about… blah blah blah…

So you might think modern art is rubbish.

Or maybe you’re a fan and you think “I love the way the artist plays with different forms and colours. It’s incredibly liberating and fascinating to experience it. I find it inspiring, moving and fascinating.”

It’s quite difficult to talk about art without sounding pretentious, to be honest.

I have mixed feelings about it. Only the really good stuff tends to move me. I mean, it’s rare that it works on me. But I do enjoy the experience of going around a good gallery, looking at work which has stood the test of time.

I also like talking about it. I like the way modern art or abstract art is so open. You feel like you’re interacting with it, but I always need to talk about it. It’s a chance to be totally open-minded and to try and put it into words.

But it’s not something I’m thinking about all the time.

I’m more moved by music (most kinds), acting, films, TV, books, photography (with real stuff in them – like people’s faces or moments in time captured) but when it’s right modern art can be great. Also it works as decoration, but it’s something you can also look closely at and let your mind wander. (wander like go for a walk, but also wonder meaning think about things, but “let your mind wander” is the right expression”.

Expressionism or abstract expressionism – what’s it all about?

This is just me having a stab at describing abstract art.

It seems to me that it’s about creating abstract spaces with no rules at all.

It’s a system with no external reference points (unlike films) it’s just a series of shapes or forms arranged in space which are designed to create certain emotions or feelings in you at a kind of elemental level, or gut level, or sensory level.

Sometimes thinking about it is what you’re not supposed to do, you just have to experience it. It can be something as simple as how it feels to experience these colours and shapes arranged in a certain way.

It could be the way the colours blend together, or certain forms stand out, or the basic gut reaction you have when looking at the canvas.

It’s supposed to be moving at a very natural level, just the interactions of forms in a physical space.

When you realise that it can be liberating and you feel like you’re entering into a conversation with the artist which is free from the constraints of language.

That’s the idea, but to be honest I often find myself getting absolutely nothing from it.

Art vs the art of nature (pretentious, moi?)

OK, so this is where I’m going to get really pretentious and talk about rocks like they’re works of art, but what are you going to do, sue me?

Some of these work of art were or are created in a way that seems to allow the hand of nature to guide the artist somehow, like Pollock who would often drip paint onto the canvas – he wouldn’t always touch the canvas with his brush, but would somehow involve an element of chance or nature in the way the paint splashed as it fell, combining his own judgement and an element of chaos in terms of how the paint ended up falling on the canvas.

The result is like looking inside the emotional space of the artist and you can feel his experience somehow in a way that you can’t put into words – at the moments of rage, passion, serenity or terror, or just the sense that he was experiencing a lack of control in his life or he was subject to emotions or experiences that he didn’t necessarily have a grip on, and yet experienced in the form of emotion. That sounds really pretentious, I know. But when you look at his work, you can choose to say “this is just bollocks” or you can decide that the guy clearly was very serious about what he was doing so there must be something in it. What was he looking for? Something to do with the balance of colours, the texture created by the many drops of paint and the overall sensory effect it creates.

It’s like entering a mood, and with Pollock that mood isn’t entirely happy.

I have the same feeling with Rothko. He managed to paint these pieces that look like just large blocks of colour, but as you stand in front of them and absorb them, the colours seem to blend slightly and become luminous or darker and you get this sense of depth or space and it fills you with a certain emotion. Often it’s a sadness, wistfulness or even a slight sense of stimulation. It defies description, it’s more of a gut feeling.

And by the way, looking at the real thing is far better than looking at a print or poster version in a frame on the wall of your house.

The real thing is a certain size, presented in certain conditions, proper lighting, you’re seeing the actual strokes of his brush or some sense of how he did it, you see the texture of the finished thing, which is important too.

Going back to Pollock – he would work on these big canvases on the floor and would start from scratch letting the painting develop as he added more and more layers but other artists took a different approach like Franz Klein who would plan his abstract work on a small-scale, just sketching it by hand, before recreating the sketch on massive canvases. What was a few scratched lines on a piece of paper becomes a huge striking piece of work. The effect is a bold mix of broad straight lines that combine in haphazard fashion. We kept thinking his paintings looked like close up images of plane crashes done in black and white, like the vague sense that it looked like a WW1 biplane had crashed. That’s not what they were of course, they were just lines, but the point is that the work has this dynamic urgency. They’re violent, bold and stark. Our brains just interpreted them as somehow like a plane crash.

Those are abstract expressionists.

There are lots of loads of other kinds of art, like pop art (Andy Warhol) which sort of consumed aspects of consumer culture with the idea that art could be mass-produced and that every day consumer objects could be works of art too if presented in that way, and I think we’re still experiencing the influence of that today with things like t-shirts with cool designs on them or the fact that we consume logos and brands as a form of art – on t-shirts, even on posters to decorate our homes. Pop art was also a comment on consumer culture – for example Andy Warhol’s famous work with lots of virtually identical screen prints of movie stars with different coloured backgrounds, or just a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup. It’s like examining everyday branded objects as works of art.

I don’t really understand it all, but it is fun to go to an art gallery, drink a load of coffee and then just stare at this stuff and see what it makes you think about and feel.

Anyone can do art, but to do it well is actually really difficult.

It’s not just a bunch of colours on a canvas, it is backed up by intention, technique and a general appreciation of the aesthetics of shape, colour and texture.

So, we saw some modern art, and it was pretty cool.

But honestly, the art we saw just could not be compared to the truly stunning works of nature that we saw later on in our trip in places like The Grand Canyon – objects and environments that had been formed by natural processes over millions of years.

It seems to me that from the point of view of the observer, the exact same forces are at work.

When you look at art or when you look at a mountain or a rock formation you get the instant emotional and intellectual reaction of seeing these incredible shapes, colours and textures, and you experience the wonder of imagining exactly how they were created and the story that they tell.

I must say I was blown away by the geology we saw on this trip, which I’ll describe in more detail later. It was so stunning that at times I was lost for words and it all resonated with us so much that it was quite hard to come to terms with it.

You might think – oh come on it’s just big rocks. And it is just big rocks of course, but I think we all find these things impressive and I’m just trying to capture that feeling in words.

So, I know this sounds pretentious or something, but literally every day we would arrive at a different location to be greeted by ever more impressive natural spectacles. After spending time in each place, doing some walking, getting quite hot in the sunshine, we would be quite exhausted at the end of each day and we’d have this stunned by stimulated feeling during dinner – trying to comprehend what we’d just seen. We also couldn’t sleep during the night. It was like our brains couldn’t rest until we’d somehow compartmentalized the things we’d seen.

The Grand Canyon is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s so big it makes you feel so insignificant, like a blink in the eye of history.

In some parts of these national parks you’re looking at geological formations that go back something like 500 million years.

And they’re so big that you feel completely dwarfed by them.

This was far more impressive than the modern art we saw, and it made the modern art just look like primitive cave paintings by humans trying to get a grip on the power of basic shapes and colours.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that nature is the most powerful artist out there.

And I say nature, because the whole story of nature is in these rocks.

The whole thing has been created by different natural forces over hundreds of millions of years.

It makes total sense that water, over such a long period, could erode the rock into these unbelievable shapes. That ice would break up the rock, forming bizarre shapes, that what was once a crack in the ground could become a huge open canyon with a river at the bottom.

So, nature is what formed these things, simply through the presence of certain elements on earth and the actions of the laws of physics.

Pretty mind-blowing stuff. But the modern art was a good way to get into the mindset of appreciating the aesthetics of things.

Let me know your thoughts on modern art. Is it amazing, or is it rubbish? Leave your comments below.

…and thanks for listening.

Luke

Want to see some examples of the art I described in this episode? Click the links below.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room

Pablo Picasso (Cubist period)
Salvador Dali (Surrealism)
Jackson Pollock
Mark Rothko 
Franz Kline
Roy Lichtenstein
Andy Warhol

The Broad - we couldn't get in because of queues, but it looks cool

The Broad – we couldn’t get in because of queues, but it looks cool.

Andy Warhol - Marilyn Monroe screen prints from Pixabay.com https://pixabay.com/en/marilyn-monroe-andy-warhol-art-1318440/ Andy Warhol – Marilyn Monroe screen prints from Pixabay.com pixabay.com/en/marilyn-monroe-andy-warhol-art-1318440/%5B/caption%5D