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These are answers that voiceguy2000 has provided in

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/19/05 - Go downhill, come around, do outcall

Dear voiceguy2000:

Would you please explain the meaning of the words and parts that I have put in bold in the passages below?

"I was expecting more. And then I didn't see him again for eleven years. Then I moved to New York City for a year. It was sad. He really went downhill. He was popular in highschool. Handsome. He got into drugs and heavy drinking. He looked bad.

"When I went home [to Ohio] to see the people I grew up with, it was interesting to see that people who were popular and stuck-up and snobbish... I grew up in a small town. There was no middle class. You were either high-class or low-class. Fortunately, because I was athletic, the high-class people accepted me even though I came from a lower-middle-class family.

"Once highschool came around, things started changing. I started hanging out with an older crowd, with my sisters and their friends. I was into rock 'n' roll. My sister took me on tour with Rush when I was 14. I've experienced a lot for my age (43).

"In highschool, I was into track, motorcylces, dirtbikes. I wasn't the cheerleading type. To be the cheerleading type, you had to be in a rich family."

Penny: "We were five kids. I was the youngest girl. My brother was the youngest. The eldest sister was the perfect child, so my parents expected all of us to be like her. We weren't. By the time it got to me
(What does "it" refer to here?) things were easier for me because my other two sisters went through a lot.

Duke: "How has your work in porn affected you? Has it jaded you?"

Penny: "Yeah, it has jaded me. It's going to take somebody special, if I ever meet that special person, to understand it and not judge me for it. I never judge anybody. Nobody's perfect. Supposedly the only perfect person whoever existed was Jesus Christ and they crucified him on the cross.

Penny: "A lot of people think it would be to your advantage. A lot of people think I get hit on all the time. It's the complete opposite. And when they do, they're total geeks. I say to myself, do I have an 'L' for loser written on my head?"

Penny talks about how inconsistent porn work is. "May, June, July of last year was great. Then August, September, the phone quit ringing. Then people started finding out. The stuff didn't get released for
(What is the meaning of "for" here?) six months later. That's when I got the rude awakening. Then I was all freaked-out. Finally, I said, the damage is done."

Everyone knows you don't do outcall in the valley. Everyone know you should keep a low profile and only fools take out ads on eros-la.com for several girls that say "call my agent pam peaks."


As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/30/05:

He really went downhill -- He deteriorated; he went from bad to worse; he slipped into self-destructive behavior.

stuck-up -- Snooty; arrogant; aloof, superior.

came around -- In this usage: arrived; occurred; came to pass. Note that the same expression is also use for the totally different meaning of "to regain consciousness."

I was into track -- In popular slang, when someone says they are "into" something (a subject matter or an activity), it means they are very interested and heavily involved in it. Thus, someone who likes a particular musical artist might say, "I'm really into classic Rolling Stones music." Conversely, someone can use the expression to describe something they are not interested in: "Sorry, I'm not into drugs."

dirtbikes -- These are motorcycles equipped for off-road use (i.e., in the dirt). See www.motocross.com for a flavor of this.

By the time it got to me -- When it became my turn; when I reached that point. The "it" is one of those non-specific subjects, with no concrete referent, used in a wide variety of English expressions (I don't know the formal name); as far as I know, it is functionally the same as the "it" in statements such as "It looks like it might rain this afternoon."

Has it jaded you? -- To be "jaded" is to have experienced so much of something that you no longer have excitement or enthusiasm about it. Something that was a thrilling and rewarding experience the first time can become boring and tedious after it is repeated many times -- at that point, a person is said to have become "jaded."

Yeah, it has jaded me. -- See above. The next sentence, referring to the need for "somebody special," helps to explain the meaning.

I get hit on -- To "hit on" someone is to pay unsolicited -- and often unwanted -- sexual attention to them. Almost always the expression refers to men "hitting on" women. Example: "He is always hitting on young women in bars."

The stuff didn't get released for six months later. -- The word "for" is not the correct word choice in the sentence as spoken. The sentence should either read, "The stuff didn't get released for six months" or "The stuff didn't get released until six months later."

all freaked-out -- Crazy; upset; distraught; out of control. The literal meaning of the slang expression "to freak out" is to go insane, to go crazy, but it is most often used in a figurative sense to mean that the person has become agitated or upset or distraught. Thus, "My teacher really freaked out when I brought a live toad to class."

do outcall -- Here, the interviewee is almost certainly referring to a form of prostitution where the prostitute goes to the location of the customer. This is contrasted with the arrangement where the customer goes to the location of the prostitute. Typically, such prostitutes advertise "massage service" and state that they offer "outcall" service. In the context of the article, I gather that the woman is saying that it is unwise to offer "outcall" service in the San Fernando Valley, the area north of Los Angeles that has the largest concentration of porn makers.

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
DTHEMAN asked on 02/02/05 - where there is smoke there is fire

what does this phrase mean?

voiceguy2000 answered on 02/03/05:

The expression means that "something is afoot," based on the rumors or other limited information we have (the "smoke"), even if we don't yet know exactly what it is. In other words, the fact of the "smoke" (rumors or other telltale signs) means that there must be a "fire" (something more substantial) taking place.

The expression is somewhat similar to the idea of the "tip of the iceberg" in the sense that what we see does not reveal the full extent of the reality, but strongly suggests it.

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 01/29/05 - The good thing - the positive thing

Dear voiceguy2000:

In Italian, when one can find something positive even in a very bad situation or in a failure of any kind, we say, "The good thing is...." or "The positive side is..."

Do you have the same or a similar expression in English?

If not, do you have a particular expression, either formal or informal/idiomatic/colorful that conveys the same meaning as the Italian "The good thing / The positive side"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 01/29/05:

In your situation we would say "The good thing is ...#34; or "The good news is ..."

Less frequently we might refer to a "positive side" of some event or development. This would be a more formal way of expressing the same thought.

The proverbial saying is, "Every cloud has a silver lining," meaning that every bad event is bound to have some feature that can be considered good.

There is another very common use of "good thing" in an expression that expresses relief in relation to a past event or circumstance. Here are some illustrations:

It's a good thing I remembered to close the windows before we left the house -- this rain is pouring down!

It's a good thing your mom didn't see you smoking that cigarette.

It's a good thing I read chapter 8 before the test today -- otherwise I would have flunked for sure!

It's a good thing I don't need to wear this shirt tomorrow. We'll never get these stains out.
For a different but equivalent version of these statements, you can replace "It's a good thing" with "Thank goodness." (For example: "Thank goodness your mom didn't see ...")

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 01/21/05 - Hold still - stand still

Dear voiceguy2000:

Is there any difference between "to stand still" and "to hold still"?

If so, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 01/21/05:

These are fairly similar.

With regards to people, "hold still" could apply to any kind of movement of any part of the body, whereas "stand still" would seem to involve people who are standing and are being asked to remain in place. Thus, for example, if someone was trying to give someone else a haircut and that person kept moving his or her head around, the first person would ask the other to "hold still." On the other hand, if a mother had several children with her waiting at a bus stop and one of them kept wandering around, the mother might ask that child to "stand still."

With abstract concepts, "stand still" is more common. Thus:

It would be a mistake for this company to stand still while our competitors develop new products.

Progress on the investigation seemed to stand still until an anonymous tip led detectives to a storage locker in an industrial neighborhood.

You can't expect me to stand still and watch everything that I have worked for be abandoned.
There is even a noun form:
The court order brought work on the new shopping center to a complete standstill.
Equivalent expressions would include "bringing something to a halt" or "putting a stop to something."

There may be instances where people would substitute "hold still" in referring to abstract concepts, but I think "stand still" would be more common.

With respect to inanimate objects, you might use "hold still" when referring to difficulty in getting something to stay in place. For example:
I can't get this ruler to hold still while I try to draw the line on this wall.
It would not sound natural to use "stand still" in this sort of sentence.

Hope these examples will give you some useful guidance.

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
z298418 asked on 12/23/04 - How to ask for a Recommendation Letter
letter of recommendation?

hello,

how do you ask for letter of recommendation?
in technical term.
I am applying for college.

voiceguy2000 answered on 12/31/04:

The short answer is, you just ask. Certain people who deal regularly with students receive requests for recommendation letters quite regularly, and they may have specific policies that they ask students to follow. Others, who do not have a lot of experience in providing such letters, probably have no policy, but may need some guidance on how best to be of assistance to you.

Keep in mind that letters of reference are one of the key ways that a candidate for college admission can distinguish himself or herself from the many others applying for the same position in an entering class. This means that you should choose your references carefully.

It is my opinion that the best reference letters come from someone who knows you and your accomplishments in detail, and can comment on those things in a way that is meaningful to the admissions decision. What this means, then, is that a reference letter from a teacher with whom you have spent a lot of "quality time" doing strong academic work, in which the teacher can comment in specific detail on how you handled things, will be far more valuable than a generic letter from the town mayor who doesn't know you and simply says you are "a fine person."

Remember that the college wants to fill its class with people who not only can handle the academic work (as demonstrated by their high school grades and SAT/ACT scores) but who add depth and variety to the student body. They want to see evidence of the kind of person you have become in your high school years: What accomplishments you have made, what leadership qualities you have displayed, what special interests you have had, what kind of difference you have made in your community, what strengths you will bring to the school if it admits you. The more specific a recommendation letter can be on one or more of these topics, and the more depth and authority the writer of the letter has based on his or her contact with you, the more impact the letter is likely to have.

In basic form, my concept of a strong recommendation letter follows this outline:

1. A statement of who the person is ("I have taught English and Advanced Placement English at XYZ High for the last 17 years" or "I am the Assistant Manager of XYZ Grocery and am responsible for hiring and supervising our staff" or "I am the Volunteer Coordinator of the Anytown Chapter of the American Red Cross, and am responsible for recruiting and supervising the people who staff our community activities").

2. A statement of how the person knows you ("I taught Mr. Smith in 11th grade English and now have him in my Advanced American Literature class" or "Mr. Smith has worked for XYZ Grocery for the past three years, and I have had a daily opportunity to work with him and observe his contributions to our store" or "Mr. Smith has been a Red Cross volunteer since May, 2000, and I have worked closely with him on each of our annual campaigns during that time").

3. Specific information about you, backed up by evidence of what they have observed, and commenting on how you would be an asset to the school that admits you.

As you approach people, you might consider offering them a reminder of some of the projects you have worked on and accomplishments you have made to ease their job of preparing the letter. Note that you are not trying to ghost-write the letter; you are simply listing some things that they might care to comment on.

Candidates to prepare recommendation letters might include (a) teachers that you have "clicked" with and done good work for; (b) athletic coaches or faculty advisors of school activities (drama club, chess club, Key Club, Civitan, etc.); (c) employers; (d) pastor, minister, or rabbi (if that person knows you well and can make meaningful comments about your likely contribution); and (e) people who know your work in contexts such as community activities, the arts, or wherever you devote significant time and effort.

Remember that the important thing is that the people really know you and can comment meaningfully on the kind of person you are, drawing from detailed personal experience. Platitudes from someone who barely knows you, even if that person is important and well-known, have little real impact. They prove nothing about what kind of student you would be at the school; they simply demonstrate that you were able to persuade someone you barely knew to write a generic reference letter. Try to identify people who know you well and are your fans, who have confidence in your work and want to support your application enthusiastically.

Hope this hepls. Good luck.

z298418 rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 12/04/04 - Stop something in its tracks

Dear ESL Experts:

When do you use the phrase/expression "to stop something in its tracks"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is it possible to "stop someone in his/her tracks"?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 12/04/04:

In this usage, "tracks" refers to the marks or footprints made by a person or animal when walking. To stop someone in their tracks, therefore, means to cause them to halt so abruptly that they are literally still standing in their own footprints.

Metaphorically, we may stop something inanimate "in its tracks," such as blocking an unwanted construction project or other plan.

A variation is to say that something or someone is "stopped dead in its/their tracks." The idea, again, is that it is a complete and abrupt halt.

An equivalent expression is to say that something or someone is "stopped cold."

Examples:

He'd taken only a couple of steps when his mother's voice stopped him in his tracks.

A problem with the wheels on NASA's Spirit rover has stopped it dead in its tracks on the surface of Mars.

This Broadway revival was slated to happen in late 2001, but 9/11 stopped it dead in its tracks.

As she descended the staircase toward the front door, she heard a small voice that stopped her right in her tracks.

The look of pure, sadistic joy on my face stopped him cold.

A few years ago, when the inevitable takeover attempt was directed at Dayton-Hudson Stores, the Minnesota Legislature held a special session and adopted legislation that stopped it cold.
A slightly different expression, applied more to things than people, involves "bringing [whatever] to a screeching halt." The metaphor involves the sound of slamming on the brakes of a moving train or motor vehicle (creating the screeching sound).

Hope that helps.

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 12/01/04 - So much for....

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please give me some examples of how to use "So much for...."?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to the above expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 12/01/04:

In my experience, it is most often an expression of bemused annoyance or irony over plans or expectations that become unlikely to work out.

For example, you may leave your house extra early because you want to get to an appointment well ahead of time. Shortly after you begin your journey, you discover that all the roads are blocked because of a major fire. You might say, "Oh well, so much for trying to get there early."

Or, perhaps you are trying to come in the house very quietly late at night, so as not to wake the other members of the household. Suddenly a neighboring dog starts barking loudly at you. You might say, "Well, so much for trying to sneak in quietly."

The general form is "so much for [your original plan or hope]." It means, in effect, any chance of success for that plan has been dashed.

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 11/08/04 - John Kerry is a flip-flopper. He's French.

Dear voiceguy2000:

When you have time, would you please explain the meaning of the parts that I have put in bold below?

JOHN KERRY is a flip-flopper. He's "French." Whether he's asserting his non-girlie-boy bona fides by riding a Harley onto Jay Leno's set, "reporting for duty" at the Democratic convention or hunting geese in Ohio, he comes off like a second-rung James Brolin auditioning for a Levitra ad. And let's not forget the words - all those words. When Mr. Kerry starts a sentence, you know you're embarking on a long journey with no interesting scenery along the way and little likelihood that you'll get wherever you're going on time. "Vote for Him Before You Vote Against Him" is one of the more winning slogans at the hilarious Web site Kerry-Haters for Kerry.

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 11/14/04:

flip-flopper -- Someone who changes positions back and forth (for and against) a particular cause or objective. A politician who votes for something one time and then against a similar thing another time would be accused of "flip-flopping." In general use, the term refers to any phenomenon where something seems to turn back and forth rapidly, such as a fish out of water flapping its fins in order to get back into the water.

He's "French." -- This is a complex one. You are aware, of course, that Jacques Chirac in France has fanned a powerful anti-American sentiment in that country, some say for selfish political reasons. More recently, it has come to light that France was deeply involved with clandestine trade with Saddam Hussein. People in the U.S. are not happy with the behavior of Chirac and his ambassador Dominique Villepin in connection with Iraq. Kerry, at one of the debates with George Bush before the election, made reference to a "global test" for deciding when the U.S. could act in its own interests, and people widely interpreted that as suggesting that France should have a veto on U.S. action -- a position unacceptable to most U.S. citizens. And the fact that Kerry went to school in Europe, speaks French, and boasted early in the campaign that foreign leaders (presumably including Chirac) wanted him to win the election, caused many to associate his loyalties more with France than with the U.S.

What, precisely, the author of this piece had in mind is hard to say -- that is probably why "French" was placed in quotation marks.

non-girlie-boy -- This requires a somewhat complex explanation. First, there is an expression "manly man" that refers to a man with very masculine (macho) qualities. Then, a popular U.S. television show called "Saturday Night Live" popularized the term "girlie-man" to refer to a man who lacked masculinity -- a sissy, someone who behaved more like a girl. Following on that, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stirred up a great fuss this summer when he referred to his opponents in the California state legislature as "girlie men," accusing them of being too weak or fearful to take legislative steps that needed to be taken.

Here, the author is referring to Kerry's somewhat contrived efforts to portray himself as a "manly man" by engaging in what seemed like manly activities (riding a motorcycle, hunting geese). The middle reference (reporting for duty) concerns Kerry's speech at the Democratic Convention accepting the nomination as candidate for President. Seeking to impress upon the voters that his brief experience in Vietnam made him a suitable and credible Commander in Chief of U.S. forces, he closed his speech by giving a military salute and saying, "I'm John Kerry -- reporting for duty." (Under the U.S. constitution, the President is given power as the Commander in Chief of all armed forces.)

a second-rung James Brolin auditioning for a Levitra ad -- James Brolin is an aging actor, associated with left-wing causes, whose most recent acting effort was in a discredited, fictionalized television "biography" of former President Ronald Reagan that was so unflattering that it was driven off the air, before it was ever shown, by widespread protest. (It was later shown on a far more limited basis on a cable television channel.) Levitra is a male sexual enhancement drug, similar to Viagra. Because it is a product aimed primarily at older men, aging actors would be the most likely people to be cast in commercials advertising such drugs. It may be, in fact, that James Brolin is appearing in Levitra ads. I have not seen them, if so. The author's use of "second rung" (as in rung on a ladder) would suggest that Kerry was not doing as good a job as Brolin in portraying himself as manly and masculine.

"Vote for Him Before You Vote Against Him" -- This is a clever play on words that requires a bit of explanation. It relates to the "flip-flop" discussion above.

In the fall of 2002, with elections for the U.S. House of Representatives in full swing (these are held every two years) as well as those for some Senators, the U.S. Congress was confronted with voting on a resolution authorizing President Bush to take steps against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Coming so closely after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., the political mood of the country was very much behind taking forceful steps against terrorists. Politically, those who opposed taking this kind of action risked being voted out of office -- and indeed this happened to a number of such people in the fall, 2002 elections. John Kerry, for what seem in retrospect to be purely political reasons, voted in favor of the resolution.

However, during the following year, when the Bush administration came to Congress seeking an $87 billion appropriation to finance the Iraq war effort, John Kerry voted against this. He was widely criticized during the campaign for hypocrisy in voting in favor of the resolution to go to war but voting against the resolution to pay for it -- especially to the extent that the funds were for needed supplies for the troops, such as armor.

In one campaign speech, Kerry sought to excuse his vote on the appropriation by saying, "I actually voted for it before I voted against it." This statement, of course, simply fueled the theme of "flip-flopper" that the Republicans were sounding.

In your article, the phrase "Vote for him before you vote against him" is a clever twist on Kerry's own unfortunate statement.

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should be aware that I was not in favor of John Kerry in this election, and my comments probably reflect that point of view.

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 11/08/04 - Tree-hugging, gun-banning, French-speaking

Dear voiceguy2000:

When you have time, would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold below?

As moderates from the heartland, like Tom Daschle, are picked off by the Republicans, the party's image risks being defined even more by bicoastal, tree-hugging, gun-banning, French-speaking, Bordeau-sipping, Times-toting liberals, whose solution is to veer left and galvanize the base. But firing up the base means turning off swing voters. Gov. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican, told me that each time Michael Moore spoke up for John Kerry, Mr. Kerry's support in Nebraska took a dive.

Mobilizing the base would mean nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 and losing yet again. (Mrs. Clinton has actually undertaken just the kind of makeover that I'm talking about: in the Senate, she's been cooperative, mellow and moderate, winning over upstate New Yorkers. She could do the same in the heartland ... if she had 50 years.)

So Democrats need to give a more prominent voice to Middle American, wheat-hugging, gun-shooting, Spanish-speaking, beer-guzzling, Bible-toting centrists. (They can tote The Times, too, in a plain brown wrapper.) For a nominee who could lead the Democrats to victory, think of John Edwards, Bill Richardson or Evan Bayh, or anyone who knows the difference between straw and hay.


As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 11/14/04:

This is a very challenging passage to understand without having experienced the recent U.S. election campaign -- it is like reading a story about a movie that you have not seen. Let me define not only the terms you have asked about, but some others as well.

the heartland -- This is the vast interior of the United States, dominated by agriculture and manufacturing, considered more down-to-earth and less cosmopolitan than the big cities such as New York and San Francisco. Also referred to as "flyover country" because jet planes going from one coast to the other fly over this territory.

bicoastal -- Refers to someone who spends time only in the major eastern or western cities such as New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. (in the east) and Los Angeles or San Francisco (in the west). These are major centers of law, commerce, entertainment, and academia.

tree-hugging -- Zealous environmental advocates are pejoratively called “tree huggers,” referring to their frequent opposition to logging operations.

gun-banning -- The left/liberal political creed typically includes a desire to limit or heavily license availability of guns.

French-speaking -- This particular item, I suspect, is included in the list in order to set up a contrast with the term “Spanish-speaking” in the counter-list that will be discussed below. Until this election, there was no particular association of speaking French with any political view. However, it is noteworthy that John Kerry speaks French as a result of his schooling in Europe, and his use of French on the campaign trail was a subject of derision in some quarters.

Bordeau-sipping -- Of course there should be an “x” at the end of Bordeaux. This term describes the stereotypical elite liberal, sipping wine in a fancy apartment (flat) on Park Avenue in New York while expressing concern about those who are less fortunate than they. Again, it will set up a contrast with the counter-list below.

Times-toting -- Most likely a reference to The New York Times, widely perceived as a heavily liberal newspaper that was adamently opposed to the reelection of George Bush. It could also refer to The Los Angeles Times, a less prestigious newspaper that is nonetheless squarely in the left-liberal camp.

liberals -- In the U.S., a reference to the left-wing elements of the Democratic politcal party. Liberals are associated with big government, the welfare state, high taxes, and heavy government intrusion into daily life.

galvanize the base -- The “base” of a political party is the core of dedicated followers of that party’s beliefs. To “galvanize” that base is to take steps to energize and activate those people to work in favor of the party’s objectives.

upstate New Yorkers -- If you look at a map, you will see that New York City is actually in the southeast corner of the state. “Upstate” New York refers to the vast interior of New York, a far less urban (and urbane) area that tends to be more conservative.

Middle American -- This term refers both to the geography (central U.S.) and the social status of the great mass of U.S. population that is not part of the cultural elite on each coast. (See my discussion of “heartland” above.) For this article, the term directly contrasts with “bicoastal.”

wheat-hugging -- This term was invented by the author to contrast with “tree-hugging.” One significant activity in the central U.S. is growing wheat.

gun-shooting -- This term contrasts with “gun-banning” above. The idea is that people in Middle America are not interested in banning guns.

Spanish-speaking -- This term contrasts with French-speaking above. As with French, there is no particular association between speaking Spanish and any particular political viewpoint. The author is setting up a contrast that may not be particularly effective. It is true that a lot of agricultural workers in the U.S. speak Spanish, as they come from Mexico as well and Central and South America. Speaking of Spanish would be more associated with hard work and honest labor than would French.

beer-guzzling -- This is set out in contrast to the wine-sipping referred to in the first list. Drinking beer is considered more of a blue-collar (lower class) activity, something that working people do.

Bible-toting -- This is in contrast to “Times-Toting,” referring to the greater propensity of Middle America to be religious and church-going.

centrists -- As opposed to “liberal,” people holding views that do not embrace the “progressive” or “liberal” views of the Democratic Party elite.

They can tote The Times, too, in a plain brown wrapper. -- Historically, when people ordered magazines or other publications by mail that might embarrass them, the publishers would assure customers that the publications would be sent “in a plain brown wrapper.” In other words, no one looking at the package would realize what it contained. Here, the author is saying that anyone who wanted to read The New York Times in this part of the country would probably have to do so secretly.

I hope these explanations are helpful. As I said earlier, a lot of the references are ones that require a fairly deep knowledge of U.S. politics to understand.

riccioni rated this answer Excellent or Above Average Answer

Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 10/01/04 - He had sold himself and his fans down the river

Dear voiceguy2000:

When you have time would you please explain the meaning of the parts that I have put in bold in the passages below?


------------------------------------------------------

Courtney Love: She's lost that loving feeling

A string of court appearances on drug and assault charges has brought Courtney Love to her lowest ebb yet. Fiona Sturges wonders what's next for the embattled rock diva, film star and widow of Kurt Cobain

----------------

Courtney Love could always be relied upon to look after herself. Never one to back away from a scrap, the singer and actress has a reputation for setting lawyers on anyone who dares cross her. Where they fail, she will happily wade in herself, sleeves rolled up, nails sharpened.

----------------

Certainly, Love's erratic behaviour would suggest that her grip on reason is becoming increasingly shaky. The latest chapter in her troubled existence began last year when she was arrested at Heathrow airport after an altercation on a Virgin flight. She escaped with a caution. In October, Love lost custody of her daughter, 11-year-old Frances Bean, after police were called to the Love household to deal with an undisclosed "medical emergency".

----------------

But Love's unruly behaviour had only just got started. In mid-March the singer was arrested in New York for allegedly assaulting a fan with a microphone stand at a gig. Earlier in the evening she had appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman where she repeatedly flashed her breasts and clambered onto the host's desk for a hideous rendition of "Danny Boy". After leaving, she reportedly exposed herself again in a nearby burger bar. In April another warrant for her arrest was issued after claims that Love had attacked a woman at the home of Jim Barber, her former boyfriend and ex-manager, using a bottle and a torch, while allegedly under the influence of illegal drugs.

----------------

While it's doubtful that Love will go down in history as one of rock's greatest talents, she'll certainly be remembered as one of its most notorious screw-ups. She's easily the most provocative woman to emerge in pop music in the past 20 years. But the debate rages as to whether Love's career credibility can survive intact.

----------------

"She's a fascinating personality," says Rees. "And when she was in Hole, and especially with their second album, there was a sense that there was some genuinely good stuff there. But the last album sounded like it had had major surgery, and she's blown her credibility. She's become a caricature of herself. You can't go on being a punk when you've had loads of plastic surgery and waltzed up the red carpet."

----------------

However, James Roberts, an editor at Music Week is less convinced that Love is such a spent force. "She is still an iconic figure in music and celebrity. She's legendary, notorious, she can get the publicity, she's good value, and she's entertaining", says Roberts. "Her reputation will allow her to do whatever she wants. She could make another punk record, and it would still be acceptable."

----------------

Colin Murray, the Radio One DJ and TV presenter, also argues that Love's celebrity will continue to press the right buttons in the media. "Courtney's never been anything short of fucked up. Where you've got shock factor, you've got record sales," he says simply. "And while Love's music stopped being urgent at least five years ago, she'll carry on."

In fact, as Roberts points out, Love's fall from grace, could be just the thing she needs to kick-start her career. "For all the talk, Love's last album was all right. It didn't hang together, but it wasn't a disaster. Just like anyone, you're only as good as your next work. Maybe, she needs this knock-back to return to what she does best. Just as long as she doesn't sack any more managers."


----------------

Now, of course, it's hard to see what Cobain saw in Love. As his recently published journals attest, Cobain was repelled by the fame game and tortured himself over the possibility that by becoming famous, he had sold himself and his fans down the river.

With more court hearings and an upcoming custody battle for her daughter looming, plus a derailed career to restore, who knows what the future holds for Love? Earlier this year there were reports that she was scouting around for a publisher for her diaries. Which probably means there'll be a screenplay in the offing, too. For Love it might be an opportunity that's too good to pass up. Should she manage to find her way back onto the straight and narrow, what better way to rescue her career than a starring role in her own biopic?

While Murray suggests Love simply "needs to find Kabbalah" to keep out of trouble, others are less optimistic about Love's future. "I think it's increasingly unlikely that Love can come back from this," says Rees. "She's been the architect of her own downfall. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think this story will have a happy ending."


------------------------------------------------------


As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 10/16/04:

lowest ebb -- The term "ebb" normally refers to the tides -- an "ebb tide" is a low tide. There is also reference to "ebb and flow" with respect to bodies of water.

Here, the statement that legal problems had "brought Courtney Love to her lowest ebb yet" conveys the idea that she is at a low point (as in a low tide) in her life.

could always be relied upon to look after herself -- When something or someone can be "relied upon," it means that the thing or person is dependable, trustworthy, reliable, meeting expectations. Saying that a person can always be relied upon in some way conveys that the person's behavior is consistent and predictable. To "look after" someone is to take care of that person, to accept responsibility for their well-being. To "look after oneself" merely means to take care of oneself, to be self-sufficient.

Putting these elements together, the phrase you have highlighted conveys the idea that Courtney Love's past (her "track record") shows a consistent pattern of self-sufficiency and ability to cope with challenges.

Never one to back away from a scrap -- The formulation "never one to [verb]" is a common way to describe a salient characteristic of a person. It is sometimes used ironically:

Never one to miss an opportunity to put his foot in his mouth, the candidate today managed to insult not only the governor but also the governor's wife.
The verb here is the phrasal verb "to back away," which means to retreat or withdraw. "Scrap" is a slang word for a fight or argument.

Here, the author is saying that Love is not shy about engaging in fights or disputes with others.

wade in herself -- The phrasal verb "to wade in" is used to refer to someone who takes personal action, rather than standing aside and letting others handle a matter. The metaphor has to do with stepping into a body of water at the level of "wading" (the water level is only up to the knees or upper legs) to attend to something. The subsequent expression "sleeves rolled up" further connotes the idea of preparing for work and activity, as it is common for people to roll up their sleeves in order to free their arms for work (as well as preventing damage to the shirtsleeves).

As with the last expression, "wade in" can also be used pejoratively:
Things were going fine until the branch manager decided to wade in and try to "fix" all our problems. Now we're really in deep trouble.
her grip on reason is becoming increasingly shaky -- Here is an example of a noun-noun pairing that is idiomatic. When we talk about "reason" (meaning sanity, lucidity, common sense, awareness), it is common to refer to it in terms of a person's "grip" (that is, grasp or hold). The idea, metaphorically, is that reason and clear thinking must be held tightly, or else they will tend to slip away, leaving the person disoriented and out of touch with reality. Thus, we may say that a person is "losing his grip," meaning that the person is slipping away from sanity and lucidity and becoming delusional or mentally troubled.

In this passage, the author says the Love's grip on reason is "becoming shaky" -- that is, it is deteriorating. ("Shaky" is a common word used to denote something that is tenuous or marginal.) The implication is that Love can be expected to act in ways that do not appear entirely rational or sensible to others.

a hideous rendition of "Danny Boy" -- "Danny Boy" is a song. The "rendition" was her singing the song. The author states that the rendition was "hideous" -- that is, it was terrible.

screw-up -- in this context, it means someone who consistently "screws up" -- that is, makes bad decisions and does things that are inappropriate and annoying (or harmful).

waltzed up the red carpet -- I am not entirely sure what the author is getting at here; this is not an everyday expression in the U.S. Traditionally, at gala events (such as movie openings and society balls) there will be a red carpet on which people make grand entrances. I take the author's meaning to be that she is no longer an authentic "punk" after participating in such events.

spent force -- When ammunition is used, it is said to be "spent." Figuratively, the term is used to refer to people who are greatly fatigued, or to weather systems (such as tornadoes or hurricanes) that have diminished in force. The term is also used to refer to a man's state immediately after reaching orgasm.

Here, the person being quoted disagrees that Love is "spent" as an entertainment figure -- meaning that she still has more to offer.

never been anything short of fucked up -- The expression "never been anything short of" means that someone or something consistently meets a certain standard or displays a certain characteristic. "Short of" means "less than." The expression could be reworded to say "never been less than."

"Fucked up," in this context, is meant to convey the idea of being extreme, outrageous, unconventional, or weird -- unpredictable and even shocking.

hang together -- To succeed as a whole; to integrate successfully; to achieve an overall result because each component reinforces every other component and does not detract from that result.

knock-back -- This is a British expression that means setback, comeuppance, failure.

sold [someone] down the river -- This expression conveys the idea of betrayal -- of "selling out." I am not sure of the origin of the phrase; perhaps it came from the slave trade. In any case, the meaning here is that Cobain worried about the possibility that success and fame would compromise or corrupt his principles, as he might pay more attention to financial considerations than to any "truth" he sought to reveal in his music.

in the offing -- prospective; imminent; anticipated; in progress.

find her way back onto the straight and narrow -- The expression "the straight and narrow" refers to the life path of rectitude, probity, and goodness. The expression "to find one's way" refers to the process of seeking or following a path:
I hope we can find our way through these woods.

Now that they have reorganized this library, I am having a terrible time finding my way through all the new classifications.
Here, the author is being slightly tongue-in-cheek, because it seems evident that Love will never truly follow the "straight and narrow" path. I read it as the author's way of denoting her return to a less conflicted state of affairs, where she is not in constant legal difficulty.

find Kabbalah -- Kabbalah is a form of Jewish mysticism. I am not entirely sure what the person quoted may have in mind, but presumably the idea is that by following the principles of Kabbalah, Love might be able to reclaim a more normal and less out-of-control existence.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/29/04 - Build up one's courage - work up one's courage

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to build up one's courage" or "to work up one's courage"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to the above phrases/expressions?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 10/06/04:

There are a lot of verbs that can be used with "courage," including the phrasal verbs "build up" and "work up." We also speak of "mustering" or "gathering" courage.

I most often see expressions based on "the courage" rather than "one's courage," as in

It took John two days to muster the courage to tell his wife that he had lost his job.

Bill is still trying to work up the courage to ask Alice for a date.
But the possessive can be used in speeches and the like:
The time has come for us to gather our courage and face this problem once and for all.
I am not sure there are any hard and fast rules about when to use one verb or another; it is a matter of idiom and taste.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/27/04 - Be raked over the coals

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "be raked over the coals" in the passage below and give me a couple of examples of how to use this expression correctly?

Relax. You're not going to be raked over the coals or asked to name every American president whose first name began with a J. In fact, many experts describe the interview as a "marketing tool." It's an opportunity for the college to sell you on the school—not necessarily vice versa.

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/27/04:

When someone is "raked over the coals" (figuratively) it means they are subjected to withering inquiry or examination on some topic, or subjected to severe criticism.

The professor really raked me over the coals for handing in my paper one week late.

When I couldn't explain what had happened to my money, my parents raked me over the coals for an hour, asking about every penny I had spent.
Here, the author is saying that a campus visitor should not assume he has to prepare for the interview as though he is going to be subjected to a challenging test of his knowledge; rather, he should expect that the interview will include a large "sales" component of the college seeking to persuade the student to consider attending.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/27/04 - If it's Tuesday, it must be Tulane

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "If it's Tuesday, it must be Tulane" in the passage below?

Be prepared. You won't get very far if your attitude is "If it's Tuesday, it must be Tulane." It's important to educate yourself about the institution and what it offers. Come armed with thoughtful questions that show you've done your homework and that reflect your interests. And please, don't ask about the number of volumes in the library. "Who cares?" says Joyce Smith, executive director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "That sounds like the kind of question you're supposed to ask."

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/27/04:

This is based on the title of a 1969 movie, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," which chronicled the adventures of a group of tourists who saw 9 countries in 18 days. The idea is that the countries became such a blur that the only way they could figure out which country they were in was to look at a calendar to see which country they were scheduled to be in that day.

In your quoted passage, the author is recommending that the prospective student give personal attention to each college he or she decides to visit, rather than making it seem as though he is just checking them off on a list. If the student seems to be doing nothing more than going through the motions on a campus visit, the people meeting with the student will not consider his or her interest to be very serious.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/20/04 - Be on the beat

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be on the beat for (doing) something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/25/04:

There are two possible meanings for "on the beat."

First, popular music typically has a beat: a regular, repeating, rhythmic pulse. It is usually important for all of the musicians in an ensemble to synchronize their playing so that all of them are "on the beat." Otherwise, the music sounds chaotic and unpleasant. However, in this context, I cannot think of any reason to speak of being on the beat "for" something.

The other meaning of "beat" traces to foot patrols by police officers. Such police officers are said to "walk a beat," which is a specific territory or route that a particular police officer is responsible for. Deriving from that use, journalists (reporters) often refer to their assigned topics as "beats." Thus, someone who reports financial news might speak of the "financial beat," whereas someone who handles sports would be on the "sports beat."

My best guess for the expression in your question is that it refers to someone who has a particular interest in, or responsibility for, a certain topic or area. It would generally be a journalist or writer of some kind. However, I can't really give examples because the version of the expression you have offered is not familiar to me.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/20/04 - Be left hanging on

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be/get left hanging on" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/25/04:

The best known use of "hanging on," perhaps, is in a song from the 1960s by The Supremes entitled "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On." In that song, the idea was that a woman asked to be "set free" from a romantic relationship where the man didn't really love her but "kept her hanging on."

In this use, the meaning is that one person is stringing the other along, in an insincere way, saying things that are not really true in order to keep alive a relationship that is not genuine.

The phrasal verb "to hang on" means, among other things, "to grasp" or "to clutch." Thus, people riding a roller coaster "hang on for dear life" to the safety rails. It might be possible hear that someone had left others "hanging on" in this manner.

Primarily, however, I would say that leaving someone "hanging on" conveys the idea of giving them a false hope about something, whereas leaving someone "hanging" means that something is interrupted or incomplete.

Do you have a specific sentence or passage that you are wondering about?

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/20/04 - Fall in that category

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to fall in that or in a certain category" exist in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to the above expression?

As alwyas, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/25/04:

In idiomatic English, certain nouns consistently tend to take certain verbs to denote an action involving that noun. Thus, with "havoc" we invariably use the verb "wreak," although many other verbs might serve the same purpose.

The use of "fall " with "category" is another example of this. (I almost wrote that it "falls into the same category.") It is the common way of saying that something can be classified in a certain way. So, yes, in answer to your question, this expression most definitely does exist in U.S. English.

We put a box on our form for people who own four or more cars, but we're not sure if anyone will fall into that category.

According to a leading health magazine, only 3% of female TV network characters are obese while 25% of U.S. women fall into that category.

"The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst, and we think Mr. Muhammad fell into that category," Ebert said.
It is hard to think of a direct substitute for this expression, although there are a number of ways to say the same thing. You can say that two things "share the same characteristics" or "seem quite similar." And there are expressions of similarity along the lines of saying that similar things (or people) are "like two peas in a pod."

Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/18/04 - Stay put

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "staying put" mean in the headline below?

'The Scream' Robbery
Merely wiring an invaluable painting to the wall doesn't give it a very good chance of staying put.

Also, would you please give me some other examples of how to use this expression correctly and naturally?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/19/04:

"To stay put" is a slang expression for "to remain in the same place." Examples:

We can't all go wandering off at once. You three stay put while I look for Jason.

I can't get this rug to stay put. The floor is too slippery.

John seems to change jobs every few months. I wish he'd find a way to stay put and make something of himself.

These posts are embedded in four feet of concrete. I am confident they will stay put.
In the sentence you have quoted, the author is observing that wiring a painting to the wall is not a secure method of preventing it from being stolen.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/18/04 - The one who has the bread doesn't have the teeth

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, we use the saying "The one who has the bread doesn't have the teeth" with the meaning of "You can't have everything from life"?

Do you have the same or a smilar saying/idiom in U.S. English?

If not, what do you say instead?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/18/04:

That is a wonderful saying, but I am not aware of a direct counterpart in English.

A somewhat similar saying in English is, "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Here, however, the meaning is that you cannot have two mutually exclusive results -- you have to choose between one or the other.

I am going to have to think for a while as to whether there is a more direct counterpart expression in English.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/16/04 - Lay down someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to lay someone down" or "to lay down someone" mean? Maybe "to outclass or to defeat someone in something such as a sports match/game or competition"?

If the guess is correct, is it also possible to apply this expression to other fields of human life?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/17/04:

I can't really think of any expressions using "lay" with "someone" in this manner.

Can you give an example of where you have seen something like this?

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/15/04 - Too much for my pockets

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "too expensive or too much for one's pockets" have any meaning in U.S. English?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression properly and naturally?

If not, what do you say when an article/item or something that you want to buy is too expensive and you have to give up on it because you don't have enough money? Maybe "out of my pockets"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/16/04:

I do not know of any expression of this kind based on "pockets."

We do refer to "empty pockets" as a means of saying that a person has no money, but it is not in the context of whether or not they are able to purchase something.

The most common expression of inability to buy something for lack of funds is, "I can't afford it." Other ways of saying this would include:

It's too expensive [for me].

It's out of my price range.

It's beyond my means.

I haven't got the money.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/15/04 - Famous for pulling off

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "pulling off" in the sentence below? Also, would you please give me some examples of how to use the expression "to pull off something"?

Emily Watson is famous for pulling off the most gruelling of film roles<.

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/16/04:

"To pull off" something is to succeed, often against some level of challenge. The expression carries with it the idea that the person must have used unusual skill or had unusual luck to succeed; it was not a routine accomplishment where success was assured.

Bill managed to convince his wife that they needed to buy a boat. Can you believe it? I never thought he'd pull that off.

George has to talk the boss into giving us a budget increase even though the division is losing money hand over fist. If anyone can pull it off, it's George.
In the quoted passage, the author is paying a compliment to Emily Watson, saying that she is able to rise to the challenge of playing even the most grueling (difficult) film roles.

Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/14/04 - Come undone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to come undone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/15/04:

This generally refers to something that has become unfastened or untied, such as a shoelace or a luggage strap.

I think your left shoelace has come undone. You'd better tie it before you trip and fall.

Oh no! The rope holding these boxes together has come undone. We'll have to stop and fix it before we can drive any further.
The expression can also be used figuratively to refer to, for example, plans that have gone awry. And I have heard it used to refer to a person who has fallen on hard times, or has had their world collapse around them.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/13/04 - Shares in...

Dear ESL Experts:

Do the following sentences convey the same meaning? If so, which would you use or is more commonly used? Any other alternatives?

1) Shares in AstraZeneca tumbled today after a key drug it has developed in the fight against strokes was provisionally rejected by US regulators.

2) AstraZeneca shares tumbled today after a key drug it has developed in the fight against strokes was provisionally rejected by US regulators.

3) AstraZeneca's shares tumbled today after a key drug it has developed in the fight against strokes was provisionally rejected by US regulators.

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/14/04:

All three choices would be permissible. Of them, I would expect to see No. 2 or No. 3 more often than No. 1.

In the U.S., financial journalists would often leave out the word "share" altogether, and simply say "AstraZeneca tumbled ..."

Looking at today's Wall Street Journal, I see these references:

Broadcom jumped $2.60 ...

PMC-Sierra gained 79 cents ...

Altera rose 93 cents ...

Atmel advanced 27 cents ...

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer rose 44 cents ...

The American depositary receipts of AstraZeneca lost $1.94 ...

Lucent Technologies gained 17 cents ...

ImClone Systems rose $3.26 ...

Campbell Soup lost 70 cents ...
... and so forth.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/13/04 - Knock your socks off

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the phrase/expression "to knock your/one's socks off" ever used in a figurative way?

If so, with what meaning?

Would you please give me some examples?


As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/14/04:

As far as I know, the expression is used only in a figurative sense. Realistically, there is no way to "knock" anyone's socks off -- you can pull them off, but that's about it.

The idea of this expression is that something makes an extremely favorable impression on a person. If you say about a store, "You'll love the prices, but the service will knock your socks off," you are saying that the service is extraordinarily good.

I assume that part of the appeal of this particular expression is the rhyme between "knock" and "sock."

Other examples:

Wait 'til you see what we've done in the kitchen -- it'll knock your socks off.

This new presentation is going to knock their socks off.

This recipe for gnocchi will knock your socks off.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/12/04 - Mark one's territory

Dear ESL Experts:

Is it possible to use the expression "to mark one's territory" figuratively?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/13/04:

After thinking about it for a while, I cannot recall encountering this phrase in a figurative use. I assume it could be used in this way, however, to denote some kind of male (human) behavior that was viewed as equivalent to an animal marking (usually by urinating) territory. I just have not seen it used that way.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/12/04 - Draw the line

Dear ESL Experts:

Is it possible to use the expression "to draw the line" figuratively?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/13/04:

This expression refers to setting a boundary or acceptable limit. It can be used seriously or it can be used humorously or ironically.

I believe in freedom of religion, but I draw the line at human sacrifice.
Politicians may also talk about "drawing the line" with respect to some perceived problem.
We must draw the line on sprawling growth in our city.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/12/04 - Hold the line

Dear ESL Experts:

Is it ever possible to use the expression "to hold the line" with the meaning of "to not retreat, to stand firm, to refuse to give in/give up/surrender"?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/13/04:

I think that "to stand firm" is probably the most common meaning I encounter. The idea is that of setting and strictly enforcing some kind of limit or boundary. In virtually every case I can think of, the expression is used in connection with expenses or money.

We need to hold the line on expenses in this department, or headquarters will come down on us like a ton of bricks.

Despite claims that they intend to hold the line on spending, our legislators seem to find more and more ways to spend our tax money.
There is also a second and unrelated meaning, "to hold a telephone line open."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/09/04 - Get back at someone = take/get revenge on someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to get back to you" also mean "to take/get revenge on someone"?

In particular, is it possible for a woman to get back at her husband because he has been cheating on her?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/10/04:

I can see how this could be confusing.

There are at least four different meanings that can arise with "get back" with or without a preposition.

to get back -- used intransitively, this means "to return" (from a trip, etc.).

I am going to visit Marjorie at the hospital. I'm not sure when I will get back.

Did Bill get back from his trip to London?
to get [something] back -- this refers to the return of something that had been lent or entrusted to someone else.
I'm really mad. These tools were brand new when I lent them to Brad, but when I got them back they were covered with rust. I think he left them out in the rain.

Did you get your car back from the garage yet?

Hey, Bill, I need to get back the report I just gave you -- I discovered some errors in the chart on page 9.
to get back at -- this refers to taking revenge or striking back at someone or something (the object of "at").
Every time my little brother scratched me with his long fingernails, I swore I would get back at him someday.

Remember that nasty teacher you used to hate? Well, here's a way to get back at her.
to get back to -- this actually has two different meanings. The first is essentially the same as the first example above ("to get back"), meaning "to return to the point of departure."
It took me three hours to get back to my house because of the horrible traffic.
The other meaning involves responding to someone's question or proposal.
We need an answer soon. Can you get back to me by tomorrow morning?

OK, I have all the information I need now. I'll get back to you in about an hour with a firm price.
I hope you will be able to sort this all out. :-)

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Question/Answer
Tokyo asked on 09/09/04 - why is "discuss about" used?


There are plenty of academic sites indicating "discuss about" should not be used but "discuss" alone when we want to say "talk about".

But in actuality, "discuss about" is used just about anywhere including U.S. government offices and well known organizations.

I also this usage is seemingly acceptable in South Eastern countries.

Is using "discuss about" acceptable now in US? If it is so acceptable, why academic groups are trying so hard convince us otherwise?

Thank you.

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/10/04:

"Discuss about" is not an acceptable usage in the U.S. The verb "discuss" stands alone, and does not need a preposition such as "about." I cannot think of any correct or acceptable phrasal verb based on "discuss."

Academic groups are trying to convince people not to say or write "discuss about" because that is an incorrect usage. You should use "discuss."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/09/04 - The only way is up

Dear ESL Experts

What does "The only way is up" mean? Does it have a particular figurative meaning?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/09/04:

This is another way of saying, "Things can only get better." The word "up" is generally used to refer to an improvement or amelioration; "down" is used for the opposite, namely, deterioration. We may say, for example, "things are looking up" when we mean to say that our prospects are good or that a situation seems to be improving.

This expression, "the only way is up," may be a way of saying "things could not get any worse." In other words, things are so bad right now that the only direction that can go in is a positive one -- "up." (It would be more likely to hear something like "things have nowhere to go but up.") It might also be used as a way of expressing confidence that nothing can go wrong -- in other words, there is no "downside risk" associated with something.

Thus, using the expression "the only way is up" depends somewhat on the context.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/09/04 - Bring it on!

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Bring it on!" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/09/04:

This is a defiant statement made by someone who is about to be engaged in some kind of competition or conflict, saying, in substance, "You don't scare me. I can handle anything you throw at me. Go ahead -- let's get started."

To "bring on" is to cause something to happen or to commence something. Thus, standing outside in the rain might "bring on" a cold. Drinking too much alcohol can "bring on" serious health effects.

When people suffer bad consequences due to their own ill-advised actions, it is said that they "brought it [all] on themselves."

As you have framed it, "bring it on" is movie or TV dialogue, or slang based on such dialogue.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/08/04 - Playing whack-a-mole

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "playing whack-a-mole" in the passage below?


Other towns, like Samarra, have also fallen to insurgents. Attacks on oil pipelines are proliferating. And we're still playing whack-a-mole with Moktada al-Sadr: his Mahdi Army has left Najaf, but remains in control of Sadr City, with its two million people. The Christian Science Monitor reports that "interviews in Baghdad suggest that Sadr is walking away from the standoff with a widening base and supporters who are more militant than before."


As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/08/04:

Whack-A-Mole is an arcade game that can still be found at some beach resorts. (I doubt if the game has been manufactured for quite some time.)

In this game, the player stands before a sloping surface that has a number of holes in it. The player takes a large padded mallet in hand. When the game starts, little brown plastic moles pop up, at random, through the holes. The player must whack them with the mallet immediately to get them to go back down into the hole. Otherwise, they will pop back down on their own, and the player will not score any points.

The player does not know which mole will pop up next out of which hole, and must respond instantly in order to score.

Typically, there will be a number of these games set up side-by-side and linked together, so that the players are all competing against each other. When time is up, the player who has whacked the highest number of moles wins the prize.

In the news article, the idea is that al Sadr may appear at any time and place without warning, requiring lightning-fast response -- as in the game.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/01/04 - Kind of, sort of

Dear voiceguy2000:

Would you please explain the meanings of the parts I have put in bold and underlined in the following article?

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Jenna Jameson: 'I chose the right profession'

Porn star's new book tells of rise to fame



NEW YORK (CNN) -- Jenna Jameson is an industry unto herself -- and also part of an even bigger, if often scoffed-at, business: adult entertainment.

The porn star has made the most of her fame, creating her own Web site and exercising a great deal of control over the Jenna Jameson brand. But she's the first to say that it hasn't been easy, fun, or even desirable. She appeared on "Anderson Cooper 360" to talk with the host about her new book, "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale."

COOPER: It took a fraction of a second for a Google search to return 992,000 hits for Jenna Jameson; 700,000 of those sites also come with the letters X, X and X. But that's understandable, considering she's the reigning queen of porn.

Now, the woman who gave us "I Dream of Jenna" and "Lip Service" is telling her very adult story in the book "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale." Suspense thriller it ain't. It is also a best seller. I spoke to Jenna Jameson earlier today.

OK, Jenna, I have got to clear up something right from the beginning. I read an account that said you actually wanted to be a TV anchorwoman one day. Is that true?

JAMESON: That is -- that was definitely what I wanted to do. I used to practice with the TelePrompTer when I was young, because my father was a television producer. So it didn't come to pass, but you know, at least I'm still on TV.

COOPER: Well, you know, such is life. Maybe in the next lifetime.

JAMESON: Yeah, I don't think it is going to work out for me now.

COOPER: Well, you never know.

Why porn? I mean, you -- why did you get into that business?

JAMESON: Well, that's a very good question. I tried to track it back and figure out what (Why "what" and not "why"?) I decided to do what I've done, but who knows? I mean, I've always been so overtly sexual. And I've always been driven to succeed at something that hasn't always been accepted by the American public. So I think I chose the right profession.

COOPER: But you had a really tough background, which you write about in the book a lot. I mean, you know, you were abused as a child, you lost your mom at an early age. Did that in any way play a part? Because there are those who say, look, you know, young people who experience abuse often gravitate to the porn industry.

JAMESON: Right. Absolutely. It's something that I've thought about a lot, and I can't really say for sure if that is reasoning behind why I've gotten into the adult industry. All I know is that when I lay my head down at night, I feel comfortable and I'm happy, and I guess that's all that really matters.

COOPER: It's a huge industry, which I think a lot of people don't really realize, or maybe they just don't admit that they realize. But I mean, in terms of income, it rivals, you know, motion pictures. It rivals pro sports in America. And yet it's an industry which is kind of in the shadows and is -- has a lot of pitfalls, which you write about in the book.

JAMESON: Right.

COOPER: You know, as you say, I think, in the book, it can be very demeaning to women.

JAMESON: Well, it can be. I think that nowadays, the American public, or they're much more accepting of the adult industry, and it goes to show that we should give the American public much more credit than we do.

COOPER: Do you think people are hypocritical about this? On the one hand, I mean, publicly they say, oh...

JAMESON: Absolutely.

COOPER: ... they condemn it, but in truth, if they're logging onto the Internet, they're buying the DVDs.

JAMESON: Well, obviously they are, because this is a billion-dollar industry. So everybody watches porn. It's just a fact of the matter. (What is the difference between "It's just a fact of the matter" and "It's just a matter of fact"?)

COOPER: It's just a question of whether they admit it or not.

JAMESON: Exactly. I think a lot more people are starting to admit it, because women feel that it's acceptable nowadays. So that's really helped our industry, because now men feel comfortable bringing the movies home.

COOPER: There are, you know, obviously you know there are critics. Writer Naomi Wolf recently wrote that basically the porn industry has raised expectations for men in a way that women feel, how can I compete with this? And in fact, she claims it's sort of has deadened the male libido, because you know, they feel like the real thing isn't good enough. Everyone has to be a porn star.

JAMESON: I really don't believe that. I think that it's added to people's sexual lives, and I think that it's added to women's especially, because there's a little bit of Jenna Jameson in every woman out there, and I think that now that they're starting to see me coming out more into the mainstream, they feel a little bit more comfortable being naughty in the bedroom.

COOPER: I've read that you want to have a child now.

JAMESON: Yes.

COOPER: After you have had the child, you've said that you would stop doing porn. Is that true?

JAMESON: Yes. Absolutely. And it's certainly not because I feel ashamed of being a porn star, but I think it's because I want to focus 100 percent of my time on my child, and I want to be able to tell my child that once they came along, that mommy was no longer a porn star.

COOPER: And if your daughter one day said to you, if you had a daughter, if she came to you and said that she wanted to get into that industry?

JAMESON: I'd tie her in the closet. Only because this is such a hard industry for a woman to get ahead (Why "GET ahead" and not "GO ahead"??) and get the respect that she deserves. I fought tooth and nail to get to where I am, and it's not something that I would want my daughter to go through. It's not something that any parent would choose for their child.

COOPER: So you would advise young women not to get involved in the industry?

JAMESON: Not unless they had their head on completely straight and they knew that this is what they wanted to do. For my child, hey, I want them to go to college and be a doctor.

COOPER: Well, Jenna Jameson, you are a leader in your industry and you are now a best-selling author. Your book's on The New York Times' best-seller list. We appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

JAMESON: Thank you very much.

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/04/04:

bigger, if often scoffed-at, business -- The construction of "[adjective], if [contrasting adjective]" is fairly common in expository writing. It is a compact way of expressing a circumstance that may be ironic, or amusing, or surprising, or in other ways more complex than a single adjective would convey. The first adjective gives, and the second takes away (or limits, or modifies, or reframes). It is somewhat of an art form for journalists and other writers to craft interesting phrases of this kind:

The professor cut a striking, if somewhat unkempt, figure ...
The meaning might become somewhat clearer by substituting "even if" or "although" for "" in such constructions.

To "scoff at" something is to mock it, to treat it with derision, to denigrate it.

The overall phrase here conveys the idea of a business that is bigger, even though people scoff at it.

figure out what (Why "what" and not "why"?) I decided to do -- I agree with you; the word "what" makes no sense here. Either it is a typo, or the woman is speaking poorly.

kind of in the shadows -- "Kind of" means "somewhat" or "partially" or "to a degree." Another common variation is "sort of."

It's just a fact of the matter -- This is the kind of throwaway phrase that Rich Turner loves to chastise people for using. This is a verbose (and hackneyed) way of saying, "It's a fact" or "It's true." The fact in question is her earlier statement, "everybody watches porn."

Conversationally, people will make an assertion and then (redundantly) say "it's a fact" or "it' true" or "that's just the way it is" because they anticipate that the listener will disbelieve the statement or disagree with it. It is, in a sense, an anticipatory response to the listener's expression of disagreement or disbelief. From a persuasion standpoint, it is about the weakest method of gaining acceptance of the point, but it is commonly used.

In conversation, it is common for people to preface assertions with phrases such as "The truth is that ..." or "The fact of the matter is that ..." or simply "The fact is that ..." Careful writers tend to edit such phrases out, because they add nothing to the meaning and often deaden the sensibilities of the reader.

sort of -- see "kind of" above.

to get ahead -- to succeed; to better oneself; to advance in a career or occupation. "To go ahead" conveys the idea of "to proceed" or "to commence," whereas "to get ahead" conveys the idea of moving up in earnings, accomplishment, and prestige within the business world.

to have one's head on completely straight -- this is another hackneyed expression, which was popular in the 60s and 70s. People who have their heads on straight are reliable, self-aware, self-possessed, well-adjusted, thoughtful, and highly functional in society. Someone who does not have his or her head on straight would tend to be unpredictable, unaware, holding a distorted view of the world, misguided, impulsive, or delusional. The idea of "straight" is that the head is fitted properly into place so that the brain functions fully and properly.

In the interview, the woman is saying that entering into this profession is a decision that must be made consciously and soberly, with full appreciation of the consequences. Only someone with a high level of self-awareness and a full appreciation of what is involved should consider such work. It should not be a thoughtless or impulsive decision.

On the whole, the porn actress being interviewed is speaking in a relatively low-class and uneducated manner. This article is not a great example of polished conversation. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/04/04 - Like-for-like sales

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "like like" in the passage below?

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Whitbread, the leisure group, yesterday reported a slowdown in sales over the summer, with the cold weather dampening the popularity of its beer gardens and consumer spending beginning to stutter.
Like-for-like sales across the group, which includes Beefeater restaurants, Marriott hotels and Travel Inn, were up 3.1 per cent over the 24 weeks to 19 August, slowing from growth of 3.4 per cent in May. Its shares fell 5 per cent to close down 37.5p at 779p.


------------------------------------------------------

Also, is it possible to use "like-for-like" for other things besides "sales"?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/04/04:

I rarely see this term (like-for-like); perhaps it is more common in British financial reporting.

The idea clearly involves comparisons that are designed to match like kinds of results in order (so it would be claimed) to provide the most meaningful information. Without knowing more about the technical requirements of financial reporting in the UK, I cannot say for sure what it means in this context. However, chances are it means something like these possibilities:

-- Comparing Beefeater sales only with other Beefeater sales, Marriott with Marriott, etc., rather than lumping everything together

-- Using only stores or locations that had been open a full year for comparison with the previous year

-- Making other adjustments for, say, greatly increasing the size of a location during the past year

In general, this seems like terminology that would be used in financial reporting or legal contexts, and not in popular writing or conversation.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/03/04 - Get the [whole] picture of something

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to get the (whole) picture of something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/04/04:

get the picture -- to comprehend; to grasp a concept; to understand something that has been described.

So there we were, in total darkness, not making a sound, while two bears were marching around outside. Get the picture?
get the whole picture -- to see the entire issue; to understand something in its full context; to place individual facts into a complete set of circumstances.
Yes, it is true that Mr. Jenkins fired his gun. But before you decide whether that action was wrongful, it is important that you get the whole picture. Let me tell you something about Mr. Jenkins ...
As for alternatives, any expression that conveys the idea of understanding something would work for "get the picture."
I get the picture.

I get it.

Got it.

Ahh, now I get it.

I understand.

That makes sense to me.

I see.

OK, now I see what you're getting at.
For "get the whole picture," we might say
see the big picture

see the larger context

understand how this fits in with the overall scheme
We say of someone who is unable to grasp the "whole picture" that the person "can't see the forest for the trees." The idea is that this person becomes so preoccupied with an individual tree that he or she fails to appreciate that the tree is only one member of an entire forest. Figuratively, it describes someone who does not put particular items into a proper overall context, thereby putting undue emphasis on those few items at the expense of the overall situation.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/04/04 - Why would a Wal-Mart shelf-stacker vote Republican?

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of the headline below? In particular, what is a "shelf-stacker"?

Why would a Wal-Mart shelf-stacker vote Republican?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/04/04:

I have not heard the exact term "shelf stacker" before, but it is clear what the term means: An employee of a large discount store (Wal-Mart) who places and organizes the merchandise on the store shelves. When I was growing up, a lot of high school students would take jobs like this, and they were called "stock boys." Of course, nowadays both men and women work at these jobs, and they are called "stock clerks" among other names.

The headline is asking a rhetorical question, I assume, suggesting that a blue-collar worker such as a stock clerk would be foolish and misguided to vote Republican. I happen to disagree with that view, personally, but this is not the forum for that discussion.

The headline follows a general rhetorical formula: Why would [category of person] take [some action]? For instance:

Why would someone with a college degree decide to become a taxi driver?

Why would a man with a lovely wife and three wonderful children throw it all away for some blonde bimbo?
Hope that is clear enough.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/03/04 - As good as it gets

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "As good as it gets" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/03/04:

It is a way of expressing great satisfaction with something.

I'll tell you, Marge ... sitting here with a glass of wine, in the cool breeze, watching the sun set ... this is as good as it gets.
The idea is that it is so good, it cannot get any better.

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Question/Answer
peterleft asked on 09/03/04 - redundant?

Dear experts,

1. To "repeat" means to "say again". I wonder if we can say "repeat (it) again" as in:

Could you repeat that again?

The word "again" above IS redundant, isn't it?

2. Let's go to the bar/bars (for a drink).

I am not sure if the -S in barS is redundant. In my dictionary "go to the bar" means "work as a lawyer" or "be/become a lawyer".

I get confused. Your help is greatly needed.

Thank you.

Best regards

left

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/03/04:

1. Could you repeat that again?

The word "again" above IS redundant, isn't it?


Yes, it is redundant. An educated person should not use that expression.

2. Let's go to the bar/bars (for a drink).

I am not sure if the -S in barS is redundant. In my dictionary "go to the bar" means "work as a lawyer" or "be/become a lawyer".


This is all a matter of context. A "bar" is a place where alcoholic beverages are served. "The bar" is a way of referring to the legal profession (referring, metaphorically, to the bar, or railing, in a courtroom). In England, the lawyers who appear in court are called "barristers," and they are "members of the bar" of the British courts. When they are first authorized to appear in court, they are said to be "admitted to the bar."

The key thing is that you have to know whether you are talking about law practice or about having a drink. In the context of drinking, you would normally refer to the singular "bar" ("let's go over to the bar and have a drink"), unless you intended to visit several different bars in succession ("Frank and John hit a bunch of different bars last night"). If the context is law practice, then we would refer to "the bar" and "bar associations" and "bar examinations" (for admission to practice) and so forth.

I hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 09/03/04 - Your guess is as good as mine

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Your guess is as good as mine" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 09/03/04:

This is a way of saying "I don't know" in response to a question. The idea is that answering the question would be sheer guesswork, and one guess would be as valid as another.

This answer could be used in response to questions such as these:

When do you think Mary will get here?

What's wrong with this computer?

Do you think Fran and Joseph are ever going to get married?
Other expressions that mean the same thing include "beats me" and "you got me."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/30/04 - Get & take money from/out of an ATM machine

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to get money from/out of an ATM machine" or to take money from/out of an ATM machine"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

In everyday speech/conversation do you shorten "ATM machine" to just "ATM"? If so, should I use "a" or "an" in front of it?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/31/04:

The "M" in "ATM" stands for "Machine," so that "ATM machine" contains a redundancy.

"Get" would have the meaning of "fetch" or "procure."

Can you wait just a second? I need to get some money from the ATM.

Do we need cash for this? If so, I need to find an ATM and get some.
"Take," which would be a far less common choice, would refer to the actual act of removing the currency from the dispensing slot of the machine.
Don't forget to take your money from the machine!
Because ATM begins with the vowel sound of "A," you would normally use the article "an" with ATM.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/29/04 - Be at a crossroads - be on (the) edge

Dear ESL Experts:

When "to be at a crossroads" and "to be on (the) edge" are used figuratively, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/30/04:

"To be at a crossroads" indicates that you are, figuratively, facing a momentous decision, usually involving some kind of significant tradeoff or dilemma. The metaphor is that of being at a junction of two roads, and you must choose which one to take. Taking one road excludes the taking of any other road; thus, you must decide which road is more important to you or provides the greatest benefit to you.

Modern photography is at a crossroads. Digital technology threatens to change everything. Users of traditional "wet" photographic techniques must decide whether to abandon those techniques in favor of digital, or continue them in the face of higher costs and difficulty of obtaining supplies.
"To be on edge" refers to a person's state of being irritable, nervous, or unquiet.
Be careful what you say to Karen. She seems a bit on edge this morning.

They don't think the hurricane is going to hit my mom's town, but she has been on edge all morning worrying about it anyway.
"To be on the edge" suggests being "on the verge of " or "on the brink of."
This plan is way too risky, in my opinion. You will have this company skating on the edge of disaster.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/28/04 - Go past, go by, pass

Dear ESL Experts:

Are there any differences among "to go by someone/something," "to go past someone/something," and "to pass someone/something"?

If so, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/28/04:

I can't think of any significant distinction betwen "to go past" and "to pass."

"To go by" can also be used in the same way as the first two, but it has an additional meaning, which is "to visit."

Could you go by the grocery store on your way home and pick up some milk?

I'll meet you at the restaurant in 10 minutes. I need to go by the bank first.
Note that the phrasal "stop by" can substitute for "go by" in most cases.
Could you stop by the grocery store on your way home and pick up some milk?

I'll meet you at the restaurant in 10 minutes. I need to stop by the bank first.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/28/04 - Make out on someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to make out on someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some formal and informal/colloquial/colorful alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/28/04:

There are a variety of meanings for the basic phrasal verb "to make out," but I have not encountered "to make out on someone."

Three principal meanings of "make out" come to mind:

1. to discern or decipher.

This document has some handwritten notations at one side, but I can't make out the words.

It is so foggy out here that I can barely make out the shoreline.
2. To reap great success or financial reward.
John really made out on his new contract. It practically doubles his pay.
A common expression based on this is that a person "made out like a bandit.'

3. For young people, to engage in kissing activity.
Joel and Susie supposedly went to see the movie, but I hear they spent the entire time making out in the back row of the theater.
I cannot help with examples or alternates for the expression you have asked about, because it is not one I am familiar with. If you have found it in a written source, perhaps you could post a more complete excerpt.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/26/04 - The truth is always in the middle

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, when we are asked to express our opinion on a dispute/quarrel/argument between two people, we have/use the saying "The truth is always in the middle/The truth always lies in the middle" meaning "They are both partially wrong/right," "Both sides are 50% right/wrong" or "None of the two stands is completely right."

Do you have the same saying in U.S. English?

If not, what do you say instead?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/26/04:

In the U.S., a journalist might describe two opposing positions (i.e., the statements of two candidates for public office), and then remark, "In fact, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle." I have not encountered this kind of expression in everyday conversation the way you describe it -- that is, as a conventional bit of philosophy that people recite when there is a disagreement between two people.

Many years ago, there was a TV commercial for Certs brand mints that showed two actresses arguing over whether the product was a "breath mint" or a "candy mint." An announcer then came in and said, "Stop! You're both right. Certs is a breath mint and a candy mint." Later, this idea was parodied on Saturday Night Live, where the players argued about whether some yellow goo called Shimmer was a "floor polish" or "a delicious dessert topping." Dan Aykroyd stepped in to say, "Stop! You're both right!" And even later, the Miller Lite brand of beer showed people arguing over whether its main characteristic was that it "tastes great" or that it is "less filling."

This suggests to me that it may be more characteristic for Americans to say, in effect, "both of you are [at least partly] correct" as opposed to "the truth lies in the middle." And of course there is always the possibility that one of the people is, in fact, completely wrong and the other one is completely correct.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/26/04 - Blow a date

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to blow a date" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/26/04:

The meaning would depend on the context.

1. It could mean "to miss a deadline."

The report was due on the 23rd, but we blew the date by more than a week.
2. It could refer to doing something offensive while "on a date" (a social outing).
There is no quicker way to blow a date than to start talking about your previous girlfriend.
I can think of at least one other, rather rude, meaning, but I will spare everyone from that. :-)

On the first meaning, you could alternatively refer to "blowing a deadline" or "missing a deadline." On the second, any word that conveys the idea of ruin or destruction would serve to replace "blow."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/23/04 - When A-list meets D-cup

Dear voiceguy2000:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the passages below?

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Passage 1:

Round the corner, marshals wander up and down the line. "Have you got the book?" they ask. "Give it to me," and they flip the dust jacket* over to the title page. "If it's not in the right place," they say sternly, "it causes a delay." This is clearly not something even to be contemplated. That the great author, Pamela Anderson, should have to suffer a delay - let's not go there either, buddy.

(*Aren't the "dust jacket" and the "front cover" the same thing?)

To be fair to Ms Anderson, this is an important day for her. She is making her literary debut with Star: a novel, which the publicity material announces is, "a breathless romp through Tinseltown and tabloids" that "goes well beyond the clichéd air-kisses and casting couches of Hollywood to show what really happens when A-list meets D-cup, when girl becomes goddess". Those waiting for Anderson to turn up for the book-signing clutch their copies of Star, the title of which is framed by a pink star on the front cover. It, and other, smaller stars, also preserve the modesty of the author, whose full-length form, naked apart from a pair of tasteful white stilettos, adorns the dust jacket. The image is repeated inside (signalled by a legend on the back - "Bonus pin-up inside jacket!") with the main star omitted so that the author's wondrous breasts can be admired in all their rock-hard glory.

Passage 2:

Then there is a murmur from the photographers at the front. We can see another platinum-blonde head bobbing through the bookstore. It is Victoria Gotti, daughter of John Gotti, the late Mafia boss known as "the Dapper Don". Ms Gotti, who looks far more plastic even than Anderson and rather scary, too, is starring in Growing Up Gotti, a new "real-life" series on the A&E television channel featuring her, her three sons and their Long Island mansion. She is, appropriately enough given the title of Anderson's novel, the editor-at-large of a celebrity news journal called Star Magazine. She knows the author as she has interviewed Anderson in her role as the entertainment correspondent of the American television programme Extra! Rather bizarrely, she is also the author of a medical paper on heart problems, "Women and Mitral Valve Prolapse", and has been named Woman of the Year by the National Chapter of the American Heart Association. No doubt she just happened to be passing and came to wish the debut novelist luck. The waiting photographers are delighted.

Passage 3:

While hundreds of flashes go off and mobile phones with lenses are held high, Quinn can't believe the attention he is just about a part of. He holds up his mobile to capture all those taking pictures that might just include him.


Passage 4:

The cops strut about as the Pam fans disperse. "This is nothing," says one. "Howard Stern's was the longest line I've seen, it went down Madison for at least seven blocks." Afterwards, I read the novel. The main character, Star Wood Leigh, has much in common with Anderson, appearing in a TV show about lifeguards, meeting a rock star who introduces himself by licking her face (as Tommy Lee did), and sleeping with a procession of men - I count 12 in the book, not including "extras" in the orgy scenes.

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As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo





voiceguy2000 answered on 08/25/04:

they flip the dust jacket over to the title page -- The dust jacket is the folded paper covering that wraps around most hardbound books. It is held in place by flaps that hook over the rigid front and back covers of the case bound book itself. Dust jackets typically have sophisticated full-color graphic design on the outside, with textual description of the book and its author on the inside flaps. The casebound book underneath is often covered in plain buckram or other material. It is the dust jacket that makes the book stand out on bookstore shelves.

Authors who autograph books usually do so on the title page, which is customarily several pages in from the very start of the book. In this article, the idea is that the inside front flap of the dust jacket will be inserted into the pages of the book so that it will flip directly open to the title page, in order to save time.

a breathless romp through Tinseltown and tabloids -- "Breathless" refers to a writing style that is somewhat overworked and overexcited (by analogy to being "out of breath" after frantic activity). "Romp" refers to a playful excursion or game. "Tinseltown" is a nickname for Hollywood, the idea being that tinsel represents the false and superficial product that Hollywood movies often represent. "Tabloids" are the gossip-oriented news magazines sold at supermarkets, such as the National Enquirer.

the clichéd air-kisses and casting couches of Hollywood -- "Clichéd" is a vogue word denoting that something has become a cliché, that is, a hackneyed and predictable image or expression. "Air-kisses" refers to the affected gesture of celebrities who pucker their lips and pretend to kiss someone from a distance, as a way of greeting them. "Casting couch" refers to the supposed practice of Hollywood producers who would cast pretty young actresses in movies based on whether they were willing to have sex on the couch in the producer's office.

when A-list meets D-cup -- "A-list" refers to the top movie actors and actresses of the day. Stars who are on the A list are the ones who get paid huge sums to appear in a film because producers believe they will attract large audiences. "D-cup" refers to a standard measurement for the size of a brassiere -- D being a large size (i.e., larger than A, B, or C).

Here, the author is being clever by tying together two disparate expressions that use capital letters. The general form of "____ meets ____" is used frequently to draw comparisons or express that something represents a hybrid of two other things. Thus, an eclectic piece of music might be described as "Beethoven meets Bruce Springsteen."

She is, appropriately enough given the title of Anderson's novel, the editor-at-large of a celebrity news journal called Star Magazine. -- "Appropriately enough" means fittingly. "Given" refers to the factual statement that immediately follows (in this case, the book title "Star"), and means "in view of." The sentence could be reworded as follows: "Fittingly, in view of the title of Anderson's new book ('Star'), Gotti is the editor-at-large of a magazine called 'Star.'"

No doubt she just happened to be passing -- When we way "no doubt" in this fashion, it is with heavy irony. In other words, we are expressing great skepticism that the statement that follows is actually true. Imagine, for example, that a police officer intercepts a hoodlum who was apparently trying to snatch the purse from an old woman. "No doubt you were just trying to help her cross the street," the officer might say, expressing that the officer is not going to believe any excuses the hoodlum might offer.

Here, the author is expressing great skepticism that Gotti "just happened" to be in the area. Rather, the clear implication is that she purposely went to this location with the intention of being noticed by the press.

He holds up his mobile to capture -- "Mobile" is a slang term for a cell phone. It is used more in the UK than the US, although US speakers would understand it. I think the most common words used here are "cell" or "cell phone." "To capture" undoubtedly refers to a built-in digital camera on this particular cell phone, which is being used to "capture" photographs of the crowd.

"Howard Stern's was the longest line I've seen" -- This interesting construction actually drops the true subject of the sentence, which is the implied word "line." Thus, the sentence would actually read: "Howard Stern's [line] was the longest I've seen." You have to look forward in the sentence to figure out what it is that "Howard Stern's" actually refers to.

This is all difficult material, because it is written purposely to be quirky, clever, and "hip."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/24/04 - Be hooked up with

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be hooked up with someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, is it possible to "be hooked up with something"?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/25/04:

"Hooked up" means the same thing as "connected" in both its literal and figurative senses. We "hook up" a stereo system by plugging in all the cables. We "hook up" a computer the same way.

Figuratively, when people "hook up" it means that they meet or join together in some fashion.

After I had been in London for a week, John flew over from New York and hooked up with me at the company office in Croydon.
With inanimate objects, more likely a person would be hooked up to something. Thus, a hospital patient might be hooked up to a cardiac monitoring device.

Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/24/04 - Be on a dead track

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, we use the expression "to be on a dead track" with the meaning of to be at loss, to be unable to make progress/headway in what one's activity/in what one is doing.

Do you have the same expression in U.S. English?

If not, what expressions do you use/have?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/25/04:

In English people speak of a "dead end," which refers to a street with no outlet (a cul-de-sac) or, figuratively, a path that can lead no further.

The police had several promising leads, but upon investigation each one proved to be a dead end.

I'm grateful to have a job, but this is clearly a dead end job. There is no career path and no real chance for promotion.
By the way, in English we would say "at a loss" rather than "at loss."

I cannot think of any other direct equivalents. If we are on the wrong path (which will therefore not lead to the result we want), we might refer to following a "false scent" or being distracted by a "red herring." Something that proves to have no result might be called an "exercise in futility." When another person deceives us into following a path that cannot succeed, we way that the person has "led us down the primrose path."

When an endeavor encounters an insurmountable obstacle, we might say that it has "hit a brick wall." When an effort seems to be going nowhere despite activity, we might way that the people involved are "spinning their wheels" (the analogy being to a car stuck in the mud).

Hope these ideas are helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/12/04 - Get, take, bring someone into a place

Dear voiceguy2000:

What are the differences among "to GET someone into a place/to GET someone back into a place," "to TAKE someone into a place/to TAKE someone back into a place," and "to BRING someone into a place/to BRING someone back into a place"?

Would you please give me some examples of when it is appropriate to use each of them?

Also, are there any cases in which all or some of the above phrases may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/22/04:

I have been struggling to develop a coherent answer to this question.

It seems to me that there are at least three different issues posed by your examples:

1. The choice of a verb (get, take, or bring).

2. Whether the result is to arrive "back" at the place (implying that one has been there before).

3. Whether "place" is being used literally, as in a physical, geographic location, or figuratively, as in a state of mind or set of circumstances.

To take the simplest -- the literal -- first, it seems to me you would choose a verb based on the nature of the action actually being performed. "Get" suggests that you are using some kind of influence on the person to induce or persuade that person to transport himself to the "place." However, it could be used where you are participating in the act of getting that person to the destination. "Take" and "bring" both suggest that you are participating in the act of transport

The word "back" would be used only when there is a sense of return to a location where the person previously had been present. It would not be appropriate where the person was arriving there for the first time.

As I mentioned above, "place" may also be used figuratively, and in this use especially it may refer to one's own self. Thus, in referring to a desire to induce a particular state of mind in oneself, you might say "I need to get myself to a place where I can relax and concentrate on this problem." When referring to oneself, "bring" has the connotation of exerting a considerable amount of emotional effort. (There is a very common and similar-sounding expression, "I couldn't bring myself to tell his mother that her son would never walk again." The idea is that the task was too emotionally difficult.)

It is far less common to use "take" in this self-referential setting, although not impossible.

On the whole, though, I think that these choices are fairly idiomatic and hard to classify with simple rules. I wish I could be more helpful, but I do not know how.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/19/04 - Go mainstream

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to go mainstream" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Finally, what is the opposite of "to go mainstream"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/22/04:

As seen today, the term "mainstream" usually refers to the main or dominant culture in a society. Those outside of the mainstream may be part of subcultures or counter-cultures that either explicitly reject the tenets of mainstream culture or simply care nothing for those tenets. Artists, poets, minority groups, and others often find themselves outside of the mainstream. Often, those in the mainstream will feel threatened or revolted by the beliefs and practices of such fringe groups ("fringe" referring to such groups being at the outer edges of mainstream culture).

A group that decides it wants to have more influence on mainstream culture may make the conscious decision to revise its approach so as to become more palatable and less threatening to those in the mainstream. Such a group could be described as "going mainstream." In such cases, of course, difficult choices must be made as to whether to keep or abandon key principles that defined the group as a subculture in the first place.

There is also a cultural phenomenon where practices or expressions that originate in a fringe group find their way into broad mainstream culture. Thus, for example, the Linux operating system was initially used only in a very narrow corner of the computer world, but now that IBM offers it to Fortune 500 companies it can be said that Linux has "gone mainstream."

I can't think of any direct replacements for "going mainstream." The idea is one of becoming legitimate or becoming accepted, and terms such as that could be used.

The opposite of mainstream is the idea of being isolated or separate. One could refer to fringe groups (as mentioned above) or splinter groups; cults; sects; closed societies or secret societies; minorities; unpopular groups; groups "out of sync" with popular views; and so forth.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/19/04 - Go outside - come out

Dear ESL Experts:

Is it correct and natural to use "to go out/outside or to come out" figuratively with the meaning of "to reveal or make one’s homosexuality public"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/22/04:

Historically, people have been quite reluctant to reveal their homosexuality to friends, family, or the public. Such people were referred to as "keeping their homosexuality in the closet" (i.e., in a secret place where, perhaps, items of clothing or other articles that might betray their sexual orientation where hidden). Such a person was called a "closet homosexual," which could mean either that the person was not a practicing homosexual at all, or that any practice was done on the most clandestine basis. This kind of reference might also be made to someone who was in denial about homosexuality; such a person might be described as "deeply in the closet."

Logically, then, someone who decided to come forward and allow the world to discover his or her homosexuality was said to have "come out of the closet." In more recent times, this has been shortened to "come out," dropping the reference to a closet. In addition, a transitive verb has emerged: Someone who "outs" someone else has revealed that the other person is homosexual. Finally, once a person has "come out" -- that is, publicly disclosed homosexuality to others -- the person is said to be "out."

As far as I know, no variations based on "go out" or "go outside" are used to refer to the act of revealing one's homosexuality to others.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/18/04 - On the loose - let loose

Dear ESL Experts:

What do "on the loose" and "let loose" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these two expressions?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/18/04:

"On the loose" generally means "at liberty" or "at large" or "out there [in the world]." The correct sense would be conveyed in this sentence:

Police recaptured most of the escaped prisoners, but three of them remain on the loose.
"Let loose" is normally used as a phrasal verb meaning "to unleash." A close relative is "to turn loose," which means to release from confinement.
When my dad hit his thumb with a hammer, he let loose a torrent of invective such as I have never heard before!

If they don't find those prisoners soon, I think they'll have to let loose the tracking dogs to hunt them down.
"Let loose" can also refer to a transition from a measured, restrained state to a state of complete abandon or force.
It started sprinkling this morning, but by noon the rain had really let loose. I got soaked!
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/11/04 - Was anything but

Dear voiceguy2000:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the following passages?

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Kerry has gone out of his way to advertise is (?) his distaste for pushing reform at the expense of "stability" in the Middle East. Sure, he's in favor of democracy in principle, but not as the centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda. "Realism," is his guiding light, Kerry told The New Yorker.

In this respect, Kerry echoes President George H.W. Bush and even his own father, Richard Kerry, a diplomat who once criticized the Reagan administration's "fatal error of seeing U.S. security as dependent on illusions of propagating democracy" in the Soviet bloc.

Such "realism," of course, was anything but. It failed to appreciate the real forces and opportunities at work in the world. The same is true today. Initial reviews of the current President Bush's push for reform in the Middle East may have been harsh. Yet in the last few months, the debate, once confined to émigré newspapers published in London or Paris, has bubbled up in the state-controlled press in the Arab world.

And what about the argument that democracy can't be "imposed" from the outside? That counsel of despair was knocked out of the park by the Palestinian scholar Daoud Kuttab, who wrote in the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat that "Arab democrats have failed to reach their goals through their own efforts" and should welcome support from outside "irrespective of the messenger." Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel laureate, went even further in Al Ahram, Egypt's main daily newspaper, warning that postponing reform would be "playing with fire."

Kerry and his surrogates, meanwhile, worry about change that comes "too quickly" and breeds "violence and repression," in the words of an old Kerry hand from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jonathan Winer.

Arab democrats and their supporters abroad, however, might respond that the Arab world is hardly short of violence and repression as things stand, and change that comes too slowly might prove the biggest danger. Indeed, the fruits of "stability" are hard to find in the latest Arab Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Program. It describes the Arab Middle East and North Africa as the least politically free region of the world, and a region where 65 million adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women, and where one in five citizens lives on less than $2 a day.

In theory, the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative rolled out by Bush at the Group of Eight summit meeting in June is aimed at addressing the roots of terrorism in the Middle East. In fact, the initiative has amounted to little more than a tepid cheer for Arab democracy, and the Bush administration has been less aggressive in following through on its modest proposals than many hoped. If American support for democracy is going to amount to anything, there's a lot more work to be done, especially among the skeptics inside the U.S. foreign service. And if Bush can't rally his own troops to the cause, he's unlikely to continue making headway overseas.

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As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the following passages?" correct and well-formulated? Any alternatives?

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/11/04:

gone out of his way -- taken extra trouble [to do something]; gone to extraordinary lengths; made a particular point of [doing something].

Such "realism," of course, was anything but -- The implied word at the end is "real," such that the sentence would read:

Such "realism," of course, was anything but real.
The idea is that something was supposed to be real, but it was not; in fact, it was "anything [else] but real." Here are some more examples:
This was supposed to be a beginner's course, but it was anything but. [meaning -- the course was too advanced for beginners]

I asked her to bring home something simple to cook for dinner, but what she brought was anything but. [meaning -- she brought home something that was complicated and not simple]

This movie was supposed to be for kids, but in my opinion it was anything but -- there was far too much violence.
I hope this makes some sense; it is hard to explain clearly.

knocked out of the park -- This metaphor comes straight from the game of baseball (see one of my recent earlier answers). Every so often the batter will hit the baseball with such force and accuracy that it is propelled over the walls of the stadium, well beyond the reach of the fielders on the other team. This of course means that the batter will easily be able to score a home run (running all the way around the bases). Metaphorically, it refers to a situation where someone is not just successful but is overwhelmingly successful in accomplishing something.

I actually think that this expression was misused somewhat in this article. I would have used an expression that means "destroyed" rather than "overwhelmingly successful." It would have been sufficient, also, simply to say "knocked out."

old hand -- Someone who has been associated with a person, enterprise, or activity for a long time. Historically, a "hand" was a member of a ship's crew. Today, the word is used in expressions such as this:
This is our fourth child. Believe me, we are old hands at changing diapers.
In your article, the author has inserted the word "Kerry" in the midst of the basic expression "old hand" as a compact way of saying that the person is "an old hand with Kerry" (i.e., has had a long association with Kerry).

hardly short of -- Not lacking in; abundant with. This is a circumlocution that makes a point by stating the opposite and then negating it. Let's see how this works.

If we said that the Arab world was "short of violence," it would mean that there was not much violence. The most direct way to negate that would be to say that the Arab world is "not short of violence." (Indeed, that is also an expression that could be used here.) The author has stated that this part of the world is "hardly short of violence," where "hardly" means essentially the same thing as "not" in this usage. (The literal meaning of "hardly" would be "with difficulty." A more complete complete version of the phrase in the article would replace "is hardly" with the italicized words in the following: "... the Arab world could only be described with difficulty as being short of violence and repression ...")

This is a very difficult construction to explain, and I will not be surprised if you are still confused.

following through -- "to follow through" is a phrasal verb that means "to carry something out to completion" or "to continue with necessary effort in support of an objective." In saying that "the Bush administration has been less aggressive in following through on its modest proposals than many hoped," the author is conveying the idea that not as much has been done to carry things to satisfactory completion as many would have liked.

amount to something / amount to anything -- to measure up; to meet expectations; to matter; to have worth; to have significant impact. The phrasal verb "amount to" means "to add up to" or "to represent" or "to total up to."
You'll never amount to anything if you spend all your time watching television instead of doing your schoolwork.

I hoped that this new teacher would amount to something, but things do not look promising.
I hope these explanations are helpful. These are particularly tricky expressions (in many cases) and my explanations may not amount to enough to clear up all the mysteries. :-)


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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/09/04 - Go great

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to go great" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some formal and informal/colloquial/colorful alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/09/04:

This is a colloquial -- and ungrammatical -- way of saying that things are "going well." Because it is really ungrammatical, I am reluctant to provide examples. In general, though, you would hear something like this:

A: "How's that new job?"

B: "Hey, it's going great."
There are so many possible alternatives that it would be impossible to make an intelligent list. The appropriate choice would depend on the age of the speakers, their level of education, the setting, and so forth. I would start with simple adjectives like "terrific," "wonderful," "fabulous," "excellent," "outstanding," and so forth. After that, however, you really get into idiom and colloquialisms. Someone might describe something as "the bomb," meaning that it's really good. A skateboarder might describe something as "sick," meaning, again, that it's really good.

Good luck keeping up with such things!

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/07/04 - Put someone with her/his back....

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the expression "to put someone with his/her back/shoulders against the wall" exist in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/08/04:

We describe someone as "having [his or her] back against the wall" when they are in desperate circumstances from which there seems to be no escape.

Think of an old Erroll Flynn movie, where a more skilled swordfighter is advancing on his opponent, who is forced to keep stepping backward. Eventually the opponent will come to a wall, which prevents him moving back any further. At this moment the opponent's "back is against the wall" (or "to the wall") and he is vulnerable to the superior swordfighter.

Other terms that convey a similar meaning include "no escape," "no way out," and "nowhere to run, nowhere to hide."

The expression is used in two main ways. First, it may be used to describe someone whose circumstances are cruel and desperate, such as a destitute widow trying to support her family.

Second, it may be stated as a negotiating tactic:

I m sorry, Jim, but my back is against the wall. My company will not let me lower the price any further.

I would love to increase your salary, Jane, but my back is against the wall. Headquarters has made it clear that no one will get any increase until our sales improve.
I have not encountered a reference to "shoulder against the wall." The back seems to be the only part of the anatomy that appears in this expression. Also, it is not common to speak of "putting" someone's back to the wall, although it is understandable. Most often, however, we merely describe someone as having their back against the wall, without any reference to how it got there.

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/08/04 - On-the-fly

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "on-the-fly" in the sentence below?

Activist Bev Harris travels all over the country to investigate flaws in electronic voting and give on-the-fly computer security tutorials.

Also, would you please give me some examples of how to use "on-the-fly" correctly/properly and naturally?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/08/04:

In this context it basically means "while passing through" or (figuratively) "while flying through.". The idea is of doing something while you are already present for another reason. It carries a sense of spontaneity rather than deliberateness and organization; informality; an ad hoc approach.

While we inspect these old transformers, we try to make as many quick repairs on the fly as we can. Of course, anything time-consuming must be handled by the regular maintenance crews.
In the world of computer software, there is a common reference to handling certain things "on the fly," generally meaning that the procedure is quick and can be incorporated into something else that is already taking place.
Our new image generation procedures create both JPEG and GIF images on the fly, without any necessity for a separate conversion step.
Those are the main uses I am aware of.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/07/04 - Be tired of - have (had) enough of

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please give me some formal and informal/colloquial/colorful alternatives to the expressions "have (had) enough of something/someone" and "be tired of something/someone"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/08/04:

I've had it up to here with [someone/something]

This is the last straw.

I've had my fill of [someone/something]

That's it. No more.

You've [taken an action] for the last time.

I've had it with [someone/something]



I'm sure there are many more, but these are the ones that come to mind just now.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/07/04 - Pass the limit

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, we use the figurative expression "to pass the limit" meaning "to go too far." Do you have the same expression in U.S. English?

If not, What do you say when someone has gone too far in (doing) something?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/07/04:

I think the closest equivalent in the U.S. would be "to cross the line." It is not idiomatic to say "pass the limit," although I am fairly confident that a U.S. speaker would understand what you meant.

It seems to me you would use "cross the line" exactly the same way as you would use the equivalent expression in Italian:

I have been patient, but this latest stunt crosses the line. We have got to do something about this vandalism.
Note that "cross the line" is also commonly used to denote crossing a boundary. It is not necessarily a matter of going too far (although that is one possible boundary), but simply a description of moving from one state to another.
I don't like it when journalists cross the line between reporting and editorial comment.

Trouble often follows for athletes and coaches when over-involved parents cross the line from encouragement to interference.

When does humor cross the line to become sexual harassment?
In the U.S., we have the rhetorical expression, "Isn''t that the limit?" The meaning is, in effect, Can you believe it? Have you ever heard of anything like this? Isn't this ridiculous? Isn' this outrageous?

There are quite a number of expressions that refer to approaching or passing a limit of toleration. Expressions for approach include:
He's pushing his luck.

He's skating on [very] thin ice.

He's cruisin' for a bruisin'.

She's walking a very fine line.

She's just one [action] away from disaster.
Expressions conveying that someone has gone too far include:
Uh oh. He's really done it now.

Now you've done it!

He's really stepped in it this time.

The shit is going to hit the fan. [not for polite company]

I think she's [taken] one [action] too many this time.

The fat is in the fire now.

That did it!
There are many more such expressions, but this will give you a start.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/07/04 - Be on the wrong/right track

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the following sentence correct and natural?

If the police think that he's guilty, they're on the wrong/right track.

If so, would you please give me some alternatives to this expression and that can be used in sentences such as the one above?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/07/04:

The sentence is definitely correct. We use the notion of being "on the right track" or "on the wrong track" (where "track" means path or trail) to state whether someone is following a course that will lead to success or failure.

Some comments on your question as regards whether the statement is "natural" --

    1. Consider adding "then" immediately before "they're," to create a complete "if - then" progression. The sentence works without the word "then" (it is implied), but adding the word may enhance the rhetorical effect of the sentence.

    2. There is a subtle problem in the logic of the sentence. What you are really trying to say is not so much that the police are "on the wrong track" but rather that they are simply "wrong" (or, in the alternate version, that they are simply "right"). A more effective and less verbose version of the sentence would be

If the police think he's guilty, they're wrong.
If you feel more intensity is needed, you could say they are "simply wrong" or "clearly wrong" or "just plain wrong," but the single word "wrong" would do in most cases.

When you say that the police are "on the wrong track," there is an implication that the police are still in the process of trying to figure out the answer. That kind of expression would make more sense in a situation where the first part of the sentence refers to an ongoing investigation, rather than to a conclusion ("he's guilty") already reached by the police. It is a subtle point, but you asked whether the sentence seemed "natural." :-) Because you are referring to a conclusion reached by the police, I would recommend choosing a simple word such as "correct" or "right," on the one hand, or "mistaken" or "wrong" on the other. This follows Rich Turner's principle of avoiding complex or verbose expressions when simpler choices will do.

    3. We would tend to use "on the right track" in referring to an intermediate point in a person's effort or activity.
John has not quite figured out how to fit all the components in that small package, but it looks like he's on the right track.

The stress test failed again. I'm beginning to wonder if we're on the wrong track using these carbon-fiber composites for this piece.
    4. One common expression used in place of "on the wrong track" is "barking up the wrong tree."
I know the police think he did it, but they're barking up the wrong tree.

Is it possible to this spreadsheet program to calculate this kind of running total, or am I just barking up the wrong tree?
This expression draws on the metaphor of a dog standing at the base of a tree with his forepaws on the trunk, barking at an animal (say, a squirrel) that has run up the tree. The idea is that the dog is mistaken about which tree the squirrel is on, and refers to looking for something in the wrong place or pursuing something that does not exist.

Hope this is not too confusing.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/04/04 - Be way off - be way away

Dear ESL Experts:

What do "to be way off" and "to be way away" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these phrases?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/04/04:

To be "way off" means that something has missed its mark by a considerable margin. Often a good replacement is simply "wrong."

Our fourth quarter estimates were way off. There is no way we will reach these results.

Uh oh -- that hole I drilled is way off. This bracket doesn't line up at all.

These calculations are way off. I'm sure they are wrong.
I have never heard "to be way away."

Note that there are a number of phrases using "off" with another word, that can be intensified by adding "way." Thus:
off base ==> way off base

off track ==> way off track

off the mark ==> way off the mark

off topic ==> way off topic

off his rocker ==> way off his rocker
... and so forth.

Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/02/04 - Arrested Development

Dear ESL Experts:

Following the TV series Arrested Development, I wonder if/whether this phrase has a double meaning in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the sentence "Following the TV series Arrested Development, I wonder if/whether this phrase has a double meaning in U.S. English?" correct and natural?

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/03/04:

I am aware of only a single meaning.

"Development" refers to the process by which an infant matures and becomes an adult. With respect to human beings, depending on the context, it could denote physiological changes (as in, for example, growth, learning to walk, puberty, etc.), or it could refer to psychological and cognitive development (emotional maturity, acquisition of language, logical reasoning, and so forth).

In normal cases, an individual goes through a series of stages of development on the path to becoming an adult. "Arrested development" refers to to t he abnormal situation in which the normal progression of development seems to have halted or frozen (that is, to have become "arrested") at a particular phase short of full adulthood or maturity. Most often this expression refers to incomplete psychological development, such that a person's mental development seems to fall short of his or her physiological age.

The only double meaning I could imagine in connection with this phrase would be a pejorative one, in which someone whose attitude or behavior displeased another was accused of suffering from arrested development (i.e., of being retarded). I do not believe such use was common prior to the commencement of this TV series. I do not know if the series has now inspired such use.

I have two comments about your first sentence. It is grammatical, but I would probably chose a word or phrase other than "following" to introduce it. The word "following" suggests a relationship in time between one event and another, and that does not really apply here. A preferable choice might be "After hearing about ..." or "On hearing the title 'Arrested Development, I began to wonder ..." Second, it might be helpful to offer some hint of what the double meaning might involve, either in this sentence or a subsequent one. It was not immediately obvious to me.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/02/04 - Get the best - take the best

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to get the best out of someone/oneself" or "to take the best out of someone/oneself"?

If both are correct and possible, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is it possible "to get/take the better of someone/something"?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples of how to use this last expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 08/02/04:

We would normally use "get" in this kind of construction.

Idiomatically, we use different prepositional phrases with these two verbs.

We would refer to getting the best "out of" someone or something, in the sense of nurturing or encouraging a superior result:

The new coach is wonderful. He really has a knack for getting the best out of every player.
On the other hand, we would refer to taking the best "of" something, in the sense of selecting the part(s) having the greatest value or merit.
The new Model 100 takes the best of our highly successful Model 80 and combines it with a completely redesigned interface that is much easier to use.
Finally, when we refer to someone or something "getting the better of" or "getting the best of" someone else, it means that the latter person has lost some sort of contest or competition, either real or figurative.
I thought I would be able to beat Sam at chess this time, but he got the better of me in only six moves.

I spent three hours trying to figure out how to program this VCR, but it got the best of me. I guess I am going to have to hire someone to teach me what to do.

[later] Ha! My neighbor came over and showed me what to do. Now I've got the better of that pesky VCR!
I am not aware of any expression along the lines of "to take the better of" someone or something.

Hope this is helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 08/01/04 - I was like the make-out queen -- not even second base

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the quote below?

"I had a Christian upbringing -- it was all about sin and guilt. I was very happy just kissing people. I was like the make-out queen -- not even second base."

-Mira Sorvino, on the joys of not going past first base.

Many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo



voiceguy2000 answered on 08/01/04:

I think the best way to explain this quotation (which seems to appear all over the internet) is to unpack all the separate idioms and metaphors that it contains.

first base, second base, etc. -- This metaphor draws directly on the American game of baseball. As you are probably aware, in baseball, the object is to score "runs." A batter steps up to the plate, known as Home. The pitcher on the other team throws the baseball toward the batter, who is supposed to swing the bat and hit the ball far out into the playing field, in order to give him time to run around the bases. The batter (now known as the runner) progresses around the baseball diamond by running to First Base, then Second Base, then Third Base, then Home. Often, the runner can only take one base at a time, relying on subsequent batters to help him progress around the diamond. Only rarely does a runner actually reach Home; in most cases, he or his team will be "out" before he gets there.

The metaphorical use of this terminology refers to the sexual activity of young people. Not everyone would agree on precisely where the boundary lines would be drawn, but there is clearly a progression. "Getting to first base" might involve serious kissing. "Second base" might involve heavier contact, such as putting hands on breasts or genital regions. "Third base" might involve removing some or all clothing. "Home" would refer to full-scale sexual intercourse.

Here, Sorvino is saying that her practice was not to progress beyond "first base."

make out / making out -- This is a reference to the activity of kissing, usually in a warm embrace, between young people.

queen -- It is common for someone to say that he or she is the king or queen (as gender dictates) of an activity that they engage in extensively. It is most often used with a hint of irony, rather than any sense of boastfulness (and that is clearly the sense here). The idea is that the person is getting more than his or her share of experience in that particular activity.

Putting all of these ingredients together, Sorvino is saying that her religious upbringing caused her to resist any temptation to go beyond the kissing stage, but that she engaged in kissing quite extensively.

Hope the explanation is sufficiently clear.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/31/04 - Change one's heart - change one's mind

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to change one's heart" and "to change one's mind"?

If so, when do you use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/31/04:

In classic discourse, the "mind" is the seat of logic, cognition, and reason, and the "heart" is the seat of emotion, intuition, and feeling. The use of the two expressions loosely mirrors this division, although in the end there is no real difference in the result regardless of which phrase is used.

Idiomatically, we would say that someone has "changed his (or her) mind," but we would not say that the person had "changed his (or her) heart." Rather, we would refer to the latter person as having undergone "a change of heart." There is no particular logic to this difference; it is simply idiomatic. Thus:

I've changed my mind. I don't think I should go with you tonight.

We were all set to go to the cabin for the weekend, but then my wife changed her mind and decided she wanted to go to a sewing class instead.

Waiter, I think I'm going to change my mind and have the soup instead of the salad.
One characteristic of changing one's mind is that the subject of the change need not be at all momentous. A person can change his or her mind about what clothes to wear that day, or whether to get a muffin or a croissant at a coffee bar.

In all the situations I can think of, however, "change of heart" conveys something deeper and more significant. It suggests that the decision is the result of some kind of inner reflection, or a revelation of some kind ... perhaps even a pang of guilt or fear.
I think Mr. Jones has had a change of heart about closing the Denver office.

Milwaukee police say a bank robber had a change of heart and returned to the bank he had just held up -- to return the money.

Now in its seventh year, Canada’s Walk of Fame has come of age, with all of 2004’s living inductees agreeing to attend Wednesday and the whole gala ceremony getting its own live, prime time telecast. It’s a far cry from 1998, when only four -- Barbara Ann Scott, Rich Little, Norman Jewison and Karen Kain -- showed up (as well as family representatives of the late John Candy and Glenn Gould). Even Jim Carrey had a change of heart. Although his star on the walk was unveiled that sweltering July day in ‘98, Carrey agreed to come this year and personally re-unveil his newly autographed granite plaque.
Without getting too metaphysical about it, I would describe the distinction between the relatively shallow "change of mind" and the more profound "change of heart" as follows: A "change of mind" reflects what a person is doing at the moment, whereas a "change of heart" reflects who that person is at the moment. In other words, the change of heart reflects a change of attitude more than a change of activity. I can't promise that there are no exceptions to this, but I feel comfortable stating that general principle.

Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/29/04 - As far as sthg is concerned - As far as sthg goes

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "As far as something is concerned" and "As far as something goes"?

If so, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to the above expressions/phrases?

Finally, is it possible to say "as far as someone is concerned/goes"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/31/04:

Rich is correct in pointing out that the typical use of "as far as I'm concerned" is little more than excess baggage -- a form of verbal punctuation that adds nothing of substance to a statement. Equivalent expressions include:

If you ask me, ...

In my opinion, ...

As I always say, ...

In my view, ...
I am not sure I would go so far as to prescribe a categorical ban on these phrases. Sometimes they serve a purpose of politeness or diplomacy in introducing statements that might otherwise seem too assertive in certain contexts; sometimes there might actually be some uncertainty as to whether the speaker is expressing his or her personal opinion versus the opinion of an organization or official. But it is good to be mindful of the dangers of excessive and thoughtless use.

There is a legitimate use of "as far as it goes," illustrated as follows:
Senator Kennedy's argument is correct, as far as it goes. However, he has conveniently left out any consideration of the long-term effects of this wage law.

This explanation seemed correct, as far as it went. However, physicists soon began to measure anomalous results that could not be reconciled with the theory.
The idea is that something is inaccurate or incomplete because it does not "go" far enough.

I cannot think of any directly interchangeable phrases. The same idea can be conveyed by sentences such as the following:
This may seem like a good idea at first.

Peter's argument may seem logical at first blush.

This appears plausible if you don't look too closely.

To the casual observer, this may seem to make sense.
The approach is to acknowledge that something has superficial merit, but to suggest that a deeper or more thorough analysis will reveal significant flaws.

Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/29/04 - ON the phone - OVER the phone

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference, for instance, between "do/buy/etc. something on the phone" and "do/buy/etc. something over the phone"?

If so, when is it appropriate to use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/30/04:

Both would convey the idea that a telephone was involved in some way. Choosing "over" or "on" (or some other preposition) is really a matter of idiomatic usage.

"On the phone" generally refers to the state of being engaged in a telephone conversation, or being connected by telephone.

Your mom is on the phone.

Can you quiet down, please? I'm on the phone.
"Over the phone" generally refers to the manner in which something was accomplished (namely, by means of a telephone call).
Did you order that on the company's web site, or over the phone?

They gave me preliminary figures over the phone, and said they would mail the final figures to us tomorrow.

I don't think I can explain it properly over the phone. Let me come over this afternoon and show you how it works.
I wish I could give more scientific guidance than this, but the usage is largely idiomatic.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/29/04 - I wear my heart out on my sleeve

Dear ESL Experts:

The following lyrics are taken from the song "Honesty" by Billy Joel.

I can always find someone
to say they sympathize.
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve.
But I don't want some pretty face
to tell me pretty lies.
All I want is someone to believe.


Would you please explain the meaning of "I wear my heart out on my sleeve"?

Is it a figurative expression?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternaives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is it correct to write, "The following lyrics are taken from the song 'Honesty' by Billy Joel" or should I delete/omit "taken" before "from," i.e., "The following lyrics are from...."?







voiceguy2000 answered on 07/30/04:

This expression refers to the conspicuous public display of one's emotional state.

Many expressions make reference to the state of one's heart as embodying emotion. Thus, for example, we refer to having a "broken heart" when disappointed or betrayed in love, and we refer to someone who is cold and unfeeling as "heartless" or "having a heart of stone."

In most social situations, people tend to conceal their feelings and act as though everything is fine, even if they are actually feeling very unhappy because of events in their personal lives. Their hearts, as it were, are concealed within them, out of public view. Someone who wears his (or her) heart on his (or her) sleeve departs from this custom, and figuratively brings out the heart for public display -- like an armband or wrist corsage. In actual practice it means that the person does not attempt to conceal his or her emotional state, but makes that state quite visible to others.

Thus, you can see in the song lyric that the speaker "can always get someone to sympathize" by publicly displaying a tormented emotional state. But the speaker goes on to reject the value of such sympathy, describing it as "pretty lies" from a "pretty face."

I am sure you have known people who always seem to have some kind of tragedy or drama going on in their lives, and who manifest that state to others by their demeanor and interaction with the world. These are the people who tend to be described as "wearing their hearts on their sleeves." It can be burdensome to be around such people.

I can't think of any precise equivalents for this expression. We do refer to certain women as "drama queens" when everything that happens to them seems to trigger an exaggerated response. In other settings, we might refer to someone as being an "open book" if their emotional state is plainly obvious. However, in that case there is less of a sense of deliberate intention as compared with "wearing one's heart on one's sleeve." Perhaps others here can think of additional alternatives.

"Taken from" is a fine choice for this situation; it means "excerpted from" or "quoted from." Simply saying "from" would also work.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/28/04 - About "I'm queued up" again

Dear ESL Experts:

A British teacher gave me the following explanation of the use of "I'm queued up."

The only time we would say 'I'm queued up' in colloquial British English is if we have been queueing all day and are tired of it. It is not a set expression, so you can say 'xxxxx up' if you have had enough of something.

For example - "Oh! I'm coffeed up. I couldn't drink another cup."

"I'm a bit D.I.Yed up, I need a holiday!"


My question is:

Does the same "explanation" apply in U.S. English?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/28/04:

In a Google search I found dozens of examples of British speakers talking about being "queued up" to do something, in the sense of being in line or on track or on a path (that is, ultimately, "in the queue"). Given all that I found, I am surprised by what the British teacher told you.

In U.S. English, if we want to express the idea that we have had our fill of something, it would be more likely that we would use "out" rather than "up." In this kind of expression, we would take a noun, add "-ed" to it to create a synthetic word that is like the past participle of a verb, and then add "out." Thus, to borrow your British friend's example:

"Oh, I'm all coffeed out. I couldn't drink another cup."
Getting back to "queue," for which the U.S. equivalent is "line," I would refer you back to my previous answer. People "line up" outside an entrance, waiting to go in (in the U.K. they "queue up"). A brave soldier may be "in line" for a commendation. People stand "in line" for hours to get tickets for a popular concert. I cannot think of any instance in which some variation of "lining up" or being "lined up" would ever be used to convey the idea that people were tired of being in line.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/26/04 - Close call - close shave

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between a "close call" and a "close shave"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/26/04:

I agree with Schoolmarm -- the two phrases are pretty much interchangeable. We also refer to "a close one."

That was a close call / close shave / close one.

I really had a close call / close shave / close one on the way in this morning. A truck pulled right out in front of me from a blind driveway. I thought I was going to hit it for sure.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/25/04 - I'm queued up

Dear ESL Experts:

What's the equivalent of "I’m queued up" in American English?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/25/04:

Hmmm.

The most direct analog would be "lined up." Other common versions would be "I'm standing in line," or more simply, ""I'm in line."

These are all examples where I believe "queued up" would commonly be used in the U.K.:

I'm lined up to go on the next expedition to climb Mt. Everest.

I'm in line for a promotion next month.

I'm in line for back surgery in September unless this experimental treatment shows some results.

I've been standing in line for almost an hour waiting to apply for this permit.

I'm eager to read the new Harry Potter book, but I'm in line behind a ten-year-old who is taking forever to finish it.
We also refer to "lining up" to describe the act of forming a line of people:
The teacher had us all line up at the back of the room for inspection.
Note, by the way, that there is a completely different phrase in the U.S., "cued up," which refers to getting a piece of recorded material ready to play back at a particular point:
Now when I give you the signal, just press the "Play" button on this tape recorder. It's already cued up to the beginning of the song.

It's cued up now, so when you're ready, press Play.

We are having another Open Screening night on Monday. Bring your VHS or DVD short - less than 10 minutes please - make sure it's cued up.
The idea in the latter expression is that the playback is ready to go "on cue."

Getting back to your original question, in the U.S. it is far more common to refer to a line of people waiting for something as a "line" rather than a "queue." Thus, we would refer to "a line going around the block" rather than the British "a queue going round the block."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/25/04 - Have a one night-stand

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to have a one night-stand" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these expressions?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/25/04:

There are two meanings, depending on the context.

In show business, it refers to appearing for only one night at a particular location. A roadshow (such as a famous musical performer) may book a tour consisting entirely of one-night stands in different cities.

Rod Stewart has a brutal tour schedule this summer. It's all one-night stands in 22 different cities.

If you believe in forever,
then life is just a one-night stand.
If there's a rock and roll heaven,
well you know they've got a helluva band.

    -- "Rock & Roll Heaven" (The Righteous Brothers)
The other use refers to romantic relationships -- or perhaps "non-relationships" would be a better term. When two people go out for one night, with no follow-on social activity, it is often referred to as a "one-night stand." The idea is that one or both of the people is not interested in pursuing a deeper, long-term relationship. This could be because one of the people is not emotionally mature enough for such a relationship, or because one of the people was badly hurt by a relationship in the past and is unwilling to risk being hurt again in a new relationship.
One thing leads to another, and before you know it, two people end up in bed together. It could be just a one-night stand, or it could be the beginning of a serious relationship.

Please guys, if it really was just a one-night stand, don't lead her on by misleading her into thinking that you care for her and want to start a relationship with her. Just don't call her at all.

Time will tell whether the industry has really fallen in love with hybrids or if its embrace of the technology is just a one-night stand, a here-today-gone-tomorrow defensive gambit for the public-relations cameras.

I still wanted to see him. I wanted to know that somehow I meant something to him, that I was more than just a one-night stand. When I did see him that night he ignored me. That really hurt.
Hope this is helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/24/04 - Feel the heat - feel the pressure

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference in meaning between "to feel the heat" and "to feel the pressure"?

If so, when do use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/24/04:

The difference between the two expressions, in my view, is that "pressure" tends to look toward the present or the future -- in other words, a person is facing high stakes relating to a difficult task or decision in the present or future -- whereas "heat" often refers to consequences from something in the past.

John Kerry is feeling the heat from his anti-war activities in the past.

Congress is feeling pressure to act quickly on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Professor McCall is taking a lot of heat for that editorial piece he published in the New York Times.

The school administration is feeling a lot of pressure from alumni to keep the old school mascot.

"If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." (Harry Truman)

It is amazing to watch the top Olympic athletes. Despite raucous crowds and worldwide television coverage, they remain calm and focused, seeming not to feel the pressure at all.
This is not to say that these two expressions do not have some overlap. For example, it would be equally appropriate to say, "Microsoft is beginning to feel the heat of competition" or "Microsoft is beginning to feel the pressure of competition."

Hope this is not too confusing.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/24/04 - I've been down that road before

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase/expression "I've been down that road before" have a figurative meaning in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/24/04:

The figurative meaning is, "I am familiar with this course of events; I have experienced this before."

The expression is typically used to suggest skepticism about, or lack of enthusiasm for, a proposed course of action. In other contexts it can convey a lack of patience with someone who is continuing to behave in old ways despite clear messages that such behavior is unacceptable.

Jack: We need to consolidate the Houston and Galveston offices.

Alan: Jack, we've been down this road before. If we combine these two offices, we will lose three of our best salesmen.



Alice, I am very disappointed in you. We've been down this road before. You just can't keep submitting these sloppy reports.

Consultants? Oh, I've been down that road before! First, they charge you a lot of money. Then they come in and ask to borrow your watch. Then they tell you what time it is, and leave. What's the point?
There are a number of possible substitutes, although choosing one depends strongly on the context.
We've heard that tune before.

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.

We've heard that before.

Here we go again.

It's like deja vu all over again. (Yogi Berra)

Oh, not that again.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/23/04 - I know what you mean - I know what you're talking about

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference in meaning between "I know what you mean" and "I know what you're talking about"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some formal and informal/colloquial alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/23/04:

These are things that people say in conversation to agree with the person speaking and encourage that person to continue. The two expressions you have mentioned have essentially the same meaning. There are hundreds of similar expressions, not to mention all the gestures and non-verbal sounds that can be used for the same purpose. To list but a few:

Uh-huh.

Yeah.

That's right.

I know exactly what you mean.

Absolutely.

You've got that right.

Don't I know it.

I hear you.
... and so forth.

The person who is speaking may turn these expressions around as a kind of rhetorical device to solicit agreement from the listener:
[Do you] know what I mean?

[Do you] know what I'm talking about?

Right?

You know?
Many times, one of these expressions will become nothing more than a thoughtless punctuation mark for the speaker, repeated at least once in every sentence until it becomes meaningless. "You know" is one of the worst offenders.

Examples:
Bill: I'm worried about this new project they announced this morning.

Sam: I know what you mean. The last time they did one of these, it was a total disaster.




Alice: Sometimes you have one of those days where you wonder if you should have just stayed in bed.

Megan: I know exactly what you're talking about. In fact, I think today is one of those days.




Eric: Some people just don't know when to keep their mouths shut. Know what I mean?
Hope this is helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/23/04 - Have the right connections in the right place(s)

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to have the right connections in the right place(s)" exist in U.S. English?

If so, with what meaning is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives, both formal and informal/colloquial?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "If so, with what meaning is it used?" correct and well-formulated or should I have written, "If so, with which meaning is it used?"

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/23/04:

I would break out two sub-expressions from your example: "To have the right connections" and "To have connections in the right places." Other versions include:

To be well-connected

To have an inside connection

To be in the loop

To be wired in

To know people in high places

To know people on the inside
In all cases, the idea is that a person enjoys a special relationship with people of power and influence.
I can't believe Gerald was able to get permission to use this stadium for his birthday party. He must have connections in the right places.

Only people with the right connections can get tickets to this show; it has been sold out for weeks.
In the above question, "with what meaning" is a more appropriate choice. Using "which" suggests that a selection of possible meanings was presented, and you are now seeking to know which of those choices is correct. "What" is more open-ended and better suited to the circumstance of your question, which has proposed no possible answers from which to choose.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/21/04 - Have many pokers in the fire

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to have many pokers in the fire" have a figurative meaning?

If so, when do you use this expression?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/21/04:

We would refers to having "many irons in the fire." It means that the person in question has a number of different activities or projects or pursuits underway at the same time. A common version of this expression involves having "too many irons in the fire," meaning that a person has more things things that require attention than the person can properly handle.

Like most freelance writer/filmmakers, he's got a number of irons in the fire.

The company founder has only one way to get rich -- the success of his own company -- while professional venture capitalists typically have a number of different irons in the fire, hoping that one of them will take off and become successful.

I'm worried about Jack. He has so many irons in the fire that he is losing track of them.

The problem is that Eric has too many irons in the fire. He needs to pick something and focus on it.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/20/04 - Date someone - go out with someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to go out with someone" and "to date someone"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/20/04:

They're pretty similar in meaning, and just to confuse things further it is common to refer to "going out on a date" with someone.

My sister has really been part of the "in crowd" ever since she started going out with the captain of the football team.

I hear you've been dating the new gal in Accounting. She looks like a nice person.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/19/04 - Take something to the next level

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to take something to the next level" have a figurative meaning?

If so, when is this expression used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some other similar expressions?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/19/04:

This expression refers to improvement of something -- your business, your skills, whatever. It has become such a cliche that I hate to give you any guidance on using it. It is a trite advertising slogan:

Our expert guidance and unique marketing approach will help you take your business to the next level in no time at all.

Send for our free report, and find out what you need to take your speaking business to the next level.
There are so many similar advertising slogans that I am not sure which ones to mention. Anything referring to "breakthrough" or "achievement" or "new horizons" would tend to fall into this category.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/17/04 - Go to a place - go OVER to a place

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference in meaning between "to go to a place" and "to go over to a place"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/18/04:

There is a lot of overlap between these two expressions. There are cases where you could use either one, but there are other cases where only one would be appropriate. I think these differences are idiomatic, and it is hard to set out a scientific formula for how to choose one expression or the other.

The expression "to go over," and its mate "to come over," are often used to refer to trips to familiar destinations:

Mom, I'm going over to Billy's house.

Can you come over and help me move some furniture in our living room?

That dog across the street has been howling non-stop for an hour. Maybe you should go over and see if something's wrong.
You could, grammatically, use the single words "go" and "come" in these examples, but it would be less idiomatic in typical conversations.

We also use "over" when emphasizing that a significant journey is involved.
I want you to meet my friends Julie and Mark. They just came over from Australia on a sightseeing tour.

I need to go over to our London office next month to supervise the new installation.
The simple "go" is often used when referring to matters of habit or to more abstract concepts:
I like to go to the movies as often as possible.

Did you go to Harvard for your undergraduate degree as well?

I think we should go to a movie tonight.
In the middle ground between the two expressions, either can be used:
I'm going to the store. Does anybody need anything?

I'm going over to the store. Does anybody need anything?
The only real difference between these is that the second one, using "going over," injects a sense of directionality and movement -- but the underlying meaning is identical.

In the end, the best I can suggest is to pay attention to idiomatic uses. Because the two expressions have the same essential meaning, it is mostly a question of idiom as to when one or the other is most appropriate.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/17/04 - Be born under a luck star - be born with a sliver spoon in one's mouth

Dear ESL Experts:

Do "to be born under a lucky star" and "to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth" have the same meaning?

If so, which of the two is more commonly used in North American English?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alterantives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/18/04:

To be "born with a silver spoon in one's mouth" means that the person was born into extremely wealthy circumstances. It is not a flattering statement. The implication is that the person will be spoiled, heedless of others, and of little independent consequence -- because the person has been born into a life of privilege that requires no actual work or accomplishment on the part of that person. A related sense is that this person enjoys opportunities denied to others solely because of his or her inherited wealth.

He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has never worked in his life.

I guess she can afford to be rude to everyone. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and doesn't need anyone else.

"Buonaparte was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has got splendid soldiers. Besides he began by attacking Germans. And only idlers have failed to beat the Germans. Since the world began everybody has beaten the Germans. They beat no one -- except one another. He made his reputation fighting them." -- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
To be "born under a lucky star" means that the astrological signs were favorable at the time of the person's birth, or, more generally, that good fortune has accompanied this person throughout life. It does not contain the same negative connotation as being "born with a silver spoon in one's mouth." Most frequently, the expression is used to expression amazement and wonder when a person escapes some kind of peril or succeeds in highly doubtful circumstances.
My father was the only survivor of the avalanche. I guess he was born under a lucky star.

I must have been born under a lucky star to find a friend as nice as you are.

The patient lay anaesthetized during the procedure to restabilize his spine. He must have been born under a lucky star because he survived.
I hope the examples will illustrate the difference between the two expressions.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/17/04 - Blow nuts

Dear voiceguy2000:

What does "to blow nuts" mean? Maybe "to become crazy/mad/insane"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please list some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/17/04:

It's a slang expression of recent vintage that expresses dislike or disdain for something.

This new video game blows nuts. It keeps crashing, and when it works its boring.

Sorry to say, but that new song by Slipknot really blows nuts. They should burn it.
It's not an expression that I use -- I'm in the wrong generation. :-)

There are a number of other verbs and verbal expressions that convey a similar meaning. I'm not sure which ones are still in vogue at any given time. Many of them are sufficiently rude that you would not use them in polite company.

Something ...
... sucks.

... bites.

... bites the big one.

... sucks the hairy wazoo.

.. blows.
The opposite meaning -- that something is really good -- is conveyed by expressions such as these:
Something kicks ass.

Something rules.

Something is the shit. [definitely not for polite company]

Something rocks.
Again, I am in the wrong generation to give you a lot of depth in these expressions -- a little web surfing to online postings by young people will give you an instant education.

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/16/04 - Off the hook

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "off the hook" have a figurative meaning?

If so, when is this expression used?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/17/04:

There are two completely separate meanings for "on the hook" and "off the hook."

First, there is the meaning associated with telephones. When you lift up the telephone handset to make a call (or to answer an incoming call), it is said to be "off the hook." When you replace it, it is back "on the hook."

I keep getting a busy signal at Mom's house. I'll bet she forget and left the phone off the hook again.
The second meaning for "on the hook / off the hook" has to do with personal responsibility or liability.
If you co-sign the lease, you are on the hook for the entire amount of the rent, even if you don't even live in the apartment yourself.

With the latest anti-terror legislation passed by the House, taxpayers will be on the hook for billions in taxes.

A fair number of small businesses fail in the first year, so raising and spending a pile of money for an untested business idea can lead to much grief -- especially if you're personally on the hook for borrowed funds.

Primus noted that it could be on the hook for about $1 million in fines for the 96 calls that violated the Do Not Call rules.

The new ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada lets Canadian ISPs off the hook for music downloads.

As set forth in the Leonard opinion by the Colorado Supreme Court, McMorris and other corporate officers in Colorado are off the hook for personal liability to pay wages.

Although heart disease overwhelmingly afflicts men, women are not entirely off the hook.

I couldn't believe it. The judge decided that the statute didn't apply, and let the defendant completely off the hook.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/15/04 - Get at something

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to get at something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please list some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/16/04:

This phrase turns up in a lot of idiomatic uses, and I am sure I will not be able to list all of them.

to get at the truth -- to probe and analyze a situation to as to uncover what really happened and who or what is responsible

"I don't understand what you're getting at" -- I don't see the point you are making; I don't follow your argument.

"What are you trying to get at?" -- What is your point? What are you really trying to say?

There are also a number of constructions where "getting at" or "getting to" can be used to denote "gaining access to something."

Remove this cover to get at the overload protector.
These are the principal uses that come immediately to mind.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/14/04 - Seat-of-the-pants

Dear voiceguy2000:

This is from your Answerway.com profile:

Many years ago I earned my living as a systems engineer for NBC Television, and before that worked for a company that built recording studio equipment. I have a lot of seat-of-the-pants knowledge of electronics, but no engineering degree.

Would you please explain what "seat-of-the-pants" mean?

Also, would you please give me some other examples of how to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/15/04:

Seat-of-the-pants knowledge is knowledge that is picked up through experience and self-teaching rather than formal, academic study.

In other settings, the expression refers to acting on instinct and intuition, as opposed to logic and calculation. Thus, a common expression for pilots who are flying an aircraft in difficult conditions is that the pilot is "flying by the seat of his (or her) pants." This expression would be appropriate where, for example, the aircraft's instruments were not working properly and visibility was poor, and the pilot was forced to operate the aircraft anyway. I guess the idea is that if the normal flight information is not coming the pilot's way (through instruments, etc.), he or she must be "feeling" his or her way through sensations traveling up through the seat.

I have seen the expression used in connection with other activities, such as writing, where the notion is that the person is acting without a lot of formal planning or discipline, instead tending to improvise and follow instincts or impulses to lead to an outcome.

Also, I have heard references to a "seat-of-the-pants estimate" when someone is supplying a very rough, unscientific approximation of figures. (This is also called a "horseback estimate," from the idea of making the estimate while on horseback, rather than getting off the horse and measuring or calculating more rigorously.)

Examples:

The electrician that the company sent had no clue what he was doing. He was merely flying by the seat of his pants.

My cousin got through school by the seat of his pants. It was a lot of luck and very little skill.

For the purposes of today's meeting we have included some seat-of-the-pants figures on widget consumption in the Southern region.
In sum, this expression turns up from time to time to convey:

    o operating on instinct and intuition rather than logic and planning

    o surviving or succeeding on luck rather than skill

    o developing knowledge or information on an informal basis

    o making a very rough estimate

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/14/04 - Mouth-watering

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "mouth-watering" in the sentence below?

The Pasta Log Project, which started out as a photo project, has turned into a mouth-watering virtual catalog of pasta dishes.

Also, would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/14/04:

"Mouth-watering" refers to salivation, a reflexive response to any sensory stimulation that appeals to the appetite. The famous experiments of Pavlov, in which a bell was rung at the time that his dogs were offered food, demonstrated that the dogs could be conditioned to salivate from the sound of a bell (because their bodies had been conditioned to expect food at that time).

Synonyms for "mouth-watering" would include:

appetizing

enticing

scrumptious (or scrumptious-looking)

delectable

savory

tempting

tasty (or tasty-looking)
Examples:
Every time I visit Alice, she is cooking something. The mouth-watering aroma from her kitchen always drives me crazy.

You have never tasted such mouth-watering chicken before.

Those chocolate chip cookies smell heavenly. My mouth is watering already.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/14/04 - Hands on - first hand

Dear ESL Experts:

Is it correct to say that "hands on" and "first hand" have opposite meanings when they are used as adjectives and adverbs?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/14/04:

I don't think so.

"Hands-on" (which would use a hyphen in most situations) refers to the idea of active participation and/or direct involvement, as opposed to a distant or indirect relationship.

Unlike Foster, who sat in his office all day and gave orders, this new guy is really a hands-on manager. From the first day he rolled up his sleeves and got right out there with us.

It is always difficult to know whether to stand back and let people learn through their own mistakes, or to take a more hands-on approach.
Note that there is a contrary expression, "hands-off," that refers to a policy of nonintervention and noninvolvement:
For years, the U.S. has followed a hands-off policy with respect to the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia.
"Firsthand" refers to the source of information. When information is received from the original source, it is described as firsthand information. If A is an eyewitness to an event, A has firsthand knowledge of that event. However, when A describes that event to B, who was not present to see it, B does not have firsthand knowledge; B's knowledge is indirect, or secondhand. In legal settings, firsthand knowledge is also referred to as personal knowledge. A witness who gives testimony in court is generally required to have personal knowledge of the events to which he or she is testifying -- meaning that he or she observed them firsthand.
You can read about the Great Pyramids all you want, but all the reading in the world can't prepare for the experience of seeing them firsthand.

I want you to go down to Atlanta and find out firsthand what happened.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/11/04 - I watch the rushes

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold below?

------------------------------------------------------

Tell us, have you ever actually watched an episode of VIP?

I watch the rushes, but I hate watching the show because I'm like, 'I should have done that, I should have done this.' I hate seeing photo shoots of myself, too, but I love doing them. I'm a little bit of an exhibitionist.

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/12/04:

Rushes are the raw, unedited footage shot each day. Also called dailies.

I'm like is an example of a be-verb being used in the sense of "say." It is commonly used by young people. "Like" is a verbal tic that is sprinkled into young peoples's conversation at frequent intervals. One sometimes hears "I'm all" in a similar usage.

In the quoted passage, I would replace "because I'm like" with "because I think" to make better sense of it. More literally, one could replace it with "because I say [to myself]."

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/10/04 - Walk out on someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to walk out on someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/11/04:

It means to abandon someone; to leave them; to desert them. It is often used in the context of a romantic relationship that is breaking up -- one person #34;walks out on" the other. But it can be used in a variety of other contexts, from quitting a job to simply leaving the room when one is unhappy with what another person has said or done.

I hear Danny's wife walked out on him last week. No wonder he's in such a foul mood.

And when the boss started yelling about expense reports, I just walked out on him. I am tired of his ranting and raving.

15 minutes later our food arrived. It was not good and was cold. The waitress told me that two of their cooks had just walked out on them moments before I arrived.

The committee members made him so angry that he walked out on them.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/10/04 - Are you pulling on me?

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Are you pulling on me?" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/11/04:

This one I don't recognize. It seems that there must be one or more words missing. Some possibilities:

    1. "What are you pulling on me?" -- What kind of trick is this? What misdeeds are you carrying out against me?

    2. "Are you pulling something on me?" -- Is this some kind of tricK? Are you carrying out some kind of misdeed against me?

    3. "Are you pulling my leg?" -- Are you joking with me? Aer you saying something untrue?

    4. "Are you pulling out on me?" -- Are you abandoning me? Are you quitting?

Without a better sense of what you are asking about, I cannot offer any helpful examples.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/10/04 - Recharge the batteries

Dear ESL Experts:

In American English, do you ever use the expression "to recharge the batteries" figuratively (i.e., take a break/vacation from work in order to regain one's energies)?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Also, would you please give me some aòlternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/10/04:

We would use a possessive rather than "the," but otherwise the expression definitely exists in conversational English. It functions straightforwardly as a metaphor based on the actual process of recharging electrical batteries -- that is, restoring their energy and ability to provide power.

The expression probably falls into the category of hackneyed or cliché expressions. Examples:

I slept until 10 AM, which recharged my batteries nicely.

I really needed that vacation to recharge my batteries.

Sandra Bullock's center of stability is the ranch she owns in Texas, where she retreats to enjoy the sunset and recharge her batteries.

Taking a little time out to have fun and enjoy time with your family can actually help you in your job search, because you'll be less stressed if you've had some time to recharge your batteries.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/10/04 - I'm getting to think

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "I'm getting to think/thinking..." mean? Maybe "I'm starting to think..."?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/10/04:

Yes, you are correct.

I would choose "think" rather than "thinking," although people would understand either one.

Using the present participle "getting" in this way is not polished English; it would definitely be classified as an idiomatic use. It has a redneck flavor to it. You would not use it in proper writing.

Other ways of stating the same thing:

I'm beginning to think ...

I'm thinking ...

It occurs to me ...

It's starting to look like ...

Seems to me ...
Because "I'm getting to think" is not really proper English -- in fact, it would more likely be heard as "I'm gettin' to think" -- I cannot really give advice on how to use the expression. In general, though, you would follow it with the word "that" and then a declarative statement. With a more proper expression:
I'm starting to think that there isn't a single honest person left in this town.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/08/04 - We beat the pants off them

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "We beat the pants off them" mean?

Is this expression particularly common in U.S. English?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use it?

Would you also give me some alternatives, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/09/04:

The expression is most often used with reference to a competitive sporting event. It means that one side or team won by a decisive margin, defeating the other side thoroughly. The metaphorical idea is that one side played so well that it caused the other side to lose its pants (trousers) in the process of being beaten. ("Beat" is used here not in its sense of striking blows on someone, but that of winning a competition.) The expression can also be in other settings that involve competition, such as business, elections, and the like.

New York beat the pants off of Boston in the three-game series.

When Law & Order first came on television, it beat the pants off other shows in that time period, but today its ratings are starting to slip.

Richardson had so much money to spend on his campaign that he beat the pants off the other candidates, winning in a landslide.
I have occasionally seen the expression "beat the socks off" someone, with the same meaning. Other expresssions:
Team A walked all over Team B.

Team A cleaned Team B' clock.

It was a rout.
I am sure there are many similar expressions but they do not come to mind at the moment.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/07/04 - Don't have a cow, man.

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Don't have a cow, man" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/08/04:

"To have a cow" is a slang expression for becoming upset. It was popular when I was quite young, and then seemed to fall into disuse until it was revived in recent years by the character Bart Simpson in the animated television series, The Simpsons. The idea of "having a cow" -- that is, giving birth to a cow because of shock, astonishment, or anger -- is of course absurd, which makes the expression colorful and edgy.

This expression, and a large number of similar ones, can be used to describe someone becoming upset.

My mom had a cow when she discovered a pack of cigarettes in my room.

The boss had a litter of kittens when he found out that we spent $2,000 on food for Cheryl's going-away party.

Eric went ballistic when he discovered that the Jenkins proposal had not been submitted on time.
The expression "don't have a cow, man" is directly associated with Bart Simpson, and would tend to be used by young people. Comparable expressions include:
Keep your shirt on.

Relax.

Calm down.

Cool it.

Cool your jets.
It is not an expression that I use, so I may not have much expertise on how to use it by today's standards. It would be something like this:
C'mon man, don't have a cow. I'll replace the CD I broke.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/07/04 - Leav someone out in the cold

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase/expression "to leave someone out in the cold" have a figurative meaning?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/08/04:

It has the meaning of abandoning or neglecting someone, or shunning them. A related expression is "to leave someone high and dry."

SCO has been left out in the cold by the IT industry ever since it commenced its notorious lawsuits over Linux.

Jones was a rising young talent in the record division, but a series of management shuffles left him out in the cold.

The lopsided vote was not the first time Herrington had been left out in the cold by party leaders.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/06/04 - Give oneself airs

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the expression "to give oneself airs" exist in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/07/04:

It's kind of old-fashioned; I have not heard it in contemporary speech. It seems like the kind of thing associated with the antebellum South. A related expression is "to put on airs."

In both cases, the idea is that of affectation -- of adopting an attitude of superiority that is unjustified or inappropriate under the circumstances. It is usually associated with snobbery. Someone who "puts on airs" acts as though others should treat him or her with deference and respect, based on the person's inflated self-image of social superiority.

The expression is generally used in an unflattering, derogatory sense:

I can't abide the way Mrs. Johnson constantly puts on airs at church functions. She seems to think that the whole world revolves around her.

She has no right to give herself airs. She's just an uneducated peasant girl.
I cannot think of an all-purpose substitute for this phrase. It is associated with the following adjectives:
snobbish

haughty

arrogant

superior

condescending

narcissistic

self-absorbed

stuck up
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/06/04 - Hit your milestones

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the sentence below?

We'd rather see you hit your milestones and make a profit than miss your numbers and lose control once you've burned through your cash and need to go to the bank for another handout.

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/07/04:

This is the kind of statement that would be made by a financial advisor or perhaps a source of investment capital to a small or startup business that is seeking outside financing.

The startup business will prepare a business plan that includes financial projections. The outside investor will want to establish milestones that represent certain levels of financial performance that the business will achieve at various points in time (i.e., sales revenue and net income measures at three, six, nine, and twelve months out). If the company manages to achieve those results, it has hit its milestones.

If the startup company is not successful in meeting those milestones -- that is, if it has missed its numbers because the operating figures are below the milestone levels -- then it is likely that the company will be running out of money. It will be spending money to stay in operation, but not taking in enough money to replace what is being spent. Spending this money is referred to as burning through cash.

At that point, the company will probably have to seek a new infusion of investment capital to fund operation. The people who offer such money will do so only on very stringent conditions, typically requiring a substantial ownership interest in the company and significant representation on the board of directors. That is how the founders of the business may lose control -- they have to give up ownership and control in order to convince an outside source to put more money in the company.

In the view of the author of this sentence, such a company is in little better shape than a beggar or panhandler, asking people who pass by on the street for a handout.

In its entirety, the sentence is saying:

We'd rather see you achieve your agreed operating results than miss them and thereby lose control of your company because you've run out of money and must plead with the bank for another loan.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/06/04 - Go the distance - keep the distance

Dear ESL Experts:

What is the difference between "to go the distance" and "to keep the distance"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these tow phrases/expressions?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/06/04:

"To go the distance" means to persist to the end, to continue to completion.

I admire anyone who is willing to run for President. It takes an immense amount of stamina to go the distance in that kind of campaign.

We don't want people who just talk about what they intend to accomplish; we want people who will go the distance.
"To keep one's distance" means to stay at a distance from something or someone.
We had better keep our distance from that stray dog; it might have rabies.
I have not encountered a usage in the form "to keep the distance."

Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/04/04 - Be hang up on something

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be hang up on something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression/phrase?

Any alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/05/04:

We would use the past tense "hung" rather than "hang" with this expression.

I can think of three figurative meanings associated with "being hung up" on something (or someone, in the last meaning).

First, it may mean that a person has encountered an obstacle or snag.

I have put this barbecue grill together most of the way, but I'm hung up at the instructions for installing the wheels on the bottom. The wheels they sent don't look anything like the pictures in the instruction sheet, and I can't get them to fit.

Don't get hung up on the minor details. Just make sure each room is clean and has the correct basic furniture in it.
It can even be used literally in this meaning:
Stop pulling! The wire is hung up on a protruding nail. Let me straighten it out.
A second meaning involves being obsessed with something.
Brad is so hung up on trying to impress the girls that he is forgetting his lifequard duties.

Why are you so hung up getting this report in today? It's not due until Friday.
Finally, somewhat related to this second meaning, we might say that someone is "hung up" on someone else if the person is infatuated or heavily involved with the other person.
Carol won't date anyone else. She's still hung up on Charlie, even though he treats her like dirt.
Note that there is a noun, "hang-up," that refers to a troubled attitude about something.
Make sure you wear leather shoes to work. The boss has some kind of hang-up about tennis shoes.

What's your hang-up? All I'm asking for is a little more time on the Jenkins project.
And for the sake of completeness, remember that the phrasal verb "hang up" refers to the act of terminating a telephone call by replacing the handset on the cradle.
Would you please hang up this phone when I pick up the one upstairs? I need to take this call privately.

Don't you dare hang up on me!
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/04/04 - Shall we go?

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the short question "Shall we go?" commonly used in U.S. English?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/05/04:

It is certainly one possible expression, and is probably used often enough to be called "common." Other possibilities:

Are you ready?

Ready to go?

Are we ready?

Are you / we ready to go?

Shall we?

Let's go!

It's time to go.

Let's get moving.

Time to hit the road.

Come on.

We gotta go.

We'll be late if we don't get going.
There are many variations of the above.

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Question/Answer
gss30 asked on 07/04/04 - Blind student

Hello, dear experts.
I'll have a blind student and I'm worried since now. He will be the only one among many others, due to an "inclusion" method adopted by the state to avoid discrimation.I mean, if I had to teach him Math or Geography, it would be easier, but I'll teach him the basics of English grammar and some reading, what is required by the state, here in Brazil.
They have other subjects in their native language, but I think since now about the sound and the letters, which are different from our native language, when I explain the subject.The others will be able to see the letters on the board, he won't. It will be hard.

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/04/04:

I am not sure exactly what your question is.

Obviously, a person without sight will have difficulty doing anything that requires actual sight, such as reading from the blackboard. However, I think you will surprised at how resourceful the blind and dyslexic can be when it comes to learning. Lack of eyesight does not mean lack of intelligence or lack of interest in learning. Because the blind can hear, they are able to acquire spoken language -- which is a significant difference from those who are deaf from birth.

There are many technical means that have been developed to allow a non-sighted person to read and write. You should take some time to learn about these, and to learn in general about how to approach teaching of the blind. I have been involved since 1985 in an organization where volunteers make audio recordings of textbooks and other written materials for the visually impaired, and I can tell you that the people who use our materials are smart and eager to learn. You should approach this incoming student with an expectation of success and a willingness to adapt your methods to accomodate the situation. It should not be overly difficult or burdensome.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/03/04 - Take responsability - take the responsability

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to take responsability of something/to do something/for-of doing something" or "to take the responsability of something/to do something/for-of doing something"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/04/04:

As Rich notes, "responsibility" should be spelled with an i rather than an a, even though the last half of the word looks like it should be "ability."

I can't think of any examples where the meaning would change between "responsibility" and "the responsibility" in any regular usage. The choice of one or the other would be either a matter of taste or a matter of idiom.

In addition to "responsibility" and "the responsiblity," there may be occasions to refer to "responsibilities" or "the responsibilities." A common synonym would be "[the] duty" or "[the] duties."

As for the verb to use with any of these, there are several that are commonly with "responsibility/ies" --

take

take on

accept

assume
With this range of choices, we confront two basic meanings that might be intended:

    a. Taking on certain specific duties or obligations, as in someone who agrees to be responsible for sending out invitations for an event, or someone who is promoted or reassigned to a new position at work which brings with it new duties.

    b. In a more general and abstract sense, being willing to accept the consequences of actions or decisions; refraining from blaming others for setbacks and failures; recognizing in a mature way that one's own actions and decisions are primarily responsible for one's place in life. (In this usage, the singular form "responsibility" would normally be chosen.)

The synonym "duty / duties" works only with the first meaning (a.). It is not completely interchangeable from a grammatical standpoint; as a general rule, the chosen verb would be "take on," "assume," or "accept," and often the word "the" would be used with "duty / duties."

Some examples of the first meaning:
We need to get some balloons and rent a helium tank. Who will take responsibility for that?

Our marketing director quit last week, and until we find someone new I have had to take on all of her responsibilities.

Father O'Brien was relieved when his young assistant agreed to assume responsibility for the early morning mass.

Alan agreed to take on the duties of Compliance Officer for our division.

I'm surprised that Adrian was willing to accept those new responsibilities. He already puts in long hours, and this will just make things worse.

Many young people wonder whether they are prepared to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.
Examples of the second meaning:
As chairman of this company, I take full responsibility for the illegal actions of our Cleveland office. We are putting in place a company-wide program to make sure something like that does not happen again.

Erin, you must learn to accept responsibility for the effects of your decisions. That is a sign of maturity.

The Engineering Department refuses to take any responsibility for the failure of this device, even though the design is clearly defective.

I cannot accept the responsibility for anything that may happen to you if you refuse medical treatment.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/03/04 - People at Microsoft - Microsoft people, etc.

Dear ESL Experts:

Is it correct to say that "People at Microsoft," "Microsoft people," "Microsoft’s people," "People of Microsoft," and "People from Microsoft" may be used interchangeably?

If not, what are the main differences among them?

Would you please give me some examples of when it's appropriate to use the first, the second and so on?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/03/04:

If the meaning is "people who work at Microsoft," all the choices are essentially interchangeable -- although some are more appropriate than others in any given setting. For example, "people of Microsoft" sounds like something from the opening of a speech, and would rarely be used in everyday conversation.

The term "Microsoft people" (or, in the singular, "Microsoft person") could also mean "someone who uses Microsoft products" or even simply "someone who is favorably disposed toward Microsoft." Example:

A: Hey, that looks like Windows on your computer. I thought you were a Macintosh user.

B: Oh, no -- I'm definitely a Microsoft person.
I will not be able to supply any further examples because I must leave to run errands. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/02/04 - Get over it!

Dear ESL Experts:

When do you use the expression "Get over it!"?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/03/04:

Traditionally, the phrasal verb "get over" referred to recovery from an illness or from some negative occurrence.

That last cold I had was nasty. It took me more than a month to get over it.

Martha still has not gotten over the loss of her parents.

I'm still having trouble getting over my fear of heights.
There is also a use of this phrase to express surprise or wonder:
I can't get over how much you look like your father.

We still can't get over how pleasant this neighborhood is, even though it's right in the middle of the city,
Drawing on these meanings, the expression "get over it!" evolved in the early 70s as a kind of hip, sarcastic way of saying to someone, "I have no patience or sympathy with your response to this issue. Don't dwell on it. Deal with it, and deal with it quickly. Spare me your angst and emotion." Depending on the context, it may be a way of saying, "You don't like this? Tough luck." In other settings, it may be saying, "You are overreacting to this situation. Move on, and quit obsessing on this issue." A third variation seeks to convey, "This is none of your business."

The expression has to be used with care if it is directed at a specific person, because it can be considered rude. On the other hand, it is popular with stand-up comics, and can be used safely in more tongue-in-cheek contexts. Self-help lecturers are fond of using the expression as a way of saying, "What's in the past is over with and unchageable. Pay attention to the present. Let the past go."

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 07/01/04 - Move in for kill

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "move in for kill" in the headline below?

Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Green to move in for kill at wounded M&S

Also, would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 07/01/04:

If you've ever watched one of those nature films about predatory animals, you have undoubtedly seen a sequence where the predator chases and weakens the prey, perhaps wounding it as well, until the prey is no longer able to defend itself. Then the predator "moves in for the kill," finishing the job by killing and then eating the prey.

Metaphorically (especially in business and politics), the expression is used to describe someone who is about to exploit the vulnerability of an opponent or a target just as a predator exploits the vulnerability of weakened prey. The business or political predator may not have caused the vulnerability in question; that doesn't matter. The key thing is taking strong advantage of the vulnerability.

Thus, for example, the U.S. company Comcast recently sought to take advantage of the weakness of the much larger Walt Disney Co. by making a hostile tender offer for Disney shares. As it turns out, Disney's weakness was not profound enough to cause the tender offer to succeed.

By the sixth round, it was clear that one of the fighters was fading fast; the other quickly moved in for the kill, and the match ended in a knockout within less than a minute.

With bad publicity and a growing scandal weakening the mayor's political support, his opponents decided that it was time to move in for the kill.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/30/04 - She means it!

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "She means it!/I mean it!" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/30/04:

The expression means "I am serious" -- "I'm not kidding" -- "You'd better believe it."

Examples:

I mean it, Gary. If I catch you smoking that stuff one more time, I am leaving you for good.

We never took her threats seriously before, but this time I think she means it. We'd better not fool around.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/24/04 - Bunking off school

Dear ESL Experts:

The sentence below is taken from a British tabloid. My question is: do you also use "to bunk off school" with the meaning of "to skip school/miss school voluntarily/play truant" in U.S. English? If not, what phrases/expressions do you use in that case?

"Mouthy lads bunking off school on the off chance they'll cop a flash of the most famous boobs in Britain."

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/24/04:

"Bunking off" is definitely a British, and not an American, expression. A related one is used when a criminal escapes just ahead of the police, in which case it is said that the criminal has "done a bunk."

In the U.S., the traditional term is "playing hookey," which stems from the notion that the person missing school has gone fishing (using a fishhook).

People also refer to "skipping class" or "cutting class" or "skipping school." There may be some more contemporary terms that I am not familiar with.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/24/04 - Stripping down to the altogether

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of the parts that I have put in bold below?

------------------------------------------------------

Switch on the telly on this side of the Atlantic and the evidence is plain to see: plenty of older men, with lined faces expressing character and the hard knocks of experience, surrounded by a bevy of improbably gorgeous 20-somethings.

What we see now, though, is a growing disparity between feature films and television. On the big screen, older actresses have enjoyed a modest degree of success in recent years. Think of Meryl Streep - just shy of her 55th birthday - in The Hours and Adaptation, or Diane Keaton stripping down to the altogether, aged 57, in Something's Gotta Give. Julianne Moore is going great guns at 42, as is Frances McDormand at 45.

The big four networks - ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox - are all going through an agonising drought, without a bona fide new sitcom or hit drama to boast of in years. On top of that, scripted comedy and drama are facing an unprecedented challenge from reality programming. The networks' response is to play it as safe as possible, and playing it safe means making the women younger, sexier, blonder, more doe-eyed (and, often, a lot less interesting).

One example is the long-running cops and prosecutors show Law & Order, where the men are reliably wizened and the one token lead female district attorney (currently played by Elisabeth Roehm, aged 31) is young enough to be their daughter.

The really bad age bracket for women runs from about 40 to 60. Amy Aquino, an experienced character player in film and television and Screen Actors Guild officer who is herself the wrong side of 40 (she has a regular non-leading part on ER, among many other credits) calls this time in an actress's life "no woman's land".
She explained the distinctly kooky logic behind a lot of casting decisions. "Often, the best you can hope for is to be cast as a mum or a grandma," Aquino said. "Trouble is, if they're casting a mother, they like to have the 14-year-old boys in the audience at least thinking of wanting to shtup her, so they skew the mums young to make sure they are still hot.
"If they want a grandmother - of a 10-year-old, say - they still won't cast a 50-year-old, because she might still be a little bit hot and that would be gross. So they'll cast a 75-year-old instead, someone way older walking around with a cane. They do this just for the marketing, so they won't shock people or piss them off."

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo


voiceguy2000 answered on 06/24/04:

20-somethings -- people in their 20s. We say "twenty-something" (or "thirty-something" or "forty-something") when we are not sure of the precise year but know that it is in that general range.

just shy of -- just short of; slightly less than.

stripping down to the altogether -- taking off all of her clothes. "The altogether" is a euphemistic term for nakedness -- someone who is "in the altogether" is naked.

The big four networks ... are all going through an agonising drought -- In literal terms, a drought is a period of no rainfall, causing crops and gardens to die from lack of water. Figuratively, we refer to a "drought" or "dry spell" when an artist or creator -- or in this case, TV networks -- go for a long period without producing anything of significance. The drought here is "agonising" (U.S. spelling = agonizing) because of the amount of money at stake.

to boast of -- to be able to brag about; to point to; to mention.

in years -- for many years. "I haven't seen a good movie in years" means that it has been many years since the speaker saw a good movie. In the passage, the author is stating that the networks have not had a strong new sitcom or drama series for quite some time.

doe-eyed -- having the deep, dark, liquid eyes associated with female deer

token -- someone or something who is added simply to comply with a perceived need to have that category represented. The idea is that, except for some legal or public-image requirement, that category would not be represented, and the representation is as small as can be gotten away with. Here, the author is pointing out that the rest of cast is older and male, and the producers have added a single "token" woman just to create a small amount of variety and/or to avoid complaints about lopsided casting.

they like to have the 14-year-old boys in the audience at least thinking of wanting to shtup her -- "shtup" is a term for having sex with someone (I suspect it is a Yiddish word). The comment here is a reaction to the fact that television advertisers have particular difficulty capturing the interest of teenaged boys, and have found that reality shows work better than most other forms. Aquino is cynically commenting that producers of drama series, who also want to attract the desirable young-male viewer segment, cast attractive young women in "mom" roles rather than actresses such as Aquino whose age and appearance are more appropriate to such roles.

they skew the mums young to make sure they are still hot -- "skew" here means that the producers bend reality so as to cast unrealistically young and attractive ("hot") women in roles that should call for older women. (In the U.S. it would be "moms" rather than "mums.")

that would be gross -- "gross" means yucky, distasteful, revolting, disgusting. The idea in this sentence is that casting an older woman who is still attractive to play a grandmother would violate some people's sensibilities, so the producers "skew" their casting in the other direction, hiring women much older than the part would realistically call for.

way older -- much older. "Way" is used to mean "much," "very," "considerably," and the like in everyday conversation.

Johnny, get your pajamas on and get to bed. It's way past your bedtime.
piss them off -- make them angry. Not used in polite company.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/23/04 - Curl up to a date

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to curl up to a date" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Finally, does an opposite to "curl up a date" exist?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind and precious help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/23/04:

I have not heard this particular expression, and I cannot find any instances of it on Google. Do you have a specific source?

"To curl up" generally refers to the compact position taken by cats or dogs, or even people, when they are getting ready to sleep. (Our two beagles, in particular, like to make themselves into little balls when they nap.) Thus we might speak of "two cats curled up in front of the fireplace." We might also say "my mother likes to curl up in bed with a good book."

The word "date" in your example may refer to a person who is "on a date" (social engagement) with someone else. If one person "curls up" to the other, it would mean that the two were snuggling closer together, perhaps on a couch or on a bench.

Because this is not a familiar expression to me, however, I may be completely off-base. If you have a more extensive context for it, that would help.

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Question/Answer
tokio_555 asked on 06/22/04 - phrase

Which is best to describe someone starting family life?

1. to marry and have a family
2. to marry and make a family
3. to marry and start a family

Is there any other way?

Thanks in advance.

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/22/04:

The most common expression would be "start a family."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/22/04 - Turn someone on - turn on someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to turn on someone" and "to turn someone on"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/22/04:

Possibly -- the two could mean the same thing, or they could be quite different.

One meaning of "to turn on" comes from the 60s culture. Initially it described the effect of using a drug such as marijuana, producing a "high." It has evolved to mean deriving pleasure from something ("this music really turns me on") or learning about something ("my next-door neighbor turned me on to a great new dance club"). It also has an opposite, as in "the smell in here really turns me off" or "these new rules are a real turn-off."

In this meaning, it would be possible to construct valid sentences in the form "to turn on [someone]" or "to turn [someone] on," although one form would probably sound more graceful than the other in any particular circumstance.

The other meaning of "to turn on" involves betrayal or disloyalty.

The dog seemed completely gentle until one day it turned on its owner and bit him viciously.

The essence of the Prisoner's Dilemma is deciding whether to turn on your fellow prisoner before he turns on you.
In this meaning, you would not be able to insert any words between "turn" and "on" without garbling the meaning.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/22/04 - Open, open up, close, close down

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to open/close something (a shop/store/business/etc.)" and "to open up/close down something (a shop/store/business/etc.)"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/22/04:

It depends very strongly on the context.

On the one hand, a shop owner will routinely open and close his or her shop each day for the purpose of conducting business. In this context, one could also say that the shop owner "opened up" the store at the beginning of the day. One would not say that the shop owner "closed down" the store, because that implies permanent closure (not just routine daily closure).

On the other hand, it would also be conventional to speak of "opening" a store in the sense of establishing a new location for it.

After the roaring success of his original location at 4th and Broadway, Smith opened a second store at 12th and Main.
Here, "opened" carries the meaning of "commenced business at this location." By the same token, "closed" may carry the meaning of permanent cessation of business at a particular location.
XYZ Company announced its plans to close five of its stores in the Philadelphia area because of disappointing sales results.
As far as I know, "closed down" always carries the meaning of permanent cessation of operation.
Following passage of the new "do-not-call" legislation, a number of companies have closed down their telephone call centers.

The mayor vowed to close down all illegal gambling halls within the city.
For a more temporary form of closure (as in, for example, as store), we would use the term "close up."
Although I ran to the store as fast as I could, it was too late; Mr. Jensen had already closed it up for the night.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/21/04 - Make the news - make the headlines

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to make the news" and "to make the headlines"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/21/04:

I agree with Schoolmarm -- there is little apparent difference between the two expressions. I would classify "made the headlines" as a form of synecdoche, a rhetorical term for the use of part of something to denote the whole. A similar analysis would apply to "made the front page."

It is also common to say that an event "made news" or "made headlines" (omitting "the").

Even after making the headlines last year for rampant safety violations, the ramshackle school building remains open.

It is fascinating to read these 19th-century newspapers and see what made the news back then.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/19/04 - How did we get to this point?

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "How did we get to this point?/How have we gotten to this point?" with the meaning of "What's happened to us?" exist in U.S. English?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me examples?

Any alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/20/04:

Yes it exists, most likely found in speeches or theatrical dialogue.

To me, the expression evokes the idea of realizing that a thousand small decisions over time, each one seemingly harmless or unimportant when made, had led to a surprising and unfortunate state of affairs. Thus, a married couple may discover that neither one talks to the other any more, but neither can remember any specific decision to stop talking.

In a speech by a politician or civic leader, an alarming statistic might be presented, followed by the rhetorical question, "How have we gotten to this point?" and probably also "How long are we going to let this continue?"

A more economical version is, "How did we get here?" Other alternatives:

How did this happen?

How could this happen?

When did this happen?

How could I / you / we / he / she / they let this happen?

Where were you when this was going on?

How could we have been so blind?

How could we have been so stupid / thoughtless / insensitive?
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/19/04 - Where do you want to get to?

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you ever use "Where do you want to get to?" in a figurative way (in dialogues/conversations) such as in "Where do you want to get to when you say that.../ Where do you want to get to by saying that..."?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples?

Many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/20/04:

This one does not seem familiar to me.

When asking a question such as this, one would have to be careful about whether these was any implication of skepticism or disagreement in the question. In other words, there are certain forms that would be used in order to obtain an honest response from a neutral standpoint, in the sense of

I'm sorry, I am not following what you are saying -- can you try again?

I'm sorry. You've lost me.
and there are others that would suggest disagreement, skepticism, concern, or disdain:
What is your point?

And your point is ... ?

And this matters to me because ... ?

What are you trying to say?

Where is this going?

Where are you going with this?

Is there a point to all this?
This kind of question, in sum, must be used with some care if there is any concern about offending the other person.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/17/04 - Several blocks south of nowhere

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the passages below?

------------------------------------------------------

Success for the Red Hot Chili Peppers has not come without a cost, from drug problems to serial bust-ups. Sylvie Simmons finds out how they have preserved sanity and credibility against the odds

A cup of tea is offered - a long, intricate operation, involving a glass jug of leaves, a plunger, and milk that the Red Hot Chili Peppers front man makes himself by grinding cashew nuts and blending them with filtered springwater. Most rock stars would find dunking a tea bag labour-intensive, but Kiedis is as zealous about his healthy lifestyle as he was about his mid-Eighties one (What does "one" refer to?). The one that revolved around scoring heroin.

Listening to a man whose skin literally glows with wellness telling tales of fleapits and crack dens and the various Hollywood squats (Is this another word for "prostitute"?) that for a long time he and his band called home has a similar surreality to watching a safari-suited John Lydon on I'm a Celebrity - Get Me out of Here!, gossiping with Jennie Bond.

"John Lydon", Kiedis is saying, "once made a great stab at poaching Flea [the band's bassist] for Public Image." Nearly got him, too. "And Malcolm McLaren tried to poach the whole band. He sat down with us, watched us rehearse, and then he said, 'OK, here's the plan, guys. We're going to simplify the music completely, so it's just basic, old-school, simple three-chord rock'n'roll, and we'll have Anthony be the focus of attention, and you guys will be the back-up band doing this surf-punk thing.' At which point Flea keeled over and passed out. It could have been what we had smoked - we were very dysfunctional at that point - but I think it was more what McLaren said."

That was 1985, soon after the band Kiedis calls the Red Hots and everyone else calls the Chili Peppers ("Red Hot is a nicer name - stronger; less vegetable") released their second album, Freaky Styley. Produced by George Clinton of Parliament/ Funkadelic, it flew off the shelves not a jot quicker than their self-titled 1984 debut, produced by Gang of Four's Andy Gill. Too funky to be metal, too young to be punk, the band who by current reckoning are one of the three biggest in the world (25 million people bought their past two albums; a little more than half a million tickets have been sold for their current UK tour) were for much of the Eighties, in music-industry terms, several blocks south of nowhere.

By the time of Freaky Styley, Kiedis and Hillel Slovak, the guitarist, were on a downward spiral of heroin use, but it was Slovak who died. The timing wasn't great. A few months before the 26-year-old OD-ed, EMI had detected a buzz around the album and packed the band off on a European promo tour. They rush-released an EP, Abbey Road, named for the cover picture, taken by the British photographer Chris Clunn, of their re-enactment of The Beatles' zebra-crossing shot, naked bar those now-famous socks over their genitals.

Flea: "Hillel's death was just devastating. I was so shocked when it happened, I just fell on the floor, gasping for air. As we started getting older, and drugs became more and more prevalent, Hillel started having a deep sadness to him (What does "him" refer to?). I didn't really know how to deal with that sadness, and I don't think he knew how to deal with it."

Shortly before his departure, Peligro had introduced Flea and Kiedis to a young guitarist, an 18-year-old unknown named John Frusciante. In 2004, Frusciante looks better than he has in a long time. His glasses make him look bookish, and overall he appears monkish, cloistered. He has a sweet, sad smile, an impressive set of dentures, and arms so scarred, they look like someone tried to melt them with a blowtorch.

Frusciante: "I had so many years of terrible, terrible..." He breaks down. "I'm sorry," he says, turning the tape recorder off and drying his eyes. "Sometimes I get into situations of just being so overwhelmed by what I've been through, so many years of regretting everything, all the things I could have done when I was 22 years old..." The tape is back on. "But I was totally incapable of it; I had just so many mental problems. It wasn't until I was 28 that my brain actually felt like a spacious place. When I was 18, 19, 22, my brain was just clogged all the time - non-stop voices. I couldn't figure out what was going on. There was a lot of confusion inside me, this flood of voices, often contradicting each other, often telling me stuff that would happen in the future, and then it would happen, voices insulting me, telling me what to do.

"...with James Brown," Flea grins, showing the gap in his teeth. The Chilis bassist comes over all misty-eyed when talking about the Godfather of Soul. He describes getting thrown off the side of the stage on the previous occasion his band shared a bill with Brown ("They didn't believe I was in the band") and being growled at by the great man when he stuck his head into his backstage tent.

"As time has gone by, and it's 21 years, we've just gotten better in public," Flea reflects. "Learnt from our mistakes and held on to the things that are good. There aren't a lot of bands who have done that."

"I don't think you'll know where we fit yet," Kiedis concludes, before showing us to the door, "because we keep sliding around. We keep changing. And we're not done yet."

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. The link to the enire article can be found at http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/low_res/story.jsp?story=531789&host=5&dir=229


voiceguy2000 answered on 06/19/04:

serial bust-ups -- a series of breakups or dissolutions of the musical group.

against the odds -- defying the odds (probability) of failure. Another common expression is "against all odds."

his mid-Eighties one -- refers to his mid-Eighties lifestyle.

revolved around -- centered on; focused on; was devoted to.

scoring heroin -- in drug slang, to "score" is to obtain a quantity of an illegal drug. Thus, "scoring heroin" here refers to seeking out and finding a continuing supply of heroin.

fleapits and crack dens -- refers to rundown or abandoned buildings where drug users congregate to buy and use drugs. "Crack" is a form of cocaine.

various Hollywood squats that ... he and his band called home -- We refer to "squatting" and "squatters" in connection with people who occupy a vacant dwelling area, such as an abandoned building, without any legal right to do so. Here, the author intends to convey that the dwellings used by the band were rundown and undesirable.

a similar surreality to watching a safari-suited John Lydon on I' a Celebrity - Get Me out of Here! -- it surprised a number of people when John Lydon of the Sex Pistols agreed to appear on this British reality television show. Evidently the show calls for him to be dressed in safari clothing.

made a great stab -- carried out an auspicious (even if unsuccessful) attempt at something. When we want someone to try something, we might say, "Go ahead, take a stab at it." A "great stab" conveys the idea of a promising effort, even if the effort was not completely successful.

poaching -- Literally, this refers to unauthorized hunting of animals on land where such hunting is restricted. Figuratively it refers to recruiting someone to leave one organization and join another.

keeled over -- fell over; dropped to the ground

passed out -- lost consciousness

dysfunctional -- impaired in proper functioning. In popular use, "dysfunctional" refers to unhealthy or self-destructive behavior.

flew off the shelves -- sold quickly, in great numbers. The idea is that a product figuratively flies off the shelves of stores that display the product because consumers are buying so many of them.

not a jot quicker -- no quicker. A "jot" is a very small amount; synonyms include "bit" and "iota."

several blocks south of nowhere -- I had not heard this expression before, although I understand what the author means. We speak of a lonely and isolated location as being "in the middle of nowhere." Here, the author is amplifying that thought by stating that the band was "several blocks south" of nowhere -- meaning that it was even farther away from mainstream interest than the "middle" of nowhere would be. (A "block" in this usage is the rectangular area bounded by adjacent city streets.)

OD-ed -- in drug slang, OD refers to overdose. As a verb, it means that someone died of a drug overdose.

buzz -- in this use, "buzz" refers to favorable word-of-mouth response to something. It means that people like the thing and are telling their friends about it, causing the popularity to grow. It is an interesting choice of words, because "buzz" is also drug slang for the mental state produced by drug use.

naked bar those now-famous socks ... -- in this sentence, the word "bar" means "except for" or "with the exception of." In other words, the sentence would read, "naked except for those now-famous socks ... " This word is most often heard in the phrase "bar none," which means "with no exception(s)."

Hillel started having a deep sadness to him -- "to him" refers to Hillel. The statement means to convey the idea that Hillel's demeanor became one of continual sadness.

arms so scarred, they look like someone tried to melt them with a blowtorch -- obviously, using a blowtorch (a portable flame-generating device used by plumbers to melt solder when joining pipes) on someone's arms would cause severe damage and disfigurement. Here, the author is making metaphorical use of this idea, stating that the person's arms are severely disfugured from long-term injected drug use.

clogged -- obstructed; jammed; blocked.

misty-eyed -- with the beginnings of tears forming in the eyes. An emotional state short of actual crying, but coming close.

shared a bill -- appeared on the same program. A "bill" is a publicity poster for a show; it may also refer figuratively to the lineup of acts appearing on the show.

we keep sliding around -- this refers to continual change by the group. The statement could equally well have been "we keep moving around" or "we keep changing around." The choice of the word "sliding" suggests the idea of slipperiness or lack of stability, meaning that the changes are not necessarily predictable or logical, or perhaps that they are not immediately visible.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/18/04 - Tear apart a team - tear up a team

Dear ESL Experts:

When it comes to sports, is there any difference between "tear apart a team/the opposite team" and "tear up a team/the opposite team"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, are "to tear a team a team apart" and "to tear a team up" possible?

Finally, would you please give me some alternatives to the verbs above?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/19/04:

Neither of these expressions are ones that I hear especially often here in the U.S., although anyone hearing them would understand them to mean that one team was greatly superior to the other.

I cannot see any significant difference between the two expressions. Both phrasal verbs can be separated: "Team A tore up / tore apart Team B" or "Team A tore Team B up / apart."

There are any nummber of expressions that might be used in the U.S.:

Team A bulldozed Team B

Team A slaughtered Team B

Team A steamrolled over Team B

Team A skunked Team B [used if Team B scored 0 points]

Team A rode roughshod over Team B

Team A clobbered Team B
... and so on. Sports writers, in fact, continue to create colorful new ways of expressing this concept.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/18/04 -
Is that true? - Is this true? - Is it true?

Dear ESL Experts:

Should I use "Is this true?" "Is that true?" or "Is it true?" at the end of the following statement? If all three are possible, which would you use?

An American friend of mine says that President Bush should stand trial for butchering the English language. Is that true? / Is this true? / is it true?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/19/04:

I would not use any of the three.

The problem is that all three of them create ambiguity. We can't tell what it is that is supposed to be true or not. On the surface, it appears that you are asking whether it is true that the American friend made this particular statement to you. Of course, that would be a fairly strange question to ask, because if the friend made the statement to you, you should know on your own that the statement was made (or not made).

The most logical interpretation of your example is that you are asking the listener whether he or she agrees with the statement that Bush should stand trial for butchering the English language. In that case, however, the best choice would be "Do you agree?" rather than "Is this / that / it true?"

I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to fashion an example that presents the "this / that / it" issue without creating the same ambiguity. If I could fashion such an example, chances are good that I would choose "that" as the pronoun to use.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/18/04 - Join the conversation - join IN the conversation

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to join the conversation" and "to join in the conversation"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/18/04:

The only difference I can think of is that "joining" a conversation may mean that a person has made himself or herself part of the group having the conversation, without necessarily participating, whereas "joining in" a conversation suggests that the new person is actively participating (talking) rather than just standing there and listening.

This distinction, such as it is, reflects the difference between the verb "to join" and the phrasal verb "to join in." ("In" is being used as an adverbial particle, not a preposition.) In most contexts, "to join in" means to participate actively, whereas "to join" merely means adding oneself to a group without necessarily saying or doing anything.

When the speaker started to insult the church leaders, several people started booing him loudly. Within moments, the entire room had joined in.

I joined a health club downtown but I have not gone there for a couple of months.
Both terms are somewhat vague when referring to conversations, which contributes to the difficulty in analyzing any potential difference in meaning.

In a social setting, when two or three people are talking and a new person walks up to the group, it could be said that this new person has joined the conversation. Politeness dictates that this new person spend some time listening to the thread of conversation, and allow the people who were talking to complete their thoughts, before saying anything. Once the new person decides to contribute something, however, it could be said that he or she had joined in the conversation -- that is, he or she is now actively participating in it, rather than just standing there and listening.

That is about as clear as I can make the distinction. Hope it is helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/16/04 - In the pipeline

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "in the pipeline" in the sentence below?

"At least one new hair-growth drug is in the pipeline."

Also, would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Any alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/16/04:

We use pipeline figuratively to refer to processes that take considerable time to complete. Just as in a physical pipeline, where matter must steadily be put into one end before it will come out the other end, a figurative pipeline requires continuous development work at one end in order to get results at the other end.

The pipeline metaphor recognizes the need to anticipate and develop things in advance of actual need, because of the time required for such development. For example, it may take five years to develop a new product that will then have a useful sales life of another five years. Once that product is developed and on the market (commencing its five-year useful like), the company must immediately commence development on its next product, so that the new product will be ready in five years when the first product has ended its life. Otherwise, if the company waits until the first product is near the end of its life to begin development the second product, there will be a gap during which the company will have no product to sell.

While the second product is in development, it may be described as being "in the pipeline." The image is that when development is complete, the product will come out of the pipe and be ready for the market. The company needs to keep starting work in advance, at the beginning of the pipeline, so that it will come out the other end in a timely fashion.

Other expressions with similar meaning include "in the works," "in progress," or "under development."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/16/04 - Are you with me?

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "Are you with me?" mean "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Would you please give me some examples in which the use of this short question is correct and natural?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/16/04:

There are two possible meanings that I can think of.

The first involves, as you say, whether the listener is grasping what the speaker is saying. A very common variant of the phrase would be, "Are you with me so far?" -- meaning, Am I going too fast for you to follow? Have I lost you? Are you keeping up with my explanation? It is a question that would be asked at various stages of an explanation in progress.

The second meaning would be, Are you willing to join me in this endeavor? or Do you agree with me on this?

I say it's time for us to end this crime problem once and for all. Are you with me?
A common expression is: "You're either with me or against me." The meaning is that it is impossible to be neutral on this subject; if you do not take my side on it, I will treat you as an opponent.

The short statement "I'm with you" is used to express agreement with a statement someone else has just made:
Alan: Boy, it's hot out here. I think it's time to go in and get some cold water.

Barbara: I'm with you. Let's go!
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/16/04 - About "that" and "this" again

Dear ESL Experts:

In the following short dialogue, should I use "that," "this," or "it"?

A: 'I've failed my exam'.

B: I'm sorry to hear that/this/it.

If all three options are correct and possible, which would you use?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/16/04:

My strong preference would be "that" in the example you give. A very weak second choice would be "it." I would not use "this" under any circumstances -- it does not sound correct or natural to me.

In the sentence, you are using the pronoun to refer to "what you just said." The more usual choice is a demonstrative pronoun such as "this" or "that." I do not have a scientific explanation as to why "that" is the preferred choice -- perhaps it relates to the figurative "distance" between the event of failing the exam and the conversation about it later on.

The objective personal pronoun "it" is grammatical in the sentence, but would not be the choice of most native speakers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/14/04 - That's why - This is why

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "That's why..." and "This is why..."?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/15/04:

Words such as this, that, these, and those belong a a category known as pointing words (technically "deictic terms").

Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage has this to say about the choise of this versus that:

It isn't easy to explain precisely when to use the pointing word this and when to use that, or when to use the plural these and when to use those. Essentially this connotes proximity and immediacy in relation to the speaker or writer [this hat on my head], while that connotes some distance and remove [that hat over there]. The difference can be quite subtle, and often either word works as well as the other.
There may be idiomatic preferences for one over the other, but in any case where the ideas of proximity or distance are abstract or figurative, such preference would be a matter of custom rather than any rule or principle.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/15/04 - I need to be OFF at 11pm – I need to be OUT at 11pm

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "I need to be OFF at 11pm" and "I need to be OUT at 11pm"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/15/04:

Ah, prepositions again.

The trouble with trying to supply rules for use of "off" or "out" in these two examples is that we lack any real context. Off of what? Out of what?

In most of the situations I can think of, "off" and "out" would not be interchangeable.

In most uses, a need to be "off" implies that the person is currently "on" in some respect. Thus, a person may be "on" a computer, and must terminate their use (be "off") by a certain time. "Out" would not be a viable substitute here.

Sometimes "off" is used to denote a departure, as in "Goodbye, dear -- I'm off to the store." In that context, saying "I need to be off at 11 pm" means "I need to leave at 11 pm."

As for "out," this word implies that the person is currently "in." Thus, the statement "I need to be out at 11 pm" implies that the person is currently "in" and has a deadline of 11 pm to be "out." We can only guess the setting.

The only context I can think of where on/in and off/out might be used with some interchangeability is in the realm of computers. When a user connects to a host computer using a name and password, it can be said that they have "logged in" or "logged on." When the person concludes the session, it is customary to "log out" or "log off." Thus, in a context where "off" was understood as being short for "logged off" and "out" was understood as being short for "logged out," the two words could be interchanged. I can think of no other situation where such interchange would be appropriate.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/15/04 - Attitude to - attitude towards

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "attitude to something/soneone" or "attitude toward(s) something/someone"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/15/04:

When describing the object of an attitude, toward or towards would be the correct and natural choices. "To" is not used for this purpose. At the same time, however, I suspect that "attitude toward" can be replaced with more active and concise language in a large number of cases.

He has a skeptical attitude toward psychics and palm readers. [Compare: He is skeptical of psychics and palm readers.]

His attitude toward politicians is one of amusement mixed with pity.
The word "attitude" does not require the use of a preposition if the object is already known or supplied elsewhere in the text.
As for rap music, my attitude is that it does not qualify as music.

John soon lost the job because of his surly attitude.
Note that in popular speech, people may refer to someone as "having an attitude" or "having attitude" when they wish to convey that the person has a distinct personality, often involving some measure of defiance, bravado, or rebelliousness. The term is also applied to certain activities or works of expression, the implication being that (for example) paintings with attitude would somehow convey a very strong and distinctive point of view that set them apart from the everyday and the commonplace.

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
Conchan asked on 06/13/04 - How to learn English

Hello Voiceguy,

I am taking English classes at a private language school where one class is taught by a native English speaker and the next is taught by a Japanese teacher.
Recently there was a disagreement between the two teachers and I would like to know your opinion on the matter.

The native speaker said that

This is what we have to do when we learn a foreign language.

and the Japanese teacher said that

This is what we have to do do when we are learning a foreign lanuage.

and that writing is present perfect so the feeling of the actual condition is weak.

Which is correct and why?

Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Have a nice day.

Sincerly,
Conchan

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

I hope I am not missing the point of your question. In

This is what we have to do when we learn a foreign language.
the verb learn is set in the present simple tense. In this sentence it expresses a usual or habitual state, something typical or repeated, or something that is a generalization.

In the sentence
This is what we have to do do when we are learning a foreign lanuage.
the verb are learning is set in present continuous or present progressive tense. In this sentence it expresses something that is in progress now.

I have a hard time seeing any preference for one version of this sentence over the other version. Both seem to me to express the same idea, both seem entirely grammatical, and it is difficult for me to say that one of them is "weaker" than the other. I would give both sentences equal dignity.

Neither of these sentences uses the present perfect tense, which is why I expressed concern at the beginning about whether I have understood your question correctly. (The verb "have understood" in the last sentence is an example of present perfect.)

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Question/Answer
gss30 asked on 06/12/04 - Converting measures

Is there an easy way to convert quickly:
Kilometers and meters in American measure
Celsius in Farrenheit
kilos in pounds
Meters in feet
Sure I've already studied it, but sometimes I forget and I always have to lookit up.The system we use in Brazil is:kilometers, not miles, meters, not feet,
and the inches and pounds(in weight, we use kilos)confuse me.I'd like quick tips(if you have)to convert.
Thank you

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

I don't have to make the conversions very often here in the U.S., but here are a few things that are helpful in making very rough conversions in my head while traveling:

For liquids: a liter is very close to a quart.

For speeds or distances: 100 kilometers is about 60 miles. Traveling at 100 km/h is about the same as 60 mph.

For length: A meter is close to a yard (three feet).

For smaller lengths: The conversion is roughly 2.5 cm per inch.

For weight: I just have to remember the conversion factor of 2.2 pounds per kilogram. For small weights, there are about 30 grams in an ounce.

For temperature: There is a precise formula, but the only time I care about temperature is in connection with a weather forecast. I just remember that 25 degrees (Celsius) is comfortable (equivalent to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) and figure that anything significantly higher or lower than that will seem hot or cold. You could do the same thing with temperatures in the 70s (Fahrenheit).

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Question/Answer
gss30 asked on 06/12/04 - meaning

What is the meaning of "trip over" here:
Tim tripped over a rock.
I couldn't find this part of this prepositional phrase in the dictionaries I looked it up.

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

"Trip over" is a phrasal verb that refers to stumbling. If Tim does not see the rock and it catches his shoe, causing him to stumble, we say that he "tripped over" the rock. We could also say that he "tripped on" the rock, or that the rock "made him trip."

Technically, although over is a preposition, in this kind of phrasal verb it is acting as an adverbial particle. Trying to analyze it as a prepositional phrase will lead only to frustration.

For a full collection of verbs of this kind, see G. W. Davidson, Chambers Pocket Guide to Phrasal Verbs (1992).

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Question/Answer
gss30 asked on 06/12/04 - Clothe

Can clothe be a verb, with the meaning of "get dressed", not only as a noun?

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

Yes, "clothe" is a verb, which can be used literally to refer to the act of getting dressed, or figuratively to refer to a quality or power given to or possessed by someone.

In referring to the act of dressing, "clothe" sounds rather formal.

After her bath, she clothed herself in a velvet dress of dark green.

As an attorney in New York, Burr had few equals. He commanded large fees, with which he furnished splendid homes, clothed himself and his wife in the most elegant fashion, and entertained lavishly.
In the figurative use, the effect is often poetic:
He has clothed himself in beauty, righteousness, and majesty.
The term is often used to refer to official power:
Under the new law, agents are now clothed with the power of both the state and federal governments.

Airport security officers are now clothed with the authority to arrest and detain passengers on any suspicion whatever.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/13/04 - Keep it in the family

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to keep it in the family" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

This phrase turns up in a variety of settings.

"Family" could refer literally to a person's biological family, or it could refer figuratively to people having a close relationship or sympathetic views.

Here are some examples I can think of:

This lantern was a gift from Abraham Lincoln to my great-great-great-grandfather. We have kept it in the family all these years, but will probably donate it to a museum someday.

For more than 30 years, the Johnson's kept Edgar's secret in the family. Not even their closest friends knew about it.

The governor seems to keep appointing the same cronies to official positions. He is definitely keeping it in the family, taking no chances on someone who is not completely loyal to him.
As you can see, the expression can refer to (a) retaining family ownership of something (an antique, a mansion, etc.), (b) maintaining something in confidence (a family secret), or (c) restricting activities or appointments to family members or close associates. There are probably other uses as well, but they all proceed from the common notion of "family" as described above, in either the literal or figurative sense.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/13/04 - Take an appointment

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to take an appointment" exist or is it always "to make appointment/make an appointment"?

If "to take an appointment" exists, does it have the same meaning as "to make appointment/make an appointment"?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

When someone makes an appointment, it means that they agree on a meeting time with someone else. Thus, typically, someone who needs to see a doctor or lawyer or other professional will call that person's office and make an appointment for a specific date and time. A parent might make an appointment with a child's teacher to discuss academic problems. The word "appointment" refers to a scheduled meeting or rendezvouz.

In the case of take an appointment, the meaning of "appointment" changes. Now it refers to a position or title that is given to someone -- that is, the person is appointed to take a certain position or responsibility.

Following his completion of graduate studies, Dr. Hoffman took an appointment as Deputy Chief of Nuclear Research at the Hudson Institute.

After his father died, he returned to the east coast, taking an appointment as a senior researcher at the National Institutes of Health.
Of course, someone who has the power to appoint people to positions of responsibility or honor could be described as making such appointments; the context would have to clarify such meaning. In everyday use, however, people make appointments in the sense of reserving times to meet with others.

It appears to me that in the UK, people may refer to "taking an appointment" with a doctor or other professional, meaning that one has visited the doctor or other professional (pursuant to an appointment) and received advice. This usage is not common in the U.S., however.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/13/04 - Work out of New York

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to work out of New York" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/13/04:

This expression conveys the idea that the person's "home base" is New York, even if that person's work involves travel over a wide-ranging geographic area.

After the reorganization is complete, I will be working out of the regional office in Boston.

Our top sales representative actually works out of his house in Rochester.
Possible alternatives:
[person] is based in [location]

[person] has his/her office in [location]
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/11/04 - Quote, float, list

Dear ESL Experts:

When it comes to shares/stock or things related to the stock exchange, what are the differences among "to quote," "to list," and "to float"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these verbs?

Are there any cases in which all or some of them may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/12/04:

These terms may have a slightly different use in the U.K. Let me offer some terminology as it would be used in the U.S.

Wen a company "goes public" -- that is, follows the legal processes to offer its shares to the public -- the process is called an "IPO," or Initial Public Offering.

If the company chooses to do so, and if it meets certain requirements, it can "list" its shares on a stock exchange. This is an organized market that is set up for the purpose of buying and selling shares of stock of public companies.

The price at which shares are bought and sold changes from moment to moment, reflecting the information that buyers and sellers may have about the underlying company. At any moment, there will typically be a "bid" price, which reflects what buyers are willing to pay for shares of a particular stock, and an "asked" price, which reflects what sellers are demanding for purchase of shares. These two prices are typically very close together in actively traded stocks.

A "quote" is simply a report of the most recent trading prices of the stock. For the most prominent stock exchanges, these quotes (prices) are available through electronic services called "tickers." In addition, at the close of each business day, the exchanges report three figures for each listed security: the day's highest trading price; the day's lowest trading price; and the closing price. These "high - low - close" figures are reported in the financial sections of major newspapers.

The term "float," as I understand its use in the U.K., means the same thing as the U.S. term "market capitalization" or "market cap." In a simple example, a company that had issued 10,000 shares that were each worth $100 would have a market capitalization of 10,000 x $100 or $1 million. I believe that people in the U.K. would say that the company has a "float" of $1 million. Of course, large companies have many more shares than this, and their market capitalizations run into the billions of dollars.

Note, by the way, that the New York Stock Exchange will only accept companies with a certain minimum size of market capitalization, and a minimum per-share price. Companies that fall below the required minimums are at risk of being "delisted" -- dropped from the exchange. A company that falls off the NYSE must then choose whether to list itself on one of the less prestigious exchanges, or simply allow trading of its stock in the OTC, or "over-the-counter," market. The most prominent OTC operation in the U.S. is called NASDAQ, a computerized service operated by the National Association of Securities Dealers. (The initials stand for National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation service.) On this service, in lieu of a single room where "floor traders" buy and sell securities through "open outcry" (the model followed by the NYSE), stockbrokers who subscribe to the NASDAQ service can retrieve buy and sell information over a computer network, and execute transactions over that network.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/12/04 - Be here to stay

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to be here to stay" have a particular meaning in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Does an opposite exist?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/12/04:

It means that someone or something is (or will be) present on a long-term or permanent basis. The opposite would be a presence that was temporary or transitory.

After recent terror attacks, high security at airports is here to stay.

Despite massive efforts to stamp it out, most people believe that peer-to-peer sharing of music files is here to stay.

Like cockroaches, spam e-mail is here to stay. Legal efforts to stamp it out have been completely ineffective.
Anything that conveys the idea of permanence or long term could act as a substitute:
in it for the long haul

in for the duration

staying the course

playing for keeps

a permanent fixture

as certain as death and taxes
Opposites would convey the idea of short term, temporary, impermanence:
a passing fancy

temporary

flash in the pan

fad

here today, gone tomorrow

a fluke

[something that will] burn itself out quickly
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/10/04 - How's it going with Louise?

Dear ESL Experts:

Are the following questions correct and natural in U.S. English?

1) How's it going with Louise?

2) How's your relationship with Louise going?

3) Is everything okay/all right between Louise and you?

4) Is everything okay/all right with Louise?

5) How do you get along with Louise?

6) How do you get on with Louise?

If all six are possible, do they convey the same meaning?

If so, which would you use or how would you express this concept?

Also, would you please give me some other alternatives to be used when asking a person about his/her relationship?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/11/04:

These questions are all in the same ballpark (there's that expression again), but there are some nuanced differences.

Questions 1, 2, 5, and 6 all proceed from a point of neutrality; in other words, they do not presuppose that there might be anything wrong with the relationship. (Number 6 sounds British -- "get on" in this meaning is more common in the UK.)

Questions 3 and 4 imply concern on the part of the asker that something is, in fact, wrong. I suppose they could almost be classified as a species of rhetorical question. When we ask "is everything all right?" or "is everything OK?" we suggest very strongly our worry that things are not all right or OK. This is true in any context, not just asking about someone's relationship.

Alice: George just fell down the front stairwell.

Belinda: Oh my God! Is he OK?
Getting back to your question: Because personal relationships are almost always a sensitive issue, and are subject to emotional ups and downs, this kind of question must be phrased with care, taking into account everything the asker knows about the other person's degree of comfort in talking about the subject. In many cases, you could not use any of these questions, but would need to approach the subject more obliquely:
I saw you with Louise yesterday.

Louise seems like a nice person.

Wish I could find someone as nice as Louise.
However one approaches the subject, there is no guarantee that the person will choose to talk about it, or to give honest answers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/10/04 - Have a boner for someone/something

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to have/get a boner for something/someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, are "to get" and "to have" the only verbs that go with "boner for"?

Finally, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/11/04:

You would not use this expression in polite company.

A male who "has a boner" is in a state of sexual arousal. Figuratively, the expression means that someone (probably, but not alawys, male) is in a lustful state with regard to someone or something, or is otherwise preoccupied with someone or something.

The only alternative that comes immediately to mind -- and one that is more commonly heard -- is saying that a person "has a hardon for" someone or something. This, also, would not be used in polite company.

Some people claim that George Bush had a hardon for Iraq when he took office, and was just looking for an excuse to invade.

Sean has a real hardon for that new Alien computer with dual processors and 64-bits.
In most situations, you would want to choose something more polite, without the prominent sexual reference -- even if the point being made is figurative. There are dozens of expressions that convey the idea of lust or obsession. For example:
Some people claim that George Bush was obsessed with Iraq when he took office, and was just looking for an excuse to invade.

Sean is really lusting for that new Alien computer with dual processors and 64-bits.
In the direct, non-figurative sense, it would be more polite to say that a person "has got the hots" for someone else.
John has got the hots for that new gal in Accounting. He can't take his eyes off her.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/09/04 - Grab - seized the opportunity-moment

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to grab the opportunity/moment (to do something)" or "to seize the opportunity/moment (to do something)"?

If both are possible, may they be used interchangeably?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is it possible "to catch the opportunity/moment (to do something)" and "to take" the opportunity/moment (to do something)"?

If so, does it have the same meaning as "to grab/seize the opportunity/moment (to do something)"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/09/04:

"Grab the opportunity" and "seize the opportunity" mean the same thing. "Seize the moment" is commonly used, but I have not heard "grab the moment" (although people would understand it).

I have run into "catch the opportunity" from time to time. "Catch the moment" is often used in connection with photography, referring to fast action and/or good fortune in capturing a unique image on film.

We use "take the opportunity" to express the idea of taking advantage of an opportunity. Although it is difficult to set out a difference between this and "grabbing" or "seizing" an opportunity, the latter imply that a person has to make a special effort to attain the opportunity, whereas merely "taking" an opportunity requires no more than the simple decision to do so. Thus:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my assistant, Denise, for all her help in putting together today's presentation.

We encourage all parents to take the opportunity to observe our class activities.
But:
These prices won't last, and when these cars are gone, they're gone! Grab this opportunity while you can!

It is time for the Cypriots to seize the opportunity to end 30 years of division.

In the aftermath of 9/11, lawmakers seized the opportunity to pass new surveillance laws that would have been unthinkable before that event.
We would not say "take the moment." We often say "take a moment" :
Would you please take a moment to review the three rules printed on this card?

Let me get you a bigger box for that, Mrs. Carlyle. It will only take a moment.
Here, of course, we are not talking about "the moment," as in "the occasion," but rather "a moment," as in "a very brief period of time."

"Seize" and "grab" convey a sense of forcefulness and decisiveness in acting to exploit or profit from an opportunity. "Take" does not; it suggests that the opportunity is right there, ready for use, with no particular effort required. Of all the verbs you have mentioned, "seize" and "take" are probably used most often with "opportunity."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/07/04 - Go full throttle

Dear voiceguy2000:

Thank you very much for very your prompt response explaning the meaning of "to go great guns."

Is "to go full throttle" a good substitute for "to go great guns"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/07/04:

I think it would work as a substitute in some instances, but it would really depend on the context. "Full throttle" carries the specific connotation of speed, because "throttle" refers to the butterfly valve(s) in the carburetor on an engine through which the speed of the engine is controlled. "Going full throttle" would also be expressed by:

going flat out

going at top speed

going wide open

putting the pedal to the metal

going at full gallop

going hell-bent for leather

going like a bat out of hell
"Going great guns" often refers to qualities other than specifically speed; thus, for example, a highly popular restaurant may have business that is still "going great guns" at a late hour (meaning that there are still quite a number of customers) but I am not sure "going full throttle" would be as satisfactory in that use. "Going great guns" often has connotations of success and prowess that "full throttle" would not really capture.

To borrow from a previous andwer I gave, however, "going full throttle" is in the same general ballpark, and could be considered in many situations.

VG

P.S.: I have no idea of the origin of "hell-bent for leather," but I have a feeling it derives in some way from riding horses.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/07/04 - Going great guns

Dera ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "going great guns" in the following sentence?

With her changed, she still is going great guns and we shall be seeing more of her, be it modelling or singing.

Is the phrase "to go great guns" particularly common in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives that have the same or a similar meaning?

Finally, if it does exist, what is its opposite?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/07/04:

I have no idea where the expression comes from (it sounds like something from naval sources, perhaps referring to cannons on a ship), but it means the same as "going strong." It conveys the idea of operating successfully, working well, proceeding at full strength. It is a fairly familiar expression in English.

Our team was going great guns until the center sprained his ankle. After that, we couldn't seem to score again.

It's after 2:00 AM and that party is still going great guns. I think it's time to complain to the police.

Microsoft is increasingly worried by the open software movement, which has been going great guns for the last five years.
Apart from "going strong," which is probably the best substitute, other possibilities are:
going full tilt

at the top of [one's] game

going like gangbusters

going/looking like a million bucks
Possible opposites would include:
limping along

scraping the ground

dragging ass [not polite]

showing his/her/its age

past his/her/its prime
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/06/04 - AT the edge of town - ON the edge of town

Dera voiceguy2000:

In your answer to my question asking the meaning of "on the edge of town," you mention that "at the edge of town" is also possible.

What is the difference between "at the edge of town" and "on the edge of town"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which the two may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/06/04:

Please see my answer to your Direct Question of the same title.

If anyone else out there can think of a principled distinction between these two phrases, please speak up.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/06/04 - You're going to reap just what you sow/sowed

Dear voiceguy2000:

Is the saying "You're going to reap just what you sow/sowed" common in U.S. English? (It seems to me that this phrase is in a Lou Reed song called "Just a Perfect Day" or just "Perfect Day" but I'm not 100% sure.)

If so, is it close in meaning to "you only get out what you are willing to put in"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo


voiceguy2000 answered on 06/06/04:

The notion of "reaping what you sow" traces back to the Bible:

For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
Galatians 6:7.

Versions of this expression are used in U.S. English. The most common setting is that of saying that people get what they deserve ("just deserts"), or the popular understanding of karma (what you send out into the universe is what will come back to you).

"Reaping what you sow" has a somewhat broader meaning that "getting out what you put in," because it embraces both the positive and the negative. If, figuratively, you sow evil, than you can expect to reap evil in return. What you do comes back to you -- if you do positive things, you can expect positive things to come back, but if you do negative things, you can expect negative things to come back. This image is found in the Old Testament as well:
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
Hosea 8:7.

We can look at the distinction this way. When we say, "You only get out [of something] what you are willing to put in," we are referring to the quantity of effort and commitment that someone is willing to devote to an endeavor. The idea is: Put in very little, get out very little. Put in a lot, get out a lot. Work hard and you will be rewarded. Goof off and you will not.

On the other hand, "reaping what you sow" has to do with the nature or quality of your actions. The idea is: Sow good, reap good. Sow evil, reap evil. Act badly, and the universe will respond by sending bad things your way.

As you can see, both expressions have to do with consequences, but they address different facets of the concept.

If it is available to you, you might take a look at Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on "Compensation."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/06/04 - AT the edge of town- ON the edge of town

Dera voiceguy2000:

In your answer to my question asking the meaning of "on the edge of town," you mention that "at the edge of town" is also possible.

What is the difference between "at the edge of town" and "on the edge of town"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which the two may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/06/04:

I think that these two expressions are generally interchangeable. I am unable to think of any situation where there would be a change in meaning if "at" was used in place of "on" or vice versa. Thus:

The cemetery where your grandfather is buried is on Miller Road, just at / on the edge of town.

At / On the edge of town, I checked again to make sure that my gun was loaded and ready.
The choice of "on" or "at" may simply be dictated by what sounds most fluid, or what happens to be idiomatic.
The trouble with living in the downtown area is that all the best stores are way out on the edge of town. [at doesn't sound as good to me, although it would be grammatical]

Now that I have finally caught that pesky squirrel, I think I had better release it at the edge of town. [on this one, at sounds better, although once again on would be grammatical]
If there is a difference, and I'm not sure there is, it may be that "at" conjures up a more concrete location, whereas "on" is somewhat more abstract. I may be imagining this, however; it is a very subtle shade of difference.

In any event, the two should be interchangeable in most situations. Remember that the whole concept of a town having an "edge" is somewhat fanciful to begin with. There may be a formal, legal boundary, but in everyday experience when we approach a town we see indications such as reduced speed limits, curbs and sidewalks in place of open road, houses and buildings, and so forth. It is this transition from open countryside to a more urban setting that we refer to as the "edge," and it is not nearly as sharp or precise as the word would suggest.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/05/04 - He's been to Paris - He's gone to Paris

Dear ESL Experts:

In British English, the difference between "He's been to Paris" and "He's gone to Paris" is the following:

'He's been to Paris.' This sentence means that the person has been to Paris and has come back again.

'He's gone to Paris.' This sentence means that the person is in Paris now.

My question is:

Do you make the same distinction in U.S. English?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/05/04:

Adding to Schoolmarm's response, it seems to me that in idiomatic U.S. English we would say "he is in Paris" or "he is over in Paris" in situations where the British might say "he's gone to Paris" when the idea being conveyed is that the person in question happens to be in Paris at the present moment.

There is a lot of overlap in various aspects of "been" and "gone" in idiomatic English, and there are some differences between the U.S. and the U.K. in certain everyday expressions. To me, it is a rather irregular use of "to be" when a person says something like this:

I've just been to see the headmaster about the new attendance policy.
This construction seems to me to be more common in the U.K., although it certainly is not unknown in the U.S. It would be more conventional (in terms of the regular meaning of the words) to say, "I've just gone to see the headmaster ..." or, better still, "I've just seen the headmaster ..."

But it is certainly a common construction to use "been" in the sense of "been there."
Have you been to Stockholm before, Mrs. Osgood?

I've never been to a Yoga class before.

We need to hurry up and finish shopping. The dogs have been in the car too long already.
Anyway, I agree with Schoolmarm's analysis, and don't mean to get into a lengthy discussion of these points.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/05/04 - Take in someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to take in someone" mean "to fool someone" or "to cheat/deceive someone"?

Would you please give me some examples and alternatives to "take in someone"?

Also, is "to take someone in" also possible? If so, does it have the same meaning as "to take in someone"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/05/04:

There are three main meanings of to take in, and the context must indicate which one applies.

The first meaning is, as you say, to fool or deceive someone.

I am sorry to hear that you were taken in by that con artist. At least you only lost a few hundred dollars.

What gets me is how gullible voters get taken in by these pie-in-the-sky campaign promises every time there's an election. They should know by now that those promises are empty.

He thought she loved him, but all she wanted was to get control of his money. She took him in completely.
The second meaning refers to the act of bringing a person or animal in to safety and care.
The old woman's house reeked from the smell of all the stray cats she had taken in.

The young boy wandered hungry on the streets for two days, until he was finally taken in by a kindly old couple on the edge of town.

When my father died, my mother couldn't afford to take care of all of us. My older brother and I were taken in by my uncle John, while the youngest ones stayed with mom.
The third meaning conveys the idea of grasping or appreciating something, as in digesting important news or looking with awe upon a majestic sight.
The newspaper headline was stark: 12 Die in Private Plane Crash. Her parents and both brothers were on that plane. It was all too much to take in.

He stood there, rooted to the spot. Of course he had seen pictures of the Great pyramids before, but pictures did not begin to convey the wonder of these ancient structures. He tried his best to take it all in.
Of course, there are literal uses as well, such as a woman who "takes in laundry" from the neighbors, washing and drying it for them to earn a bit of extra money.

There would generally be no difference in meaning between "to take in someone / something" and "to take someone / something in." The choice would be dictated by considerations of clarity and smoothness.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/04/04 - Put in/on the market

Dear ESL Experts:

Does a (business) company put/place an object/article/item/product "in the market" or "on the market"?

If both are correct and possible, do they mean the same thing?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/04/04:

Hmmm ... more prepositions. :-)

On the market is how we describe things that are currently available for purchase.

Laptop computers incorporating this new technology are not expected to be on the market until late fall.

I wanted to get a DVD player just like mine to give to my brother, but I discovered this model is no longer on the market.

When cellular phones first came on the market, they were too expensive for most people.
A company that is offering something for sale might put the thing on the market (most common) or place it on the market. If the product is unsuccessful, or becomes obsolete, the company might take it off the market. (Put it on / take it off should be a familiar pairing.)

Generally we say that a person is in the market for something -- the "something" being an item that the person wants to buy.
I'm in the market for a new laptop computer -- do you have any recommendations?

Sorry, I'm not in the market for a new wristwatch just now. Maybe you can find another tourist to sell one to.

After what happened to Jane on her date last night, I have a feeling she's going to be in the market for a new boyfriend.

These are really amazing prices. Too bad I'm not in the market for new golf clubs right now.
We would not talk about putting a product in the market; the product would be put on the market (offered for sale).

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/04/04 - Fall short OF sthg - fall short ON sthg

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to fall short of something" or "to fall short on something"?

If both are possible, do they convey the same meaning?

If so, which is more commonly used?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/04/04:

At the outset, we should note that "to fall short" can be used without any preposition at all:

Volunteers tried desperately to hold off the rising flood waters, but their efforts fell short.
"To fall short" is to fail to attain an objective or to satisfy a requirement. As a somewhat oversimplified distinction, we can say that when we speak of "falling short of something," the "something" refers to the objective that was not met. Thus:
The charity auction pulled in only $125,000, which fell short of the $300,000 that its organizers had hoped for.

The movie had great promise, but it fell short of the mark.

In 2003, the 1.83 billion tons of world grain production fell short of the 1.94 billion tons consumed, according to the Agriculture Department's latest figures.

Supporters of the initiative gathered an impressive 687,000 signatures on the petition, but the total fell short of the 750,000 required to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The governor's speech seemed to favor the new proposal for gun control, although it fell short of a ringing endorsement of the measure.
By contrast (and remember that this distinction may be somewhat oversimplified), when we speak of "falling short in or on something," the "something" refers to an attribute, quality, or characteristic that is lacking. We could substitute the phrase "with respect to" for "in" or "on."
The car was regarded highly for its handling and its sporty appearance, but most experts agreed that it fell short on safety.

The students tested well in English composition and logical reasoning, but fell short in basic mathematics and foreign languages.

A new study shows that newspapers tend to fall short on religious accuracy and context in their reporting.
Thus, to invent a somewhat strained example, we could say that "The organization fell short of its fundraising goals because in fell short in the number volunteers it recruited to ask for donations and fell short on the number of potential donors that it approached."

The tricky part comes because, as I mentioned at the beginning, "to fall short" can be used without a preposition. When there is a preposition adjacent to it, the preposition may not be functioning in the way I have described above, but may merely be setting the context or location where "falling short" has occurred. For example:
The team showed great promise during the regular season, but fell short in the playoffs.
Here, "in the playoffs" refers to when and where the falling short occurred. Similar examples:
Although millions were spent on emergency planning, the efforts obviously fell short in the most recent blackout episode.

The team performed well in the initial rounds, but their efforts fell short on the final day.
Unfortunately, therefore, it is not really possible to fashion simple, all-purpose rules for knowing how prepositions are being used with the expression "to fall short." The complexity here mirrors the general complexity of using prepositions in English. While the meaning of "falling short of" is fairly straightforward (as described above), the meaning of "falling short in or on" is less predictable.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/03/04 - Give someone a good start

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the phrase "to give someone a a good start" ever used in a figurative way?

If so, when/in which context(s)?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/03/04:

The underlying concept of "a good start" refers to an auspicious beginning, or a beginning sufficient to bode well for eventual completion and success. It may also denote a meaningful degree of initial progress, something that is substantial rather than inconsequential.

One can arrive at "a good start" by several paths. I might get a good start on a project by working diligently on it for a time. A teacher might give her students a good start on certain exercises by supplying some complete examples to follow. Or someone might simply observe that the state of progress in something "looks like a goods start."

We won't be able to finish painting the house today, but we have definitely gotten a good start.

Here are the exercise sheets for tonight, students. I've given you a good start by showing you how to solve the first two problems.

I am pleased by the number of volunteers who came this morning. We are definitely off to a good start.

The librarian wasn't able to point me to all the sources I need, but she definitely gave me a good start.
Note that there are a number of words that can express the "quality" of a start. On the positive side:
a fine start

a strong start

a powerful start

a terrific start

a wonderful start
and so forth. On the negative side:
a bad start

a weak start

an uncertain start

a lousy start

a terrible start
and so forth.

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/03/04 - Give someone a kick

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the phrase "to give someone a kick" ever used with the figurative meaning of "to (strongly) encourage someone to do something"?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/03/04:

In my experience, it is most common to complete the phrase by specifying the location of the kick. Thus, depending on the politeness of the company, one would say, "I gave him a kick in the pants" (more polite), or "I gave him a kick in the butt" or "I gave him a kick in the ass" (less polite). While this is something you could actually do, the expression is used mostly in a figurative sense.

For me, the sense is not so much that of "strongly encouraging" someone as it is that of moving someone forcibly out of a state of lethargy, inertia, or immobility. You are not reasoning with the person; you are forcefully interrupting a pattern of indecisiveness, fear, laziness, or whatever. You are making it clear that immediate action is the only acceptable path.

You'd better go down and give the people in the warehouse a kick in the pants if you want those orders to go out today.

This is ridiculous. We've been waiting in this line for an hour and a half. Someone needs to give this clerk a kick in the ass.
We also talk about "building a fire under [someone]" or "lighting a fire under [someone]" if we want to stimulate activity.

For gentler forms of persuasion, we may "give [someone] a nudge" or "give [someone] a push." In these instances, it is not necessary to specify the location or the nudge or push.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/02/04 - On someone's end - on someone's part

Dear ESL Experts:

Do "on someone’s part" and "on someone’s end" have the same meaning? (For example, should I say "The Job Center is not down. Maybe the problem is on your end. Try these links." or "The Job Center is not down. Maybe the problem is on your part. Try these links"?)

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Any alternatives?

Are the above phrases used in formal situations?

If so, what do you usually say in everyday speech/conversation?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/02/04:

I would define "at your end" as meaning "with respect to things under your immediate control." I would define "on your part" as meaning "with respect to you" or " as concerns you."

The difficulty with trying to use these two expressions interchangeably is that end tends to refer to something that is physically or figuratively under control of one person, as distinguished from another person, whereas part tends to refer to a person himself or herself. Although there are some situations where these concepts can overlap, I would say that the overlap is more of an exception than a rule.

In the simplest example, where there is a communication link extending between Point A and Point B, we can say that the two Points each represent an "end" or terminus of that link. If there is a problem with the link, the two people can explore possible reasons by analyzing the state of the equipment and signals "at my end" and "at your end." ("On" may be used in place of "at," but "at" would be the most natural-sounding in most situations.) For this kind of discussion, "on my part" or "on your part" would sound strange.

Similarly, when the efforts of two or more people are required to bring about a result, the responsibilities of a particular person may be referred to as being "at [that person's] end."

I'll take care of getting the financing arranged at my end. You just make sure the units are ready to ship on Monday.

We' got all the clearances at our end. As soon as you get your export permit, we can get this deal going.
At the other end of the spectrum, "on [someone's] part" generally refers to a person himself or herself (or perhaps an organization or institution), rather than to a condition that exists in the presence of that person. Something referred to as "on [someone's] part" is something that exists with respect to that person, or belongs to that person.
This new anti-virus software requires no manual updating on your part.

Lack of planning on your part will not constitute an emergency on my part.

The best thing is that it takes only a couple of days for us to set this up, and it requires no ongoing effort on your part.

Try this in your home for ten days, with no obligation on your part. If you don't like it, send it back at our expense. Otherwise, we will charge your credit card for three easy payments of $29.

We have studied the plane's flight recorder, and found no evidence of any error on the pilot's part [alt: on the part of the pilot]. Accordingly, we are closing the investigation.
I could imagine situations where, for example, a company might refer to obligations "at our end" or "on our part" in certain contexts. In both cases, the meaning would be "belonging to us." Only in this "belonging" sense, as far as I can see, does any overlap occur between the two expressions.

There is no reason I can think of that "on [someone's] part" could not be used in the most formal of situations. "At [someones] end" has both formal and informal uses; thus, everything would depend on the specific context. Both expressions could be used in everyday conversation, but there are usually less wordy ways to convey the same meaning as "on [one's] part."

It is hard to think of any general-purpose substitutes for either phrase. There are many ways to convey the same general meanings; for example, instead of "responsibilities on your part" we could say "responsibilities falling on you" or "items for which your are responsible" or simply "your responsibilities." Because of this, there has not been a great need for direct substitutes.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/02/04 - Cross someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to cross someone" means "to make someone angry"?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/02/04:

I remember using "don't cross me" in one of my recent examples.

To cross someone is to interfere with, thwart, or obstruct something associated with that person. It carries the idea of challenging or defying that person, by undermining something that the person seeks to accomplish or maintain. The result may well be to make that person angry or upset, but the phrase refers to the defiant act, rather than the emotional result.

Don't cross me, Sherwood. If I find out you have been leaking those rumors to headquarters, you'll be lucky to keep a job as a janitor.

He seems like an open and easygoing guy, but don't cross him. Underneath that congenial exterior is a vindictive sonofabitch.
There are some related expressions.

We say that two people are "working at cross purposes" when their efforts interfere with each other or, in the worst case, cancel each other out by being contrary to one another. Often, this situation may arise in settings where the two people are not conscious of this interference/cancellation effect.
The Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency often seem to be working at cross purposes, with one agency trying to clear out dying trees that are a fire hazard while the other tries to preserve every tree regardless of health.
The idea draws on the metaphor of lack of alignment between one thing and another; rather than two things pointing (and working) in the same direction, the two are aligned in widely divergent directions. We talk of cross streets that intersect at right angles, and cross winds that blow sideways in relation to our direction of travel (such as across an airport runway), or cross currents in the ocean that move sideways in relation to the main motion of waves on the beach.

There is also a colloquial expression to the effect that someone has "gotten crosswise with" another person or institution. This implies that someone has gotten in trouble with the other person or institution, probably by violating a rule or law and getting caught.
Jack's company was doing well until he got crosswise with the tax authorities for some tricky accounting. By the time they finished with him, the company was ruined.
We also talk of "crossing swords" (fighting) with someone else.
These committee hearings have become so predictable. It doesn't matter what the subject is -- all Senator Crawford has to do is open his mouth on something, and Senator Taylor immediately jumps in and disagrees. Those two guys cross swords on everything, no matter how trivial.
There is an old literary term (dating at least back to Shakespeare's time), "star-crossed," which refers to something that is not favored by the stars (in an astrological sense) and is therefore ill-fated and/or unlucky. As the expression survives today, it is almost always used with "lovers."
Romeo and Juliet are perhaps literature's most famous star-crossed lovers.
Finally, a very common expression refers to one person "crossing paths" with another, which simply means to meet or to encounter. This is often used figuratively as well.
I can't believe we were staying at the same hotel in Hawaii during the same week and never crossed paths with one another.

You didn't happen to cross paths with Doug McIntyre at this morning&39;s meeting, did you?

I use only organic whole-wheat tortillas that have never crossed paths with even a teasponful of refined sugar.

I have studied a lot of advanced mathematics, but I never crossed paths with directional derivatives. How do they work?
And if there is an encouter, we say that people's paths crossed.

As an adjective, "cross" is often used to mean "in ill humor," and often applied to children.
My older child was always mellow as a baby, but this one is cross all the time. Nothing I do seems to make him happy.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/01/04 - Get the hang of something

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to get the hang of something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/01/04:

It means to learn how to do something, typically something that requires a bit of practice or experience to do properly.

It took me about a month to get the hang of riding a bicycle. Of course, as they say, once you learn you never forget.

I know I'm supposed to let my arm, rather than my wrist, do the work when serving the ball, but I just can't seem to get the hang of it.

Sorting the mail into these boxes is incredibly easy. You'll get the hang of it in no time.

This video game is actually pretty cool once you get the hang of it.

My kids were always afraid of swimming until I taight them how to tread water. Now that they have gotten the hang of it, I cant seem to keep them out of the water.
I am sure there are a number of alternative expressions, but the only close one that comes to mind is "learning the ropes" (probably of nautical origin).
It may take you a short while to learn the ropes in this new position, but the people here will help you any time you need it.
Other possible expressions include
figure [something] out

get good at [something]

master [something]

develop skill at/in [something]
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 06/01/04 - This is a painting of-by Picasso

Dear ESL Experts

Which of the following three is correct and natural - "This is a painting OF Picasso," "This is a painting BY Picasso," or "This is a Picasso painting"?

If all three are possible, do they convey the same meaning?

If so, which would you use?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 06/01/04:

If you say, "This is a painting of Picasso," you mean that the subject in the painting is Picasso himself. It is a likeness of Picasso. As a crude substitute, replace "of" with the words "that shows" to see how the meaning works.

Saying "this is a painting by Picasso means that Picasso is the artist who created the painting. Similarly, in normal use, saying "this is a Picasso painting" would mean the same thing, namely, that Picasso was the painter of the painting.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/30/04 - More than you can handle-chew

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "more than you can handle" or "more than you can chew"?

If both are possible, do they mean the same thing?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/31/04:

The complete expression is to bite off more than one can chew. The metaphor is straightforward; it conveys the idea of biting off a chunk of food that is too big to chew or swallow. Figuratively, it means that a person has taken on a larger responsibility or commitment than that person can deal with.

My son's school project requires him to investigate the vehicle laws of all 50 states. It's an interesting project, but it is a lot of work; I hope he hasn't bitten off more than he can chew.

Don't cross me, Jenkins. If you try to take this issue to the full Council, you will quickly discover that you have bitten off far more than you can chew.

I wish Gerald would learn to say no. Whenever they ask for volunteers, his hand goes up immediately, and he always bites off more than he can chew.
"More than [one] can handle" has a straightforward meaning. Unlike "more than [one] can chew," which calls for "bite off" to complete the expression, there is nothing specific needed with "more than [one] can handle."

Both expressions convey the same basic meaning of having responsibilities or challenges in excess of one's ability to meet them. However, "to bite off more than [one] can chew" always involves a personal choice by the person having the responsibility. In other words, someone else doesn't do the biting and then pass along the responsibility to this person. It is their own decision that puts them in the predicament of being overloaded or overmatched.

On the other hand, a number of different reasons could explain a person having to deal with "more than he can handle." Events over which he had no control may have led to that result. A supervisor may have assigned him too much work. An unexpected development may have led to the result. Of course, it is also possible for a person to take on "more than [he or she] can handle," but that is only one possible scenario.
How are we supposed to get all this work done? I wish the people in charge would stop giving us more than we can handle.

When the new doll was featured in USA Today, the orders flooded in -- far more than the tiny factory could handle.

I'm not sure it's wise to sign up for so many courses in your first semester, Alison. It may be more than you can handle.
You would not substitute "more than ___ can chew" for "more than ___ can handle" in these latter examples. However, in the last one, you could replace the second sentence with "You may be biting off more than you can chew."

I hope this is sufficiently clear.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/30/04 - Have a crush on something/someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to have a crush on something/someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some alternative phrases that have the same or a similar meaning?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/30/04:

This means that someone has fallen blindly in love with someone else. It tends to carry the idea of an immature or adolescent infatuation, rather than a deep or mature kind of love. Thus, a schoolboy may have a crush on a girl in the class, or one of the girls may have a crush on a teen celebrity, or a student may have a crush on one of the teachers.

My sister has such a crush on Orlando Bloom. It's sickening.

Don't look now, but I think Frank has a crush on Miss Havelmeyer. She is quite a dish, come to think of it -- especially for a teacher.
I have never heard the expression used with things; only with other people.

It is hard to think of a close substitute. The phrase "puppy love" refers to young and inexperienced feelings of love or infatuation. There are other expressions (such as saying that someone has "lost their head" over someone else) that convey the idea of infatuation, but do not imply an immature or adolescent nature. An adult man might fall "head over heels" in love with an adult woman, but we would not generally call this a "crush" if it is a mature relationship.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/29/04 - Loose oneself up

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to loose oneself up" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Finally, what is the opposite of "to loose oneself up"? Maybe "to tighten oneself up"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/29/04:

In this expression we would use the word loosen, which means to make looser.

Most commonly, people loosen themselves up in preparation for physical activity of some kind. They may engage in stretching or relaxation exercises before using weightlifting machines at the local gym, for example. This is also commonly referred to as "warming up."

Before we begin today's exercises, let's take a few minutes to loosen up and relax.
The expression can also refer to people's emotional state, where it is often used intransitively.
It was only after the first hour of our meeting that people began to loosen up and share their honest views.

After the hilarious episode with the teacher accidentally setting his necktie on fire, the whole class loosened up.
I am not sure there is an all-purpose opposite for this phrase. It conveys the idea of relaxing, becoming more comfortable, and releasing tension. There are many words that describe the opposite state (tense, uptight, nervous, stiff, restrained, guarded, and so on). You could combine the verb "become" with any of these to form an opposite:
Aaron became nervous when the owner walked into the room.
Some of the words can be used directly as verbs:
The telephone rang. David tensed. He knew the call could mean only one thing.

A twig snapped in the darkness. Sheila stiffened. Was it a bear?
I don't recall encountering the use of "to tighten oneself up" in the sense you are talking about. There is a use of "tighten" to refer to making something more precise, as in a figure skater who wants to tighten up her turns.

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/29/04 - Bootle up one's courage

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to bootle up one's courage" have any sense in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/29/04:

It does not make any sense to me. As far as I know, bootle is not a recognized word (although it is a name found in the U.K.).

There is, of course, the word bottle, and perhaps that is what you meant to type.

We have the expression to bottle up [something], which normally conveys the idea of confining or restraining something, holding it back, keeping it (figuratively) in a bottle rather than allowing it free play. Thus:

We have been trying to get the new Highway Bill to a vote in the Senate, but it has been bottled up in committee for months.

You must learn to express and experience your feelings, Karen. It is not healthy to keep them bottled up inside.

George has kept his anger bottled up for months. I am worried that one day he is going to explode.
Another common expression for this is keeping a tight lid on [something].
Alex kept a tight lid on his temper, knowing that one more outburst would cause the judge to have him removed from the courtroom.
Now, none of these concepts really makes sense in connection with courage. We normally want to display courage, not hide it. Thus, we tend to say things such as
muster one's courage

screw up one's courage [from the Shakespearean line, "screw your courage to the sticking-point"]

build up one's courage

gather one's courage
To "bottle up one's courage" would be to suppress it or hide it, which does not seem like a particularly useful concept.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/26/04 - Down - out of order

Dear Rich:

What is the difference between "to be down" and "to be out of order" with reference/regard to things such as telephone, computer, printer/elevator, razor, washing-machine, etc.?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which they are interchangeable?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

Finally, is the following sentence correct and natural?

"The ring bell/computer/television is down/doesn't work/doesn't function/isn't working/isn't functioning because there is no power/electricity."

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "What is the difference between 'to be down' and 'to be out of order' with reference/regard to things such as telephone, computer, printer/elevator, razor, washing-machine, etc.?" correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/28/04:

"Down" truly does seem to be associated with computers and technical systems more than anything else.

To me, it usually suggests a situation where all the components are functional -- nothing is actually broken -- but for some reason they are not actually operating. It is comparable to a car running out of gas: Nothing is wrong with any of the systems in the car (engine, electrical, transmission, and so on), but the car will not go anywhere because it lacks fuel. Once the fuel is replenished, the car will go.

A factory owner may decide to "take down" or "shut down" a production line to allow for maintenance or retooling. In this case, again, it is not that anything is broken; it is a purposeful and voluntary decision to halt the process. At the same time, if a piece of machinery suddenly breaks while the line is operating, one might say that "the production line is down right now, but should be running again once we repair this machine." One might, in fact, say that the machine is "out of order" (broken), causing the production line to be "down" (not operating).

In the computer world, systems tend to be "up" (operating) or "down" (not operating). As mentioned above, a system that is "down" may be fully capable of operating -- that is, again, nothing is actually broken -- but the people in charge have chosen to shut it down. Or, perhaps, a lightning bolt has struck a power line, causing a momentary power glitch that has corrupted things and caused the system to crash. The system will be "down" at that point, but we will not know whether anything was actually damaged until we try to start it up again.

In the various Star Trek television series, crew members will say that certain systems -- such as the phaser banks, or the shields, or life support -- are "off line" when they are not available for use. When restored, they are back "on line."

As a matter of custom, "out of order" tends to be applied to electrical or mechanical devices other than computers: radios, televisions, telephones, stoves, refrigerators, microwave ovens, plumbing fixtures, lawn sprinklers, parking meters, and so on. Other words and expressions include:

broken

busted (colloquial)

on the fritz

on the blink

dead

out of whack

malfunctioning
In some specific contexts, other terms are used. For example, when electric service fails, we say "the electricity is out" or "the power is out." We might also say "the telephones are out" if there is no dial tone. In both of these cases, the cause of the outage might be the actual, physical fact of a power or telephone wire that had fallen down to the ground:
Power lines are down throughout the city due to the high winds, causing more than 10,000 people to lose electricity.
This is, of course, an entirely different sense of down from the one described earlier.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/27/04 - What does he/she get up to?

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "What does he/she get up to?" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this question?

Also, is this question similar in meaning to "What is he/she (being) up to?"

If not, when do you use this question?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/28/04:

To be "up to" something is to be engaged in an activity or endeavor. In the U.S., the word "get" is not used with the expression in this meaning.

Someone from the UK or Australia might ask, "What do you get up to in your spare time?" In the U.S., we would simply ask, "What do you do in your spare time?"

We would say, "What is he up to?" or "What are you up to?" when inquiring what the person is doing at that moment. Similarly, we might ask, "What were you up to last night?" or "What was Gerald up to yesterday morning?" when inquiring about those points in time. And we might ask someone, "What have you been up to all morning?" when returning after an absence of several hours.

In everyday use, "what are you up to?" is comparable to asking "what are you doing?" or "what are you working on?"

Being "up to something" carries the meaning of being engaged in something sneaky or devious. If someone says, "I know you're up to something," it is an accusation; the message is that the person believes the other person is doing something in secret. A related expression is "up to no good, " which clearly conveys the idea of something underhanded or questionable. Of course, these things can be used in an ironic or lighthearted manner, so context is very important.

We may also use "up to" in a sense that expresses surprise or dismay about an activity. In this sense, it becomes a rhetorical question.

What on earth are these politicians up to? Here we are, about to shut down the police department for lack of funds, and they're arguing over the date for a summer picnic!

What do you think you're up to, anyway? Get that ridiculous painting out of here at once!
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/27/04 - Wear thin

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to wear thin" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Finally, does this phrase have an opposite?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/28/04:

This expression is often used to convey the idea that someone is approaching a limit on their patience or tolerance, or that something is running out of steam:

My patience is wearing thin, Edgar. You have until tomorrow morning to get this report finished.

Life in the country is wearing kind of thin. I miss the energy and pace of the city.

The problem faced by the television networks is that the reality format is starting to wear a bit thin, with jaded viewers demanding more and more outrageous stunts to keep their attention.

The public's tolerance for more bad news is wearing kind of thin, which may explain recent poll results.

Although this wisecrack may have been funny the first 800 times we heard it, it is beginning to wear a bit thin now.

Isaac's lovelorn-lovesick act is starting to wear a little thin, don't you think?
I can't think of an all-purpose substitute for this phrase, but there are other expressions that convey related ideas and could be used in particular situations.
to reach the limits of one's patience

to be at the end of one's rope

something is losing its luster

something is getting old
Oh, knock it off, Lester. This crybaby routine is getting old.
something is becoming tired, dated, worn out, beaten to death

something is frayed at the edges

something is showing its age

something is losing steam or running out of steam or running out of gas

something is starting to scrape the ground

something is losing momentum
Depending on the context, the opposite meaning could be conveyed by one of these:
robust

tried and true

evergreen

perennial

sound

healthy

standing the test of time

durable

lasting
Of course, "wear thin" has literal uses as well, in the sense of clothing that wears thin, or the varnish on a boat's hull, or the insulation on an electric wire. The figurative use draws directly on these images of depletion or deterioration.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/27/04 - Be in the ballpark

Dear voiceguy2000:

In response to my question about whether "to recover" would be an acceptable replacement for "to make up," you wrote:

Even "makeup" is not a particularly brilliant choice, in my view, but it at least is in the ballpark

My question is:

When do you use the phrase "to be in the ballpark"?

Would you please give me some other examples of how to use this phrase?

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/27/04:

Literally, a "ballpark" is a large outdoor area where a game involving a ball -- most likely baseball -- is played.

Figuratively, we use "ballpark" to refer to a zone or range within which things are approximately or roughly correct. Thus, something that is "in the ballpark" may not be exactly correct, but it is reasonably close, or at least close enough not to be labeled obviously wrong.

It is also common to speak of a "ballpark estimate" of figures, meaning that the numbers are approximate and not the result of any careful analysis or calculation (and are therefore subject to change). The figures are better than guesswork, but far from perfect. Perhaps "educated guess" is close to the same meaning.

A: "How much will this remodeling work cost?"
B: "I'll have to sit down and run some numbers to be sure, but a ballpark estimate would be something in the range of $8,000 to $10,000, depending on the exact materials you choose."

We can get these transformers to you on the 12th. Is that in the ballpark?

We may not be able to get this car quite as cheaply as you first requested, but I think we can still stay in the ballpark.

The vertical tracking angle does not have to be absolutely perfect when making other tonearm adjustments, but it needs to be in the ballpark. Otherwise, you will just have to go through all of them again.

Using this worksheet, you can determine whether your asking price is in the ballpark by applying several industry rules of thumb.

Of the planets in our Solar System, Earth is the only one close enough to the Sun to be warm enough for liquid water, yet not so close that the water boils away. Actually, Mars is in the ballpark too, except that present-day Mars has too little atmosphere to retain the necessary heat.

If you include the cost of music, then the sound budget for a "typical Hollywood film" is in the ballpark of 5% of the cost of the film (excluding publicity). Without music it's less than half that.

I can only give you a ballpark estimate at this point, because we have not yet done the detailed analysis. Assuming we find no surprises, however, I don't think this will cost more than about $150,000.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/26/04 - Do a number on someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to do a number on someone" or "to do numbers on someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/27/04:

I have only heard the singular ("do a number on") and not the plural ("do numbers on") version.

The exact meaning of this phrase may vary by context, but it generally means something along the lines of "inflict injury on," "disrupt," or "cause serious change."

Man, these antibiotic pills are really doing a number on my stomach.

Looks like those thieves really did a number on your car. What a mess!

That plumber really did a number on us. After all the money he charged, this stuff still does not work.

That late frost really did a number on my fruit trees. I think I may lose the entire crop.

The doctor looked at the swelling. "You really did a number on this arm, didn't you?" he said.
I am not sure of the origin of this expression. "Number" can refer to a performance piece in the repertoire of a singer or dancer, such that "doing a number" means performing a song, a dance, etc. Perhaps the idea of "doing a number on" someone or something relates metaphorically to the idea of "performing" something on the target.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/26/04 - Payroll employment, make up

Dear ESL Experts:

The following extracts are from an article published in yesterday's edition/issue of The New York Times. Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold?

------------------------------------------------------

But is the economic news really that good? No. While the recent economic performance is better than in the administration's first three years, it isn't at all exceptional by historical standards. And after those three terrible years, the economy has a lot of ground to make up. (Does "to recover" have the same meaning as "to make up" here?)

Let's start with the "nearly 900,000 new jobs" created in the last four months. Is that exceptional? Well, during the first four months of 2000, the last presidential election year, the economy created 1.1 million new jobs. An e-mail message to Bush's supporters from Ken Mehlman, his campaign manager, takes a longer view, boasting of 1.1 million jobs created since last August (when job growth finally turned positive). But in April 2000, payroll employment was 2.3 million higher than in August 1999.

Here's one way to look at it. The job forecast in the 2002 Economic Report of the President assumed that by 2004 the economy would have fully recovered from the 2001 recession. That recovery, according to the official projection, would lead to average payroll employment of 138 million this year - 7 million more than the actual number. So we have a gap of 7 million jobs to make up. (Again, is "recover" another word for or a good alternative to "make up" here?)

------------------------------------------------------

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo


voiceguy2000 answered on 05/27/04:

To make up is to regain or to replace. "To recover" conveys a similar meaning, and would be an acceptable replacement (though not my first choice) in the first instance, where the sentence would speak of having "a lot of ground to recover." It is possible and logical to recover ground.

In the second instance, however, I do not believe that "recover" works well with "gap" -- it sounds strange to say the "we have a gap ... to recover." What we really need is a word that means "close" (as in "closing a gap"). "Recover" does not really satusfy this need. Even "make up" is not a particularly brilliant choice, in my view, but it at least is in the ballpark.

I interpret the author's reference to payroll employment as pointing to jobs where a person is formally on an employer's payroll on a full-time basis, as opposed to casual or day labor and/or part-time employment. There is probably a formal definition of this figure in whatever statistical source this author is using for this figure. What we can be fairly sure of is that this figure has a special meaning of some kind, rather than being a general figure for overall "employment." Whether that special meaning leads to a comparison that is more fair or more slanted is impossible to say without more information. Given the source, fairness is unlikely to be a very high priority.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/25/04 - Listen to - hear

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "to hear something (conversation/dialog/speech/etc.)" and "to listen to something (conversation/dialog/speech/etc.)"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

I'm asking this because, for example, several of my ESL books at the beginning of a listening exercise say things like this/these:

"You will hear a radio discussion about watching TV."

My question is:

Would it be equally correct and natural to say "You will listen to a radio discussion about watching TV"?

Personally, which do you prefer or what would you say to your students if you were an ESL teacher before playing a tape?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S.

>Is the sentence "I'm asking this because, for example, several of my ESL books at the beginning of a listening exercise say things like this/these" correct and natural? If not, would you please rephrase it for me?

>Is the question "Personally, which do you prefer or what would you say to your students if you were an ESL teacher before playing a tape?" correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/26/04:

If I understand my dictionary correctly, "hear" is equivalent to the Italian sentire, and "listen" is equivalent to the Italian ascoltare.

To listen is to direct one's attention purposefully to something that is audible. To hear is simply to experience the sound, whether it was intended or not.

Thus, while engaged in another activity, I might hear a knock at the door, or the sound of a car horn honking outside. I am not listening for either of these things; they occur, and my ears pick up their sounds.

On the other hand, I might go to a concert hall and listen to a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. It is true, of course, that I will hear the music as I sit there, but the point is that I am directing my attention to it -- I am actively listening to it.

In your example, it is all a matter of perspective. When the tape starts, if you are in room you will hear what is recorded on the tape. That is, the sound waves will travel through the air and reach your ears. At the same time, if you are following the instructions, and fulfilling your expected role as a student of English, then you will listen to what is on the tape. That is, you will pay attention to it.

From the standpoint of describing what is on the tape, "hear" is probably a more appropriate choice. The point of that little blurb is not to describe your activity in listening to the recording, but to describe the content of the recording.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/24/04 - As of - as from

Dear Rich:

Is there any differene between "As of..." and "As from..." when both are used to indicate a date or time from which something starts?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Is the following sentence correct and natural?

"As of tomorrow/Monday 14th my phone number is/will be..."?

IN YOUR OWN WORDS, HOW WOULD YOU EXPRESS THIS CONCEPT?

Finally, does "Starting from..." or just "From..." have the same meaning as "As of/As from"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "Is there any differene between 'As of...' and 'As from...' when both are used to indicate a date or time from which something starts?" or should I have written, "Is there any differene between 'As of...' and 'As from...' where both are used to indicate a date or time from which something starts?"

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/26/04:

I have encountered "as from" in British writing from time to time. In the U.S., it survives in certain legal documents, but would not be found in everyday writing or conversation.

In the legal setting, "as of" has the meaning of "effective" with reference to a specific point in time. It may or may not mark a starting or ending point; it is simply a point in time. Thus:

I have been checking my mail regularly, but as of this morning the manuscript had not arrived.
On the other hand, "as from" suggests an actual boundary, with the meaning of "from and after."
We are agreed that as from the 12th of this month, use fees will no longer be payable on these transactions.
If I were writing the legal document, however, I would not use "as from." I would use something along the lines of "on and after" or "from and after" or "effective."

For your sentence, I would choose "as of," or use a more conversational alternative such as "starting."
Starting June 1st, my phone number will be ...

As of next Wednesday, my phone number will be ...

I will have a new phone number as of June 4th. The new number is ...
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/25/04 - Make a stand - take a stand

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to make a stand" and "to take a stand"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are "make" and "take" the only verbs possible before "a stand"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/26/04:

Figuratively, to my ear, "take a stand" suggests that a person (or organization) is taking a position on an issue and announcing it publicly, whereas "make a stand" suggests that they are actually doing something to defend that position or address the issue. The difference is not altogether clearcut, however, and I suspect that "make a stand" is also used simply to refer to the taking of a public position. At the same time, "make a stand" also has the non-figurative use of referring to an actual battle of some kind.

Politicians always claim to be taking a stand on the important issues of the day, but often it is difficult to figure out exactly what their position really is.

It is time for us to take a stand against rising crime in this community.

The time for talking is over. Either we make a stand against the drug dealers on our street, or we might as well just give up on any hope of peace in our neighborhood.

The firefighters decided to make a stand against the blaze along the old logging road, which acts as a natural fire break.

Caught by surprise, the soldiers were forced to make a stand against the rebels in a makeshift bunker consisting of overturned wagons and abandoned cars.
In my own reading, the phrase "take a stand" is far more common than "make a stand." Online research suggests that "make a stand" may be more common in the UK.

I cannot think of any other verbs commonly used with "stand" in this context. "Take a position" is a common alternate to "take a stand."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/25/04 - Take-Get your hands off me!

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you say "Take your hands off me!" or "Get your hands off me!"?

if both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Is "Keep your hands off me!" also possible?

If so, does it have the same meaning as "Take your hands off me!" or "Get your hands off me!"?

By the way, is it "Get/Take/Keep your hands off me!" or "Get/Take/Keep your hands off of me!"?

What about ""Get/Take/Keep your hands out of me!"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/26/04:

Everything you have listed is plausible, except for the last group, "Get/Take/Keep your hands out of me!" That one does not make sense in any familiar context.

In conversation, people would be more likely to say "off me" rather than "off of me," but both are acceptable.

I cannot think of any significant difference among "get," "take," and "keep" in this use. All three convey the basic message, "You do not have permission to have your hands on me. Remove them at once." For extra emphasis, someone might say, "Get them off and keep them off!"

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/25/04 - RE: Am I clear? - Are we clear? - Clear?

Dear voiceguy2000:

Thank you very much for your prompt response.

In the examples:

You are not to go to that park at night, ever. Is that clear?

You will get your homework done before dinner, or you will not get any dinner. Is that clear?

Would it be also correct and natural to use "Is this clear?" in both instances in place of "Is that clear?"

If so, is there any difference between "Is this clear?" and "Is that clear?"

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/25/04:

You would think, using common sense, that "this" and "that" would both work in this particular expression. To my ear, however, "this" lacks the kind of powerful, cautioning, almost accusatory tone of "that." Idiomatically, if you want to capture the parental tone of warning, you must use "that." People use "that" rather than "this" for the purpose.

If you use "this," it sounds much more like a genuine question.

Here is a sketch of where I want the new equipment to be installed. Is this clear, or do you need more information?
Contrast the following:
There will be no more exceptions to our no-smoking policy. The next person caught smoking in this office will be fired on the spot. Is that clear?
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/24/04 - Am I clear? - Are we clear? - Clear?

Dear ESL Experts:

In American English, are "Am I clear?", "Are we clear?", and "Clear?" ever used at the end of what someone has just said to make sure the listener/hearer has understood the speaker/the speaker's instructions or do you have something more common?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

Any alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/25/04:

There are two main situations where expressions of this kind are used:

    1. Where the person asking the question genuinely wants to know whether the listener is grasping the statements being made.

    2. Rhetorically, where the person wants to underscore the gravity of the situation and/or the importance of obeying what has been said.

In the first situation, there are a number of expressions that can be sprinkled into a conversation:

Are you following this explanation?

Does this/that make sense?

OK so far?

Do you see?

Are you still with me?

Are you with me so far?

Are you getting this?
In a different context, the question is that clear? (and related questions) will be used rhetorically, to make the point that the speaker will tolerate no nonsense in relation to the subject matter. The speaker is not actually interested in a reply describing how well the listener has understood the statement; rather, the speaker expects the response "yes," indicating that the listener appreciates the seriousness of the speaker's intent. This kind of expression is often used by parents who are disciplining or laying down rules for their children.
You are not to go to that park at night, ever. Is that clear?

You will get your homework done before dinner, or you will not get any dinner. Is that clear?

We will not, under any circumstances, negotiate with terrorists. Have I made myself clear?
The reason I have described these two contexts before addressing your actual question is that one must be careful not to accidentally give the appearance of operating in the second, rhetorical context when one means only to be in the innocent first context. The danger of using the word "clear," and expressions based on "clear," is that without great care the listener might misinterpret it -- because of its strong association with the rhetorical uses shown in the last examples.

In a face-to-face conversation, where people can see one another's facial expressions and emotional states, there is probably less danger. And, of course, in such a situation, even a relatively benign expression can be turned to aggressive, rhetorical use:
We are never, ever going to surrender. Do you understand?
As long as it is obvious from the context and the behavior of the people that nothing hostile is intended, "Am I clear?" or "Are we clear?" or "Clear?" could all be used as a way of confirming whether the listener had followed what the speaker was saying, or whether there were any questions. The other expressions I listed at the beginning of this answer would often be safer choices in that kind of setting.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/23/04 - Do one's part - do one's share

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to do one's part" and "to do one's share"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/24/04:

The two expressions have essentially the same meaning, in that "part" and "share" both denote the idea of "allocable portion." Both convey the meaning of satisfying one's individual portion of responsibility for a collective activity or endeavor.

This project will be fairly easy as long as everyone does his part / share.

I am asking each one of you to do your part / share to help end hunger in our community.

I had to resign from the board because my schedule made it impossible for my to do my part / share of the work.
Idiomatically, I find that "doing one's part" has a slightly nobler sound to it, especially when used tongue-in-cheek to glorify something mundane.
As you can see, I'm doing my part to support the comic book industry. Look at these new issues!

I see George is doing his part to make sure that no one falls asleep in here. That radio is utterly annoying.
"Doing one's share" would have the same literal meaning in these expressions, but idiomatically "part" is more often used in such cases, in my experience.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/23/04 - They've Screwed Up

Dear ESL Experts:

The following headline is from CBSNEWS.com

Gen. Zinni: 'They've Screwed Up'

What does "screw up" mean here?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/24/04:

To screw up is to make a mistake. The term can be used intransitively, as here, or transitively, as in " to screw something up."

I screwed up and left the milk out overnight. I am sure it is spoiled now.

Uh oh, somebody screwed up here. There are no safety covers over these switches.

Frank, I think I screwed up. Was I supposed to put flat washers under these bolt heads?

These files are a mess. Leave it to Alice to screw up everything she touches.

I screwed up the order of these slides, Arthur. Sorry.

I completely screwed up the registry in my computer. I have no choice but to erase the disk and start over.

This is your last chance, Ron. If you screw up this assignment, you're out.
For the intransitive use ("I made a mistake"), alternatives include
messed up

dropped the ball

f---ed up (vulgar)

fouled up
For the transitive use:
botched [something]

made a botch of [something]

messed [something] up

made a mess of [something]

fouled [something] up
Note that the past participle can be used as an adjective or intensifier:
What a screwed-up mess! It will take us weeks to sort this all out.
The term "screwed up" can also refer to the state of being out of kilter, or wacky, or in disarray.
The government has some pretty screwed up ideas as to how it can "help" us. [alt: "screwy" ideas]

This project is so hopelessly screwed up that only a miracle could save us.
This brief survey only scratches the surface, but should give you a start.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/23/04 - Be late - run late

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to be late" or "to run late"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/23/04:

Both of these obviously involve lateness.

The basic quality of being late is something that can be referred to in a wider range of contexts than the state of running late, which tends to involve one's immediate status of timeliness in relation to an overall schedule or deadline.

In many cases, the phrase "behind schedule" can be substituted for the phrase "running late."

I'm sorry to make you wait, Mr. Fredericks, but we're running late / behind schedule with our appointments today.
On the other hand, "running late" would be chosen in settings where the idea of a "schedule" might seem a bit pretentious.
Hi honey -- I'm running abut 10 minutes late but I should be home in time to take you to Bobby's house for the party.
In such a construction, when the person says "I'm running late" they are reporting their current status as to timeliness.

The quality of being late may reflect a deadline that has already come and gone.
The second baseman threw the ball to home plate, but the throw was late. The runner was safe, and another run was scored.

Johnny, this is the third time this week you have been late to school. We cannot allow this to continue.

My payment was late, and the bank tacked on a 10% penalty.
Conversationally, there are some cases where "bring late" and "running late" could overlap.
I can't stop to talk right now, Arlene. I'm late for a doctor's appointment.

I can't stop to talk right now, Arlene. I'm running late for a doctor's appointment.
What this demonstrates is that "I'm late" can be used idiomatically as a status report on present timeliness in the same manner that "I'm running late" is used.

In summary, "running late" is used principally to describe the current status of a person or an undertaking as to timeliness, often in contexts where any actual consequences of lateness have not yet been felt. Someone who says they are "running late" is often comparing his or her state of progress to a plan or schedule, whether formal or informal, and observing that they have fallen behind. That does not automatically mean that they will be late in relation to an actual deadline; it may be that extra effort or good luck will make up for their current state of being behind schedule.

The state of being late, however, generally refers to an actual deadline or timetable that has been or surely will be missed. One might say that the usual consequence of running late is that when the deadline arrives, the person or project will be late.

Thus, imagine a person who is due to attend a meeting at 9:00 AM. The meeting is in a location that is one hour away, thus requiring that the person leave by no later than 8:00 AM in order to arrive on time. If the clock now says 8:15 AM and the person has not left, then that person is clearly running late, because the odds are very high that the person will not arrive by 9:00 AM. However, the person is not yet actually late for the meeting, because the meeting is not scheduled to start for another 45 minutes.

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/23/04 - Get revenge - take revenge

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following is correct and natural - "to get revenge on someone" or "to take revenge on someone"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/23/04:

Both of these can be (and are) used quite commonly. Both have the same basic meaning. As to when one should be used in favor of the other, I am having difficulty formulating any kind of neat principle. I would say that one should follow the basic difference between get, in its sense of to receive or to become possessed of, on the one hand, and take, in its sense of to acquire, to seize, to capture, on the other. To speak of "getting revenge" addresses the result (revenge being had), whereas to speak of "taking revenge" refers to the action of procuring the revenge.

Why this difference, and why might it be important? Well, for one thing, someone might "get revenge" through the action of external events, rather than through his or her own actions.

The local residents lost their bid to block construction of the new facility, but got their revenge when a major scandal in the company caused the whole project to be abandoned at a significant loss.
This could be viewed as the effect of karma, where the universe itself seems to take note of a person's actions and treat him or her in a corresponding manner.

Following on this theme, "get revenge" can be far less specific as to how, exactly, revenge will be accomplished.
You may have won this round, Perkins, but I'll get my revenge. Just you wait and see.
In both of the foregoing examples, "take revenge" would not work well. In the first, the residents themselves did nothing to bring about the result. In the second, there is no stated manner in which revenge will occur.

In a case where an actor is clearly obtaining revenge from his or her own actions, either "get" or "take" could be used.
After Jameson was fired for insubordination, he got/took his revenge on the company by reporting a series of major environmental violations to the government.
"Take" would be used in preference to "get" in a number of cases where either (a) the revenge-taking is prospective and is a cause for concern, or (b) the very act of exacting the revenge is the thing feared.
It would be very shortsighted to impose a new tariff on steel. The other countries will take their revenge by imposing new tariffs and quotas on our best exports.

I knew that Acme Products would be annoyed by our price increase, but I never thought the company would take its revenge by cancelling the contract altogether.
This last category is not a hard-and-fast one, however, because it would be possible to use the word "get" instead of "take" in both of the last two sentences with no significant change in meaning.

What this suggests to me, after going through the above analysis, is that "get" can probably be used in any setting where "take" is properly used, but there are places that "get" is used where "take" would not be appropriate. This is because "take" necessarily involves some action to obtain the revenge, whereas "get" might or might not involve such an action.

The other experts may or may not agree with this analysis, or may find flaws in it. This is the best I can offer at this time. Hope it helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/20/04 - Get one's life back - Take one's life back

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following phrases is correct and natural - "to get one's life (or something else) back" or take one's life (or something else) back"?

If both are correct and possible, do they convey the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/22/04:

When a person gets something back, it means that the thing has been returned to them.

When a person takes something back, it means that they have done something affirmatively to regain possession of it.

After that fall, it may take me a while to get back the courage to go riding again.

I don't care how long you use the car, as long as I get it back in time to go to my office tomorrow morning.

If I leave my VCR with you today, can you get it back to me by Wednesday morning?

It is time for us to take back the moral high ground in this discussion.

It may be too late to take back the initiative in this campaign.

It is only a matter of time before Alex decides to take back full leadership of this project. It is pretty obvious that nothing will get done otherwise.
The expression "take back" is also used to denote a person withdrawing something he or she said:
I'm sorry, Brandon. I take back everything I said about you. You're really a pretty good guy after all.

Take that back, you scum! Nobody talks to my brother like that!
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/20/04 - Put a message across - put a message through

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to put a message across" and "to put a message through"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, does "to put across/thorugh a message" have the same meaning as "to put a message across/through"?

Finally, is the word "message" the only thing to be put through/across or is it also possible to put through/across other objects/things?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/22/04:

With both of these expressions, it is much more common to use the verb "get" rather than "put."

When we use "across" with message or point, it addresses the question of whether the communication has had the desired effect on the listener. In other words, it is not simply a mechanical question of whether the communication has reached the listener; it is the question of whether the listener has grasped or understood the content of the communication.

The public doesn't seem to understand this problem at all. We are having great difficulty in getting our message across.

Use your time wisely, Victor. You will have only a few minutes to get your point across.
When speaking of getting a message through, there is often more of a concern with the mechanical task of successfully transmitting that message in the face of adverse conditions.
I've been trying to get the message through for 20 minutes, sir, but there is so much interference that I doubt whether anyone can hear us.
Note, however, that there is a separate use of "get through" (without the word message) that involves the idea of success in conveying the content of a message.
I am at the end of my rope, Ted. I can't seem to get through to these kids. Don't they understand how dangerous these drugs are?

What can we do to get through to parents that they must supervise their children at all times?
There are a number of nuanced idiomatic distinctions in using these terms, but the discussion above will give you a start on the basic meanings.

As far as I know, the meanings would be the same whether you spoke of "getting across a message" or "getting a message across" and so on. It is a stylistic decision.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/22/04 - Come, come around & come over

Dear ESL Experts:

Are there any differences among "to come to someone's place," "to come around to someone's place," and "to come over to someone's place"?

If so, when do you use them?

Would you please give me some examples?

For instance, do the following three sentences convey the same meaning?

1) Why don't you come to my apartment this evening?

2) Why don't you come over to my apartment this evening?

3) Why don't you come around to my apartment this evening?

If so, which would you use?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/22/04:

The three example sentences you have written all convey the same meaning. In that sort of use, all three terms can be used as your own taste dictates. In other words, adding "over" or "around" does not change the basic meaning of "come" in those sentences.

There are some other uses for "come over" and "come around" that are less interchangeable.

For example, "come over" can be used where there is a sense of crossing from one place (physical) or point of view (figurative) to another.

Come over to this side of the machine; I think you will have an easier time seeing the broken linkage.

It took a long time, but the committee chair finally came over to our side of the argument.

This is Paolo. He has come over from Italy to spend a few weeks in the United States studying English. :-)
"Come around" can have a similar figurative meaning.
One by one, the people seem to be coming around to our point of view.
The phrase is also used to describe regaining consciousness.
Call the doctor! I think Aunt Edna is coming around.

You were unconscious at least ten minutes before you came around.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/22/04 - Pay off something - repay something

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to pay off something" and "to repay something"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/22/04:

To pay off and to repay both have similar meanings in the context of satisfying a monetary debt.

I expect to be able to pay off this loan later this year.

I can lend you this money only if you are in a position to repay it next month.
For these uses the two terms should be interchangeable.

"Pay off" also has a separate meaning that involves bribery and corruption.
They must have paid off the building inspectors in order to get the permits for this apartment house. It is falling apart.
It also has a meaning involving a reward or return on investment, either financially or figuratively.
After recovery of our costs, we expect this new equipment to pay off at least $10,000 per month.

Hey, Jack, that was a great game of golf. Looks like those lessons you took are really paying off.
Meanwhile, "repay" is also used in figurative settings, not involving money.
That was very generous of you to help reorganize my kitchen, Clara. What can I do to repay your kindness?

I knock myself out for you, and this is the way you repay me? What a selfish jerk you are.
In these latter uses, there is little interchangeability between "pay off" and "repay."

Hope these distinctions are clear.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/19/04 - Be left in the dark

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be left in the dark" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase correctly and naturally?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/20/04:

The underlying phrase in the dark refers to being in a state of ignorance on a subject. It undoubtedly draws on the metaphor of being unable to see because of darkness.

I'm sure there must be some kind of plan, but I'm in the dark as to what it might be.
Note that the phrase can also be used in its literal sense, to refer to being in actual darkness.
The lights went off without warning, leaving us stumbling around in the dark.

My wristwatch has a dial that glows in the dark.
to leave [someone] in the dark, in the figurative sense, is to leave him or her in a state of ignorance.
The politician made a stirring speech, but left us in the dark about how he planned to solve all the problems he mentioned.

How typical! Headquarters wants us to solve this problem at once, but leaves us completely in the dark about how we're supposed to pay for it.

I'm sorry, but your explanation still leaves me in the dark. Would you repeat it without using all those technical terms?
Someone who is "in the dark" about something could also be described as "mystified" or "without a clue" as to that thing.
Well, that was a waste of time. Even after talking to us for half an hour, he still leaves us totally mystified as to how we're going to get all these packages to Boston by 9:00 AM.

As usual, the boss left us without a clue (alternate: with no clue) as to which task has the highest priority.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/19/04 - End in hung

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to end in hung" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase correctly and naturally?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/20/04:

This does not, in itself, constitute a familiar phrase, although it might be a fragment of one.

to end in means "to result in."

To our great disappointment, all of his efforts ended in failure.

I have a terrible feeling that this mission will end in disaster.

Statistics show that fewer marriages end in divorce today than five years ago.
hung in this context means "deadlocked; unable to reach agreement." It is commonly used with jury trials to refer to a jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict. It can also apply to other decisionmaking bodies, such as a parliament or assembly.
The first trial ended/resulted in a hung jury, but the prosecuter expressed confidence that the defendant would be convicted in this one.

Many predicted that the recent election in India would end/result in a hung parliament with no workable coalition.
I suspect that something above probably covers the use of the phrase you posted. If not, perhaps you could post an entire sentence or paragraph for review.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/18/04 - Hang about - hang around

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "to hang about" and "to hang around" when both phrasal verbs are used with the meaning of "to spend time somewhere with no real purpose"?

If some difference does exist, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S.

>Is the question "Is there any difference between 'to hang about' and 'to hang around' when both phrasal verbs are used wwith the meaning of 'to spend time somewhere with no real purpose'?" correct and well-formulated or should I have written "Is there any difference between 'to hang about' and 'to hang around' when both phrasal verbs are used wwith the meaning of 'spending time somewhere with no real purpose'?" using the -ing form after "meaning of" instead of the infinitive/the to?

>Is the question "If some difference does exist, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?" also correct and well-formulated or should I have written, "If a difference does exist, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?" treating the word "difference" as a countable noun?

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/19/04:

To my ear, "hang about" sounds more British. I have little or no recollection of hearing it in everyday conversation. I do recall it from the lyrics of the song, "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" from The Lion King, where the word "about" (spoken by the little bird Zazu) is needed to complete a rhyme scheme.

Note, by the way, that "hang around" can be used simply to mean "stay" or "remain" without the implication of purposelessness.

I'm going to hang around here a while longer to see whether John shows up.

I'm sure the cops are on the way. We'd better not hang around.

I'm not sure how much longer I want to hang around here. It's getting kind of cold.

There's no point in hanging around, John. Go home and get some sleep. I'll call you the minute we get any news.

I'll be happy to hang around and help you with your math homework if you want.

This is a dangerous neighborhood. If I were you, I wouldn't hang around here too long.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/18/04 - Lollygagging around

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of "lollygagging around" in the following statement? Also, is this verb/phrasal verb common in U.S. English? If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use it correctly and naturally?

------------------------------------------------------

The Lakers, in the words of Robert Wuhl's character in "Bull Durham," had been "lollygagging around" for months. But L.A. finally looked like championship material in dispatching the San Antonio Spurs thanks to two key adjustments – and a healthy dose of fear.

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/19/04:

My dictionary defines "lollygag" as: "to waste time by fooling around; dawdle." It adds that the origin of the word is unknown. Another source defines "lollygagging" as: "To fool around; to spend time aimlessly; to dawdle or dally."

It is not always necessary to add the word "around."

I don't want to see you kids lollygagging all afternoon when there's so much work to be done. Get busy!

This is no time for lollygagging, Jack. The deadline is tomorrow morning.

Look alive, soldier! We have no use for lollygaggers.
It is a word that drill sergeants like to yell at new recruits in a military boot camp, but it is not one that I encounter very often in everyday reading or conversation. It would be a somewhat stylish choice in everyday speech; we would be more likely to use a term such as "goofing off" or "slacking off," (to mention only two of the many similar terms that exist).

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/18/04 - Walk the street(s)

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase to walk the street(s) have the figurative meaning of "to prostitute oneself" in U.S. English?

If so, is it commonly used among speakers of American English?

Any alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/19/04:

I agree with Schoolmarm. It really depends on the context.

The noun "streetwalker" definitely refers to a prostitute, particularly one who solicits on a street. But without some fairly specific contextual cues, people would not automatically understand a reference to "walking the street(s)" as denoting prostitution. Of all the words and phrases that denote prostitution, "walking the streets" is not very high on the list of those most commonly used to convey that meaning.

It would probably be more common to say that someone "worked the streets," although even that expression could mean simply that the person was a panhandler or petty thief. Again, contextual cues would be important. Saying that someone "turned tricks" would definitely convey the idea of prostitution, as would calling the person a "streetwalker" (as mentioned above) or a "whore" or a "hooker." A male prostitute is sometimes called a "hustler."

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Question/Answer
lilac asked on 05/18/04 - break a leg

Dear voiceguy2000,
thanks for your exhaustive answer. I still have a doubt though on when to use 'break a leg'.
In my language, italian, wishing the equivalent of good luck is most of the times considered inappropriate, as it is intended as its opposite, so we make use of another idiomatic phrase,which more or less goes like this: "in the wolf's mouth"being always answered by" death to the wolf".This happens not only among actors, but under all circumstances.
Is 'good luck'in English likewise considered inappropriate?
Thanks again

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/18/04:

That's fascinating -- in other words, in Italian, when someone says "good luck" they actually hope the person will fail!

In English, when someone says "good luck," they generally mean it exactly that way. They want the person to succeed. Thus, it is not inappropriate to say "good luck" to someone that you hope will succeed.

As I mentioned, actors say "break a leg" because of superstition, but the person saying it does not want the other person to fail (or to suffer injury!). It is a way of wishing the other person luck without actually saying "good luck," because of the superstition that saying those words will bring bad luck.

As long as it is said in a lighthearted and obviously supportive manner, "break a leg" can be used as a humorous way of saying "good luck" to someone who is about to embark on some kind of challenge, and will be understood as an expression of support. But it is equally possible to say "good luck" which will also be understood as an expression of support.

The only exception to this is where the person is going to attempt something that is quite unlikely to succeed, for reasons outside of their control, in which case "good luck" may be a cynical comment about how remote the chances of success are. Thus, for example, the person may be planning to make a request of someone who has a reputation for turning down all such requests. The remark of "good luck," referring to the fact that this request, too, will probably be turned down, is more of an observation on the unyielding nature of the person who always turns down requests. It does not mean that the person saying it does not want the other person to succeed; it is simply a remark on the slim chances of success.

I hope this makes sense.

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Question/Answer
lilac asked on 05/18/04 - say when- break a leg

Dear experts,
I would like to know what are the most common replies to the following phrases, which being highly idiomatic may be following a fixed 'ritual' pattern:
1.Say when (when offering to pour some beverage into a glass). Is the answer "when"?
2. Bless you (when someone sneezes)
3. Break a leg (when wishing good luck)
As to this last phrase i also would like to know if wishing just 'good luck' can be taken as it reverse, as it is the case in other languages
and if break a leg which, as far as i know was a wish born among actors, has been extended to all general fields as well
Thanks in advance for your kind replies:)

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/18/04:

1. Say when (when offering to pour some beverage into a glass). Is the answer “when”?

"When" or "that's good" would work.
2. Bless you (when someone sneezes)
I am not sure a response is always needed. A simple ":thanks" would work.
3. Break a leg (when wishing good luck)
All that would be needed here is a simple ackknowledgment, such as "OK."
As to this last phrase i also would like to know if wishing just ‘good luck’ can be taken as it reverse, as it is the case in other languages
Yes -- in other words, using it in an ironic sense.
John: I think I will try to persuade our teacher not to give us any more tests this year.

Alan: Oh, good luck. That guy lives to give tests.
In other words, it expresses great doubt as to whether someone will succeed.
and if break a leg which, as far as i know was a wish born among actors, has been extended to all general fields as well.
The reason "break a leg" was born is that superstitious actors considered it bad luck to wish someone success. Therefore, they wish them the opposite of success (i.e., break a leg) on the theory that is the opposite of that happened, it would be good.

Any time someone is going into a "performance" type of situation -- giving a speech, going on a job interview, trying out for something -- it would be acceptable to say "break a leg" based on the same theory used with stage performers.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/17/04 - FALSE vs. FAKE

Dear ESL Experts:

What is the difference between "fake" and "false" when these terms are used as adjectives?

For instance, should I say/write "fake breasts" or "false breasts"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/17/04:

The two words mean essentially the same thing, but "fake" carries an extra sense of negative judgment or pejorative meaning. Thus, while "false" may simply convey that something is artificial, "fake" may suggest a deceptive effort to pass the thing off as real. (A good synonym for "fake" is "phony.")

You could write either "fake breasts" or "false breasts." While neither term is particularly flattering, "fake" would carry a more negative tone with most people.

Perhaps I can best put it this way: "false" has a range of meanings, some of which are relatively benign. "Fake," on the other hand, generally lacks any benign meanings. Thus, describing a woman as wearing false eyelashes might not necessarily be an insult, but I cannot imagine a non-insulting interpretation of describing her as wearing fake eyelashes. It is comparable to the difference between "artificial" and "counterfeit." To be artificial is not automatically bad; to be counterfeit is. Calling something "fake" is a more aggressive, in-your-face way of describing it.

If it is not your intent to be insulting, it may be necessary to resort to euphemisms, such as saying "enhanced" breasts, or remarking that "nature has had a little help." Even that may not save you, however. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/17/04 - Where has all the fish gone?

Dear ESL Experts:

Do the questions below have a figurative meaning in U.S. English?

>Where’s the beef? / Show us the beef

>Where has all the fish gone?

If so, when do you use them?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/17/04:

The expression "where's the beef?" traces back to an advertising campaign for Wendy's Hamburgers that ran in 1984 and 1985. An 84-year-old actress named Clara Peller played a crusty old woman who, when served a tiny hamburger patty on an oversized bun by a competitor, demanded to know, "Where's the beef?" The implication was that the only place that served hamburgers with a substantial amount of beef was Wendy's.

This catch phrase was soon echoed by millions in all sorts of jokes, and merchandising endeavors including T-shirts and underwear. Walter Mondale even used the phrase "Where' the Beef?" in his 1984 presidential run against rival Gary Hart. This advertisement also helped cement the reputation of Chicago-based producer Joe Sedelmeier, whose "real people" commercials for clients such as Alka-Seltzer and Federal Express changed the face of advertising in the 1980s.

As used today, the expression asks: Where is the substance? Where is the important stuff? It is a rhetorical question used to challenge another person or organization on the grounds that there is a lack of substance.

I do not recall hearing "show us the beef," but it seems likely to have a similar meaning: demonstrate that there is substance.

I have never encountered "Where has all the fish gone?" It is not grammatical ("has" should be "have") and I could only make wild guesses as to what it is supposed to convey. A Google search did not pick up anything helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/16/04 - Are you finances going round in circles?

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Are you finances going round in circles?" mean?

To be more specific, when do you use the phrase "to go round in circles"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Any alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/17/04:

Your question points up one of the characteristic differences between British and American English. In the UK, as a rule, people use round, whereas in the U.S. people use around. Thus, in British:

I'll just have a quick look round, if you don't mind.

He came round to see me yesterday afternoon.

We've gone round and round on this negotiation, but are no closer to making a deal.

Don't worry. Eric will come round to our way of thinking. Just give it time.
In American English, around would be used in each case:
I'll just take a quick look around, if you don't mind. [idiomatically we would be more likely to use take]

He came around to see me yesterday afternoon.

We've gone around and around on this negotiation, but are no closer to making a deal.

Don't worry. Eric will come around to our way of thinking. Just give it time.
You will not be surprised to hear, then, that in the U.S. we would say "going around in circles." This is a very common expression, useful to know, that conveys the idea of activity without actual progress. A person who is going in circles feels as though they are moving, but they are not getting anywhere.

Discussions and negotiations often "go around in circles." This happens when a series of apparently logical steps leads the people back to the beginning again ("back to square one," to mention one of the other terms you recently asked about), without any resolution. This is often found in the logical fallacy known as petitio principii, or begging the question, in which the truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises. We hear references to circular logic or circular argument in the same kinds of situations.

We can also think of someone who is lost in the woods, who keeps hiking in an effort to reach civilization but lacks a compass or other tracking skills to keep himself on a straight course. He may find that instead of heading out of the woods, he is moving in circles, never getting closer to his objective. He is likely to perish in those circumstances.

The expression can be used, usually to express frustration, whenever there is an activity or effort that does not seem to be getting anywhere.
I have tried and tried to explain this to Mr. Foster, but we don't seem to be getting anywhere. We're just going around in circles.

All the time I thought we were moving toward a final version of this statute, we were just going around in circles. I think the committee chair wants to keep this bill bottled up in committee until the end of the session.
Other expressions that convey a similar idea:
running in place

spinning one's wheels

going through the motions

going around and around

going on a fool's errand
I cannot see any logical connection with finances, however.

This does not mean, by the way, that round does not exist as a word in American English. It is simply that around is generally used for the prepositional and adverbial situations described above.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/15/04 - Be jerked around

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be jerked around" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase correctly and, above all, naturally?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives, both formal and informal/colloquial/idomatic to this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/16/04:

Schoolmarm has given an excellent response; this is merely a supplement.

The most applicable alternate phrase I can think of is "to be yanked around." It would be a direct substitute.

The expression is sometimes used to convey the idea that someone else is stalling:

It's pointless to keep trying to get this application approved, Alice. We fill out the forms, then they claim they've lost them, or come up with some new form to fill out. Its obvious they're just jerking/yanking us around.
Other expressions that convey a similar idea (that is, stalling or wasting time):
We're just spinning our wheels.

They're just making us jump through hoops.

They're just pulling our chain.
More formal terms associated with being "jerked around" (in the sense of being treated shabbily or without regard to one's feelings) would include adjectives such as
arbitrary

capricious

thoughtless

insensitive

heedless

imperious

dictatorial
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/15/04 - He's such a creep!

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "He's such a creep!" mean? Maybe "He's such a a**-licker/a**-kisser"?

Also, what does "crap" mean? Does this word "apply" only to things or human beings, as well?

Finally, when do you say that something sucks?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/16/04:

creep -- an obnoxious person; a person who makes you uncomfortable to be around; a person of low social status and/or little significance; someone who engages in disgusting or unpleasant activities. To say of someone "he's such a creep" is to make a very unflattering reference.

I can't believe Brad turned you in for taking extra time on the test. He's such a creep.

My little brother is such a creep. Whenever I try to be alone with my girlfriend, he finds excuses to come in the room.

It's hard to believe that Bill Clinton was having oral sex with a young intern right there in the White House. He's such a creep.
Note that there are some related terms.

We say that something or someone gives us the creeps when it causes a sensation of fear or repugnance, as if something was crawling on the skin.
Let's get out of this deserted mansion. It gives me the creeps.

I hate getting shots! Just thinking about needles gives me the creeps.

That wicked smile while he stared at my body gave me the creeps. I got out of there as fast as I could.
Similarly, we say that something is creepy when it has that effect on us:
He wants to hold a concert in the graveyard at night? Man, that's creepy.

That's one of the creepiest ideas I have ever heard.
All of these uses and expressions would be considered slang, reserved for casual speech or special occasions in writing.

crap -- in its literal sense refers to feces, but it has a wide range of figurative uses, similar to the way merde finds its way into all sorts of French colloquial expression. There must be dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ways in which "crap" is used figuratively in spoken English. All of them would be considered slang, and would generally only be used in familiar (not polite) company.
Don't get one of those new Volvo hatchbacks. It's a total piece of crap.

Alan's in the hospital. A couple of guys jumped him and beat the crap out of him.

What do you mean, you don't have time for me any more? That's total crap, Jill, and you know it.

I don't know why I stay in this job. Every day it's the same old crap.

What? They said I was leaving the team? That's a bunch of crap.

I couldn't believe it. The elevator door opened, but there was no car there. I almost stepped off into an empty elevator shaft. Scared the crap out of me!
Again, this is not a word to be used except in very familiar situations where you know it is acceptable language.

Saying that something sucks is a way of expressing that it is disappointing, unsatisfactory, or regrettable. This, too, is a slang expression, found extensively among young people who probably enjoy the quasi-shock value caused by its association with the term for oral sex.
I tried that new version of Darkwatch, but the game play totally sucks. Every time a battle starts, it freezes my computer.

I hear you have to stay after school because of the fight you had with the teacher. That sucks.

I can't wait to see this new table George is trying to make. He totally sucks at woodwork.

This new schedule really sucks. I don't have time to eat lunch. I barely have time to go to the bathroom.

I like playing the guitar, but I suck at coming up with original ideas for songs.
If you really want to delve into this kind of language, you might want to visit the Slangman site, operated by David Burke. (He lives here in Los Angeles; I met him last year at the L.A. Times Book Fair.) There is some free content on the site, and he offers books (such as the Guide to Dirty English) that really lay it all out for you.

Good luck.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/14/04 - ON TO

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the use of "on to" (two words) instead of "onto" (one word" in the following two sentences?

1) Mr Berg was beheaded in Iraq by extremists apparently closely linked to the senior al-Qa'ida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who took him hostage and then made a video of his execution which they posted on to an internet website.

2) It's also been a source of constant frustration for those wishing to sell hard disk-based personal video recorders (PVRs), which can record a digital TV signal directly on to disk and play it back at once, or pause it, or play back after a pause while recording the up-to-date signal.

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/14/04:

I am not sure I use these terms correctly myself at all times.

In the first example, I would choose one of the two words and omit the other. Thus, "posted on an internet site" or "posted to an internet site." Of these choices, I prefer "on." The word "to" adds nothing to "on" in this sentence, and is needless baggage.

In your second example, I would change to "onto." This is the correct use of "onto" to mean "upon."

Schoolmarm has made an excellent point in noting the importance of determining whether the word "on" is an integral part of a phrasal verb. I agree that in such cases, "on" should remain separate. The only exception I can think of would arise where the phrasal verb itself can equally well use "onto." There are not many such occasions that come to mind, although &#record on" and "record onto" (drawn from your second example) would be one.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/14/04 - At high school - at college

Dear ESL Experts:

The passage below is from The Independent, a British newspaper. As you can see, I have put in bold both "at high school" and "at college." My question is whether you would use the same preposition, i.e., "at," before "high school" and "college" in U.S. English.

Also, what preposition would you use if we had "university" in place of "college" in "When he was at college he went to Ghana..."?

------------------------------------------------------

Nick Berg liked to play the saxophone. When he was at high school he was a member of the marching band and neighbours would hear him practising in the evenings at his parents' house, the music seeping out through the walls.

He was a friendly young man. His friends said he had an independent spirit. The 26-year-old liked science and he liked to travel. When he was at college he went to Ghana and helped build houses out of mud, returning home considerably thinner and with his pockets empty because he gave away most of his money.

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/14/04:

There are numerous differences between the idiomatic use of prepositions in everyday British versus everyday U.S. writing and speech As you know from Rich Turner, the subject of prepositions is itself quite a complicated one.

In the U.S., for the purposes of this particular article, I would expect to see in high school and in college in these two places. We would not choose "at" simply to refer to the time period of attending high school or college. Rather, "at" would be used more literally, to denote something that occurred while the subject was physically located at the school in question:

It was only while he was away at college that George discovered his talent for gourmet cooking.

Bill spent almost every afternoon at his high school running laps around the track.

I'm sorry, but Alice is not home yet. She's still at school, at a Drama Club meeting.
If we say that someone is "in"school, we mean that the person is still enrolled and in the process of pursuing an education by means of the school. If we say that someone is "at" school, we mean that the person is physically located at the school.
I have two daughters. The youngest one is still in school, but the older one is a stock analyst on Wall Street.

While my older son is at school, he left his car here for us to use.
The term "at college" does not fit the article from The Independent as evaluated by an American ear, because of the association of "at" with physical presence somewhere. It is illogical, to our ears, to say that while the subject was "at college" (in location A) he went to Ghana (location B), because he cannot be in two places at once.

This is not to say that we would never use "at college" in a more figurative sense. The use is idiomatic. In a biography, for example, we might write:
It was at college that his interest in quantum mechanics blossomed into a full-blown passion.
We could equally well use "in college" in that sentence.

The Brits and the Yanks have their differences. We say that a person is "in the hospital." They say that the person is "in hospital." Who is right? (We are, of course! :-)) Note also that the article uses neighbours where we would spell it neighbors, and practising where we would spell it practicing.

The use of "university" is much more of a British-ism. In the U.S., even though just about every institution of higher education now calls itself a university, we nonetheless tend to say that someone is "in college" or is "attending college" or "will graduate from college." Alternatively, we would simply name the school:
My son is a junior at Harvard.

Both of my parents attended UCLA.

I am still waiting to here whether I was accepted by the University of Pennsylvania.
Because the use of prepositions is so idiomatic, you might want to add some U.S. sources to your reading. Consider such sources as The New York Times (www.nytimes.com), The New Republic (www.tnr.com), The Atlantic Monthly (www.theatlantic.com), The New Yorker (www.newyorker.com), and National Review (www.nationalreview.com). These will give you well-written source material that is idiomatically American.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/13/04 - Left in the wind

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "left in the wind" have a figurative meaning in U.S. English?

If so, what does it mean?

Would you please give me some examples of hwo to use this phrase?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/13/04:

This is not quite the exact phrase.

Early on the morning of June 17, 1972, burglars with ties to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign broke into the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate building in Washington. They were trying to replace a faulty telephone bugging device installed during an earlier break-in. This time around, they got caught by a security guard.

Presidential aide John Ehrlichman coined a phrase that became part of the nation's political lexicon when he advised Nixon to allow L. Patrick Gray III, then acting director of the FBI, to become the fall guy [scapegoat] for Watergate and to leave him "twisting slowly, slowly in the wind."

The idea is that of helplessness and abandonment -- as, for example, if someone was hanged by vigilantes and left for dead, hanging from a tree limb, "twisting slowly in the wind." In fact, a similar expression is "left hanging." Other similar terms include "left high and dry," "abandoned," and "betrayed."

Oh, no you don't! I'm not going to sit quietly while you try to leave me twisting slowly in the wind. We're all in this together, and if anyone goes down, we're all going down together!

Don't get on the wrong side of MacGregor. He'll tie you up and leave you twisting slowly in the wind.

Microsoft follows a pattern of buying up small software companies and then leaving them twisting slowly in the wind, with no direction and no funding.
It is not an expression that I hear very often.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/11/04 - Wake up to something

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to wake up to something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some alternative phrases that have the same or a similar meaning?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/12/04:

The metaphor of "waking up to something" draws on the idea that a person who sleeps is not particularly aware of his or her surroundings, but on waking will immediately become conscious of them. The surroundings are there all along, but the person is not consciously aware of them until awakening.

The expression draws on the idea that a person has been in the presence of something significant, but has only now become conscious of that thing and/or recognized its full significance.

It has taken PC users a long time to wake up to the importance of installing effective firewall protection.

When will middle-class taxpayers wake up to the fact that they, not "the rich," are the ones paying most of the taxes?

It's time to wake up to reality, folks. We don't have a chance unless we can get this device working again.
The closest similar expression I can think of is not a direct substitute, but conveys the same idea. When someone comes to a realization or awareness, we say that "it dawns on them." (This conjures up the image of the first rays coming from the sun as it rises above the horizon.)
As I looked at the empty strongbox, it suddenly dawned on me that Hawkins had been playing me for a complete fool.

It never dawned on him that all he needed to do was to install a new fuel filter.

She was still analyzing stocks for a hedge fund last June when it dawned on her that she needed to make a change.
Other terms that can substitute for "wake up to" --
realize

become aware of

become conscious of

discover

awaken to

recognize

apprehend
These words may not convey the same image of "waking up" in the sense of suddenly noticing something that has been there all along.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/10/04 - The whole nine yards

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "the whole nine yards" have a figurative meaning?

If so, in which context/when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/11/04:

This is one of a number of expressions that can be defined as "everything there is, leaving nothing out." It contrasts with doing something in a partial or economical manner. Thus:

You should see Frank's new home theatre system. He has got seven speakers, a tower of amplifiers, a big-screen television the size of a billboard -- the whole nine yards.

This is not just saber-rattling. We are going the whole nine yards. We will capture that town.
As you can see from the above example, the expression can be used to denote the extent of things (here, the fancy home theatre system) or the extent of effort (the capture of a town).

Comparable expressions with respect to things would include:
The whole kit and caboodle

The whole shootin' match

Everything but the kitchen sink

The whole megillah
Comparable expressions with respect to effort would include:
going the [whole] distance

going for broke

stopping at nothing

staying the course
"The whole nine yards" would tend to be used in more casual conversation.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/10/04 - Off the subject

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "off the subject" mean?

What verbs do you normally use before this phrase?

Would you please give some examples of how to use "off the subject" correctly and naturally?

Also, what is the opposite of "off the subject"? Maybe "on the subject"?

Finally, would you please give me some alternative phrases or expressions that have the same or a similar meaning? What about "off the beaten track"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/11/04:

"The subject" refers to the topic or subject of discussion or inquiry. When the participants confine themselves to the topic at hand, they are staying on the subject. If they drift into peripheral or unrelated matters, they have moved off the subject.

Professor, I know this is a little off the subject, but where could I find a necktie like yours?

I know this is off the subject but ... will you marry me?

It drives me crazy to listen to his lectures. Just when it seems he is about to make an important point, something distracts him and he wanders completely off the subject.
You can say that a dsicussion has gone "off topic" or "off track."

The verbs that would be used tend to be ones that connote a physical change in position, even though here they would be used figuratively:
move

drift

veer

go

wander
The expression "off the beaten track" (also heard as "off the beaten path") means something quite different: It refers to something that is unusual, out of the ordinary, away from the mainstream. The idea is that the "beaten path" represents the well-worn activities of most people (thereby beating or trampling a path into the ground), and moving away from the beaten path takes you to places that are not as well known and often more unspoiled and charming.
This particular museum is somewhat off the beaten path, and I think you will find it quite interesting.

We specialize in vacations [British: holidays] that are off the beaten track. You will not be surrounded by other tourists, you will get personal attention, and you will see things that most people never see.
Similar terms include
offbeat

unusual

different

marching to the beat of a different drum [in reference to people]

quirky

out of the way

out of the ordinary
Ciao. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/09/04 - Californication Lyrics

Dear ESL Experts

Below are the lyrics of the song Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold?

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CALIFORNICATION

Psychic spies from China
Try to steal your mind’s elation
Little girls from Sweden
Dream of silver screen quotations
And if you want these kind of dreams
It’s Californication

It’s the edge of the world
And all of western civilization
The sun may rise in the East
At least it settles in the final location
It’s understood that Hollywood
sells Californication

Pay your surgeon very well
To break the spell of aging
Celebrity skin is this your chin
Or is that war your waging


Chorus:
First born unicorn
Hard core soft porn
Dream of Californication
Dream of Californication

Marry me girl be my fairy to the world
Be my very own constellation
A teenage bride with a baby inside
Getting high on information
And buy me a star on the boulevard
It’s Californication

Space may be the final frontier
But it’s made in a Hollywood basement

Cobain can you hear the spheres
Singing songs off station to station
And Alderon’s not far away

It’s Californication

Born and raised by those who praise
Control of population everybody’s been there
and I don’t mean on vacation


Chorus

Destruction leads to a very rough road
But it also breeds creation
And earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar
They’re just another good vibration
And tidal waves couldn’t save the world
From Californication

Pay your surgeon very well
To break the spell of aging
Sicker than the rest
There is no test
But this is what you’re craving

Chorus

------------------------------------------------------

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/11/04:

Space may be the final frontier / But it’s made in a Hollywood basement -- The television series Star Trek began with Captain Kirk saying these words over a picture of thousands of stars in outer space:

Space. The final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise ...
Of course, the "space" seen in the series was artificial -- it was created by scenery technicians at Desilu Studios. (The word "basement" is probably used simply for rhyme and meter.)

And Alderon's not far away -- In the original Star Wars movie (1977), the planet Alderaan was destroyed by the gigantic Death Star spacecraft, a moon-sized round vessel with an indentation on one side from which a powerful ray could be directed. The destruction of the planet was a show of force by the evil Governor Tarkin. For purposes of this song, the reference probably has to do with the theme of [self-]destruction introduced by the mention of Kurt Cobain.

everybody's been there / and I don’t mean on vacation -- The expression "everybody's been there" means "everyone has had that experience."
Don't feel bad, son. Everybody's been there. You'll get over your disappointment.
People use "and I don't mean ____" as a kind of intensifier. On its face, it appears to be clarifying the meaning of a statement, but in practice it tends to make a point or a witty observation (often a pun).
I've been going through the Big D, and I don't mean Dallas. [here, the "big D" refers to depression. The clarification in the second part of the statement indicates that the speaker is not referring to the city of Dallas, Texas, which goes by the nickname "The Big D."]

This creationist baffles us with BS (and I don't mean "Bachelor of Science") [here, "BS" is used as a polite abbreviation for "bullshit," and the clarification states that the speaker is not referring to the B.S., or Bachelor of Science, college degree.]

Today's program is about spam -- and I don't mean the meat. [here, the speaker indicates that the topic is unwanted e-mail and not the processed meat that goes by the trade name of Spam®]
In the song lyric, you can see that the writer is being clever by saying "everybody's been there," which sounds like a geographic destination but actually refers figuratively to experiences, "and I don't mean on vacation," which plays on the fact that "there" sounds like it could be an actual place where one could go on vacation.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/09/04 - Remember someone by

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to remember someone/something by" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/09/04:

It is an inversion of the phrase, "by which to remember [someone/something]." It often appears in the phrase, "something to remember [a person] by." It frequently refers to a keepsake or memento -- some kind of token that will remind the other person of the thing being remembered. Any sort of memory or reminder or legacy of a person or event may serve, however.

While I am away on this long trip, here's a little something to remember me by.

My grandfather is gone, and all I have left to remember him by are these war medals.

The new king ruled for only two years before he, too, died, leaving behind little to remember him by other than the huge taxes he imposed.

I got very scared when the dog first came toward me. I turned and ran headfirst into a cupboard door, ending up with 8 stitches in my forehead. We became friends after that, however, and I'll always have a scar to remember him by.

If Cobain injected himself with a deliberate heroin overdose, why would he ALSO shoot himself in the head with a shotgun, leaving his baby daughter - the love of his life - with horrific visual images to remember him by?

Exchanging business cards is a good way to keep in contact with a person you have met at a function. When giving out cards be sure that your name, title, company and number are legible on the card. Once you have a free minute, write something on the back on the cards you receive from other people to remember them by.

I just found a stack of business cards hiding under some papers on my desk. I was amazed at how little I remembered about these people! I met them, shook their hands, and conversed with them; but all I have to remember them by is that little piece of card stock.
One possible alternate phrase would be "to remind me of [someone/something]."
He was the most important man in my life, but after the big fire all I have to remind me of him is this one surviving photograph.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/08/04 - Shoot something - shoot at something

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to shoot/fire something/someone" and "to shoot/fire at something/someone"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/08/04:

If you shoot at or fire at something or someone, it means that you are directing gunfire at a particular target. You may or may not be successful at hitting the target, but you are firing in that direction with the apparent intention of hitting the target.

I could see at least three men shooting at us.

The soldiers fired at the building for several minutes, but there was no return fire.

I was just minding my own business, officer, when all of a sudden somebody started shooting at me! I ducked under this table.
When you shoot somebody or something, it generally means that you were successful in hitting the target. In other words, you might shoot at the target and miss, but if you shoot the target you probably hit it.
The assailant shot three victims before police brought him down.

I thought the man had shot me, but it turns out that I was hit by a fragment of brick.
"Shoot" can also be used intransitively:
Don't shoot until I give the signal.
To fire someone is to terminate their employment. The British would say that the person was sacked or had gotten the sack.
My brother was fired from his job at MGM.

I hear they fired the Sales Manager. It's about time!
The verb "to fire" is also used to mean "to discharge a firearm."
Once they stared firing the cannons, I knew the battle would end soon.

Alexander fired his pistol three times.
In a very specialized meaning, "firing" also refers to the process of heating ceramic pieces to a high temperature in a kiln to strengthen them and/or to finish the glazing.
These porcelain pieces must be fired at 2400 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 45 minutes.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/08/04 - It ain't no picnic!

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase/expression "It ain't no picnic!" have a figurative meaning in U.S. English?

If so, when is it used and is it particularly common among speakers of American English?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/08/04:

The underlying expression, to the effect that something "is no picnic," means that a task promises to be difficult, unpleasant, or challenging.

A "picnic" is a pleasant outing, perhaps into the country or to a city park, where a meal is carried along in a picnic basket. On arrival, the people having the picnic will lay out a cloth and serve the food, eating outdoors while listening to the sounds of chirping birds and watching the clouds in the sky. It is a pleasant experience. (See this link for more information.)

By saying that something is, was, or will be "no picnic," the speaker is making a strong contrast with the pleasant image of a picnic.

Ain't, as you have probably learned, is a slang version is "is not." It is used by less educated people, and by those seeking to make a special effect.

The term ain't no creates a double negative, but in most cases (as illogical as this may sound) the meaning is still negative (in other words, the "no" does not actually negate the "ain't"). Thus, "it ain't no picnic" actually means "it is no picnic." My apologies if this is confusing, but you are dealing with one of the more idiomatic words in English.

To answer your question of "when is it used," I need to speak at a couple of different levels:

    1. As a rule, it is never proper to use ain't. As mentioned above, the word is not considered proper English. It is used conversationally only by those of limited education, or by people seeking to create a special effect.

    2. It is, however, common for people to refer to an event or task as being "no picnic."

Serving in Iraq is definitely no picnic.

Driving in rush-hour traffic is no picnic.

She got a taste of colonial life, and it was no picnic.

The rest of the game was no picnic for Cleveland, either.
Another expression that draws on a similar image is, "This is not going to be a walk in the park."

    3. Idiomatically, you will also run across the use of "ain't" to stand for "there is." It is still improper and crude-sounding, but I mention it so that you will understand it if you encounter it somewhere:
Ain't no way Im getting on that bus. [meaning: There is no way I am going to get on that bus; I refuse.]

Aint no reason to get all upset. [meaning: There is no reason to get upset.]
And in other uses it conveys "it is" :
Ain't nobody's business how I spend my time here. [meaning: It is nobody's business how I spend my time.]
Because of the heavily idiomatic use, I am not sure I can really offer a complete explanation here. I hope this is enough to get you started.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/07/04 - Doubt, doubt of & doubt about

Dear Rich:

What are the differences among "to doubt something/someone," "to doubt OF something/someone," and "to doubt ABOUT something/someone"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these three phrases?

Are there any cases in which a verb followed by either “ahead” or “forward” ?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/07/04:

Based on my knowledge of French, I suspect that "doubt" in English has a narrower range of meanings and uses than you are accustomed to in Italian. It does carry the meaning associated with dubitare, in terms of skepticism, disbelief, distrust, and hesitation. However, it does not really carry all of the meanings of sospettare, as in surmise or imagine (congetturare). In this regard, it may be somewhat of an amico falso. :-)

I cannot think of any preposition that would normally be used with to doubt. Thus, "to doubt of" and "to doubt about" are not normal usages in English.

The prepositional uses come where "doubt" as a noun is combined with a verb. The most common verbs are have, carry, and harbor, although a number of others are used.

I have my doubts about this new program.

The public still carries a lot of doubt about the wisdom of this invasion.

If any of you still harbor any doubt about whether you should volunteer for this mission, please let me know right now.
Using "doubt" as a verb:
I doubt that Max can get the car repaired today.

I apologize, Sarah. I never should have doubted you.

I'll leave for the Post Office now, but I doubt whether I'll get there before it closes.

I don't doubt that you had the best of intentions in inviting Greg, but it was a colossally bad idea.

I guess it could work, but I doubt it.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/07/04 - It is even a stretch for Fox

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the following passage?

------------------------------------------------------

On The Swan, which to be shown on Rupert Murdoch's Fox network on 17 April, women with spotty faces, buck teeth, stretch marks, double chins and flabby thighs - "ugly ducklings", in the show's parlance - undergo a rigorous process of transformation through psychotherapy, physical training and head-to-toe cosmetic surgery. "Total facial reinvention," one of the show's specialist doctors calls his particular job.

And that's not all. For three months after they go under the knife, they are not allowed to look in the mirror to see what they have become. Then, with barely a pause to take in their new selves - the so-called "reveal moment" - they are entered in a beauty contest against each other so their carefully resurrected self-esteem can be demolished in an every-girl-for-herself catfight.

This show has got even the most unshockable television critics wondering if they have now, finally, hit their limit. It is even a stretch for Fox, the network that thought up Celebrity Boxing (Tonya Harding punching it out with Paula Jones), The Chamber (humiliations falling just short of torture) and Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire? (svelte nurse from Los Angeles marries man she has only just clapped eyes on because the producers ask her to).

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/07/04:

head-to-toe -- complete; comprehensive; thorough; from top to bottom. The full expression would be "from head to toe."

take in -- assimilate; appreciate; comprehend; grasp; understand fully. A person who visits the Taj Mahal for the first time must pause to take in the extraordinary beauty of the palace. Someone who has been given shocking news may require some time to take it all in. Here, the contestants -- who have been physically transformed but prevented from seeing the results -- are given very little time ("barely a pause") to take in the results of the transformation before being required to participate in the beauty contest.

catfight -- when cats fight, it tends to be noisy and angry-sounding, with much scratching and clawing. Idiomatically, and stereotypically, women who fight with each other (figuratively, in this case) are often referred to as being in a catfight because of the image of scratching and clawing, as opposed to the stereotyped image of men hitting one another with fists.

every-girl-for-herself -- this is a twist on the expression, "It's every man for himself." The idea is, You're on your own. You are in competition with everyone else. No one will help you.

a stretch -- out of the ordinary; beyond normal capability; a surprising (and often unconvincing) extension of someone's efforts or ambitions. This phrase is quite often used sarcastically or ironically. Most often, in the ironic sense, it actually means the opposite of what it says -- in other words, it is referring to something that should be quite easy and is not really a "stretch" at all.

Oh, you're going to sleep in tomorrow morning? That sounds like a stretch.

The governor is going to make a speech condemning crime. Whoopee. That's a stretch.
Here, however, the expression is being used in its literal sense, namely, that this show is outrageous beyond normal even for a network (Fox) with a reputation for outrageousness.

Note that people who are seeking personal or artistic growth may also refer to something they are involved in as being "a stretch" to the degree that it takes them out of their zone of comfort and familiarity into a zone that is more challenging, uncomfortable, and risky.
For an actor so well-known for his slapstick comedy roles, playing the part of a terminally ill cancer patient was seen as a real stretch -- but he played it magnificently.

I have never handled a murder trial before. This is going to be quite a stretch.
thought up -- colloquial for invented, created, came up with. Because it is more colloquial, using "thought up" here creates a nuance of dismissiveness. Had the author said "created," the effect would have been to express respect and admiration for an accomplishment. By saying "thought up," the author conveys a less respectful tone. Artists, scientists, and philosophers create great works; common people think up pedestrian and unworthy things, such as excuses for being late coming home.

punching it out -- this refers to the Celebrity Boxing mentioned earlier in the sentence. In boxing, two opponents don heavy leather gloves and try to hit (punch) each other. Another expression is "duking it out," which comes from the statement "put up your dukes" made by one person challenging another to a fistfight.

The pairing of Tonya Harding with a boxing partner is ironic, because Harding, formerly a star ice skater, became notorious after her involvement in a scheme to injure rival skater Nancy Kerrigan in order to take Kerrigan out of competition. Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee at the Olympic trials in 1994. Harding later pleaded guilty to involvement in the plot, and was stripped of her titles and banned from skating for life. Paula Jones became famous by suing former President Clinton for sexual harassment while he was still in office. Clinton settled the lawsuit for $850,000. Pairing these two notorious women for "celebrity boxing" was rather tasteless, to say the least.

has only just -- refers to something that has happened only moments before.
Sorry if I sound out of breath; I have only just walked in the door, and I heard the phone ringing.

I have not had a chance to read the report; it has only just arrived.
clapped eyes on -- saying that someone "clapped eyes" on something (or someone) is a stylish way of saying that they "saw" something (or someone). It is actually much more common in British speech. In the U.S., the common expression is "laid eyes on."
I have no idea where that thing came from. This is the first time I have ever laid eyes on it.

She says she's my sister, but I've never laid eyes on her before.

When Silvio Berlusconi first laid eyes on Veronica Lario, he was enchanted -- and left his wife to marry her.
Here, my suspicion is that the writer would normally have used "laid eyes on," but was concerned about the cliché-like sound of it. So the author chose the less common (for the U.S.) "clapped eyes on" instead.

The overall meaning of "has only just clapped eyes on" is that the woman has seen the man for first time only moments before the wedding.

Let me add, by the way, that the style of writing in this piece is not necessarily representative of the best that the English language has to offer. It is stylized, and tries (somewhat self-consciously) to sound "hip" and irreverent about the subject. It is pretty typical of the genre of showbiz reviews, but that genre is not a model that would be followed in many other settings.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/07/04 - So, what's the hook?

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "So, what's the hook?" mean?

When do you use this question?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/07/04:

I had to do some online research for this one, because it is not an expression that is familiar to me.

What I found suggests that "hook" is being used figuratively in the sense of the hook that holds bait in fishing. The question was asking, What is it that will cause people to take interest in what we have to say (as a fish takes interest in the bait on a fishhook) and keep them interested ("hooked") long enough to stay with us?

In many instances, "what's the hook" was a jargon phrase, a species of "PR-speak" (the special language used by practitioners of Public Relations). The idea would be, How can we frame this story, or this news release, to really "hook" the readers? A similar expression would be, "What's the angle?" In other words, in a world flooded with news stories and press releases, how can we make this one truly stand out? What's the lure? Whats so special about this?

I also found frequent discussion of "hooks" in connection with writing and publishing books. The idea was similar to the PR version: What is special about your book and its approach? What will draw readers in, and keep them engaged for 400+ pages? What is unique about your work? This is important when trying to interest a publisher in taking a serious look at the manuscript -- in a sense, it is essential to "hook" the publisher before the manuscript will be published and have an opportunity to "hook" the reading public.

Finally, I found similar references in the context of news stories in daily newspapers. A reporter would offer a story that lacked focus, or did not seem especially newsworthy. "What's the hook?" the editor would ask the reporter -- meaning, Why is this news? What's special enough about this story to justify giving it space in today's edition? Why should I run this? The editor would challenge the reporter to frame the story in a way that made it interesting, urgent, and timely.

Examples:

So far, this sounds like a pretty boring and unimaginative story. What's the hook?

We're here to sell newspapers, not to print a history lesson. There's no news in this piece -- Where's the hook?

So your band has a guitarist, a bass player, a drummer, and a singer. You play in night clubs. You all have long hair. You're looking for a recording deal. So what? That's every band in town. Why should I put you guys on the cover? What's the hook?

This is important economic news, but editors are going to roll their eyes when they see it. What kind of hook can we use to make this sound more interesting?

Major publishers get hundreds of manuscripts and book proposals every week. Yours has to reach out and grab them by the throat, with no wasted words. What's your hook? What will make them sit up and take notice?
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/05/04 - IN the news - ON the news

Dear ESL Experts:

What is the difference between "to be in the news" and "to be on the news"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these two phrases?

Are there any cases in which the two are interchangeable?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/06/04:

As Schoolmarm says, in the news generically means that a topic or a person is currently a subject of news coverage. That coverage could take place in any news medium -- newspapers, magazines, wire service reports, television or radio broadcasts, or the like. The expression simply means that the subject has been deemed newsworthy.

Richard Clarke has been in the news ever since his controversial book was released.

Most politicians make an effort to stay in the news so that voters will not forget them.

I am surprised this issue hasn't been in the news. It makes me wonder whether there has been some kind of cover-up.
In the phrase on the news, "the news" refers specifically to a news program broadcast on radio or television. Thus, just as we would use "on" when referring to the content of a specific broadcast program --
I saw Edward Herrman on "Law & Order" last night.
-- we would use "on" when referring more generically to "the news" as a program on radio or television --
I saw the former ambassador on the news last night.
This is because news programming on radio and television is generally called "the news" even by the stations that carry it.
This is The Channel 4 News.

The news is next, after these messages.

This is the 10:00 O'Clock News, with Kelly Lange.

The news is brought to you by Chevrolet Trucks.
The expressions are not really interchangeable. True, someone who is in the news (newsworthy) is likely to be on the news (mentioned in a news broadcast), but the expressions have two different uses as described above.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/05/04 - Push-take something-someone to the limit

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following phrases is correct and natural - "to push something/someone to the limit" or "to take something/someone to the limit"?

If both are possible, do they mean the same thing?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me phrases/expressions, both formal and informal/colloquial/idiomatic/conversational, that convey the same or a similar meaning?

Finally, does the figurative expression "to push/take something/someone to the border" exist?

If so, does it have the same meaning as "to push/take something/someone to the limit"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/06/04:

The difference between "push" and "take" is one of nuance. "Push" implies that the person is exerting effort to cause something to approach its limit, while "take" implies that the thing is being guided to that limit. The overall meaning is largely the same in both versions; it is simply a nuanced difference in the manner in which the limit is being reached. And, in truth, people using one expression or the other may not actually be trying to imply anything; the expressions are interchangeable in a large number of instances. One word or the other may simply sound more natural.

It is important to know, also, that American popular culture would be heavily affected by the title of a hit song, "Take It to the Limit," released by The Eagles in the 1970s. Many references in headlines and other journalistic sources might be implicitly echoing this song title.

In this heat, vigorous exercise would truly be pushing the limits of safety.

The movie is an exuberant exercise in style, in which Parker and his actors have fun taking it to the limit.

"Whatever he did," his mother recalled, "he took it to the limit."

They were tired and they were hungry. He didn't care. It was his job to push them to the limit. Everything depended on them.
I have not run into comparable expressions using "border."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/05/04 - Be on call - be on duty

Dear ESL Experts:

What is the difference between “to be on duty” and “to be on call”?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these two phrases?

Are there any cases in which the two are interchangeable?
Also, would you please give me some alternatives to both “to be on duty” and “to be on call”?

Finally, if “to be off duty” is the opposite of “to be on duty,” what is the opposite/reverse of “to be on call”?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/05/04:

On duty generally means that you are actively on a job. On call generally means that you are formally available to be called in to the job, but are not actually on duty.

Thus, a police officer who is in uniform and working his or her regular patrol is on duty. Another police officer who is not currently on duty may be in the standby status of being on call, meaning that if there is a sudden need for more officers, this officer has agreed to be available on short notice to report to the station and go on duty.

You are right about on duty/off duty, but we would not say "off call." I think we would simply say "not on call."

Examples:

There are at least two physicians on duty in the emergency room at all times.

The burglar was caught by an off duty police officer who saw him sneaking out of a back window.

I'm sorry -- I can't go to the beach with you today. I'm on call for my repair company, and we always get calls on the weekend.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/04/04 - Bobby--sox

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the following passage?

"The sexual sadism -- the bobby--sox girl soldier who points at a man's genitals, the mock orgy in Abu Ghraib prison, the British rifle in the prisoner's mouth -- might be a crazed attempt to balance all those lies about the Arab world, about the desert warrior's potency, the harem, polygamy.
Even today, we still show the revolting Ashanti on our television stations, a feature film about the kidnapping of the wife of an English doctor by Arab slave--traders, which depicts Arabs as almost exclusively child--molesters, rapists, murderers, liars and thieves. It stars -- heaven spare us -- Michael Caine, Omar Sharif and Peter Ustinov and was made partly in Israel."

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/04/04:

bobby sox --Bobby socks (or bobby sox) are ankle-length socks, usually cotton, worn since the 1930s by children, teens, and adult women. By 1935, many teenage girls wore them to school with saddle shoes (two-tones) or loafers, and stores marketed them as campus fashion. They gained widespread fame in 1943 when national media equated them with teenage girls, especially screaming fans of Frank Sinatra, and claimed that ordinary ankle socks instantly became bobby sox when teenagers bought them.

Without having seen the picture in question, I cannot be sure of what the author seeks to convey with the use of "bobby-sox" here. I would assume it refers to the person being very youthful-looking, or innocent-looking, or attired in very simple civilian clothing. Perhaps the reference will make sense to you if you have seen the pictures referred to in the article.

heaven spare us -- this is an expression of mock disbelief. The verb is "spare" used in the subjunctive (and meaning "save" or "protect"), and the expression is shortened from "may heaven spare us." The expression creates a sense of irony or drama by invoking the deity to deliver us from such a preposterous or absurd result as is described by the following words (here, the casting of a movie). Of course, appeals to heaven normally involve serious subjects, so that using this kind of expression in connection with something as trivial as the identity of cast members in a movie creates a rhetorical or sarcastic effect.

Similar expressions:

I don't suppose you could at least pick up your dirty socks once in a while, Johnny? Heaven forbid you should break a fingernail or something. [sarcastic]

Oh, heaven help us! Mary is here with her new boyfriend. [sarcastic]

God forbid you should call your mother once in a while. [sarcastic]

Lord have mercy! That is one classy-looking car! [Admiration]
These expressions are highly idiomatic.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/04/04 - Stand tall - stand firm

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to stand tall against something/someone" and "to stand firm against something/someone"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which the two phrases are interchangeable?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/04/04:

"Stand tall" conveys the idea of probity, righteousness, dignity -- the notion that a person keeps his or her head up in the face of challenges that would tend to undermine their sense of self-worth and personal value.

Even as the evidence against him mounted, Bill Clinton managed to stand tall against accusations of sexual misconduct.

I don't care what they say. We are going to stand tall against these accusations. This program is too important to allow some publicity-seeking attorney to destroy it.
"Stand firm" conveys the idea of determination, steadfastness, resoluteness.
Gang violence will only get worse unless this community stands firm against it.

I want the enemies of this country to know, without any doubt, that we will stand firm against any attack.

I have tried my best to get the City Council to relax their demands, but so far they are standing firm.
While these meanings are related, the choice would depend on the specific meaning that was to be conveyed. The key difference has to do with whether there is a moral overtone. Standing tall implies that the person in question is making a moral choice, or displaying personal courage, in the face of challenge. Standing firm merely denotes refusal to yield, regardless of any moral overtone. In other words, someone could stand firm without necessarily standing tall.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/04/04 - Pass out sthg, pass on sthg & pass up on sthg

Dear ESL Experts:

What are the differences among "to pass out something," and "to pass on something," and "to pass up on something"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these phrases?

Are there any cases in which they may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/04/04:

pass out [something] -- to distribute; to hand out.

Would you please pass out these new assignment sheets?
Note that the term "pass out" is also used to describe someone who loses consciousness:
I'm not sure what happened, officer. I was standing right here, and suddenly this woman just passed out and collapsed to the floor.
pass on -- This has two meanings. First, it can mean to transmit onward; to convey to a successor; to carry information to a recipient.
This new report raises some serious questions. We had better pass it on to the President at once.

Make sure you pass on this information exactly the way I have given it to you.
Second, someone who lacks interest in something may decide to "pass on" that thing.
I'm pretty tired. I think I'm going to pass on the idea of a movie tonight.
pass up -- Decline; refuse; fail to take advantage of.
I don't see how you can pass up an offer like this, Mr. Smith. It is a real bargain.

How can you possibly pass up a date with Joanne? She's the hottest girl in the whole school!
pass [someone] up -- overtake; move ahead of.
I thought I was the athlete in the family, but when my little brother turned 15 he passed me up almost immediately.
Note that, as far as I know, it is not correct to say "pass up on something." We would say "pass something up" or "pass up something." The choice depends on which sounds less awkward and more natural.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/03/04 - Be an issue - have an issue

Dear ESL Experts:

What is the difference between "to be an issue" and "to have an issue"?

Would you please give me some examples of when it's correct to use the first and when it's appropriate to use the second?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to these two phrases?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/03/04:

The word issue can have a wide variety of meanings, depending on the context. As you are using it here, it would tend to mean (a) a matter of debate, discussion, or dispute, or (b) a matter of concern.

The war in Iraq is a central issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.

Let's not waste time on side issues. We need to get to the important things.

Until I read this book, I never realized there was any issue as to the authenticity of that painting.

Folks, we need to get back to the main issue, namely, whether to designate the Holloway House as an architectural landmark.

Gun control has been an issue for so many years that we almost don't notice it any more.
I consider "have an issue" to be more colloquial, and I suspect the usage to be of relatively recent origin. We hear that "A has an issue with B" or "A has issues with B" where B may be another person, or may be a policy or practice.
I have an issue with Mrs. Bledsoe about how she treats her dogs.

Eric has a bunch of issues with his parents. He has not spoken to them in three years.

I'm sorry, but I have a serious issue with prosecuting a 13-year-old boy for murder like an adult.

I thought she had recovered, but I learned that she still has a number of issues from her days as a drug user.
Outside of casual speech, I would much prefer to see expressions such as "has concerns about" in place of "has issues with." The latter sounds far less polished, and, as I said earlier, seems to be a relatively recent invention of popular speech.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 05/03/04 - What's the catch?

Dear ESL Experts

What does "What's the catch?" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this question?

Any alternatives?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 05/03/04:

A catch in this usage is an unsuspected drawback or hidden (often tricky) condition associated with something that has been offered. To ask what's the catch? is to express suspicion or skepticism, often in response to an apparently generous offer made by someone who has no known reason to be generous under the circumstances.

And, of course, it often turns out that there is a catch. We receive an offer for a free dinner at a gourmet restaurant, but find out that in order to collect this "gift" we must sit through a two-hour sales presentation for something.

When there are such conditions, we say that the offer "has strings attached." Conversely, when there are no such conditions, we say there are "no strings attached."

Examples:

The main question we're asked at the Oddfellows when someone is thinking of joining is 'what's the catch?' How can we offer so much in return for so little?

OK, Jill, what's the catch? You have never shown any interest in bowling before.

I know there must be a catch here somewhere. Jackson has never been this generous in the ten years I have known him.

I knew there must be a catch to this! All right, let's hear it.

But you know there must be a catch. Here it is: Players registering and then cancelling must pay a $20 penalty.

"Go on,” I said. "Tell me about the rules.”
"There is one rule,” she said.
I knew there was a catch. These people always had a catch. "What is it?”
It is difficult to think of a direct substitute for what's the catch? Some possibilities that could be used in various circunstances:
What do you get out of this?

What kind of strings are attached?

What's the quid pro quo?

What's your interest in all of this?

What do you get out of the deal?

What's in it for you?

What's the tradeoff?

What aren't you telling me?

How do you benefit from this?

Where's the gimmick?
You should also be aware of the term "catch-22," which comes from the title of a 1961 novel by Joseph Heller (later a 1970 film). A "catch-22" situation is paradoxical one where you cannot win regardless of which decision you make. (An equivalent expression is "damned if you do, damned if you don't.") The term is also used in situations where, for example, requirement A cannot be met until requirement B is met, but requirement B cannot be met without meeting requirement A first. In either case, the expression tends to refer to situations where there is no means of escape from a dilemma, usually with ironic overtones. (Note that it is not the same as a stalemate or standoff, where forces in opposition to one another are in such balance that no movement is possible. A "catch-22" situation involves a range of choices that all lead to a bad outcome.)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/30/04 - Go lenghts, go the extra mile, go the distance

Dear ESL Experts:

Are there any difference among "to go lenghts," "to go the extra mile," and "to go the distance"?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use them correctly and naturally?

Any alternatives to these three phrases?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/30/04:

These phrases have somewhat different uses, although they all draw on a common metaphor.

go to great lengths -- make a substantial effort.

The teacher went to great lengths to make sure all the students understood how to factor polynomials, because she knew that so much of algebra depended on this skill.

I don't think that the city is going to go to any great lengths to help us with this project. There is no political value to any of the elected officials.
This expression always includes the word "great."

go the extra mile -- make an effort above and beyond the norm; make an extraordinary effort; work longer or harder than expected.
It costs more to hire Jackson & Sons to do this work, but this company always goes the extra mile to make sure everything is done properly and on time no matter what.

If you are willing to go the extra mile, you could be the top student in this school.
go the distance -- persist to the end; persevere; endure; see something through; complete the task regardless of challenges.
I don't want you to sign up for this mission unless you are willing to go the distance. We can't afford to have anyone bail out halfway through.

The Iron Man Triathlon is a vivid example of people willing to go the distance.

He would be a great presidential candidate, I think, but he is not willing to go the distance to get nominated.
Other expressions:

go to any lengths -- do whatever is required; stop at nothing.
Some mothers will go to any lengths to get their daughters married off before they hit 30.

This mission is vital, Carstairs. You are authorized to use any resources and go to any lengths necessary to make it a success.

The insurgents in Iraq are willing to go to any lengths to frustrate the efforts to bring freedom to the country.
go to the mat -- to continue a struggle until one side or the other has won decisively (calls to mind two wrestlers persisting until one pins the other to the wrestling mat).
Sorry, your honor, but we are not willing to compromise on this one. We are prepared to go to the mat to show that our client is innocent.

I have never worked with anyone so stubborn. He seems determined to go to the mat on every decision, regardless of how minor it may be. It gets very tiresome.
go off the deep end -- cross the line into insanity; overreact; behave irrationally; behave excessively.
I've seen Frank become obsessed with hobbies before, but this time he has really gone off the deep end. He is adding two new rooms to his house to display his stamp collection.

OK, dear, you can go shopping for new tools, but please don't go off the deep end and spend thousands of dollars on things you will never use.

I think Ardmore has gone off the deep end. We had better get that gun from him before he decides to use it on someone.
go overboard -- do something in excess.
Karen always goes overboard when decorating for a party. This place looks like the Taj Mahal.

Now don't go overboard with this new exercise program. Your body needs time to adjust. Start out slowly and build up gradually to the full schedule.
go too far -- exceed reasonable or acceptable boundaries.
I believe in freedom of speech, but this editorial goes too far. I think it's time to pay a visit to the newspaper.

I think I went too far with Laura on our date last night. She won't return my calls.
go to extremes -- employ unusually strong measures.
The mayor seems to be willing to go to extremes to deal with the crime problem downtown.

I agree that this is an annoying problem, but going to extremes to solve it is not an appropriate use of our limited resources.
go to any extreme -- see go to any lengths.

go places -- to be on the road to success.
Darlene has had an amazing track record so far. It is obvious she is really going places in this company.

It's funny how you can pick out the people who are going places the moment you lay eyes on them.
stop at nothing -- see go to any lengths. Other similar expressions:
to do whatever it takes

to do or die

to succeed or die trying

to move ahead, come what may

to be unstoppable
That should be enough to work on for now. :-)



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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/30/04 - Dig in

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrasal verb "to dig in" have a special meaning in U.S. English?

I'm asking this because there is a Lanny Kravitz song called "Dig in" and I've been having difficulty understanding the meaning of/behind this title.

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/30/04:

There are two meanings of "dig in" that I am aware of.

The first comes from the military world. When ground troops (footsoldiers) decide to establish a position, they "dig in" by digging trenches in the ground deep enough for them to stay in for protection against enemy fire. The expression is used figuratively to denote someone who stubbornly insists on an argument or position, or where two sides in a dispute become increasingly rigid and polarized. As the two sides "dig in" (or, in a word drawn directly from the military activity, "become entrenched"), the dispute becomes more intractable because neither side will yield any ground.

The second and entirely unrelated (as far as I know) use relates to food. A family may sit down for dinner at a table filled with tempting food. One person may say grace. When that is completed, the head of the household may then say, "OK, everyone, dig in!" In other words, the expression "dig in" is a casual and colorful way of saying "please commence eating." It is colorful because of the image of using a shovel to eat the food.

Looking at the lyrics of the Lenny Kravitz song (they are available in dozens of places on the internet) I suspect it is the second meaning that he is using. "Come on in and join the party," he says. "Jump on in and get it started. ... Once you dig in, you'll find / You'll have yourself a good time." It appears to me that Kravitz is saying to his listener, "Stop being shy. Be adventurous. Participate in life. Make a contribution."

Not every line in the song makes perfect sense to me, but today's lyrics often include things merely because they sound interesting or solve a tricky rhyming problem. The overall effect of the song, however, seems to me to be consistent with what I have said above.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/29/04 - Have no business in something

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to have no business in something"
exist in U.S. English?

If so, is it used with the same meaning as "to mind one's own business" or "It's none of someone's business"?

If not, what phrases/expressions, both formal and informal/colloquial, are common in American English?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/29/04:

All of the expressions I can think of that involve the word "business" operate from the same core meaning. "Business" refers to someone's rightful or proper concern with something. Therefore, the expressions you have mentioned, and other similar ones that exist, all convey the idea that it is inappropriate for someone to have involvement or concern with something. It can also mean that something was not someone's prerogative.

It's nobody's business if I want to paint my bedroom purple.

I wish our nosy neighbor would learn to mind his own business.

I'm sorry, but the government has no business telling me what I can read and what I can't read.

I know I probably have no business asking you a question like this, but are you married?

It's probably none of my business, but are you thinking about going on this cruise?

I told that pesky salesman it was none of his business whether I used bottled water.

I don't mean to be rude, but frankly I don' think you have any business trying to tell me how to raise my son.

What is clear is that the employer has no business telling employees how to spend their time when thay are not working.
Note that the normal idiomatic use of "have / has / had no business" typically has a participle following the phrase, rather than a preposition such as "in." Most commonly it is not a matter of having no business in something, but having no business doing something. Thus:
He had no business ...
... talking to me like that.

... looking at my sister that way.

... telling me to leave.

... borrowing my car without asking permission.

... throwing away my favorite magazines.

... sending in that report before I had a chance to review it.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/29/04 - Play ON words - play WITH words

Dear ESL Experts:

Which is correct and natural - "to play with words" and "to play on words"?

If both are possible, do they mean the same thing?

Also, does the phrase "to play words on/with someone" exist?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/29/04:

"Play on words" is normally seen as a phrasal noun, usually meaning "pun." I believe the Italian equivalent would be giuoco di parole. It is an arrangement of words that creates a clever or silly meaning because of, for example, a transposition of syllables from a familiar phrase.

I have never encountered the verb form of "to play on words." It would be possible to talking about "playing with words" in the same manner as one might play with anything else.

I have not encountered the phrase "to play words on/with someone."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/28/04 - Throw something off - throw something away

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "to throw away something" and "to throw off something"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which these two phrases are interchangeable?

Also, is "to throw something off/away" also possible, that is, placing "something" between "throw" and "away/off"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/28/04:

"Throw off" is also used in a figurative sense, as in slaves who want to throw off the chains of oppression.

"Throw off" also has the additional meaning of "emit," as in:

The muffler threw off sparks as it dragged along the ground.

The chemical reaction threw off a distinctly unpleasant smell.
Finally, there is a competely different meaning for "to throw [someone / something] off," which refers to an effect of confusing or misdirecting someone or something:
Oh, now I see the house you're talking about. That new apartment building threw me off.

For most golfers getting ready to swing, complete silence is needed. Any sudden noise is likely to throw off their swing.

I can't believe he hit the target. Most people would have been thrown off by that bright flash.

Don't worry. I'll be fine. These new script changes just threw me off for a second.

Why do these idiots put up such confusing road signs? Are they intentionally trying to throw us off?

Be sure you don't let this new test format throw you off.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/28/04 - Go to bed with someone

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, we use the phrase "to go to bed with someone" with the same meaning as "to sleep with someone"?

Is this phrase used in American English?

If so, is it as common as "to sleep with someone"?

Also, does the phrase "to get laid with someone" have the same meaning as "to sleep with someone"?

Finally, would you please give me some formal and informal/colloquial/conversational/idiomatic alternatives to "sleep with someone"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/28/04:

Yes, American English uses the same expressions (to go to bed with someone, and to sleep with someone). Both are quite common.

We do not say "get laid with someone." We simply say that someone "got laid" or wants to "get laid." (This is a much coarser expression than the first ones, and would not be used in anything resembling polite company.)

There are numerous expressions, some much cruder than others, for the act of having sexual intercourse. At the more polite end of the spectrum, we might say:

A made love to B

A and B made love

A and B had sex

A got it on with B

A and B got it on

A and B had intimate relations [this is rather formal, as might be found in a court document]
There are also some tongue-in-cheek euphemisms, such as
doing the dirty deed

doing the nasty

making babies

doing the deed

doing it

having a roll in the hay
I will leave you to the abundant online resources available for more colorful expressions. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/28/04 - Make the case

Dear ESL Experts:

When do you use the phrase "to make the case for"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some other phrases that have the same or a similar meaning?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/28/04:

When we want to persuade others of a viewpoint or position, we "make a case" or "make the case" for that viewpoint or position. This might be in a court of law, where the attorneys for one side "make the case" for that side by presenting evidence and argument supporting its position. It could be in a speech or debate, where (for example) a politician might seek to make a case for raising taxes or changing a law. The expression also has everyday uses which are analogous to those mentioned above.

I can't wait to see him try to make a case for invading North Korea.

I'm not going to stand here and try to make the case for a complete ban on cigarettes in this country, even though I think that would be a life-saving idea. What I want to do is persuade you that cigarettes do not belong in our schools.

Joe still can't believe he lost the committee vote this morning. He was sure he had made an airtight case for the new reclamation project.

I'm sorry, Mr. Green, but you have not made a very persuasive case for receiving this kind of exemption. We have no choice but to deny your application.

How can we make the case for expanding production of the Model 803 without accurate sales figures? Tell Quigley we need that information at once!
I cannot think of any real substitute phrases. You can substitute other words for "make," such as "lay out" or "present," but the phrase remains the same in essence.
In his speech last night, the Prime Minister laid out a detailed case for repealing the excise tax on alcohol.

Saunders, here, will present the case for leasing our factory equipment rather than purchasing it outright.
You could also talk about "presenting" or "laying out" or "setting out" the argument(s) for (in favor of) or against (in opposition to) something.

Synonyms would include "persuade," "prove," "demonstrate," and "establish.&34;

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/28/04 - In a different class - in a league of his own

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to be in a different class" and "to be in a league of his/her own"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

For instance, is there any difference between "That player is in a league of his own" and "That player is in a different class"?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to these two phrases?

Finally, is it possible and correct to say/write "to be in a class of his/her own"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/28/04:

These are somewhat tricky, and I think one needs to be fairly precise when using them or else they will sound awkward.

The most common expression involving "class" is, "to be in a class by himself / herself / itself / themselves." Synonyms would include "peerless," "unmatched," "unique," "matchless," and "incomparable."

There have been many fine violin soloists, but I think that Itzkak Perlman is in a class by himself.

You have never tasted such tender gnocchi. They are in a class by themselves.

To date, Calypso Rose still holds the distinction of being the only woman ever to win either title, placing her in a class by herself.

Among biological weapons, smallpox is in a class by itself.
With respect to "league," there are two common expressions I can think of:

    1. We can say that someone or something is "not in the same league" as someone or something else.

    2. We can say that something or someone is "out of your / my / his / her / their league."

Examples:
Joe wants so badly to be a ballplayer. No one has the heart to tell him that he is not even in the same league as the pros.

Don't waste your time looking at that brand of big-screen television. It's not in the same league as Sony.

While not in the same league as "The Princess Bride” or "Shrek,” this cheeky, live-action fractured fairy tale shares a similar mind-set as wicked stepsisters and cruel despots compete with misunderstood ogres, elves and giants for time in the comic spotlight.

I can help you with the basic network connections, but configuring this firewall is out of my league.

Face it Eric. She's never going to go out with you. She is completely out of your league.

He's OK with short, experimental films, but directing a big-budget feature is totally out of his league. We can't take a chance.

Many people worry that the new Prime Minister of Spain, who has very little foreign policy experience, is out of his league in dealing with the Iraq war.
It would be possible to construct phrases such as the ones you have offered, but they would not be everyday expressions in American English. For example, you could use "class" or "league" as a substitute for "category," as illustrated here:
I' seen unusual readings before, but there are in a different category altogether.

I' seen unusual readings before, but there are in a different class altogether.

I' seen unusual readings before, but there are in a different league altogether. [This one is not as satisfactory as the first two, and is not a construction I have ever heard.]
With respect to your proposed phrases, rather than saying "that player is in a league of his own" it would be far more common to hear "that player is in a class by himself." It would not be common to say "that player is in a different class" unless you were referring to social class (having nothing to do with the player's ability).

Hope that makes sense.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/27/04 - Set oneself up for something

Dear Rich:

Does the phrase "to set up oneself for (doing) something" exist?

If so, when is it used?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is it possible "to set up someone for (doing) something"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/27/04:

I think of it in the same sense as setting up a target (say, for archery). We can set ourselves up, or set someone else up, to be the recipient of some kind of consequence (often a negative one) just as a target is exposed to the arrow that the archer will let fly.

Viewing the expressions in this light makes sense out of many of the common uses.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/27/04 - Paper over the cracks

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bolds in the following passages?

------------------------------------------------------

Hundreds of thousands of people are being prescribed powerful anti-depressants that they may not need because doctors are using the pills as a "quick fix" solution to mild anxiety problems, according to a report published today.

Desperate shortages of NHS counsellors and therapists mean that over-worked GPs often feel they have no option but to hand out anti-depressants to people who may only need an outlet for discussing their problems. Eighty per cent of GPs admit that they are over-prescribing drugs such as Prozac and Seroxat when patients may simply need someone to talk to.

"Mental health care is the Cinderella service of the NHS - the average waiting time for a counselling appointment is six months, which is far too long for most people. Anti-depressants have helped millions but they should not be handed out as a quick and easy way of getting people through a GP's surgery."

However, the safety of SSRIs, in particular Seroxat, has been called into question, with reports of severe side-effects including violent rages and suicidal thoughts. An expert working group set up by the UK drug regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, is currently investigating the allegations.
Janice Simmons, of the Seroxat Users' Group, said: "Prescribing of these drugs has become absolutely scandalous. They are powerful drugs and have been shown to have severe side effects. People are getting hooked on them when they didn't even need them in the first place, and yet nothing is being done about it."

Michelle Hancock was first prescribed Prozac when she was 28. Ten years later, she is trying to wean herself off antidepressants.
"I was given pills like they were sweets, but all antidepressants do is paper over the cracks," she says.
Mrs Hancock, from Hartford, Hertfordshire, first went to her GP in 1994 when she was experiencing depression.
"The doctor ... wrote out a prescription for Prozac, saying 'this will make you feel better'." It had taken a terrifying hold of her. "I would wake up in the night and the bed would literally be shaking because I was shaking so much."

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/27/04:

"quick fix" solution -- An expedient or temporary solution that is of little lasting value; a gimmick.

outlet -- a means of expressing and releasing concerns, frustrations, emotional energies. Here, the author is suggesting that many people who are being given medication do not need medication, but would benefit more from an opportunity to discuss their problems with a therapist.

Cinderella service -- The reference is to the story of Cinderella, who was the poor, mistreated and neglected stepchild in her household. The idea is that mental health care receives the lowest priority in the NHS.

a quick and easy way of getting people through a GP's surgery -- This echoes the "quick fix" notion mentioned earlier. The author disapproves of the practice of trying to process patients quickly by thoughtlessly handing out prescriptions for anti-depressant medications, rather than taking time to examine more carefully what their real problems may be.

called into question --challenged; subjected to doubt and scrutiny; questioned

getting hooked on -- becoming addicted to

wean herself off -- Nursing babies, when they reach a certain age, are weaned off of their mother's milk in favor of other food. Here, the expression is used figuratively to refer to this patient's efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate her dependence on the drug Prozac.

paper over the cracks -- provide a superficial solution, as in putting wallpaper over a badly cracked wall. The wall looks fine for a brief time, but invevitably the unrepaired cracks begin to show through. In the U.S., it is common to encounter the expression "to paper over" with reference to problems or shortcomings.

It had taken a terrifying hold of her. -- The underlying expression, "taken hold," refers to something that has taken control of or become dominant over someone or something. It is usually used with "of" or "over." One may also say that something or someone has "gotten a hold over" someone else

With these latest attacks, a new fear has taken hold of Baghdad.

As long as I can still laugh, bad times will never get a hold over me.
Here, the author has intensified the basic expression of "taken hold" by adding the word "terrifying." The idea is that the drug has taken control of her, causing her to experience troubled sleep (perhaps from nightmares).

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/25/04 - Speak from the hip

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to speak from the hip" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/26/04:

Schoolmarm is correct that the true expression involves "shooting from the hip," which takes a certain amount of bravado because it is much harder to aim the shots. Figuratively it refers to someone who tends to behave impulsively, or to make statements and/or take positions without significant deliberation or analysis.

I did find, in online searching, that journalists and other writers are using the expression "speak from the hip" as a kind of shorthand for someone who speaks impulsively, without significant deliberation or analysis. It may also refer to someone whose casual, unplanned speech is awkward and unpolished. Former presidential candidate Howard Dean described himself as "speaking from the hip," apparently as an excuse for some of his more bewildering statements during his primary campaign. In a number of places I find references to politicians who are described as having a "speak-from-the-hip style."

It looks to me as though journalists are determined to bring this phrase into acceptance. I certainly understand what it means, although it grates on my ears. I don't find the visual image of a speaking hip to be particularly satisfying, although I suppose it may be no worse than references to someone speaking "off the cuff" (extemporaneously).

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/25/04 - Spread the world - get the world out

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to get the word out" and "to spread the word"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Any alternatives to these two phrases?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/26/04:

These are two common expressions for the notion of communicating something to a large audience. They are generally interchangeable, and are neutral enough to be used in most situations. Other expressions (not all of which would be appropriate in any given circumstance) include:

Letting the world know

Shouting [something] from the rooftops

Making the headlines

Grabbing the headlines

Spreading the news

Getting out the news

Tooting one's horn

Pulling a publicity stunt

Working the media

Getting out publicity

Rolling out publicity
Examples:
We are asking doctors to help us spread the word about this new treatment.

John, your assignment is to get the word out on this schedule change. Make sure you cover the radio and TV stations as well as all the local papers.

If we can catch the telephone scam artists, we are usually successful in prosecuting them, but they are hard to catch. Our best hope is to keep spreading the word to consumers about how not to be taken in by these crooks.

Nowadays, one of the easiest ways to get the word out about your community events is to publish a regular e-mail newsletter.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/25/04 - Janus-like

Dear Rich:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the following passage?

------------------------------------------------------

Dismayed. Ah, Mary, you poor diddums.

I tried to check the spelling of "diddums" in Webster's, America's inspiring, foremost dictionary. No luck. But then, what's the point when Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "anti-Semitism" as "opposition to Zionism: sympathy with opponents of the state of Israel".

Come again? If you or I suggest--or, indeed, if poor wee Mary suggests--that the Palestinians are getting a raw deal under Israeli occupation, then we are "anti-Semitic". It is only fair, of course, to quote the pitiful response of the Webster's official publicist, Mr Arthur Bicknell, who was asked to account for this grotesque definition.

"Our job," he responded, "is to accurately reflect English as it is actually being used. We don't make judgement calls; we're not political." Even more hysterically funny and revolting, he says that the dictionary's editors tabulate "citational evidence" about anti-Semitism published in "carefully written prose-like books and magazines". Preposterous as it is, this Janus-like remark is worthy of the hollowest of laughs.

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/25/04:

I located the entire article here, and I must say that it is almost incomprehensible to me. It uses a lot of fancy words and seemingly learned locutions, but they get in the way of conveying any sort of coherent meaning. In particular, like Rich, I fail utterly to comprehend what this author means by referring to a "Janus-like" response here. I know what "Janus-like" means (as Rich so ably explained); I simply fail to see its pertinence here.

If you are having any difficulty grasping what this author has to say, do not feel bad. I have great difficulty with the article, and I'm pretty good at reading English. It is, in my view, terrible writing.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/25/04 - Get a bad rap

Dear voiceguy2000:

In your explanation of the meaning of the phrase "to set the record straight," you give the following example:

"For folks who think that groups like the Sierra Club have too much influence over environmental policy and that President George W. Bush is getting a bad rap on his environmental record, a new organization has emerged to set the record straight."

My question is:

Would you please explain what "is getting a bad rap on" mean?

When do you use this expression?

Would you please give me some examples and some alternatives?

Also, is it possible to say/write "to get a bad rap on someone"?

Finally, what is the opposite of "to get a bad (on something/someone"? Maybe "to get a good grap"is it just too simplistic?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/25/04:

This goes back to the slang expressions "bad rap" or " bum rap" which refer to criminal prosecution of someone who is accused of a crime but is actually innocent. In other words, if someone is sent to jail for a crime they did not commit, it is said to be a "bad rap" or a "bum rap."

The expression has evolved to mean any kind of unfair or unjustified accusation or criticism. Thus, someone who has "gotten a bad rap" is someone who has been unfairly criticized in connection with that subject. (The word "on" is used with this expression only when necessary to specify the matter on which someone is getting a bad rap.)

I have never heard of getting a bad rap on someone.

I am not sure what the opposite would be. I don't recall hearing references to a "good rap." The opposite of criticism is praise, but I am not sure whether the opposite of undeserved criticism is undeserved praise or deserved praise, or whether perhaps the opposite is deserved criticism. In any case, I cannot offer any suggestions for this.

Examples:

All of a sudden, carbohydrates are really getting a bad rap in the popular press.

I wonder why this film has gotten such a bad rap? I think it's better than anything he has done.

So why has coconut oil gotten such a bad rap in the recent past?  After all, much of the research supporting coconut oil as a healthy fat has been around for some time.  The answer is politics and economics. 

The state of Florida really got a bad rap after the problems with its voting machines in the 2000 Presidential election, but the truth is that most states used similar machines.
Hope this makes things a little clearer.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/24/04 - Back to square one - (start) from scratch

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "back to square one" and "(start) from scratch"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to these two phrases?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/25/04:

"Square one" refers metaphorically to the first square on a board game in which players progress from square to square by rolling dice or spinning a wheel. In some of these games, an unlucky player may land on a square, or draw a card, that sends them back to the beginning -- that is, "back to square one."

In the world of cooking, a distinction is made between things that are prepared from a packaged mix (i.e., cakes, biscuits, sauces) to which you simply add water and stir, on the one hand, and things made "from scratch," on the other. When cooking "from scratch," the basic ingredients are measured and combined by the cook, which is more challenging than simply opening a packaged mix in which those ingredients have already been combined.

In the figurative use of these expressions, both connote starting something at the very beginning. "Back to square one" definitely connotes returning to the beginning after an unsuccessful attempt.

Well, that idea certainly didn't work. I guess it's back to square one to try again.

Every time I think I have solved this problem, the experiment fails, and it's back to square one.
A directly equivalent expression is "back to the drawing board."
Oh my, what a mess. Guess it's back to the drawing board for us.

The spectacular explosion sent the engineers back to the drawing board.
To "start from scratch" may involve returning to the beginning, or it may simply involve commencing something from a very basic or preliminary stage. For example, in an investigation that has run into a dead end, the investigators may decide to "start from scratch" by rejecting all prior assumptions, reexamining everything, and trying to determine where they have gone astray.
I know there's a solution here, gentlemen. We are simply not seeing it. I want you to start from scratch and examine everything ten times more carefully than before.
In this case, a reference to "square one" would also work:
I know there's a solution here, gentlemen. We are simply not seeing it. I want you to go back to square one and examine everything ten times more carefully than before.
However, "start from scratch" has additional uses in referring to starting from a very basic point:
With this new computer database, we no longer have to start from scratch every time we conduct a background check on a new employee. Much of the work is already done for us.

Sir, do you want us simply to adapt the Model 803 for this new use, or do you want us to start from scratch?

No wonder this company loses so much money. They never just upgrade their products. Every time a new idea hits the owner, he starts a whole new product from scratch.

Jenkins, your research is going to put us way ahead of our competitors. With your findings, our design is already halfway complete. Our competitors are going to have to start from scratch.
A roughly equivalent expression, in at least some cases, is "to build [something] from the ground up."

It would be possible to use "start at square one" (as opposed to "back to square one") as a substitute for "start from scratch" in the second meaning above:
We are going to start at square one and develop the world's most luxurious car from the ground up.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/24/04 - Set the record straight

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to set the record straight" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, are there any other ways, both formal and informal/colloquial/figurative, to express this concept?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/25/04:

"The record" refers to the written report of official proceedings of a body such as a court or legislature. In a literal sense, "setting the record straight" means correcting or clarifying "the record" to reflect with complete accuracy what the true facts are, or what really happened, rather than leaving a false or inaccurate impression.

Figuratively, the expression refers to dispelling myths and falsehoods, countering rumors, setting out out the truth.

This new book seeks to set the record straight on what really happened in Vietnam.

When is the government going to set the record straight on the effects of mercury on the environment?

It's time to set the record straight on the myths that keep popping up about cholesterol and heart disease.

For folks who think that groups like the Sierra Club have too much influence over environmental policy and that President George W. Bush is getting a bad rap on his environmental record, a new organization has emerged to set the record straight.

Structural engineers bombarded news media with letters seeking to set the record straight on erroneous news coverage of engineering studies of the World Trade Center towers.

Let's set the record straight here. I never approved the reconstruction project. It was carried on without my knowledge, after I had specifically told Mr. Jackson that I thought it was a terrible idea. Mr. Jackson commenced the work anyway, concealing it from me. He has now been fired.
Exact substitute expressions do not come to mind. Some that are close in meaning include:
To put/lay one's cards on the table

To lay it all out [for someone]

To come clean

To open one's kimono

To give it to [someone] straight

To cut through the bull/BS

To talk turkey

To get down to brass tacks
These latter expressions involve candor more than correcting misinformation, and for that reason may not be good substitutes for "set the record straight." They are simply the closest things I can think of.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/24/04 - hear voices

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, we use the phrase/the figurative expression "to hear voices" to describe a person that is going insane/crazy/mad.

Do you have the same or a similar expression in U.S. English?

If not, what do you say instead? Formal and informal/idiomatic/colorful/colloquial expressions/phrases are very welcome.

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/24/04:

Yes, English uses the exact same expression, "hearing voices," referring to a frequent characteristic of schizophrenia. Variations:

Hearing voices in one's head

Hearing little voices

Hearing the little men

Hallucinations
Hearing voices that other people do not hear is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. Voices may describe the patient's activities, carry on a conversation, warn of impending dangers, or even issue orders to the individual. Schizophrenics may also get the sense that thoughts are being put into their heads by distant "others" through radio waves, laser beams, or telepathy, or that thoughts are being removed from their heads.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/24/04 - Try to pinch pennies

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "try to pinch pennies" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives, both formal and informal/colloquial, to this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/24/04:

Someone who "pinches pennies" is extremely stingy and frugal, ungenerous, a miser. The words "pennypincher" and "pennypinching" derive from the same origin.

It is generally not a flattering reference.

People who have this quality are called

miserly

parsimonious

tightfisted

grudging

stingy

tight

cheap

niggardly

penurious
To "try to pinch pennies" would most often refer to situations where people or entities are imposing a severe level of economy on themselves, often (but not always) losing sight of their overall priorities and/or neglecting the costs that this "economy" actually generates.
Don't try to pinch pennies when selecting a tripod for your camera. You will be much happier with a high-quality one.

I was pleased to see that Volkswagen finally stopped trying to pinch pennies on its transmission designs. The new models have a much better design.

Don't try to pinch pennies by buying bargain-priced network cabling. Although the wires may look just the same, the cheap stuff will not give you the best performance.

It is worrisome that people with high deductibles on their health insurance try to pinch pennies by avoiding all routine doctor visits that would fall within the deductible. They are sacrificing their wellness foolishly.

Ever since I lost my job, I have had to try to pinch pennies as much as I can.

If the government tries to pinch pennies on a program as important as preschool education, a whole generation will be cheated.

Don't try to pinch pennies up front, because you may find yourself paying more
in the long run - not only monetarily, but mentally and emotionally as well.

When we started out, we had to try to pinch pennies as much as possible and find whatever we could wherever we could.
Other phrases that denote a misguided level of economy:
false economy

penny wise and pound foolish [referring to the British unit of money, the pound]

can't see the forest for the trees

paying dollars to save pennies
Phrases that denote frugality without the connotation of foolishness:
making every penny count

living from hand to mouth

stretching every penny / dime / dollar

squeezing the most out of every penny / dime / dollar

living on a shoestring
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/23/04 - Knock it off = stop it

Dear Rich:

Does "to knock something off" have the same meaning as "to stop something"?

For instance, in conversation, may I use "Knock it off!" if I want someone to stop talking about a particular subject that hurts me or I don't want any more details about it/or I don't want that person to go into (further) details about it?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the sentence "For instance, in conversation, may I use 'Knock it off!' if I want someone to stop talking about a particular subject that hurts me or I don't want any more details about it/or I don't want that person to go into (further) details about it?" correct and natural?

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/23/04:

When our dogs are getting too rambunctious, you can often hear me yelling "Knock it off, you guys." A cruder and more emphatic version is to say, "Knock that s**t off."

Note the similar-sounding expression, "to knock off," which refers to making a cheap imitation of a genuine article. For example, on the streets of New York City, vendors sell cheap knock-offs of Rolex watches. In this context, "to knock something off" would denote the act or result of creating an imitation of something. (This could be used to refer to both tangible goods, like watches, or intangible items, like movies or television shows.)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/23/04 - Get the beat

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to get the beat" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/23/04:

In 1981, a musical group called The Go-Gos released an album entitled Beauty and the Beat that contained the hit single, "We Got The Beat."

As far as I know, this expression would generally have a musical connotation. The idea is that someone who has "got the beat" is tuned in, in the groove, hip, able to dance to the music. A generation or two earlier, it might be said that someone has "got rhythm." The expression could be used in a more literal sense to refer to someone who relates well to a particular genre of music and can dance to it; in a figurative sense, it could be used to refer to people who are "tuned in" to some aspect of popular culture.

Having said all of this, it is not an expression that I have heard in a long time. I suppose that you could compliment a skillful dancer by saying, "Hey, man, you've really got the beat." I don't know how old-fashioned that would sound to today's ears. I don't feel qualified to give you other usage examples, because I am not sure who is using the expression nowadays. (I think that in many cases, journalists may use it in a manner that calls to mind The Go-Gos.)

Sorry I can't be more helpful.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/23/04 - Back off - stay back

Dear ESL Experts:

What do the police usually say - "Stay back!" or "Back off!"?

If both are correct and possible, do they convey the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/23/04:

"Stay back" is the more typical choice. "Back off" tends to be used in irritation or anger by someone who wants to be left alone, or who is warning someone to cease some kind of menacing behavior.

Either one could be used in a police situation, however, and would be understood.

Here are some phrases that police might use:

Stay back!

Keep back!

Watch out, folks!

OK, let's give them some room, please!

Stay behind the line, please!
I would categorize "back off" among expressions designed to interrupt the progress of a nascent dispute. Others would include:
Cool your jets.

Calm down.

Hold your horses.

Knock it off.

Give it a rest.

Cool it.

Put a lid on it.

Put a sock in it.

Chill out.

Don't do something you're gonna regret.
As with all idiomatic expressions, different ones may be more or less appropriate in any given situation.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/23/04 - Beyond the parts

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian, when a person isn't partisan, we say that he/she is "above the parts."

Do you have the same or a similar expression in American English?

If not, what do you say to describe a person who is not biased?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/23/04:

That expression is not a familiar one to me.

Here, we might use these words or phrases:

non-partisan (or nonpartisan)

neutral

objective

unbiased

above the fray (not involved in the dispute)

sitting things out (same)

uncommitted
At the same time, there are other expressions for people who simply cannot decide between alternatives, or who want to appear to have chosen whichever side they happen to be talking to as a matter of expediency:
sitting on the fence

can't make up his or her mind

having a foot in both camps

carrying water on both shoulders

working both sides of the street
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/21/04 - Come with the territory

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to come with the territory" have a figurative meaning?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, are there any other phrases/expressions that convey the same meaning?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/22/04:

It is a way of saying that circumstance B tends to accompany circumstance A -- you can't have one without the other. In other words, if you are dealing with A, it is inevitable that you will encounter B.

If you are going to work in Iraq, the risk of being kidnapped or killed comes with the territory.

I know it's difficult to keep a roomful of 12-year-olds engaged and occupied, Mrs. Jackson. That kind of challenge just comes with the territory.

Don't worry about having a case of nerves before your audition. That kind of thing comes with the territory. I am sure you will do a wonderful job.

I never thought that sleep would become such an issue when our baby was born. I guess being up all night just comes with the territory.

For a lot of military families, separation simply comes with the territory.
Other than words such as inevitable and inescapable, I cannot think of direct equivalents. There is an expression, "part of the game," that comes fairly close:
You'll have to get used to waiting for your results, Jill. It's just part of the game.
One must be careful with this, however, because of the ambiguiity of "a part of." It can mean either "a portion of" or "an incident of/to." Only the latter meaning is similar to "comes with the territory."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/21/04 - Pull a double

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to pull a double" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/22/04:

I believe it means "to work a double shift" (e.g., two 8-hour shifts in succession). It is not an expression that I normally hear. Maybe Schoolmarm or Richturner can bring more certainty to this one.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/20/04 - Hang on to - Hold on

Dear Rich:

When used either literally or figuratively, what is the difference between "to hold on to something/someone" and "to hang on to something/someone"?

Are there any cases in which these two phrases may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you please give me some examples in which they are interchangeable and some in which they are not?

Finally, on the phone/in a telephone conversation, is there any difference between "Hang on (a moment/a minute)" and "Hold on (a moment/a minute)"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Are the questions "When used either literally or figuratively, what is the difference between 'to hold on to something/someone' and 'to hang on to something/someone'?" and "Finally, on the phone/in a telephone conversation, is there any difference between 'Hang on (a moment/a minute)' and 'Hold on (a moment/a minute)'? correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/21/04:

Another circumstance in which "hold on" and "hang on" may be used interchangeably involves use as an interjection announcing some sort of discovery or realization. Thus, for instance, a police detective who is looking through an extensive collection of documents without finding anything useful may suddenly exclaim, "Hold on [or hang on] -- look at this!" when something interesting turns up. Similar expressions include "wait a second" and "wait a moment."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/19/04 - Get the whole picture

Dear ESl Experts:

Does the phrase "to get the whole picture" have a figurative meaning?

If so, what does it mean and when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples?

Is "get" the only verb that goes with "the whole picture" when the phrase is used figuratively or are there other verbs?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/20/04:

"Seeing (or getting) the big picture" is another expression commonly used.

It is often said of someone who cannot see the whole/big picture, "He can't see the forest for the trees." In other words, the person is so drawn to specific details that the overall situation is not grasped.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/19/04 - RE: In shape - in form

Dear voiceguy2000:

Once again, thank you very much for your kind help and prompt response.

Would you please clarify the following three points?

In you last e-mail message, you wrote:

I think you are on the right track. (There's another expression to put in your toolbox.)

1) Would you please explain the use of "There's" before "another expression" in "There's another expression to put in your toolbox"? In other words, why "There's" and not "This is" or "Here is"?

You also wrote:

I wish I was in better shape.

2) Is it also equally correct to say/write, "I wish I were in better shape"?

3) Finally, is it correct and natural to use the adjective "poor" with "shape"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/20/04:

1) Would you please explain the use of “There’s” before “another expression” in “There’s another expression to put in your toolbox”? In other words, why “There’s” and not “This is” or “Here is”?

I guess it is similar to the choice between voici and voilà in French. It would certainly be possible to say "here is" or "this is." Figuratively, if I say "there is," I am standing "here" and pointing at something over "there." There is a greater distance between me and the item I am indicating. (The same would be true if I had written "that is") If I say "here is," it is as though I am handing the item to you (same with "this is").

I cannot really explain my choice of "there is" other than to say that it was idiomatic. It is not so much that I am offering you something (handing it to you); it is that I am pointing out something. "Here is" does not sound quite right in this usage. "This is" sounds OK, but "there is" or "that is" sound better to my ear.

2) Is it also equally correct to say/write, “I wish I were in better shape”?

Using the subjunctive is grammatically correct and might be the preferred usage from the standpoint of strict Latinate grammar. In conversational English, people tend to use the indicative "was," either because they do not know better or because the subjunctive would sound too formal. But the subjunctive is an appropriate choice for wishes, and no one could fault such use.

3) Finally, is it correct and natural to use the adjective “poor” with “shape”?

Yes, "poor" is an appropriate choice, and could be used both with people (i.e., lack of physical fitness) and situations (i.e., unsatisfactory conditions).

If I weren't in such poor shape I would walk to the store instead of driving.

This government program is in such poor shape, it's a wonder that anything at all gets accomplished.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/19/04 - Be/get/stay in shape - be/get/stay in form

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to be/get/stay/keep in shape" and "to be/get/stay/keep in form"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is the following sentence correct and natural?

"There's no doubt that/No doubt that, at the moment, he's the most in-form player in/on the team."

If so, what is the opposite of "in-form"? Maybe "out-of-form" or "in a bad/poor form"?

As always, many, many, thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/19/04:

I think you are on the right track. (There's another expression to put in your toolbox.)

Offhand, I cannot think of any other verbs commonly used with "in shape." There should be no mystery to their usage; the meaning is straightforward.

I used to be in shape until my daughter was born. Now I have no time for exercise.

This year I have promised to get in shape for the tournament.

I am amazed at how well Pierce Brosnan stays in shape. Even though he's turning 50, he is still as handsome as ever.

Doctor, what are the best ways for me to keep in shape?
Note that "stay" and "keep" are generally interchangeable in this usage.

You can fine-tune your meaning by adding a word or two:
I really need to get back in shape.

I wish I was in better shape.

I want to stay in the best shape I can.

My father is in better shape than I am.

Son, I think you're in fine shape. You are growing up to be healthy and strong.

Bill is in such wonderful shape. I wonder how many hours he spends at the gym?

You guys are in terrific shape thanks to this program. Now, get out there and win!
As you can see, any number of adjectives can be used with "shape" to modify it. On the good side, common adjectives include:
good

great

fantastic

wonderful

terrific

splendid [often used also with "condition" instead of "shape"]

fine

marvelous
On the negative side, adjectives include:
bad

terrible

rotten

horrible

lousy
All of these can be used in appropriate situations to refer to conditions other than health:
When I first came into the business, the records were in terrible shape.

It's going to take at least two months to get this program back in shape.

I am glad to see that the southern region is in such great shape. I would like the other regional managers to study what you have been doing.

Your car is in fine shape, Mr. Donaldson. Everything is running perfectly.

You'd better come get me, honey. I fell on the ice, and I'm in pretty bad shape. I don't think I can walk back home.
People would most likely say "get in shape again" or "get back in shape." Actually, many people might say "get back in shape again," but that would technically be redundant, even if common.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/19/04 - Be/get/stay in shape - be/get/stay in form

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference between "to be/get/stay/keep in shape" and "to be/get/stay/keep in form"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is the following sentence correct and natural?

"There's no doubt that/No doubt that, at the moment, he's the most in-form player in/on the team."

If so, what is the opposite of "in-form"? Maybe "out-of-form" or "in a bad/poor form"?

As always, many, many, thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/19/04:

"In form" sounds British.

In the U.S., people who are healthy and vigorous are referred to as being "in shape" and those who are not would be referred to as "out of shape."

We do refer to people in a number of settings as being "in top form" or "at the top of their game" when their level of preparation and execution is unusually keen. This is not just a matter of health and fitness (in the case of athletes); it is a matter of their mental preparation, their ability to anticipate the next move of opponents, and their ability to make quick, strong decisions on the field. In other words, it means that all the ingredients of excellent performance have come together at once.

Note that this expression can be used in non-athletic settings as well:

John Grisham's latest novel shows that he is in top form as a writer.

This latest movie proves that Sean Connery is still in top form as an actor.
However, I do not recall hearing expressions simply referring to being "in form" or "out of form" here in the U.S.

We often refer to something being "in poor form" when we wish to say that it represents bad manners or poor taste.
People are free to disagree and to voice their disagreement. However, I think it's poor form to put people down just because you disagree with them.

Perhaps it's poor form for me to pick on one specific type of security hole in one specific binary.

Didn' anyone ever tell you it's poor form to make fun of your host?
To summarize, then, from a U.S. perspective:

in shape -- physically fit; healthy

in top shape -- especially fit and healthy; vigorous; vibrant

in good shape -- in satisfactory condition. This could refer to a person's physical condition, but is often used in other settings as well ("My retirement plan is in good shape.")

in great shape -- same as above, but stronger ("Our plans for the art auction are in great shape.")

out of shape -- tired; unfit; broken down; unhealthy

in poor shape -- same as above, but may also be used in reference to things other than health ("The company's finances are in poor shape.")

in terrible shape -- same as above, but stronger ("U.S. relations with France are in terrible shape.")

in top form -- well prepared; at the height of one's powers; supremely competent; making the difficult look effortless. Can apply to any endeavor, whether or not athletics are involved.

poor form -- an action or behavior that is impolite, rude, insensitive, or inappropriate. This one has nothing to do with health or athletics here in the U.S.

(Note that form can also refer to the manner in which something is executed. Thus, for example, there is a proper form for a golf swing, or for weightlifting exercise, and someone who departs from the preferred motions could be described as having poor form. Also, in disciplines such as computer programming where there are accepted tenets of good practice, code that is written in violation of those tenets could be described as having poor form, as opposed to the good form produced by obeying the tenets.)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/19/04 - Have you heard... - Did you hear...

Dear voiceguy2000:

With regard to the "Have you heard.../Did you hear..." issue, my British English grammar book says that in American English the simple past is often used to give news (i.e., Did you hear...) whereas in British English the simple present perfect is the most normal tense for giving news of recent events (i.e., Have you heard...)

Example:

U.S. English - Did you hear? Switzerland declared/has declared war on Mongolia!

U.K. English - Have you heard? Switzerland has declared war on Mongolia!

------------------------------------------------------

My question is:

Do you agree with this explanation? If not, why? I really would like to read your opinion on this.

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/19/04:

I am very skeptical of this claim. It would require some detailed research, I would think, to establish such a split.

My own opinion, based on my own observation, is that both forms (did you hear? and have you heard?) are fairly common in both places, and that there is no such categorical difference in usage. I would go even further and say that Have you heard? is what I am most accustomed to hearing in the U.S.

Someone telling a joke might preface it with, "Did you hear the one about the rabbi with two noses?" But he or she might equally say, "Have you heard the one about the dyslexic lion?"

In conversation, "did you" often comes out as "didja" or even "dja," so that the question as heard sounds like "dja hear about ..." Similarly, "have you" is likely to come out as "vya," so that the question as heard sounds like "vya heard about ..."

I would say that most of the time, news or gossip is introduced by expressions other than "did you hear" and/or "have you heard." I listed a number of these quite recently. When I think of "have you heard," the first thing that comes to my mind is James Taylor's version of the song "Mockingbird," which begins:

Everybody, have you heard?
I'm gonna buy her a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don't sing
I'm gonna buy her a diamond ring ...
Obviously, the important thing in that song lyric is that "heard" rhymes with "bird." Certainly everyone in the U.S. understood this expression and did not find it unusual.

I suppose we could write our own silly song lyric the other way:
Everybody, did you hear?
I'm gonna buy her a case of beer
And if that case of beer don't foam
I'm gonna buy her a garden gnome ...
But that would be too silly. :-)

I have learned not to believe everything I read in grammar and usage books. I can't speak for the British side of the equation, but here in the U.S. I would say that both forms are used enough that it would be hard to say that one predominates.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/16/04 - Prove one's worth - prove one's value

Dear Rich:

Do you say "to prove one's worth" or "to prove one's value"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives, both formal and informal/colloquial, to the two phrases above?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives, both formal and informal/colloquial, to the two phrases above?" correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/18/04:

I think you could generally take any of these verbs:

prove

show

demonstrate

establish

display

exhibit

make clear

illustrate
in combination with one of these nouns:
worth

value

merit

excellence

capability

quality

utility
to produce an expression appropriate to a particular setting. All combinations would be grammatical, as far as I can tell, although some would sound more sincere and credible than others. (The danger is crossing the line into hyperbole.)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/17/04 - OF-FROM-IN Accounting

Dear ESL Experts:

Are the following sets of questions correct and natural?

SET 1:

1) I hear/I heard/I have heard (that) Mr. Platt in Accounting/the Accounts Department has slept with Carol Baker in Payroll.

2) I hear/I heard/I have heard (that) Mr. Platt from Accounting/the Accounts Department has slept with Carol Baker from Payroll.

3) I hear/I heard/I have heard (that) Mr. Platt of Accounting/the Accounts Department has slept with Carol Baker of Payroll.

If all three are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If so, which would you use?

IN YOUR OWN WORDS, HOW WOULD YOU EXPRESS THIS CONCEPT?

SET 2:

1) Did you hear/Have you heard (that) John has slept with Carol from the Accounts Department/Accounting?

2) Did you hear/Have you heard that John has slept with Carol of the Accounts Department/Accounting?

3) Did you hear/Have you heard that John has slept with Carol in the Accounts Department/Accounting?

Again, if all three are correct and possible, do they convey the same meaning?

IF YOU WERE TO EXPRESS THIS CONCEPT, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/18/04:

It is challenging to unpack all the possible permutations and combinations with these slashes, which of course would not be used in everyday speech or writing, so it is somewhat difficult to answer your questions in simple terms.

"In," "of," and "from" are all possible and grammatically correct in specifying which department the respective people work in. The selection would be a matter of taste and idiom. One would have to be careful not to convey an unintended meaning; thus, for instance, in your second set, "Have you heard that John has slept with Carol in the Accounts Department" makes it sound as though the actual act occurred in the Accounting office.

As an abstract exercise, using "in," "of," and "from" to associate the named people with their departments satisfies the requirements of grammar, but in an actual conversation it is doubtful that formality to such extent would be needed. (For what it's worth, I would probably choose "in" or "from" in preference to "of" in conversation.) If the people being discussed are not known to the listeners, one wonders whether this kind of gossip would be discussed in the first place. At best, I would expect that at least one of the subjects would be well known to the listeners, so that it would not be necessary in the same sentence to identify the departments of both subjects. I think this is what bothers me about the sentences; they have an artificial quality because they are so scrupulously identifying people who should already be known to the gossips who are discussing them. This is not a grammatical problem; it is simply a question of undue formality in what is obviously casual speech.

The other issue that bears mentioning is the selection of "I hear/I heard/I have heard" in relation to "has slept" in the first set of examples, and "Did you hear/Have you heard" in relation to "has slept" in the second set. While "has slept" is a valid grammatical choice, it does not sound as natural as some other choices; it is a weak form in these constructions.

For example, with "I hear," these choices seem more natural (depending on the specific circumstance):

I hear [that] A is sleeping with B.

I hear [that] A slept with B.

I hear [that] A once slept with B.

I hear [that] A used to sleep with B.
I would expect the "has slept with" form to be used more often in a conditional or hypothetical sense:
Do you think [that] A has [ever] slept with B?
Because these are all conversational examples, it is difficult to lay down hard-and-fast rules, however. And speaking as one who has struggled for much of my life to master verb tenses in French, I can only imagine how difficult it is to sort them out in English.

It is common to introduce gossip with these phrases:
Did you hear that ...

Did you know that ...

I bet you didn't know that ...

You'll never guess what I found out about A and B ...

You'll never believe this ...

I have it on good authority that ...

Reliable rumor has it that ...

Don't tell anyone where you heard this, but ...

A little bird told me that ...

Wait 'til you hear this! ...

People say ...

People are saying ...
With the specific subject matter of A sleeping with B, I might expect such salacious gossip to be prefaced by something more interesting than the mere "I hear." I might expect "I hear," "I heard," and "I've heard" to be used in discussion of more mundane or businesslike issues.
I hear that the latest sales figures will be published tomorrow.

I heard that Samson really got chewed out for losing that McNeil contract.

I've heard a bunch of wild rumors about Nixon being transferred out here from the New York office, but I don't know if any of them are true.
But of course with proper eye-rolling and vocal emphasis, it would be possible to say
I hear [that] Chadwick is already sleeping with that new receptionist.
By the way, in the U.S. it would not be common to refer to "the Accounts Department." We would generally say "Accounting" or "the Accounting Department."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/17/04 - Butt heads with someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to butt heads with someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Also, if they do exist, would you please give me some alternatives, both formal and informal/colloquial, to "to butt heads with someone"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/18/04:

I have always assumed that this expression derived from the behavior of certain animals -- rams (bighorn sheep), elk, impala, antelope -- in which males fight with each other for dominance by charging against one another with heads down. The resulting "crack" as the heads meet can often be heard for miles. This is referred to as "butting heads."

Figuratively, then, two people (not necessarily men) would "butt heads" in a situation where a serious dispute arose between them. Similarly, rival companies, or governments and citizens, or groups of people holding conflicting views, might be said to "butt heads" when a dispute arises.

IBM and Microsoft butted heads for years over how best to develop OS/2.

Loggers and environmentalists constantly butt heads over proposals to thin forests in the Northwest.

Airlines, Lawmakers Butt Heads Over Taxes, Security Proposals [news headline]

IBM and SCO continue to butt beads over Linux.
Other expressions that involve roughly similar meanings:
To lock horns

To square off against one another

To take off the gloves

To battle

To cross swords

To challenge
Note, by the way, that in recent years the slang noun "butthead" (alt: butt-head) has emerged as a coarse term of derision: "Hey, butthead, watch where you're going." Make sure you are clear when using "to butt heads" in more polite speech or writing.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/16/04 - Go mainstream

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to go mainstream" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

If an opposite exists, what is it?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/17/04:

This expression is often used in news articles, particularly about new technologies or new products. The idea is that something new may take a while to become known and accepted by the "mainstream" public. Only those adventurous types called "early adopters" -- people who like to have and use the very latest things, and are willing both to spend the money and to tolerate the glitches involved in new technologies -- are likely to purchase and try a new technology at first. As time goes by, however, and the technical problems are ironed out while the prices come down, more and more of the public may become interested. At some point, the product or technology will be deemed to have "gone mainstream" when it is popular and widely accepted by the public.

The expression might also be used with respect to a person or group that historically has operated on the fringes of society, or has espoused radical or idiosyncratic views, but now has decided to adopt a new approach that is more in line with "mainstream" thinking and perceptions. Thus, for example, a political candidate who has been considered too extreme might try to "go mainstream" by softening his or her message.

Finally, the expression might be used to describe practices or beliefs that were once considered risky or embarrassing but have now become acceptable.

Thus, "going mainstream" means that something or someone has moved into a state of broad acceptance, agreement, or use, or has matured into something of significance and stature.

In all of the above cases, this expression is most likely to be found in headlines for news articles, or titles for speeches, or perhaps in the text of either. It is not the sort of thing one hears in casual conversation. Typical headlines:

Medical Acupuncture Goes Mainstream.

Has Broadband Internet Access Finally Gone Mainstream?

After Months of Campaigning Against Howard Dean, Kerry Faces Major Challenge In Going Mainstream for General Election.

The "Low-Carb Lifestyle" Goes Mainstream.
Finally, although I doubt that this is what you had in mind in your question, be aware that in the education world, "mainstreaming" refers to a policy of seeking to seat students with learning difficulties (lack of fluency in the language, developmental problems, etc.) with regular students, rather than isolating them in special classes. It is believed that isolating these students deprives them of the opportunities to develop social skills and social awareness from interacting with their peers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/16/04 - Go with - come with

Dear ESL Experts:

In the following dialogue, should I use "I'll go with you/I'm going with you" or "I'll come with you/I'm coming with you"?

By the way, should B say "I'll go/come with you" or "I'm going/coming with you"?

A: I'm going to the supermarket.

B: I'm going with you. / I'll go with you. - I'm coming with you. / I'll come with you.

------------------------------------------------------

In the statment below, should I use "go with me" or "come with me"?

"I'm going to the supermarket. Would you like to go with me?"

or

"I'm going to the supermarket. Would you like to come with me?"

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/17/04:

A: I’m going to the supermarket.

B: I’m going with you. / I’ll go with you. - I’m coming with you. / I’ll come with you.


All four of these variations are grammatical and could be used. "Go" and "come" are both commonly used in this kind of conversation.

The versions that say I’m going and I’m coming would sound somewhat aggressive or assertive if coming from an adult. A child would be more likely to use these forms, and a child's assertiveness would be more readily tolerated.

An adult B might use the going/coming form where he or she was quite concerned about A's welfare in going to the store. Thus, if A was a pregnant woman late in her term, and B was her husband, B might say I’m going with you or I’m coming with you as a way of indicating his concern for her, given her condition. Similarly, in a suspense novel, if A was the expected target of a mysterious assailant and B was determined to protect A, B might use the going/coming form to indicate that B intended to accompany A, with no discussion on the subject allowed.

With the going/coming form, if A disagrees with the idea of being accompanied by B, a dispute will arise. It is not that B has offered to accompany A, which A can accept or not; rather, B has announced an intention to accompany A, which A will have to overrule if A prefers not to have B along.

By contrast, to my ear, I’ll go with you and I’ll come with you sound more polite and affectionate -- rather than coming across as insistent, they behave more like courteous offers. A's response to B could cover a wide range of alternatives:

That's awfully kind of you.

That's great. We'll get done twice as fast.

Thank you, B, but I'll be fine on my own.

That's so kind, B, but I would hate for you to miss your favorite TV program while we're out.
In other words, the I’ll go/I’ll come form leaves more discretion in A to accept or decline the idea of B accompanying A to the store.



“I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like to go with me?”

or

“I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like to come with me?”


As far as I know, there is no difference in these two forms. Both would be acceptable, and both would convey precisely the same meaning. Both forms are in common use.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/16/04 - Run up debts - run into debts

Dear Rich:

Which of the following two phrases is correct and natural - "to run up debts" or "to run into debts"?

If both are correct and possible, may they be used interchangeably?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/16/04:

I found some thesaurus entries offering "run into debt," which surprised me because it is not an expression I am used to hearing. It is common to hear "get into debt."

"Run up" is a more colloquial way of saying "accrue" or "accumulate." Related expressions are "rack up," which derives from a mechanical method of keeping score in billiards, and "chalk up," which probably has a similar origin.

Whether to use this kind of phrasal verb rather than the single words that exist to express the same meaning is a question of taste and context. Sometimes "put up with" sounds more natural and appropriate than "tolerate," though both mean essentially the same thing. The more conversational a piece of writing is, the more likely it is to contain the casual substitutes. I think such usage is appropriate at the level of, say, news articles in a daily newspaper.

According to court filings, the company had run up debts of more than $5.5 million before declaring bankruptcy.

My mother ran up more than $100,000 in medical bills when she was treated for lung cancer last year.

The prosecutor's office racked up 172 murder convictions last year, including 57 following full trials.

A typical student can run up more than $40,000 in debts by the time he or she graduates from college.
There is a noun, "run-up" (usually hyphenated but not always), which refers to either an increase (as in prices) or a time period leading up to an event.
Experts say that the recent run-up in stock prices is no more than a speculative bubble. [increase]

Consumers are quite concerned about the run-up in gasoline prices over the last two months. [increase]

Protesters became increasingly vocal during the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. [time period]

Budget problems emerged as the key issue in the run-up to the general election. [time period]
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/12/04 - ish?

Dear Rich:

What does "ish?" mean when used in response to someone's else statement/what someone has just said?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "What does 'ish?' mean when used in response to someone's else statement/what someone has just said?" correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/16/04:

When I saw the title of this question, I expected it to concern "ish" used as an inflection for certain adjectives to impart the meaning of "having the character of." In this use, the idea is that only a modest amount of that character exists.

Thus, for example, colors are often used with "ish." Something that is truly red would be called "der," but something with just a suggestion of red might be called "reddish."

The young boy had a reddish glow to his cheeks.

I had in mind kind of a reddish brown for the background color of this painting.
This can be used with a number of colors, such as
blue => bluish

green => greenish

yellow => yellowish

pink => pinkish
... and so on.

"Ish" is often used to identify people of a certain nationality. For some reason, most the examples I can think of involve countries whose names end with "land":
Someone from England is English.

Someone from Scotland is Scottish.

Someone from Finland is Finnish.

Someone from Poland is Polish.

Someone from Great Britain is British.

Someone from Sweden is Swedish.
There are, of course, many other forms used to denote nationalities of different countries (France/French; Italy/Italian; Germany/German; Switzerland/Swiss; Norway/Norwegian (or Norse); Egypt/Egyptian; Israel/Israeli; Vietnam/Vietnamese; Canada/Canadian; and so forth). It's just one of those things people have to learn.

There are conventional words in English that use "ish" in the sense of "having the character of":
Fiendish = having the character of a fiend; extremely wicked or diabolical

Ticklish = susceptible to being tickled; delicate (figurative sense)

Puckish = mischievous; impish (probably from Shakespeare's character "Puck")

Standoffish = lacking cordiality; unfriendly; aloof; hesitant (apparently manufactured from the concept of "stand off," meaning "to stand apart; to decline to associate with others")
But the same principle is sometimes used to invent words when convenience or clarity dictates:
I'm not looking for some sort of harebrained, James Bond-ish scheme to get our prisoners out of there. I want something that will work.
Finally, "ish" is sometimes used to create a sense of vagueness or approximation when referring to a meeting time:
I'd love to have dinner tonight. Shall we say sevenish? [Meaning: roughly 7:00 PM]

We'll plan to have lunch, so why don't you get here around noonish? [Meaning: around noon]
It should not be necessary to point out that this kind of usage is reserved for casual, usually affectionate, conversation. In both cases, the effect is to convey a range of times around the stated time, perhaps 15 to 30 minutes on either side (depending on context and custom).


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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/15/04 - Stick up for soemthing/someone

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to stick up for something/someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/16/04:

The phrase is often used reflexively, where it means to assert one's rights and dignity:

It is important for every boy to learn to stick up for himself.

I was always the low man on the totem pole until I learned to stick up for myself.

I've always disliked myself for being passive and timid. In confrontations, I tend to back down and not stick up for myself.

To tell the truth, I was kind of frightened by the health care system. But I wanted to stick up for myself and get a second opinion.

I have always been afraid to stick up for myself. The other girls and older women make fun at me. I can't say no to anything.

He was seventeen when he first began learning how to stick up for himself. Before that, he was a serious target for the other students' teasing and torment.

The most important thing for you, Gerald, is to learn to stick up for yourself. That's part of becoming a mature adult.
Note, by the way, that if you omit "for" you can get some completely unrelated phrases.

For example, there is "to stick up" (noun form = stickup), which is a slang reference to a robbery, usually at gunpoint.
The men managed to stick up three liquor stores before they were caught.

This is a stickup! Put your hands in the air!

I couldn't believe that those guys decided to stick up the new bank, with so many security cameras everywhere.
There is another term, "stuck up," which refers to the quality of being vain, arrogant, snobbish, and/or conceited.
Those new girls are so stuck up. They won't even talk to you unless your parents belong to the country club.

I used to think Evan was really stuck up, but when I got to know him, I discovered he was actually a pretty nice guy.

I wouldn't mind Cynthia being so stuck up if she actually had anything to be stuck up about.
Hope this helps rather than confuses.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/14/04 - Take over responsability

Dear Rich:

Would you please look at the following sentence?

"Ken Livingstone could take over responsibility for London's rail network under proposals being considered by ministers."

My question is:

Would the meaning of the sentence change if I wrote "Ken Livingstone could take responsibility for London's rail network under proposals being considered by ministers" with no "over" between "take" and "responsability"?

If so, when do you use "to take responsability for (doing) something" and when do you use "to take over responsability for (doing) something"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "Would the meaning of the sentence change if I wrote..." correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/16/04:

The important question is whether the sentence involves acknowledging responsibilty (usually for a past event or circumstance), or being placed in a position of responsibility (usually for a present or ongoing activity).

With respect to the first meaning (acknowledgment), "take responsibility" is the correct usage:

The Police Commissioner took responsibility for the decision to cut back on foot patrols in the downtown area.

I find it disappointing that the Mayor refuses to take responsibility for the morale problems that have developed under him.

One of the most important steps in turning your life around is taking responsibility for the decisions you have made so far.

I admire your willingness to take responsibility for past problems, Eric, but that doesn't help us solve them now.
It is also common to hear "admit responsibility" in this usage. You would not use "over" in this situation.

With respect to the second meaning, referring to someone being put in charge of an activity, the main difference between "take responsibility" and "take over responsibility" is that the second version implies that someone else had been in charge and a new person is replacing him or her:
When Johnson had a heart attack two weeks before the report was due, my department took over responsibility for getting it completed.
This reflects the underlying difference between the verb "to take" and the phrasal verb "to take over." Thus:
I'm going to ask Baxter to take responsibility for filing the weekly sales reports with headquarters. [Baxter is being assigned this duty.]

I'm going to ask Baxter to take over responsibility for filing the weekly sales reports with headquarters. [Baxter is being assigned this duty as a replacement for someone else.]
Another related phrasal verb is "to take on," which means to acquire. It can also mean to hire ("we took on three new employees last month"). When used with "responsibility," it often suggests that an additional responsibility is being added to preexisting ones:
I have asked the finance to committee to take on the responsibility for preparing the new reports.

We are very shorthanded right now. I don't see how we can take on responsibility for the Gardner project unless we abandon something else.
In your quoted example, the use of "over" appears to be optional when "responsibility" is the operative word. Including the word "over" emphasizes the notion that a previous manager is being replaced. If the wording was changed to read "Livingstone could take over management" or "Livingstone could take over operation" of the rail network, however, the word "over" would have to be used.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/15/04 - Walk out the door

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to walk out the door / to walk out OF the door" also have a figurative meaning?

If so, when do you use this phrase?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/16/04:

The expression is normally heard without the word "of," although it would be grammatically correct either way.

I can think of a couple of situations that, if not exactly figurative, at least involve a quasi-metaphorical use.

Software companies, which depend primarily on the brainpower and knowledge of their programmers, are fond of observing: "Our assets walk out the door every evening."

A headline for an anti-shoplifting device might read: "Store owners -- don't let your profits walk out the door."

A more common figurative expression is "out the window."

When we saw how badly the equipment had been vandalized, out plans to start production next week went right out the window.

I was so nervous during that test, my Japanese comprehension went out the window.

With patriotism flying high in the wake of the terrorist attack and a mid-term election in 2002, fiscal restraint pretty much went out the window.

Priorities went out the window when Jackson was put in charge of the cash management section. It would be hard to imagine a worse choice.

My husband and I saved for ten years to open our own restaurant. And we worked six months to get it ready. Then the day after we opened, we had a big fire and all our money and hard work went out the window.

After four hours of fruitless discussion, diplomacy finally went out the window. Ardmore pounded his fist on the table and demanded cooperation from the other managers.

If you don't manage that resource properly, it's just money going out the window.
Other expressions with similar metaphorical meaning of waste or abandonment include "down the drain" and "down a rathole."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/14/04 - Take the temperature - Check the temperature

Dear ESL Experts:

When someone is sick, which of the following phrases do you use - "to the (body) temperature" or "to check the (body) temperature"?

If both are correct and natural, do they mean the same thing?

If so, which is more commonly used?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these two phrases?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/15/04:

As a matter of everydat usage, we would most often say "take" when referring to measuring a person"s body temperature. There is nothing grammatically wrong with "check" -- it is simply not the word most commonly used.

I think we'd better take your temperature, sweetheart. Your forehead feels hot.

I used to complain about having my temperature taken with a thermometer in my mouth, until I found out where else they might put it!

Nurse, would you please take Mr. Kelly's temperature while I set up the EKG equipment?

The pathologist determines time of death by taking the temperature of the corpse.
There is also a figurative use, which means to gauge the mood or outlook of a person or group:
The Senator will not comment on any issue publicly until he has taken the temperature of his voters.

I think I had better take the boss's temperature on this new proposal before we invest too much more time in it.

I tried to take my wife's temperature on whether we should consider adopting a child, but she kept changing the subject.

Wait a minute. Talking to a couple of street workers doesn't mean you've taken the temperature of the entire community.
It would be common to use "check" in most other settings where temperature is at issue.
Excuse me just a moment. I need to check the temperature on my oven.

Don't forget to check the temperature [setting] on the washing machine before you wash that new nightgown.

How do I check the temperature of my computer's CPU? I worry that it may be getting too hot.

Don't forget to check the temperature of a pool or lake before you plunge in!

You should check the temperature again 5 minutes later.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/14/04 - Take a back seat

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you also use the phrase "to take a back seat" figuratively?

If so, in which cases?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/15/04:

"To take a back seat" means to rank lower in priority or preference; to be deferred or disparaged.

Many citizens worry about the degree to which civil liberties now take a back seat to security measures.

It is sad when customer service takes a back seat to profits.

When it comes to investing in the stock market, logic often takes a back seat.

Religion often takes a back seat in the sleigh ride of Christmas.

Honesty sometimes takes a back seat in our relentless pursuit of "more, more, more."

Real history is taking a back seat to today's twisted truths, according to some experts, especially with the rise of the internet.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/13/04 - Kerry: Takes War Issue Head-On

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of the following headline?

Kerry: Takes War Issue Head-On

When do you use the phrase "to take something head-on"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Is "to take someone head-on" also possible?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/13/04:

Taking something "head on" means facing it directly, squarely. The opposite would be to approach it indirectly, circuitously, peripherally.

We speak of two cars having a "head-on collision" when they drive directly into one another.

From a military standpoint, taking an enemy "head on" requires the greatest strength, because it generally means charging directly into the strongest defensive position. Many commanders prefer flanking strategies and other means of penetrating enemy lines with less brute force.

The idea in your quoted headline is that Kerry is (at least supposedly) taking a forthright stand on the issue, with no hedging or qualifications. Of course, politicians often claim to be taking unequivocal, courageous positions on various issues while carefully leaving themselves "wiggle room" to deal with unforeseen developments in those issues.

This is the first time in five years that the Council has had the courage to tackle the water quality issue head on. Maybe we can actually do something about it.

Nothing will change until the legislature decides to face the problem of prison overcrowding head on.

I believe in addressing issues head on. I hate beating around the bush.
I think "head on" can be used with people as well:
Alex finally decided to confront the mayor head on in hopes of resolving the issue.

Rarely will a graduate student have the courage to challenge his faculty advisor head on.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/12/04 - Stand one's ground

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to stand one's ground" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Does it also have a figurative meaning?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/13/04:

It is the opposite of "to retreat" or "to run away."

This is a military term of ancient origin, in which footsoldiers were ordered to maintain their positions in the face of an approaching enemy. Other options would be to "charge" (attack) and "retreat" (fall back). We can assume that Alexander the Great used some combination of these commands while vanquishing the Persians in the 4th century B.C.

Today, the figurative meaning is similar. "To stand one's ground" is to resist compromise, to insist on one's position, to show steadfast resolve.

The City Council wanted to cut our project back significantly, but we stood our ground. After several hours of debate, the Council finally gave in and approved our original plans.

I can't believe you let the boss get away with that, Linda. When are you going to learn to stand your ground?

They think I'm a pushover, but they're wrong. This time I'm going to stand my ground.

We have a decision to make, Mrs. Parsons. We can stand our ground, and hope that the judge rules in our favor. Or we can try to make a deal with the other side, and remove the risk of getting nothing if the judge rules against us.

President Lincoln was known for his ability to fashion acceptable compromises on minor issues, but he always stood his ground on the most important ones.

As a young man, he established a reputation as one who could not be intimidated, who said what he thought, who stood his ground.

The boys ran away screaming in terror – all but one. He seemed fascinated and stood his ground. He saw something the others did not.

It's one thing to stand your ground. It's quite another to do it so gracefully that no one else realizes it.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/12/04 - Not in my watch

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "not in my watch" mean? Does it have a particular figurative meaning?

If so, when do you use this expression?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/13/04:

It should be "not on my watch."

The meaning is usually figurative, conveying "not while I am in charge" or "not during my term of office." Sometimes it can also express "not if I have anything to say about it."

The idea of a "watch," in the literal sense, is an old one. Shakespeare's Hamlet begins with two soldiers outside the castle late at night, one of whom has been "standing watch" for several hours and the other of whom is about to take over. They are "watching" in the sense of performing sentinel duty. In more recent times, sailors refer to their assigned on-duty shift as a "watch," as do police officers.

My watch starts in two hours.

Let's meet at O'Malley's as soon as I get off my watch.
Figuratively, "on my watch" normally means that an event occurred or a decision was made while the speaker was in charge (or at least involved.) The expression "not on my watch" may mean simply that the event or decision did not occur while the speaker had responsibility. It often comes up in situations where someone wants nothing to do with an issue or event, or opposes something, or disclaims responsibility for something.
Open a new shopping mall on the Garrett property? Forget it. Not on my watch.

I can't comment on the decision to close the Pittsburgh office, gentleman. It was not on my watch.

Maybe some nuclear secrets have been lost in the past, but not on my watch.

With respect to how the Department operated in previous administrations over the years -- setting a tone that made people believe the Department was being less than truthful -- I am simply not responsible for that. That was not on my watch.

Cannon doesn't deny that limiting the June 25 primary to registered Republicans may not have been the best move. "But that decision, made in the August 2001 state convention, was not on my watch," he said.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/12/04 - Put-get-pull oneself/yourself together

Dear ESL Experts:

What do "to pull oneself/yourself together," "to get oneself/yourself together," and "to put oneself/yourself together" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these phrases?

Are there any cases in which these three phrases are used in a figurative way?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/12/04:

"To put [something] together" is normally used with inanimate objects. It can mean to assemble:

It took me three hours to put together that new bicycle.
or to repair:
It's a shame that antique chair broke when Arthur sat in it. I wonder if an expert could put it together again?
When "put together" is used with an individual person, the meaning is normally figurative. It tends to refer to the acts of grooming and getting dressed:
I'll be down in five minutes, dear. I just need to finish putting myself together.
Of course, it is also possible to put several people or things together, meaning "to combine."
I put the fruit bowls together with the teacups on the second shelf.

Let's put Fred and Ethel together with Lucy and Ricky on table 3.
"To pull [oneself/yourself] together" means to regain control of one's emotions; to regain composure; to calm down.
Pull yourself together, Alice. You don't want the Governor to see you like this.

It has taken me three months to pull myself together again after losing everything in the fire.
"To get [oneself/yourself] together" can have a similar meaning to "to pull [oneself/yourself] together," but it often carries the slightly different sense of "to get organized" or "to proceed in a more orderly fashion."
If I'm ever going to pass this course, I really need to get myself together and finish all the homework assignments.

Get yourself together, man -- if you spend all your time fooling around with video games and internet chat rooms, you'll never find a job.
Also, there is a slang expression, "get it together," which has a similar meaning.
I've decided to get it together this semester. I am going to go to every class, read every assignment, and turn in all the homework.

C'mon, man, get it together. We can't stand here all day. Make up your mind.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/10/04 - Start something - start ON something

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "to start something" and "to start on something"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which the two phrases are interchangeable?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards and Happy Easter,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/11/04:

Note that there is a colloquial meaning of "to start something" which means "to provoke an argument."

Hey, buddy, are you trying to start something?

That guy is such a troublemaker -- he is always trying to start something.
In my opinion, the true phrasal verb "to start on" is captured in these examples:
OK, I've figured out the assignments. Joe, you start on the kitchen. Bill and Ted, you take the living room and dining room. Eric and I will do the upstairs bedrooms.

Jane, have you started on your math homework yet?

Oh, thank heavens you're here. I just started on the second coat of paint and discovered that I am short two gallons. Can you make a quick run to the store?
The first of these examples is probably the "purest," because you can omit "on" from the second and third and still have a coherent sentence. However, idiomatically "on" would typically be used in all three examples.

There is also this common construction: "to start [object1] on [object 2]." Thus:
The doctor said he wanted to start me on antibiotics right away.

I started Sally on the azaleas in the north garden; when she is done there, I'll have her tend to the roses down here.
I'm not sure if this has made anything clearer or not.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/10/04 - Be upon something

Dear Rich:

What does "to be upon something" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Does it also have a figurative meaning?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

Is it also possible/correct to say "to be upon someone"?

If so, when do you use this phrase? Does it also have a figurative meaning?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/11/04:

Is it possible that you mean "to be up on something" (two words)?

That expression is used to convey the idea of being knowledgeable about a subject.

Let's ask Frank. I think he's up on the new test procedures.

Wilson hadn't made a new recording for nearly twenty years, and he wasn't up on all the advances in recording technology.

I'm not up on current slang. Do kids still say that?
As far as I know, "up on" would not be used with reference to a person, except where the person is the subject matter.
I'm not up on Confucius. When did he live, supposedly?

Ask Eric. He's really up on John Wayne -- like a walking encyclopedia.
As far as "upon" as a single word, I agree with Rich's response. We may say that we "stumbled upon" someone or something, meaning a chance encounter (sometimes phrased as "stumbled across" or "ran across"). I cannot think of any example of simply "being upon" someone or something, however.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/10/04 - Silver bullet

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain what "silver bullet" means in the following headline?

"Rice: There was no silver bullet to stop September 11 attackers"

In general, when do you use this expression? Is it commonly used in U.S. English? Would you please give me some examples how when it's correct/appropriate/natural to use this expression?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/11/04:

For those of my generation, the term "silver bullet" immediately calls to mind The Lone Ranger, hero of the longest-running children's show on radio (1933-1954) and then on television during the fifties and sixties.

The Lone Ranger used bullets made of silver. In addition to those used on bad guys, at the end of each episode, having saved the day, The Lone Ranger rode off into the sunset without pausing for thanks but always leaving a silver bullet behind as a keepsake of his visit. The typical dialogue (as I remember it):
"Who was that masked man?"

"I never did get his name. All he left was this silver bullet."
Fran Striker, the writer responsible for developing the story lines for the original radio series, reportedly thought he remembered that Robin Hood had silver-tipped arrows, so he introduced the idea of the silver bullet and then built the mystique around the color silver ("Silver" was also the name of The Lone Ranger's horse, seen in the photo above). Some have claimed that silver bullets were used because they were easy to remember as identification but also to remind us of how expensive human life was -- never waste one wasting the other.

Separately, a number of sources claim that weapons made of silver were believed to be effective in killing werewolves. Silver bullets would obviously be a weapon of choice for that purpose, given that they could be used at a greater (and safer) distance than, for instance, a silver dagger.

In any event, "silver bullet" has come to have a figurative meaning that involves magical or supernatural power to solve problems. It is almost always heard in the exact sort of expression you have quoted, namely, making the point that the speaker has no "magic" solution to an intractable problem.
Anyone who thinks that passing more anti-spam laws will be a silver bullet against that problem is a fool.

I know we have a tremendous amount of work to do to regain your confidence and I don't have a silver bullet to make that happen.
Comparable expressions:
There is no magic pill that will make you rich and famous overnight.

I can't just wave a magic wand and solve that problem for you.

There is no rifle shot solution. We have to take a broad approach, coming at the problem from several directions.

We had no secret weapon for dealing with the Y2K problem. All we could do is examine each program, line by line, looking for telltale clues.
Information on Lone Ranger TV memorabilia can be found here.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/10/04 - What's your beef with me?

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the meaning of the following phrases and give me some examples of how to use them?

1) What's your beef with me?

2) Deal with a nutcase

3) Screw/mess around

4) Nancy boy

5) Enough is enough

6) Life without a point

7) Take a guess

8) On impulse

9) Play with fire

10) Work covert

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards and happy Easter,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/10/04:

1) What's your beef with me? -- "Beef" means gripe, complaint, point of contention. Thus: What's the problem?

2) Deal with a nutcase -- "Nutcase" means crazy person, lunatic (in other words, someone who is nuts). "Deal with" means to handle or take care of. A person might complain about having to "deal with a nutcase" when forced to interact with someone who is behaving unreasonably or irrationally.

3) Screw/mess around -- Fool around; engage in idle activity; act improperly.

4) Nancy boy -- an effeminate or homosexual boy or man. There is also a musical group by this name, formed by the son of the Monkees' Mike Nesmith and the son of folk singer Donovan.

5) Enough is enough -- That's it; no more; stop right there; that's enough. Usually stated wearily or impatiently.

6) Life without a point -- This is not an everyday expression (at least not one that I have heard). The "point" refers to some kind of reason, or goal, or objective. Thus, " life without a point" would be an aimless, pointless life for which there was no reason. I would expect this expression to be used as an unflattering reference to someone else or an expression of despair when applied to oneself.

7) Take a guess -- Same as "make a guess" or "hazard a guess." Typical encounter:

A: What's that?

B: Take a guess.

A: Hmmm ... I give up. What is it?
(This can go on for as long as B wants to tease A.)

8) On impulse -- impulsively; spontaneously; suddenly; without reflection or forethought.

9) Play with fire -- engage in dangeroous activity; take a high risk. Just as children playing with matches can accidentally burn down a house, the idea is that the situation is figuratively so dangerous that it would not take much to cause it to erupt into a full-blown catastrophe. Also used as a warning, as in "you don't know what you're getting into."

10) Work covert -- The best I can offer on this is that it refers to working as a secret or undercover agent. Espionage operations are often referred to as "covert" operations. Thus, "work covert" would seem to refer to a person who was going to work in a covert operation. As phrased, it would be considered jargon. (Note that law enforcement personnel often use a phrase in the form "work ____" where the blank refers to a specific assignment, and "work" refers to the fact of being assigned. Thus, "I'm working burglary detail next week," meaning, "I have been assigned to the burglary detail next week." In the same way, "work covert" would seem to mean that the person has been assigned to a covert operation. But I have not encountered this specific phrase before; usually there are other surrounding words that are part of the overall phrase.)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/10/04 - We're thin on manpower

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "We're thin on manpower" mean?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/10/04:

We're thin on manpower = we have a low number of people on hand.

thin = lean; sparse

manpower = staffing; available personnel

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/08/04 - Make a living OUT OF-FROM something

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you say "to make a living out of something" or "to make a living from something"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If so, which is more commonly used?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/09/04:

We say that people "make a living" or "earn a living." An individual person "makes his (or her) living" or "earns his (or her) living." Someone who is barely successful "ekes out" a living.

The choice of which preposition to use with these expressions -- or the decision to leave it out altogether -- is pretty much idiomatic. I would guess that "from" is far more common than "out of." Another commonly used word is "by," where a gerund immediately follows:

He makes his living by collecting antique bottles and selling them on eBay.
I would say that at least half of the time, no preposition is used:
He makes his living collecting antique bottles and selling them on eBay.
The word "in" can be used when followed by a noun that denotes the field of work:
He makes his living in real estate.

I wonder if it is still possible to make a living in car sales?
It is also common to use "works" in this kind of construction, as in "my son works in banking."

The word "as" is also used in the construction "make a living as a ______," where the blank is filled in with a specific occupation.
John is trying hard to make a living as an actor.

Alice earns her living as a schoolteacher.

I wonder if it is still possible to earn a living as a car salesman?
"Out of" might be used where there is some surprise or skepticism involved:
It's hard to believe that anyone could actually make a living out of collecting a bunch of old bottles and selling them.
The idea is that there is more going on than merely having a job; the person in question has had to do something creative or unexpected in order to fashion a job "out of" something that does not seem to be an obvious source of income.

Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/08/04 - Money talks, bullshit walks

Dear ESL Experts:

What does the saying "Money talks, bullshit walks" mean?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/09/04:

Equivalent expressions are "put your money where your mouth is" and "put up or shut up." In addition, the short version "money talks" is often heard.

The idea is: "If you're serious, stop talking and show me your money." In other words, money -- demonstrating the present ability and intention to put up the needed money -- is the only thing that will satisfy the situation. Promises and empty talk simply will not do. Prove to me that you are "for real." Otherwise, get lost.

A related expression would be "talk is cheap; let's see you actually do something." If you don't have the money (or, figuratively, whatever it takes) to play this game, don't waste my time with idle chatter and empty promises. I'll find a serious player to deal with.

Here is a handy discussion of "bullshit" from the Wikipedia:

Bullshit (often abbreviated “BS” or shortened to “bull” in more formal contexts) is a common English expletive meaning “false statements” or, as an interjection, “that statement is false.”

It usually has the further connotation that the subject is making such statements to manipulate the listener or to further an agenda, and either knows they are false or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other. “Talking bullshit” is thus a lesser form of lying, and is likely to elicit a correspondingly weaker emotional response: whereas an obvious liar may be greeted with outrage and hatred, an exponent of bullshit tends to be dismissed with an indifferent sneer.

Bullshit is commonly employed in sales, advertising, journalism and the broadcast media, and in some areas of religion or politics where truth and accuracy are far less important than the ability to achieve a suitable response in the audience. In many cases, such a response involves the gaining of popularity or favor, as is required in politics or advertising, although there are far more mundane examples of bullshit being involved in the lives of ordinary people. It is not at all uncommon to hear of somebody “bullshitting” a job interview, for example, or to attribute their performance in an examination to their ability to bullshit. In this sense, bullshitting walks the line between extemporaneous speaking and lying outright.
You can also find links to a bunch of definitions and discussions of bullshit at the OneLook site.

The term "bullshit" must be used with discretion, because some people will find it offensive.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/07/04 - Get the idea

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you ever use "to get the idea (of/about something/someone)" figuratively in U.S. English?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Would you also give me some alternatives to "get the idea (of/about something/someone)"?

In other words, are there other (more common) ways to express this concept in American English?

What about "to make an idea of/from/out of something/someone"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/08/04:

I can think of a few situations that involve "get the idea," although they may not be exactly what you had in mind.

The first is "get the idea for." This involves having an inspiration or insight or realization.

Where did you get the idea for that nifty logo on your web site?

I've got a great idea for our Christmas play.
Next is "get the idea that.":
Where on earth did you get the idea that you could just walk in here and help yourself to my jewelry?

Now, I don't want you to get the idea that I'm just in this for the money.

John, I get the idea that you're unhappy about something. Can we talk about it?

Why do I get the idea that there is much more to this than you are telling me?
We can also simply speak of "getting the idea."
Oh, I get the idea. We use the semi-gloss paint in the kitchen, and the flat paint everywhere else.

Do you get the idea now? It's not as hard as you may think.
Next is an expression in the form, "Don't get any ideas."
Now don't get any ideas, boys. I'm just taking my shoes off to because my feet hurt.

Eating on college premises is not permitted outside of the dining area, so don't get any ideas about eating your sandwiches on the benches.

Although they were eaten by early settlers, they don't have much meat on them -- so if you see one, don't get any ideas about eating it.
(Note how often "about" is used with this expression.)

Turning to your specific phrasing, I am not aware of an everyday expression in the form of "to get the idea about something." People do occasionally say that they "have (or have got) the idea of something" when they are declaring an intention:
I have the idea of going to Spain someday.

I have the idea of selling everything I own and living simply in the woods.
Otherwise, statements about ideas in the forms you suggest would not really be expressions, but would convey something about a person having an idea.

A whole new vista of usages opens up if you replace "the" with "any" or "no."
Do you have any idea how much trouble you caused?

I have no idea where I put my glasses.

I had no idea that you were such a good tennis player.

I don't think John had any idea how long his remodelling project would take.
People often state that they do not have the "slightest" or "faintest" idea about something. In all of these cases, the meaning is that they do not know.

I am not aware of any expressions in current use along the lines of "to make an idea of/from/out of something/someone." I did find "make an idea of" in a translation of Plato, but that probably is not a helpful example for current usage.

Perhaps others will find things I have missed.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/07/04 - Held up or be stuck in a traffic jam

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you say "to be held up in a traffic jam" or "to be stuck in a traffic jam"?

If both are correct and possible, do they have the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there other (more common, formal and informal/colloquial) ways to express this concept in U.S. English?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/08/04:

I feel especially well qualified to answer this, because I live in Los Angeles, which is legendary for its traffic.

I would say that it is more common to hear people say that they were "held up in traffic" or that they are "stuck in traffic." Although there is nothing wrong with adding the word "jam," it is unnecessary, and around here people most often choose to leave it out.

It is also very common to say that you were "caught in traffic."

Sorry I'm late. I was held up in traffic / I got stuck in traffic / I got caught in traffic.
In other parts of the country, where traffic normally flows smoothly and traffic jams are rare, it might be more common to hear about a "traffic jam."
Sorry I'm late. I was held up in a traffic jam / I was stuck in a traffic jam / I got caught in a traffic jam.
The concept of "traffic jam" is certainly well known.
There is a massive traffic jam outside Dodger Stadium before every game.

Highway 41 is jammed all the way from Bullard Road to McKinley Avenue.
Occasionally one might hear "traffic jam" used in a more metaphorical sense, as in a "traffic jam" at a store that is having a major sale, or in reference to the number of web visitors trying to browse the same web site at the same time.

Other expressions that denote heavy traffic:
Bumper-to-bumper traffic

Stop-and-go traffic

Creepy-crawly traffic

"This road is like a parking lot."
And as a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Too many cars -- too few lanes."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/06/04 - Nothing short of

Dear Rich:

What does "nothing short of" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this expression/phrase?

Would you also give me some other expressions/phrases that have the same meaning as "nothing short of," please?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/07/04:

Other expressions that convey a similar idea:

Nothing other than ...

Only ...

Nothing besides ...

None other than ...
Other examples:
Nothing short of complete, unconditional surrender would satisfy Alexander.

He was not just ambitious; nothing short of the top job in the company would do for him.

Look at these prices! This is nothing short of highway robbery!

Solving the e-mail spam problem will take nothing short of a miracle.

Nothing short of an armed invasion will get the attention of that despot.

This building is nothing short of a disgrace, ladies and gentlemen. Look at crumbling walls and falling roof. Is this where we want our children to learn?

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/06/04 - Phraseology for the cellular phone

Dear ESL Experts:

With regard to the cellular phone, what are the most commonly used phrases in the U.S.?

Would you please give some phrases that can be helpful/useful/handy when using a cellular phone in the U.S.?

Also, do you shorten "cellular phone" to just "cell phone"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/07/04:

This may not be what you had in mind, but here are some things that today’s teen needs to know in using the IM features (text messaging) of modern cell phones:

First, the familiar “emoticons” used to convey emotional states:
:-) 
:-D 
|-) 
(g)
|-D 
:’-)  
;-) 
‘-) 
;-> 
:”)
:*)  
:^D 
^5 
(::()::) 
:-(  
:( 
:-<  
:-c 
:’  
:-| 
>:-< 
:-@ 
:-V 
:( ) 
%-) 
:-o 
:O 
8-O 
:-X 
:-x 
((((h))))
:-P 
@>-->-- 
d:-) 
(((H))) 
})Y({ 
8^  
:-S  
:-@! 
:#) 
<:-l 
>:) - 
(_1_) 
8)
(_8(|)
^_^
>;-> 
:-V 
:-/ 
;^) 
(:-( 
[:-) 
*<):o) 
:0)
:”)
>-)
:-(*) 
:-# 
8-O - 
@};--- 
:-i 
:-0 
:-))) 
‘-) 
l-O 
=8-0 Smiling
Laughing, very happy
Grinning
Grin
Belly laugh 
Tears of joy
Kidding, joke 
Kidding, joke
Conspiratorial wink
Embarrassed
Clown
Sounds good, agreeance
High five
Bandaid; offer of help
Unhappy
Sad 
Really sad
Really unhappy 
Crying
Grim
Angry
Swearing
Shouting
Talkative
Befuddled
Surprised
Shocked 
Very surprised
Big kiss
Small kiss
Hug
Anticipation
A rose
Baseball
Big Hug
Butterfly
Chicken
Confused
Swearing
Drunk
Dunce, stupid
Grinning Evil
Butt
Frog
Homer Simpson
Grin
Suggestive
Shouting
Sceptical
Smirking
Very Unhappy
Discman wearer
Clown
Clowning around
Embarrassed
Evil Grin
Blehh
It’s a secret
Huge surprise
Rose
Smoking a cigarette
Talkative
Very Happy
Wink
Yawn
Surprise, shock
There are also many abbreviations used for IM and chat purposes:

AFAIK
AFK
ASAP
ATK
ATM
B4
BAK
BBL
BBS
BFN
B4N
BBFN
BB4N
BRB
BRT
CU
CUL8R
CYA
FAQ
FC
FWIW
FYI
GAL
GMTA
GR8
IC
ILU
IMHO
IML8
IMO
IOW
IRL
LMAO
LOL
LTNS
L8R
MTE
M8
NRN
NP
OIC
OXOXO
PITA
PRT
ROFL
ROTFLMAO
 
RUOK
SK8ER
SUM1
ASL
THNQ
THX
TTFN
TTYL
U
U2
U4E
WAN2
WB
WKEND
WTG
WUF
W8
XLNT
2NITEAs Far As I Know
Away From Keyboard
As Soon As Possible
At The Keyboard
At The Moment
Before
Back At Keyboard
Be Back Later
Be Back Soon
Bye For Now
Bye For Now
Bye Bye For Now
Bye Bye For Now
Be Right Back
By The Way
See You
See You Later
See You
Frequently Asked Question
Fingers Crossed
For What It’s Worth
For Your Information
Get A Life
Great Minds Think Alike
Great!
I See
I Love You
In My Humble Opinion
I’m Late
In My Opinion
In Other Words
In Real Life
Laughing My (Butt) Off
Lots of Laughs
Long Time No See
Later
My Thoughts Exactly
Mate
No Reply Necessary
No Problem
Oh I See
Hugs and Kisses
Pain In The (Butt)
Party
Rolling On The Floor Laughing
Rolling On The Floor Laughing
My (Butt) Off
Are You Okay?
Skater
Someone
Age, Sex and Location
Thank you
Thanks
Ta-Ta For Now
Talk To You Later
You
You Too
Yours For Ever
Want to?
Welcome Back
Weekend
Way To Go!
Where Are You From?
Wait
Excellent
Tonight
If a battery has no charge left, the most common expression is that "the battery's dead."

I am not sure there is any special expression for the need to recharge the phone. Probably people would just say, "I need to recharge it."

I am not familiar with the use of a phone card to go into a cell phone -- I am not sure whether that technology exists in the U.S. If it did, a person might say, "I'm out of minutes" or "my card is maxed out."

For poor reception, I would think people would just say "I can't hear you" or "you're breaking up."

But like Schoolmarm I am of the wrong generation to know if there is any special lingo at the youngest levels. Adults use cell phones too, however, particularly here in Los Angeles where a typical entertainment industry person spends much of the day in a car.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/07/04 - Make a false start - start off on the wrong foot

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the phrase "to make a false start" ever used figuratively in U.S. English?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Does the phrase "to start off on the wrong foot" have the same meaning as "to make a false start"?

If not, would you please give me some examples in which it's correct to use "to make a false start" and some in which it's appropriate to use "to start off on the wrong foot"?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to "make a false start" and "start off on the wrong foot"?

Finally, what is the opposite of "to make a false start"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/07/04:

Literally, of course, a "false start" occurs in an athletic competition, such as swimming, where one of the competitors moves off the blocks before the starting signal is given.

Figuratively, the term refers to something that goes awry, or does not live up to expectations, or is ineffectual:

After a false start with Windows 3.1, Microsoft finally got it right with Windows 95.

After a false start with the band Frozen Sun, which garnered a little European attention, Boris decided to hit the road on his own.

John then became a surgeon (an interesting change of profession), and after a false start in 1824, when he expected to ship as surgeon on a voyage to India, in 1825 he was appointed Surgeon’s Mate on H.C.S. Royal George, bound for Bengal and China.

Don't make a false start with your speech. Avoid apologies and tentative statements that can put your credibility in question. Start out boldly and directly.

True, we might fail. We might fall flat on our faces and make total, unredeemed fools out of ourselves. We might choose the "wrong” chance to take at the "wrong time,” or we might make a false start in the "wrong” direction. But at least we will have tried.
The expression "to start off (or to get off) on the wrong foot" means to begin something badly, in an inauspicious manner. Often it is used when two people meet or join forces and, contrary to expectation, take an immediate dislike to each other, or one takes offense at something the other does. It can also refer to a situation where an organization undertakes some kind of program and does something to engender distrust.

The distinction between this and “false start” is a bit subtle, but it definitely exists. With "false start" there often is a sense of accident or error, whereas "starting off on the wrong foot" implies lack of sensitivity, or misjudgment, or the making of unwarranted assumptions. The typical consequence of a "false start" is mere lack of success; the consequence of "getting off on the wrong foot" is animosity, embarrassment, or distrust -- often because someone has taken offense at the other’s actions.
Tomorrow is our first meeting with this client so let’s not get off on the wrong foot.

If you feel you got off on the wrong foot with the three individuals involved, tell them you know it was awkward to have to ask for such documentation on short notice, and that you truly appreciate their assistance.

Not wanting to start out on the wrong foot with Dr. Lean, President Bond approved the transfer.

Phoebe ends up in the growing town of Rimshot, Nevada - along with her faithful butler, Simmons. Suddenly, Phoebe finds herself a part owner of a saloon. Phoebe’s partner is former marshal Riley Burnett. Phoebe and Riley start out on the wrong foot, of course. After all, how many people bring a butler to Nevada? She’s sure she’ll never fit in.

A course I’m teaching this semester seems to have started out on the wrong foot, and I’m wondering if anyone has some suggestions on how to change it or repair it. Somehow the vibe I feel coming from most of the students in this class (it’s an intro to film course) is an antagonistic one.

Judge Rodney Melville immediately set a strict tone when he began the day’s proceedings by scolding Jackson for being late to court - and laid out rules he said he expected attorneys on both sides to follow. Jackson was about 20 minutes late after taking time to greet cheering fans. “Mr. Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot here,” the judge said. “I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It’s an insult to the court.”

Of course, he started out on the wrong foot, having got the job as a result of uninhibited lobbying by his father-in-law rather than any actual merit.

I know exactly what you are going through -- last week I had a really horrible day, which started out on the wrong foot and only got worse. I was late to school, forgot my lunch, and then continuously screwed up the entire day’s schedule.
In a relatively rare example of symmetry in this kind of expression, there is a counter-expression, "to start out on the right foot," which means exactly what you would expect: to start out well.
It is imperative that we start off on the right foot with these new clients. I have instructed the entire office that we are not to be disturbed for any reason.
I hope the distinction between the two expressions is sufficiently clear; I have had some trouble trying to figure out how to express it.

I am having trouble thinking of figurative expressions that would be good substitutes for "false start." A literal substitute would be "jump the gun," but that would be no good as a figurative substitute because it means "to start prematurely," which is a different meaning.

For "to start off on the wrong foot," you could substitute "to get off to a rocky start." There are probably some other substitutes as well, but none occur to me at the moment. Perhaps others can think of some.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/05/04 - Go off the street/road & run off the street/road

Dear ESL Experts:

When driving a car/van/bus/etc., is there any difference between "to go off the road/street" and "to run off the road/street"?

If so, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/06/04:

When I hear "street" I think of an avenue within a city that has concrete curbs (British: kerbs) and perhaps sidewalks (British: pavement), street lights, and probably houses or buildings on each side. Driving "off the street" would seem to me to involve driving on the sidewalk (pavement) or on someone's front lawn. If a driver did this -- leaving the road and driving on the sidewalk or a front lawn -- we would say that the driver had "jumped the curb."

We also refer to "off-street parking," meaning a garage or parking lot.

"Road," on the other hand, is generally used to denote a roadway or highway outside an urban area. In this case, "going off the road" would occur if the car purposely drove onto the adjoining shoulder or lost control and ended up in a ditch. It would also be permissible to say that the vehicle "ran off the road."

The car went off the road about one mile south of town, when the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

The first skidding accident was reported at 7 am on Crystal Street, when a car went off the road and into a ditch.

Two men were ejected from the car when it went off the road and rolled down an embankment.

Two paramedics died yesterday when their ambulance ran off the road near Blackspur.

From the point where the truck first ran off the road to its final rest was about 250 feet.

Some children from the Trotwood-Madison school district were a little late Wednesday morning after their school bus ran off the road.
A separate meaning for "run off the road" involves a second vehicle that drives in such a way as to require the first vehicle to drive off the roadway in order to avoid a collision. The generic form of this would be "to run someone off the road."
Did you see that? That idiot just tried to run me off the road!

A few months ago, a drunk driver nearly ran me off the road when I was driving home from my workout.

I must admit that I have very little patience for dump truck drivers - ever since one ran me off the road in 1991.
Note also that the term "off-road" is used to denote vehicles that are designed for use on unpaved terrain (think Range Rover).

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/05/04 - Let's talk it over

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Let's talk it over" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of when it's correct, appropriate, and natural to use this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/06/04:

The starting point would be the underlying expression "talk it over," which means "to discuss; to review." to confer; to reason together."

I'm not sure which of these would work better at our house. I need to talk it over with my wife.

I felt much better after I talked it over with Father Bernard.

I think you had better talk this over with Accounting. Unless all of you agree on changing the report format, it will have to stay the way it is now.

I recommend that you talk it over with your own attorney before making a final decision.

We need to talk this over, George. I'm not ready to go forward yet.
Adding "let's" (let us) to "talk it over" converts it into an invitation.
I don't agree with you, but let's talk it over before we decide.

Whenever I bring up the Jacobson account, all he says is, "Let's talk it over later."
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/04/04 - Stay off something - stay away from something

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following phrases is correct and natural - "to stay off something/someone" or "to stay away from something/someone"?

If both are correct and possible, do they mean the same thing?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Are there any cases in which the two phrases are interchangeable?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/04/04:

One would not generally speak of "staying off" someone. As far as "staying off" something, the only occasions I can think of where the expression would be used are those referring to (a) refraining from the use of drugs or alcohol, (b) refraining from certain activities, and (c) avoiding certain subjects of discussion.

Andrew has never been able to keep a job, because he just can't stay off the booze.

I've tried hard to stay off drugs, but I keep falling back into bad habits.

I strongly recommend that you stay off the topic of the war in Iraq. You will just start a shouting match.

Does anyone think sending my daughter to jail for 12 months because she can't stay off of marijuana is the right thing to do?

Jack is addicted to the internet. He can't stay off his computer for more than a few hours.

Players must stay off the court until the referee signals that it is time to enter.
I would say that "stay away from" can be used in every setting where "stay off" could be used. In addition, "stay away from" can be used with respect to people as well.
If you know what's good for you, you'll stay away from my wife!

Let's try to stay away from personal attacks, folks, and stick to the issues.

Funny how hard it is to stay away from the refrigerator when you're hungry.
In sum, "stay off" can be used in situations where someone might logically be "on" something (i.e., on drugs, on booze, on the computer, on a topic of conversation). "Stay away from" can be used in a much broader range of situations where it simply means "avoid."

Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/04/04 - Go a long way - come a long way

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you say that "someone/something has gone a long way" or do you say that "someone/something has come a long way"?

If both are correct and possible, do they convey the same meaning?

If not, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

Would you also give me some alternatives to "have gone/come a long way," please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/04/04:

Both expressions are in use. I am not sure if I will succeed in offering advice on how to use them, but I will try.

Let's start with "come a long way." This expression conveys the idea of something or someone that has started modestly and shown considerable progress or improvement.

Television has certainly come a long way since its early black-and-white days.

I'm really proud of Alice. She has really come a long way with her French horn studies.

E-mail has certainly come a long way since its invention in 1971.

Cancer treatments have come a long way since their early days, offering significant hope to many people who would have been doomed only a few years ago.
By contrast, "gone a long way" refers to the degree to which a goal has been accomplished or an outcome has been reached.
The new vaccination program has gone a long way toward eradicating several childhood diseases in this country.

The expanded security patrols have gone a long way toward making the residents feel safer at night.

If you can reduce or eliminate the nutrients entering your pond, you will have gone a long way toward reducing the vegetation in your pond and harming the fish population.

By the end of June, we had gone a long way toward laying the foundations for lasting friendships. And I had gone a long way towards taking a more balanced approach to my work.
I am not saying that one expression could not be substituted for the other in some cases; what I have described is the most typical usage.

I am having trouble thinking of a good substitute for "come a long way." About the best I can think of is to say that someone or something has "made great strides" or "made significant progress." Curiously, the same phrases can substitute for "gone a long way" if "toward" is added.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/03/04 - Speak out one's mind

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to speak out one's mind" exist in U.S. English?

If so, what does it mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/04/04:

speak out - Make public one's views on something; call attention; raise concerns; bring to light.

It took only hours before many church leaders began to speak out against the ruling on same-sex marriage.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to speak out on this issue. Nothing will change until we make it known how strongly we feel about it.

Nobody likes this situation, but the people are all afraid to speak out.

The legislators spoke out against any effort to change the current budgeting process.

Only a few brave South African churchmen were willing to speak out against apartheid.

Later, the ambassador spoke out concerning the recent disclosure that foreign agents had compromised the relief program.
speak one's mind -- to speak candidly, frankly, even bluntly, without hedging or indirection.
Mr. Blomfeld is so intimidating, I rarely feel as though I can speak my mind.

Darren, you aren't going to like this, but I feel I have no alternative but to speak my mind.

I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to speak my mind, Father Walsh. I feel much better now.

The meeting got off to a slow start, but once people realized that it was OK to speak their minds, it became very lively indeed!
Note that there is a word "outspoken," which is used to describe someone who speaks frankly, without reservation.

In sum, "speak out" is most often encountered with the meaning of "speak publicly against" or "express public concern about." "Speak one's mind" connotes candor, frankness, even brutal bluntness in conveying a view, but does not carry the connotation of public statement.

There is another expression, by the way: "giving someone a piece of one's mind." This is used when someone intends to convey anger or disapproval in no uncertain terms (often called a "tongue-lashing"):
He did what? Well, we'll just see about that. I'm going to go straight over there and give him a piece of my mind!

I had to tell Mrs. Kravitz that the drapes would not be ready for three more days. Boy, did she give me a piece of her mind! My ears are still hurting.

I wish he were in front of me right now. I'd give him a piece of my mind.

Does anyone have the address for the genius who designed this new schedule? I would love to give him a piece of my mind!
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/03/04 - In my place, in my shoes, etc.

Dear ESL Experts:

Do the expressions "in my place," "in my shoes," and "If I were you" mean the same thing?

If so, which is the most commonly used in American English?

If not, when do you use the first, when do you use the second, and when do you use the third?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, would you please give me some alternatives to "in my place," "in my shoes," and "If I were you"?

By the way, is "If I was you" also possible and common in informal English?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/04/04:

To create equivalent expressions, the first two should be reversed to speak of the other person:

If I were in your place, I would think twice about throwing away such a significant opportunity.

In your shoes, I would probably just let it go. Why bring up needless controversy?

I don't know a lot about bleeding during pregnancy, but if I were in your shoes, I think I would get it checked out immediately.
So altered, these two expressions convey the same meaning as "if I were you," namely, "If you and I switched places, and I faced the circumstances you now face, here is how I would respond." Note that the subjunctive mood "were" is used, rather than the indicative. This is one of the handful of situations -- conditions contrary to fact -- where the subjunctive is still commonly used in conversational English.

In any case, the foregoing forms are used for the giving of advice and/or suggestion of points of view.

"In my shoes" and "in my place" convey the idea of seeing things from the speaker's own perspective. The third phrase would have to be worded "if you were me" to have the equivalent meaning. In this form, these expressions can have two significantly different functions. In the first, they can ask advice:
I'm baffled. If you were in my place, how would you handle this?
A very common second meaning, however, is the rhetorical one: If you were in my situation, you would handle this the same way I am handling it. Thus:
In my place, I am sure you would have done the exact same thing.

If you were standing in my shoes, wouldn't you do the same thing?

How would you feel if you were in my shoes?

Mr. President, I cannot agree to this, and I think that deep inside, you will admit that I am right. I am convinced that if you were in my place you would do the same.

Put yourself in my place, Johnny. If I make an exception for you, everyone in the school will want the same thing. We'll have chaos.

I feel uncomfortable responding to that question, Arturo. Maybe you'd like to tell us how you'd answer if you were in my place.

What would you do if you were me? [this one could be rhetorical, or be a genuine question, depending on the context]
There is an old saying, variously attributed, that reads, "Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes." The idea is to see things thoroughly from the perspective of that person before presuming to criticize. Of course, some wag came up with this:
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes. Then when you do criticize that person, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes.
With respect to "If I was you," I mentioned above that counterfactual conditions represent one of the handful of places where the subjunctive mood is still called for in modern English. "If I was you," using the indicative, would sound uneducated.

Similar expressions for the meaning "if I were you" --
If you want my advice, ...

In my opinion, ...

If it were up to me, ... [note: "was" is often heard with this one, despite what I wrote above]

If I had to choose, ...

If you want to know what I think, ...

If I had to decide, ...

In your shoes, I would ...

Faced with that decision, I would ...
Similar expressions for the rhetorical meaning "if you had my perspective" --
If you knew what I knew, ...

If you could see the big picture, ...

If you stood in my shoes, ...

If you were in my place, ...

If you had my responsibilities, ...

Look at things from my perspective.

From my point of view, ...

From what I see, ...
These expressions are all fairly straightforward -- they are used to convey a logical meaning (even if metaphorical, as in standing in another's shoes). Anything that conveys a similar notion of changing places would probably serve.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/03/04 - Arrow = indicator

Dear ESL Experts:

Do you use "arrow" with the same meaning as "indicator" in U.S. English (EX: Put the indicator/arrow on before turning)?

If so, which is more commonly used?

Do you say "automatic gear shift" or just "automatic shift"?

What is the opposite of "automatic gear shift" (The one that we use here in Europe)? Maybe "manual gear shift"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo


I

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/03/04:

"Turn signal" is the most common term used here on the west coast (California), sometimes shortened to "signal." "Indicator" sounds British. I do not recall hearing "arrow" used for this meaning.

Just once I wish someone would signal before changing lanes in front of me.

That guy coming down the street has his turn signal on, but I don't trust him. I'm going to wait and see if he actually turns.

Well, this is a first: someone who actually uses their turn signal before turning!

That guy has been signalling left for the last two blocks. I think he forgot to turn it off.
While the formal name is "automatic transmission," most people would just say "automatic." A car with an automatic transmission might be called "an automatic."

The opposite is "manual transmission," or "standard shift," or "stick shift," or just "stick."
Hey, that's a great-looking car. Is it automatic or stick shift?

I wanted to try out my brother's sports car, but I don't know how to drive a stick.

I decided to get an automatic. My dad gave up trying to teach me how to drive a stick shift.

When I broke my left ankle, I was very glad we had an automatic. I wouldn't have been able to operate a clutch.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/02/04 - Speak/talk badly/ill of someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following phrases is correct and natural - "to speak/talk badly/ill of someone behind his/her back" or "to speak/talk badly/ill of someone behind his/her shoulder(s)"?

If both are correct and possible, do they mean the same thing?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase or these phrases?

Are there other ways to express this concept?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/03/04:

Anatomically, we refer to "behind someone's back" rather than the person's "shoulders." I have never encountered the use of "shoulders" in this way, and I am not confident that a U.S. English speaker would understand that use.

The most common version of this expression would simply be "to talk behind [someone's] back." It is assumed when this happens that the subject is negative, thus making it redundant to add words such as "ill" or "badly." (Note that "behind [someone's back" can also be used to refer to an activity that is taking place without a person's knowledge.)

The use of "badly" here could be confusing, because a reader or listener might interpret as referring to the manner in which the speaking took place. In other words, they might assume that the speaker had trouble speaking.

We would not say "talk ill." It would be grammatically acceptable to say "speak ill," but it would sound formal. (The one place this is commonly heard is in the expression, "It is wrong to speak ill of the dead.")

John is all smiles when Rebecca comes in the room, but the moment her back is turned he has nothing but evil things to say about her.

I thought I was fitting in at this new school, but then I found out some of the things people were saying behind my back. I can't believe how nasty people can be.

If only Miss Streeter knew what people were saying behind her back.

I was devastated when I found out that my "best friend" was making fun of me behind my back.

He didn't worry about his bad spelling until he discovered how many people were talking about it behind his back.
With respect to other uses to mean "without someone's knowledge" --
I hate all this adware and spyware that gets on my computer. Frankly, I don't think software should be doing things behind my back.

Mr. Peoples was devastated when he discovered that the people in the mailroom were operating an illegal gambling ring behind his back.

Jill, I thought you were serious about our relationship. Now I discover that you have been going out with Alan behind my back.
As far as other ways to express "speaking behind someone's back," it is hard to think of any direct replacements. The same sense would generally be conveyed by terms such as
gossip

spread rumors

whisper
Cheers.





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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/02/04 - Just bear with me

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Just bear with me" mean?

Would you please give me some examples in which it's correct, natural, and appropriate to use this phrase/expression?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/03/04:

It means, in effect, "please be patient a short while longer."

In this usage, "bear" is used in its meaning of "to put up with; to endure."

Just bear with me, Jason. The explanation will become clear in a moment.

Please bear with us, ladies and gentlemen. We expect to have the lights back on any moment now.

Students, I know this may seem confusing, but bear with me. I guarantee you that by the time we finish tonight, you will understand this.

Please bear with me if I make a few mistakes. I'm just a beginner.

Just bear with me, folks. There are a lot of questions here. I'll try to get through as many of them as I can.

Just a few more tests, Mr. McGregor. Please bear with us. We'll be done before you know it.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/01/04 - Air, broadcast, show, rerun, reair

Dear ESL Experts:

What are the differences among "to show something on TV," "to air something on TV," and "to broadcast something on TV"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these three phrases?

Are there any cases in which all or some of them may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you also give me a couple of examples, please?

Is there any difference in meaning between "to rerun something on TV" and "to reair something on TV"?

If so, when do you use the former and when do you use the latter?

Would you please give me some examples?

What are the relative nouns for "to rerun" and "reair"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/02/04:

Ah. the wonders of jargon.

"Air," "show," and "broadcast" all mean the same thing. So does "run" (similar to your recent question about Playboy magazine "running something" about the woman being interviewed) -- hence the word "rerun" denoting a second or subsequent showing of a television program.

I can't quarrel with the word "show." It is a verb of long heritage.

"Broadcast" as a verb is a recent invention, deriving from the adjectival use of "broadcast" to denote the scattering of seeds in a field. Both the noun and the verb, insofar as they refer to the transmission of radio or television programs to broad audiences, arose in the early 20th century.

"Air" is the most jargon-y word in your collection. As best I can tell, this term traces back to the reference to radio waves as "airwaves," and to the act of making a radio transmission as "putting something on the airwaves." This is turn was shortened to "putting something on the air," and it was not an enormous change to abbreviate this further to "airing" something.

Of course, "to air" has existed as a verb for many decades, meaning "to bring into the open; to discuss." Thus:

I am glad that you and Mr. Evans were able to air your differences about the new curriculum. I hope they can be resolved.

This is not the time to air your disagreements with the new government policy. We have a big job to do, and we need to get started immediately. There will be time for discussion later.
I would consider the use of "to air" as a synonym for "to broadcast" to be jargon. It is language you would find in a trade journal for the entertainment industry (or a consumer publication that adopts industry jargon), but would not be the best choice in standard English.

Even more than "air," the word "reair" (or "re-air") would be considered jargon. I have no doubt that it would be understood as having the same meaning as "rerun," but it would sound like jargon.

The relative noun for "rerun" is "rerun."
Is that a new episode of Law & Order, or is it a rerun?

I wish this station would show something other than a bunch of old reruns.
I don't know of a word that would correspond to "reair." (Another word used for this meaning, both as a noun and a verb, is "repeat.")

Note, by the way, that the trade publication Variety takes immense joy in inventing new jargon and making quirky use of words in its articles. It is a dangerous model to follow when it comes to mainstream English.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 04/01/04 - Go Awol, sure-fire, PC police

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please look at the following passages and explain the meaning of the parts that I have put in bold?

------------------------------------------------------

Hollywood's newspaper of record, Variety, once called The Simpsons America's "dysfunctional First Family". And clearly the dysfunction is contagious, because several leading cast members have refused to show up for work in the past few weeks over a salary dispute.

Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer, has gone Awol, and so too have Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Julie Kavner (Marge), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), and the multi-talented, multiple-role players Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer.

Their bottom line is that they have been at this for 15 seasons - next year's would be the 16th - and they want a larger slice of The Simpsons' considerable financial pie to make it worth their while to continue.

They want a salary rise from $125,000 (£67,000) to $360,000 per episode for the 22-episode season, Variety says. That, the actors say, is far from unreasonable, given that The Simpsons is a billion-dollar global cult phenomenon - broadcast in languages from Swahili to Albanian - and that their famously flexible voice talents are a large part of the secret of its success.

So far, they have failed to appear for two read-throughs of next season's scripts. That, in turn, has put production on hold, because the animators cannot get to work until they have a finished voice tape allowing them to synchronise the lip movements and other interactions of the characters.

With the clock ticking, the negotiations can only get more interesting from here. Twentieth Century Fox, the Rupert Murdoch-owned television company reaping the benefits of the world's most enduring animated sitcom, might not like what is going on, but it also that it has been in a very similar situation before, and ended up losing.

Fox knows The Simpsons is a sure-fire comedy in a television landscape desperately short of sure-fire comedies. As one critic wrote when the show marked its 300th episode in February: "It's about the only network show that can be depended on for a few laugh-out-loud moments week after week, the one show that employs stunt casting that actually works and, perhaps most importantly, never gives in to the PC police."

------------------------------------------------------

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo






voiceguy2000 answered on 04/02/04:

I actually saw Dan Castellaneta and several writer/producers from The Simpsons at a joint Screen Actors Guild/Writers Guild event a few months ago. As a voice actor myself, I am sympathetic to the cast members' complaints. The Simpsons is the outgrowth of a silly feature that occasionally appeared on The Tracy Ullman Show, and it sounded like the whole thing just kind of happened one day without a lot of planning and negotiation.

Here is my take on your highlighted words:

AWOL -- This is an acronym (usually pronounced "ay-wall") used to refer to military personnal who are absent from their place of duty without permission. Opinions vary on whether AWOL stands for Absent WithOut Leave or Absent Without Official Leave. Here, it means that the cast members were "ordered" to report for duty -- recording scripts for the show -- and failed to show up.

bottom line -- On a financial statement (specifically an income statement), it is traditional to list first all the revenues that have come in, then list below all the expenses that have been incurred. At the very bottom -- the bottom line -- is the net income, calculated by subtracting the expenses from the revenues. This is really the most important number, because it shows whether the business is profitable or not.

In a more figurative sense, "the bottom line" has come to mean "the core," "the essence," "the heart of the matter," or "the most important point." In some situations it is also used to convey a desire to cut through the confusion and reach the main point, or to announce that a final decision has been made.

In this article, the term is particularly apt, because not only does it express the figurative meaning but the figurative meaning directly relates to a financial issue.

"Bottom line" can be a handy phrase as long as it is not overused.

Here's the bottom line, Jill. Either you tell Bill that you are not interested in seeing him again, or we're through.

They gave us all kinds of charts and graphs and handouts, but the bottom line is that they turned us down for all but one request.

I'll listen to your requests, but the bottom line is that we just do not have any more money for projects this year.

I have had three negotiating sessions so far, but I can't seem to get to the customer's bottom line. Every time I think we're close, those guys throw in some new wrinkle that messes up all the numbers.

Is that your bottom line, Mr. Edgerton? Because if it is, I can tell you right now that we are not going to be able to agree on those terms.
read-throughs -- I believe this term is being used incorrectly in this article. With weekly sitcoms (situation comedies), it is traditional for the cast to do a "table read" of an early draft of the script, so that the writers can hear how it will be performed and work on any rough spots before the actual taping a day or two later. It also serves as kind of a preliminary rehearsal of the show, although it is not a full rehearsal because the lines are still subject to change. (It is a "table read" because the actors sit around a table with the scripts in front of them.) This might also be called a "read-through."

What this article is referring to, however, is almost certainly not a "read-through," but rather an actual recording session. Contrary to what most people think, animation is not done by having the characters drawn first and then having the actors read to match the characters. Rather, the reverse is done: The actors come in and record the character voices, and then the animators work from those recordings to create images that will match the sound. (Sometimes the actors are videotaped at the recording sessions so that the animators can see any special body language or facial expressions that the actors used. If you saw the Disney animated feature Aladdin, it is obvious that the animators viewed Robin Williams's recording session when drawing the Genie.)

Because of this sequence of work, the animators for The Simpsons cannot get started on their time-consuming work until the voice tracks are recorded. I am sure that that is the true problem the article must be referring to, not a "read-through" for the purpose of polishing the script.

clock ticking -- Time running. A common expression is, "The clock is ticking." This is a way of saying that time is passing, and that the passage of time will lead to consequences (because of, for example, an important deadline that is approaching).

Here, the problem is that it takes months to produce the animation drawings, photograph them, and then do the post-production to put together the picture with voice tracks, music, and sound effects. Delay in completing this early step -- recording the voice tracks -- means that all subsequent steps will be delayed, which means that new episodes of The Simpsons might not be ready in time for the beginning of the new television season this fall. To some extent this time can be made up by working overtime, but that is a very expensive route to take. Thus, here the "clock is ticking" in relation to Fox's desire to have new episodes ready to kick off the new television season, and the impossibility of meeting that deadline unless this dispute is resolved fairly soon.

sure-fire -- foolproof; dependable; infallible; trustworthy.

PC police -- PC stands for "political correctness," which is a demeaning term applied to the tendency towards euphemism and avoidance of offense when dealing with certain sensitive subject matters (racial minorities, people with disabilities, people with non-mainstream sexual orientation, and so forth). "PC police" is a shorthand reference to the people who would take offense and flood both television stations and government officials with complaints if one of these subjects was handled insensitively. The critic quoted in the article is stating that The Simpsons appears to operate without significant fear of this sort of reaction.

By the way, I was surprised that you did not highlight "stunt casting," which is undoubtedly a reference to this show's remarkable ability to bring on famous guest stars from many walks of life and place them in highly quirky situations.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/31/04 - Miss the point - miss the target

Dear ESL Experts:

Is there any difference in meaning between "to miss the point" and "to miss the target" when both phrases are used figuratively?

If a difference does exist, when do you use the former and when do you use the latter?

Would you please give me some examples?

What are the opposites of "to miss the point" and "to miss the target"?

Any alternatives to "miss the point" and "miss the target"? What about "to miss the boat"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/01/04:

miss the point -- fail to grasp the significance of something; misunderstand something; fail to give the proper priority to something.

miss the target -- fail to achieve an objective; fall short; go awry.

These two expressions mean different things, and it is difficult to think of any instance where they could be used interchangeably.

"Miss the point" is used in discussing ideas. It is most often a complaint by one person that another does not seem to appreciate the principal issue or concern being discussed.

Critics of "Passion" miss the point completely, said Mel Gibson.

John, you're missing the point. We don't care how long your hair is. What we care about is that it be clean and neatly groomed.

People who complain about fast food are missing the point. You don't go there because of the "food." You go there because of the "fast."

President Clinton's proposals on biological terror were "feel good" measures that completely missed the point. Inspections and high-level meetings are irrelevant to terrorists.
"Miss the target" draws from the non-figurative meaning, literally meaning a failure to "hit" the target (whatever that might be). In use, the expression may refer to going astray, or to falling short.
We missed our target of $5 million in sales revenue for fiscal 2003, but we did improve profits by more than 11%.

Our fundraising goal is $400,000 in the month of April. We are going to miss the target, however, unless we get moving immediately.

Moves to boycott American goods in Egypt could miss the target, hurting Egyptian businesses more than American interests

I am convinced that these new gun laws will completely miss the target, because the guns used in recent massacres will still be legal under the new regime.
"Miss the boat" is generally used to express that it is too late for something. Just as someone will miss an actual boat if it has already left the dock when they arrive, the figurative use means that the time to act has passed. It is also used to express the idea that an opportunity has been allowed to slip from one's grasp. And just to confuse things further, it is often used to convey the idea that people were wrong about something.
Now that the final figures are in, we know that most economists missed the boat on the effects of tax increases in the 1990s.

After Microsoft missed the boat on graphical user interfaces in the early 1990s, Bill Gates was determined that it would not give up the internet to others.

Wang made the leading word processors and office automation systems in the early 1980s, but the company missed the boat in failing to keep pace with the trend toward open systems based on off-the-shelf PCs that developed in later years.

WebTV truly seems to have missed the boat this time. Instead of finding a way to embrace its users and reinforce its strengths, it is distancing itself from them and leaving them without any particular reason to remain subscribers.
As far as similar expressions are concerned:

For "miss the point" -- a related expression is to say that an assertion is "beside the point."
John: We have the funding we need.

Bill: That's beside the point, John. We don't have the necessary permits. Without permits, the money is useless.
For "miss the target," other expressions might include "miss the mark," "fall short," and "go astray."

To summarize the difference between "miss the point" and "miss the target," in my opinion the first concerns primarily a failure of understanding, or "aim," and the second concerns primarily a failure of execution, or "hitting" the target.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/31/04 - Update & upgrade

Dear ESL Experts:

What is the difference between "to upgrade something" and "to update something" with regard to computers and the Internet?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these phrases?

Are there any cases in which they are interchangeable?

If so, would you also give me some examples, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 04/01/04:

From the dictionary, "update" would mean "bring current; bring up-to-date." "Upgrade" would mean " raise in grade; improve; enhance quality or performance."

In the software world, an "update" generally refers to a relatively modest change that is designed to correct bugs (flaws) or solve security/performance problems in the current version of the software. By custom, if the software is, say, version 4.0, the first update may move it to version 4.01. This numbering reflects the fact that the software remains essentially at the version 4 level, but has been updated to 4.01.

By contrast, the term "upgrade" would typically be used for major enhancements to the software. Thus, when the software publisher releases version 5.0 of the program, it may offer all existing licensees of version 4.0 (or 4.01) the opportunity to upgrade from version 4 to version 5 for a special price. By custom, the upgrade price will be substantially less than the full price of a new copy of version 5.

The custom, then, is to use "update" to denote a relatively minor change, and "upgrade" to denote a more significant change.

People could, of course, use these two terms with respect to computer hardware as well. The distinction I have described above may be fuzzier when it comes to hardware. Nonetheless, if someone spoke of "upgrading" their PC, I would expect to hear that they were adding capabilities to it -- perhaps installing additional RAM, a newer Video card, perhaps a bigger and better display, and possibly a DVD player. I could not be sure what a person meant if he or she used the word "update" with respect to hardware, because hardware does not, as a rule, follow the same customs as software. Unlike software publishers, who typically publish maintenance revisions (i.e., updates) to their software from time to time, hardware manufacturers typically have no policy of releasing interim "updates." Once you buy a PC, it's yours. You can "upgrade" it by adding, say, a second hard drive (which expands and enhances its capabilities). However, except for something like burning new firmware code to PROM chips, there is not much to "update."

Examples:

I can't believe Macromedia charges so much money for the upgrades to Dreamweaver.

I don't recommend upgrading from Windows 98 to Windows XP unless you have at least a Pentium IV processor.

Adobe released one update to Photoshop 6 in 2001, which took it to version 6.0.1. However, Acrobat 5 was updated to version 5.0.5 that same year.

Adobe's upgrade to Photoshop 7 cost about $150. That's still a lot cheaper than buying the whole program for $700.

Instead of buying a new computer, I decided to upgrade this one with another 256 MB of RAM and a second hard drive. I may get a new video card as well.
Hope this makes sense.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/27/04 - Attach importance - give importance

Dear Rich:

Should I say/write "to attach importance to something" or "to give importance to something"?

If both phrases are correct and natural, do they convey the same meaning?

If so, which of the two is more common?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use them?

Also, is it possible and grammatical "to attach/give importance to someone"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/31/04:

The two phrases mean essentially the same thing. Choosing one over the other is primarily a matter of determining whether "attach" or "give" fits more comfortably in a particular context.

To my ear, "attach" works best when it involves a particular person or entity that is actively judging something to be important (or, in the negative form of the expression, unimportant).

The judge seemed to attach the most importance to the testimony showing that no cars had entered the building after 9:00 PM.

It's true that Bob is not here yet, but I don&39;t attach any importance to it. He probably got stuck in traffic.

For the first time, the new statute attaches importance to the age of the perpetrator as well as the age of the victim.

So what? How can you possibly attach any importance to that?
I prefer "give importance" when the importance emerges as a consequence of events or circumstances.
The sudden outbreak of war gave new importance to our surface-to-air missile program.

The book also highlights the special challenges of the early twentieth century, when railways and oilfields gave new importance to Ottoman lands in the Middle East.

We must make clear that the new Director will have a free hand to take whatever steps are necessary. This will give importance to the position, and give us the best chance of recruiting qualified candidates.

I never gave importance to the family around me. What a fool I was!
The last example above ("I never gave importance to my family") illustrates a situation where choosing "give" versus "attach" is a matter of taste. Either word would work, but "attach" sounds too clinical for the sentimental thought being expressed.

In sum, there are situations where one word would be preferred over the other, along with a vast middle ground where either one would work and selection is a matter of taste.

Your last question is a tricky one. There is no doubt that a person can be "important." However, we do not think of people acquiring that status through a process of "giving" or "attachment." (Offhand, the verb that comes to mind is "gain" -- we say that a person has "gained importance.") We might give or attach importance to what the person says, or does, or stands for, but I cannot recall ever seeing either word used simply to confer importance on a person. Thus, I believe the general answer to your last question is "no."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/29/04 - On the hook

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to be on the hook" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/31/04:

Most commonly it means "to be liable" or "to be obligated."

Although Fred tried to cancel the service after two months, the contract made it clear that he was on the hook for the full one-year term.

Forget it, Bill. I'm not signing this contract. I don't want to be on the hook when you conveniently forget to pay the bills.

The company was alarmed to discover that it was on the hook for pension liabilities to 784 retired employees it never knew about.

Don't worry, Alice. I'm the one who's on the hook for this project. Just give me a little help, OK?
A second and more specialized meaning of "on the hook" (or "on hook") refers to the state of a telephone handset when it is resting on the "cradle" (receptacle where the handset is placed when hanging up). This usage dates from early "candlestick" telephones, in which the mouthpiece was mounted atop a short stem on a tabletop base, and the separate earpiece was on a short cord so that it could be held to the ear with one hand. Near the top of the stand, to the side, was a "hookswitch" on which the earpiece rested when it was not in use. When returned to this position, the weight of the earpiece pulled the hookswitch down, which disconnected the telephone from the circuit. Because the visible portion of the hookswitch had a hook-like appearance, it made sense to think of the earpiece as being "on the hook" or "on hook" when in its resting position. The term continued to be used even as the design of telephone instruments evolved to other physical arrangements.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/30/04 - Have an adventure with someone

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to have an adventure with someone" with the meaning of a sexual, brief encounter with another person usually engaged or married exist in U.S. English or is it just a word-by-word translation from the Italian "Avere un avventura con qualcuno"?

If it does exist, would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/31/04:

Every language seems to have a long list of euphemisms for "brief sexual encounter." It happens that "have an adventure" is not one of the ones commonly used in U.S. English, although it certainly could have been. And although it is not an expression in common use, most everyone would understand the meaning if an office gossip said, "I hear Mr. Jenkins in Accounting has been having a little adventure with Susie Gilchrist in Payroll." People might not automatically assume that the "adventure" included sex, as opposed to other forms of intimacy short of it, but that would be a logical interpretation.

There are literally hundreds of terms, and even sound effects, that would be understood as referring to "brief sexual encounter" if they were said with the appropriate voice inflection and eye-rolling/eyebrow-raising facial expressions. Even the most everyday terms would serve this purpose, because -- once it is clear that the reference is to an eligible man and an eligible woman -- they would be understood in a double entendre sense.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/30/04 - Do drugs - use drugs - make use of drugs

Dear ESL Experts:

Do the phrases "to do drugs," "to use drugs," and "to make use of drugs" convey the same meaning?

If so, which of the three is the most common?

Are there other phrases to express this concept?

Also, what is the difference between "to be 'stoned'" and "to be high/to be on a high"?

Would you please give me some examples of when it's correct to use "to be 'stoned'" and when it's appropriate to use "to be high/to be on a high"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/31/04:

"Do drugs" is a slang expression for the more proper "use drugs." One would not employ the word "do" in standard English. The term "do" in connection with drugs arose in the youth culture of the 1960s.

In most settings, "use drugs" and "do drugs" would convey the same meaning, namely, the recreational use of substances (mostly illegal in this country) to induce some altered mental state. We often see references to "drug use" or "using drugs" in articles about the problems caused by illegal or recreational drugs; we would see references to "doing drugs" only if the author was trying to create a special effect by adopting the slang term from the drug-users' culture. (The most formal term would be "substance abuse.")

"To make use of drugs" is a verbose and rather formal phrase that is not in common use. Seeing it, I would not automatically assume that it referred to illegal or recreational drugs, and I would not automatically assume that it referred to the same thing as "using" or "doing" drugs. Rather, it might be used in describing, say, a course of medical treatment:

Doctors today make use of drugs, diet, and exercise to help people with weight problems.
There are some other expressions referring to drug use, particularly "hard" narcotics such as heroin. Examples:
to shoot up [heroin]

to smoke weed [marijuana]

to get high

to get a fix [heroin]

to smoke dope [marijuana]

to drop acid [take LSD]
"Stoned" began as one of the myriad slang terms for inebriation. Others include:
plastered

snockered

crocked

smashed

bombed

feeling no pain

three sheets to the wind
By sometime in the 1960s, however, "stoned" had emerged with the special meaning of being intoxicated by marijuana. Bob Dylan famously referred to this in his popular song, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, when he repeatedly sang, "Everybody must get stoned." After that time, if you stated that someone was "plastered" or "smashed," it would be understood that the person had been drinking heavily, but if you said that they were "stoned," it would be understood that they had been smoking marijuana.

As I grew up, "being stoned" and " being high " meant essentially the same thing. It referred to the state in which a person had smoked enough marijuana (it might not require very much -- regular use seems to lower the threshold) to reach a pleasant "buzz." It would not necessarily mean that the person had reached a state of intoxication comparable to being "drunk" it typically meant that the person was definitely feeling the effects.

When I hear "on a high" I generally expect it to be used in a figurative sense. In this sense, it refers to a "high" that is not induced by drugs but by successes in life or favorable turns of events.
After our team won its fourth game in a row, the coach was really on a high.

My girlfriend has been on a high ever since I gave her that ring.
While the term could be used to describe someone who was under the influence of drugs, most people would simply say that the person was "high."

You would use "stoned" only when you wanted to refer to someone who was under the influence of drugs. You might use "high" for the same purpose, but could also use it, or the phrase "on a high," in the figurative sense of expressing that a person was in a particularly good mood, or was particularly pleased about something. Because of its implicit drug reference, one would have to use some discretion in choosing that particular way to convey the figurative meaning.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/31/04 - Take-no-guff police officer

Dear ESL Experts:

Here is the biography of actress Nancy Allen. Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold?
Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.


From All Movie Guide: The daughter of a New York City policeman, Nancy Allen trained for a dancing career at the High School of Performing Arts, then attended Jose Quintano's School for Young Professionals. In dozens of TV commercials from the age of 15, Nancy made her first film appearance (as "Nancy"-what a stretch!) in 1973's The Last Detail. Three years later, she set the standard for all future "bitch-goddess teenagers" as the beautiful but despicable high schooler Chris in Brian De Palma's Carrie. While Chris and her greaser boyfriend (John Travolta) met with a violent but well-deserved end on-screen, Nancy herself ultimately won out by claiming director De Palma as her husband. She next displayed a keen comic sense in the role of the only teenager on Earth who doesn't love the Beatles in Robert Zemeckis' I Want to Hold Your Hand (1976); thereafter, for the next seven years she appeared only in DePalma's films. She carried on a heated argument with her own hand in Home Movies (1979), was threatened by a knife-wielding psycho in Dressed to Kill (1980), and literally died for John Travolta's art in Blow-Out (1981). After her divorce from DePalma in 1984, Nancy's film opportunities narrowed, though she was memorable as take-no-guff police officer Anne Lewis in the three Robocop flicks. In 1993, Nancy Allen joined several other veteran stars in Acting on Impulse, a made-for-cable send-up of the horror films that first brought her fame. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/31/04:

what a stretch! -- In this context, "stretch" refers to the degree of difficulty a person may have in handling something -- in other words, how far they must "stretch" beyond their familiar and comfortable boundaries in order to succeed in something. We often use this term ironically, however, to suggest that something is not hard at all. That is what the author is doing here: suggesting that for an actress named Nancy, playing the role of a character named Nancy would not be much of a "stretch."

set the standard -- established the criteria, set the mark, acted as a prototype. Here, the author is saying that Nancy's portrayal has been the standard of reference for all subsequent characters of this kind. We might say the same thing about, say, Yul Brynner's portrayal of the King of Siam.

bitch-goddess teenagers -- This is an unflattering term to describe teenaged girls (high-school age) who are beautiful (or believe themselves to be), vain, spoiled, and obnoxious to those they deem to be inferior. The term "bitch-goddess" draws its descriptive force from the juxtaposition of two such disparate terms: bitch, which is an extremely derogatory term for a woman (conveying nastiness and rude behavior), and goddess, which literally refers to a female deity. Hearing the term, one thinks of a stereotyped rich girl who is obsessed with her personal appearance, her social standing, and her power over others who do not measure up to her level.

met with a violent end -- died, or was destroyed, by violence.

met with a violent but well-deserved end -- died, or was destroyed by violence... and deservedly so. The author has added the additional modifier "well-deserved" using "but" in order to state that the character's "end" (i.e., death) was both violent and well-deserved.

on-screen -- in the film (referring to the screen on which a motion picture is projected, or the television screen on which the picture could be seen later).

won out -- A phrasal verb that simply means "won." In my opinion, the addition of "out" accomplishes little or nothing, and it ought to be omitted.

carried on a heated argument with her own hand -- I have not seen this film, but evidently it depicts someone having an argument with her hand. As far as I can tell, this phrase literally means what it says -- the character's hand is capable of independent thought and action, and the character must argue with it (presumably to talk it out of doing bad things). In a different expression we talk of doing something "by [one's] own hand," which means "personally," "by oneself" (often without assistance). The phrase you have highlighted, however, does not have this meaning.

take-no-guff -- "Guff" is a slang term for disrespectful or defiant or dissembling words spoken by one person to another. "Take-no-guff" would mean that the person will not "take" (tolerate) any nonsense from others. It describes someone who will take charge and remain in control of any situation. (This term was coined by the author of the piece; it is not an everyday expression in English, although people would easily understand it.)

send-up -- spoof; parody.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/28/04 - Deal with & handle

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "to deal with something/someone" and "to handle something/someone"?

If so, when do you the former and when do you use the latter?

Also, are there any cases in which the two phrases may be used interchangeably?

If so, when? Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/29/04:

Mr. Nitpick here.

There is one alternate meaning of "deal with" for which "handle" would not be a good substitute. That is the meaning of "treat" or "cover" or "involve."

This introductory course does not deal with partial differential equations. We don't get to those until the intermediate-level course.

This first volume deals with background information, while the second one deals more with the specific instructions for building the boat. If you already know a lot about the subject, maybe you can skip the first one.

I would like a book that deals with the 14th Century styles in greater detail. What can you recommend?

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/28/04 - Follow one's instinct/instincts

Dear ESL Experts:

Does the phrase "to follow one's instinct/instincts" exist in American English?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/29/04:

Yes, very much. Most often I see instincts (plural) when there is a general reference to using one's feelings about a situation as a guide. Instinct (singular) might be chosen where a particular sensation or feeling is being referred to. When in doubt, I would use the plural.

In addition to "follow," it is also common to hear "obey" or "listen to" one's instincts.

I have trouble figuring out all the technical specifications. I just follow my instincts as to which one is better.

The map says we should turn left, but all my instincts tell me the house is down to the right. I think I had better follow my instincts.

If you're nervous about going out with Eric, then don't. You should follow your instincts.

When it comes right down to it, there is only so much research and analysis you can do. At some point you just have to follow your instincts.

When we reached the rocky stream, his footprints could no longer be seen. I followed my instinct and turned upstream. Sure enough, about 1/4 mile up, the footprints appeared again.
Of course, following one's instincts is the opposite of making a decision based on fact and analysis. It is an intuitive, feelings-based method of deciding.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/28/04 - I have seen this movie before

Dear ESL Experts:

Is the phrase "I have seen this movie before" ever used figuratively in U.S. English?

If so, in which cases?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/29/04:

The phrase I've seen this movie before appears occasionally in the figurative sense, meaning "I know how this will end" or "I know where this path/course of events will lead." It often carries the further meaning of " ... and I do not intend to go there."

I wasn't about to go down that dark alley alone. No way. I've seen that movie before.

We'd rather see you hit your milestones and make a profit than miss your numbers and lose control once you've burned through your cash and need to go to the bank for another handout. We've seen that movie before, and the ending isn't pretty.

We're not going to risk shutting down the whole government over your stupid idea. Sorry. I've seen that movie before, and we're not going there.

The story here sounds incredibly familiar. One guy builds version 1 in a few months and then a team of 15 can' build version 2 for years and years. Tell me you haven't seen that movie before.

So where does this leave us? Certainly not in retreat or appeasement as Friedman suggests. We've seen that movie before and we don' recommend it.
I cannot think of very many similar expressions. The ones that occur to me include:
I've heard that tune before.

Been there, done that.

We all know where that leads.
Hope that helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/27/04 - What strikes me...

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian we say, for instance, "What strikes me is the fact that, despite no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, President Bush is still quite popular among Americans" or "It strikes me that Benito Mussolini is still regarded by many Italians as a great statesman, although he led the country to defeat in World War II"?

Is "What strikes me.../It strikes me..." used in the same way in U.S. English?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

Any alternatives to "What/It strikes me that..."?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/28/04:

Your usage looks exactly correct and appropriate. "What strikes me is that ..." and "It strikes me that ... " are both in common use in the U.S., just as presented in your example sentences.

"What strikes me is that ... " would most often be used to convey the idea, "I find it striking that ... " In other words, the remainder of the sentence presents a thought or circumstance that is to be viewed as surprising or shocking or outrageous.

What strikes me most about the new tax plan is that two-income families will have to pay almost twice as much as before.

I have read this twice, and what strikes me is the skill with which the Senator has utterly glossed over the real issues here.

No, you have understood this matter perfectly. What strikes me is how few other people have been able to see what you saw.

Our roof is about to collapse, yet what strikes me is not so much that we cannot get money for repairs but that there seems to be unlimited money for the landscaping out front!

What struck me most about the film was the fact that no one ever seemed to smile.

It strikes me that so many kids graduate from high school without learning to read properly.
However, both expressions (and especially "it strikes me") may also be used in a context of musing, or thinking out loud. In such sense, they are more similar to phrases such as "it occurs to me that ... " or "I find myself wondering whether ... " or "I was just thinking that ... "
It strikes me that light blue might work better for the curtains in here.

Hmmm. You're probably right about the lemon tree. It strikes me that our gardener should have noticed the problem sooner, however.

This first paragraph strikes me as a little too forced and artificial.

That's a good suggestion, John. It strikes me, though, that most of the people in the department won't like having to fill out another form.

This looks like a good schedule. What strikes me is that we may have some trouble getting people back into the room quickly after lunch. You might want to add a little more time for this.
Some expressions similar to the first ("I find it striking") meaning:
I find it striking that ...

I find it amazing/astonishing/remarkable/extraordinary that ...

What stands out/leaps out/jumps out is that ...

The most amazing/astonishing/remarkable/extraordinary part is ...

The amazing/astonishing/remarkable/extraordinary thing is ...

Not only that, but ...

Moreover ...

Unbelievably ...

Amazingly/remarkably ...

Can you believe/imagine this?
Some expressions similar to the second ("It occurs to me") meaning:
It occurs to me ...

In my opinion ...

It seems to me ...

I was just wondering/thinking ...

Maybe ...

What do you think about ...

I had a thought ...

Off the top of my head ...

I may be wrong about this, but ...
In this second meaning, "it strikes me" is often used as a gesture of politeness, in an effort to cushion or soften a suggestion or opinion. Thus, rather than simply announcing that "purple does not go with the yellow and blue color scheme in this room," a person might soften the blow by stating, "It strikes me that purple may not go with the yellow and blue color scheme in this room." Similar softening is available with many other expressions, such as "I wonder whether... " and "I am not sure if ..."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/27/04 - Turn over a new leaf & turn the corner

Dear ESL Experts:

How common is the phrase "to turn over a new leaf" in American English?

Do you have some other figurative expressions to express this concept?

Does "to turn the corner" have the same meaning as "to turn over a new leaf"?

If not, would you please explain when it's correct to use "to turn over a new leaf" and when it's appropriate to use "to turn the corner"?

Examples are always very welcome.

Many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/28/04:

We say that someone "turns over a new leaf" when they make a significant change for the better in their way of living or behaving, rejecting past errors. This is often expressed as an avowed intention:

As soon as I get out of the hospital, I am going to turn over a new leaf: No more beer, and no more cigarettes!

Eric has not missed a single class this month. He truly must have turned over a new leaf.

Ever since he was grounded by his parents, Alex has turned over a new leaf and does his homework every night.

Carrie, I'm tired of being sent to the principal's office all the time. How can I turn over a new leaf and stop getting into trouble so often?

Despite all his claims, I don't think Peter has turned over a new leaf at all. He insists that he wants to be a good father to his children, yet he never comes home to see them.

Microsoft claims it has turned over a new leaf, and will no longer impose such oppressive licensing terms.
The expression "to turn the corner" means to pass the critical stage; to get by the worst point. In usage, it often means to begin to improve, or to succeed.
We knew Mary had turned the corner once her fever broke. She should be back on her feet in a few days.

Although the economic news has been positive, a lot of people are still not convinced that the economy has turned the corner toward improvement.

We still have a lot of funds to raise for the symphony orchestra, but with the Johnson donation I think we have definitely turned the corner. We should have no trouble reaching our goal now.

We keep sending more firefighters to the scene, but the fire is stilll burning out of control. I don't know when we're going to turn the corner.

These statistics show that we are starting to turn the corner on violent crime in this city. Our new enforcement program seems to be working.
The two expressions are not really interchangeable, although they address related subjects. I suppose you could combine them, in what would become a kind of cliché festival:
Johnny wanted to turn over a new leaf, but he just couldn't seem to turn the corner.
Related expressions for "to turn over a new leaf":
to make a fresh start

to begin anew

to put the past behind [one]

to make a New Year's resolution

to start over

to start with a clean slate

to see the light

to make a clean break with the past
Related expressions for "to turn the corner":
to be past the worst of it

to be out of the woods

to be over the hump

to be on the home stretch

to be on the downhill side

to have broken the back (or spine) of

to get the better of

to get one's arms around

to see light at the end of the tunnel

to have the end in sight
Of the two expressions, "turn the corner" is probably the easiest and safest to use, because (a) it is less of a cliché, and (b) it is almost always used in a simple, straightforward sense. On the other hand, "turn over a new leaf" registers higher on the "cliché-meter," and is often used in a sarcastic or skeptical sense. So many people vow to change, but then fail to do so, that there is often an impulse to roll one's eyes in skepticism when hearing that someone is "turning over a new leaf." Because of this, it is an expression that is perhaps best saved for speeches and editorial writing, where more stylized language is both permitted and expected.

If you were to pick up an American newspaper, it is virtually certain that you would find the expression "to turn the corner" in a number of different articles. It is less likely that you would find "to turn over a new leaf," and if you did find it, the odds would be at least 50-50 that it had been used in a skeptical or stylish sense.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/27/04 - RE: Expect - wait

Dear Rich:

Thank you very much for your prompt response.

Just one more question:

Answering the phone, should I say "I expected your call" or "I was expecting your call"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "Answering the phone, should I say 'I expected your call' or 'I was expecting your call'?" correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/27/04:

Probably the most common expression would be "I've been expecting your call."

I agree with Rich on the formulation of your question. Another conversational approach would be, "In answering the phone, should I say ... " or "When answering the phone, ... "

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/25/04 - Be your own best

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Be your own best" mean?

Is this phrase/expression particularly common in American English?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use it?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/27/04:

The expression would always be followed with a noun, as in

Be your own best friend

Be your own best advocate

Be your own best critic

Be your own best editor

Be your own best coach
The expression makes the rhetorical point that a person can take on personal responsibility for something that is usually done by others. It is frequently heard in self-help or motivational settings:
Don't wait for someone else to "rescue" you. You can be your own best teacher. You can learn how to succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

The responsibility is yours. You must be your own best watchdog, and guard against anything that might cause a relapse.

I discovered that I have to be my own best doctor in order to stay on top of this disease. No one else cares about me as much as I do!

Jill, sometimes you have to be your own best girlfriend when it comes to dealing with boys and sex.

After years of guitar lessons, I have discovered that I am my own best teacher.
The important thing with this expression is not just that one is taking personal responsibility or initiative, but that one is doing so by changing one's perspective on the situation. Instead of looking for others to perform this role, one is looking inward.

"Be your own best friend" is the most common version of this expression, almost always in a self-help setting.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/26/04 - Rumour has it that... - Legend has it that...

Dear ESL Experts:

When do you use the introductory clauses "Rumour has it that..." and "Legend has it that..."?

Would you please give me some examples?

Besides "rumour" and "legend," what other words can precede and be used in the structure/construction "...has it that..."?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/27/04:

Rumour (British spelling) or rumor (American spelling): This term denotes current gossip or intelligence that is making the rounds just now (or just at the time referred to in the statement).

Legend, on the other hand, involves received information from the past. It would not normally be used to denote current gossip.

Thus:

Rumor has it that you've got a new boyfriend.

Jack looks perfectly normal today, but rumor has it that his wife walked out on him last night.

Rumor has it that Spielberg's next movie will star Diana Keaton.

I'm not sure, but rumor has it that someone in the department is going to be fired.
But:
Legend has it that Bill Gates wrote his first computer program when he was 12 years old.

Legend has it that a bale of straw fell into a barley farmer's pond in Scotland, and
not so long after he noticed a reduction of algae in the pond.

Legend has it that this monastery is where Tibet's first Buddhist scriptures were received in the 3rd century.
It is hard to think of other words that would fit neatly into the "____ has it that ..." formula. Occasionally one may hear "reliable rumor has it that ...." The addition of the word "reliable" may or may not be tongue-in-cheek or playful, depending on the context.

Otherwise, some equivalent introductory expressions might include:
I hear ...

They say ...

Word is that ...

The buzz is that ...

Did you hear ... ?

Did you know ... ?

Wait 'til you hear this ... !
Words like "grapevine" and "rumor mill" are used to denote the metaphorical machinery by which rumors are transmitted throughout a group or population. Thus, another equivalent to "rumor has it" would be "I hear through the grapevine that ...."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/26/04 - Make no mistake

Dear ESL Experts:

I often hear President Bush say "Make no mistake (about it/this/that),..."

Is this phrase expression/phrase particularly common in U.S. English?

If so, when do you use it?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/27/04:

It is a rhetorical flourish that would be found in speeches, newspaper editorials, and occasional florid movie dialogue. It conveys the notion, "Although this may seem like an extreme statement, I am deadly serious in making it." In George Bush's case, it often carries the meaning, "Although you may doubt our resolve in stating this, I am here to tell you that we stand behind every word of it."

Examples:

Make no mistake about it: This new legislation will spell the end of Medicare as we know it.

Make no mistake about it … these people are our enemies. To deny this would be foolish and to empower them in any way is a mistake of the first order. (David Keene)

Make no mistake about this. Those who believe they have found a loophole in God's law are deceived.

Microsoft is going to war on open source. Make no mistake about this. I believe the primary method will be to launch patent lawsuits, and that this war will start fairly soon. Microsoft has explicitly threatened to do this, and I don't know how the open-source community can respond. (Dan Gillmor)

But make no mistake about this one: "The Legend of Bagger Vance" is the story of golfer Rannulph Junuh. If this movie isn't good, it's at least intentionally confusing, which may be what studios strive for when they're trying to get outside the cookie cutter. (Andy Stilp)

Bill C-55 is a serious threat to the freedom of Canadians. Let us make no mistake about that.

By all accounts, this is a bad movie... make no mistake about that.
This kind of expression must be used with some care, because it teeters on the brink of melodrama, and can create an over-the-top quality that actually detracts from its purpose. In a proper setting, however, it is a useful tool for editorial and speech writers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/25/04 - Expect - wait

Dear Rich:

What is the difference between "to expect something/someone" and "to wait for something/someone"?

Would you please give me some examples of when it's correct to use the former and when it's appropriate to use the latter?

Are there any cases in which they are interchangeable?

If so, would you also give me some examples, please?

For instance, is there any difference between "I was expecting your (telephone) call" and "I was waiting for your (telephone) call"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/26/04:

To the extent that there is similarity between French and Italian, I can see some possible confusion. In French, the same verb -- attendre -- is used to express both to expect and to wait. I do not know whether the same thing happens in Italian, but if so, it would be puzzling to see two different verbs in English.

As Rich has said, "to expect" and "to wait for" have a significant area of overlap. To add to the complexity, there is a third verb, "to await," that has similar meaning and overlap. "To await" often means essentially the same thing as "to wait for."

Bill is awaiting/waiting for his test results.
However, "await" can also be used in a more abstract or impersonal sense:
The sewer project is still awaiting final approval from the Planning Commission.
"Await" and "expect" are transitive and normally take an object. (The only exception that comes to mind: When a woman is described as "expecting," it means she is pregnant.) "Wait" does not take an object without a preposition (such as "for"). Thus, you could say that someone "sat in the reception area and waited," but you would not say that the person "sat in the reception area and expected" or "sat in the reception area and awaited."

Here is an example of non-interchangeability:
Are we ready to go to the theater?
No, we need to wait for grandpa. He said he would be here in five minutes.
Here, "wait for" is the only possble choice. It conveys the literal act of "waiting" which will continue until a specific condition is satisfied. Similarly:
I'll be there is just a second. I'm just waiting for the computer to shut down.

Wait for me, OK? I just need to run in and buy some cough drops.

I can't wait for the new Playstation console to come out. It's going to be awesome!
"Expect" carries with it notions of anticipation and likelihood. "Wait for" and "await" may carry only notions of desire -- in other words, it would be nice if something occurred or someone arrived, but there may be no reason to believe that it will happen. On the other hand, if something or someone is "expected," there must be some basis for the expectation.

Thus, if we "expect" something or someone, our present belief is that this expectation will be, or ought to be, fulfilled:
I am expecting three new patients this morning, so we need to make sure all the instruments are sterilized.

The coach expects his players to spend at least one hour per day running on the track.

I was expecting a decent grade on this paper, but I never guessed I would get an A+ on it!

I never expected Mary to have such an interest in science. She seemed more like the artistic type to me.

I'm expecting new orders any minute now. The captain said we're going to ship out this week for sure.
On the other hand, "waiting for" something or someone may occur in a context of uncertainty.
We can't place an order for those new machines yet. We are still waiting for approval from headquarters. [Note: "awaiting" would also work here.]

What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?

I have been waiting for Bill since three o'clock, and there's no sign of him. I wonder if he forgot about our meeting?

You might as well wait for the sun to rise in the west, Allison. He's never going to ask you out on a date.
On your specific question about possible differences between "I was expecting your (telephone) call" and "I was waiting for your (telephone) call":

These convey a similar meaning, but they would often be used in slightly different situations.

"I was expecting your call" might be used in these contexts:
I was prepared to receive a call from you. [Meaning: something occurred that would logically lead to a call -- perhaps an incident at school that would lead a teacher to call the parent]

Someone else told me you would call.

I requested that a representative of your company telephone me.
In other words, the call was almost certain to take place.

"I was waiting for your call" adds the notion that something depended on the call, or that the person was consciously noting the passage of time until the call arrived (or didn't).
Oh, thank goodness you're safe. I was waiting for your call.

What a brilliant idea! I've been waiting for someone to figure out a solution to that problem.

I would love to start on your kitchen, Mr. Snyder, but we're still waiting for the wallpaper to arrive.

Are you still waiting for Glenda? I think I saw her at the restaurant already.

This is the big chance you've been waiting for! Now you can get a deluxe widescreen TV and a complete home theater speaker system for an amazingly low price!
Hope these examples will help.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/25/04 - But they blew me off

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please explain the parts that I have put in bold in the following passage?

"I was in bad shape, physically and financially. I had just appeared in Predator 2. I asked Playboy if they would run something on me being in the movie as a way of helping me out. I needed to make some money. But they blew me off. It was like they got five years out of me, and this was the perfect opportunity for the kiss off."

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/26/04:

I was in bad shape, physically and financially. I had just appeared in Predator 2. I asked Playboy if they would run something on me being in the movie as a way of helping me out. I needed to make some money. But they blew me off. It was like they got five years out of me, and this was the perfect opportunity for the kiss off.

Let me break the items you have questions about into slightly different pieces.

run something: publish an article.

run something on: publish an article "on" (about) the topic that follows.

me being in the movie: this is the topic that the proposed article would cover. The topic would be the fact that this woman was in a movie.

The full construction is put together as follows:

run something on me being in the movie
blew me off: refused, with no apology. This is one of a number of expressions indicating a firm, regret-free refusal to agree to something. Other expressions include:
told me to take a hike

told me to get lost

told me to beat it

told me to pound sand (or salt)

told me to stick it in my ear

sent me packing
This expression is also used by students who skip a class, or anyone who decides not to participate in something:
I blew off Algebra this morning. I can't stand that teacher.

Alice invited me to see her new art exhibit, but I decided to blow it off because I was so tired.

Don't bother asking Gerard for help on your paper. He's blown me off every time I have tried to get help.
kiss off: farewell; parting. This is an ironic way of expressing that someone has terminated some sort of relationship.

Normally, when people who have an affectionate relationship part (i.e., a husband leaves the house to go to the office), they engage in a goodbye kiss. Here, the idea of "kiss" is used sarcastically. It is probably related to (and calls to mind) the expression, "kiss my ass." Telling someone to "kiss off" is a rude and forceful way of ending a relationship, or expressing refusal to enter a relationship.

In this example, it continues the concept of having been "blown off" on the request for a specific article; apparently, Playboy has not only refused that particular request, but has decided to end any and all further relationship with the speaker. ("Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out" is another expression that comes to mind -- and which would not be used in polite company.)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/23/04 - Get something/someone started

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "to get something/someone started" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

If "to get something/someone going" exists, does it have the same meaning as "to get something/someone started"?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/24/04:

I am wondering whether you may be referring to a vernacular use that conveys, in substance, "don't say another word on that subject."

In the television series "All in the Family," Archie Bunker frequently said to his wife, "Now don't get me started, Edith."

This was meant as a warning: Do not pursue this particular conversation any further, because I am likely to become very agitated about the subject.

This same expression can be used in contexts where one person has extremely deep and detailed feelings about a subject, or a vast array of knowledge on a subject. In both cases, while "don't get me started" or "don't get him started" would still be a form of warning, the warning is not that the person will lose his or her temper; the warning is that once they start to talk about the subject, the talk will go on for quite a long time. In other words, don't invite this discussion unless you are prepared to listen to an extensive lecture on the subject.

Hey, don't get me started on the failures of the government in environmental matters.

Don't get him started on stamp collecting. We' be here all night!

Oh, please don't get George started on our vacation trip to Hawaii. The next thing you know, he'll be getting out the slide projector and playing his ukulele.
To some degree, 'going" can be substituted for "started" in situations like those in the examples above. It is a question of idiomatic use.

There is an entirely different meaning of "to get someone going" that you should be aware of. (It is related to, and indeed more commonly expressed by, "to have someone going.") The idea is that some stimulus, or hope, or expectation has caused a person to become excited or agitated or enthusiastic about something. It is typically used where new information reveals that the excitement, agitation, or enthusiasm was misplaced or mistaken.
She really got me going when she asked whether I could come over to her apartment last night, but then I discovered that she had invited four other guys as well to help her move some furniture. So much for a romantic evening!

Oh, you really had me going there for a minute. I'm glad you explained that it was all a joke.

You should have seen the look on her face! He really had her going with the phony police report.

I can't believe that I fell for that old trick. He really got me going with his fake injury.

I had you going there for a minute, didn't I? Serves you right for your prank.
Finally, there is a use in which "got something going"indicates that a person has some sort of ongoing relationship with another:
It's obvious that Bill has got something going with Ellen. They are never apart.
The same meaning would be expressed by "has something going."

I mention these alternate usages, of course, in addition to the obvious and literal meaning "to get started" and "to get going" which is "to commence" or "to set into motion" (and in the case of "to get going," to embark or to set out).

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/23/04 - Give oneself away = whore oneself

Dear ESL Experts:

Does "to give oneself away" have the same meaning as "to whore oneself"?

Are there any cases in which both "to give oneself away" and "to whore oneself" may be used figuratively?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

For instance, should I say/write, "Unlike other beautiful actresses, he never whored herself for a movie role" or "Unlike other beautiful actresses, he never gave herself away for a movie role"?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/24/04:

At the risk of stating the obvious, let us be clear that "whore" is a fairly strong term meaning "prostitute." My Italian/English dictionary gives translations of meretrice and prostituta. I think that to an American ear it sounds more like puttana.

The point is, by using the term "whore" you are making a very strong and demeaning statement about the person in question. (By the way, my regular English dictionary recognizes only the intransitive verb use of "to whore," but because there is a recognized transitive usage of "prostitute," namely, "to prostitute oneself," I have no doubt that an American reader or listener would understand "to whore oneself." I do not remember seeing that usage before, however.)

Part of the usage question is this: Do you want to convey literally that the actress agreed to perform sexual favors in order to obtain movie roles, or do you simply mean that she lowered her standards and accepted roles that were beneath her? "To prostitute oneself" could have both meanings, but in the context of artistic endeavors such as acting, the latter meaning (lowering standards or "selling out" for a quick buck) would be more usual. Because people seeing "whored herself" will be thinking "prostituted herself," they will immediately try to discern which meaning you have in mind.

I cannot tell, myself, which meaning you wish to convey. This suggests that a different wording would be more surefooted.

Part of the lore of Hollywood is the "casting couch," a comfortable sofa in a producer's office where beautiful young women could "try out" for a movie role by having sex with the producer. No doubt there is some historical basis for this term, and no doubt there are those who would do just about anything for a shot at a major film role. At the same time, whenever we see film actors or actresses who seem to lack talent and/or seem totally unsuited to a role, we have to wonder whether a "casting couch" -- or its equivalent -- must have been involved.

But the other, and more figurative, meaning would involve an actor or actress who accepted sleazy roles in order to get some kind of film track record, as a stepping-stone to more desirable roles. If a gorgeous young actress accepted roles in cheap "sexploitation" movies, where acting talent counted for little and she was only required to look provocative and sexy, that might well be described as "prostituting" her talent, or "selling out."

Finally, as Schoolmarm has noted, "to give oneself away" normally refers to an act of letting a secret slip out. It would not be a suitable substitute for "whore" or "prostitute" because a typical reader or listener would not understand it as meaning what you have in mind.

Thus, with respect to your specific questions:

    1. I would not consider the two expressions to be equivalent. Moreover, I do not consider "to whore oneself" to be a valid English expression, although people would understand it to mean "to prostitute oneself." "To whore oneself" sounds awkward and crude.

    2. In the meaning of "to prostitute oneself," a figurative sense is often intended. One might say this, for example, about an accomplished fine art painter who must support himself financially by making illustrations for advertising. The logic would be that (a) the illustrations are far from being fine art, and (b) he is only doing it for the money. One might say that he is prostituting himself, or his talent, or his art.

    3. I am not sure what to suggest for examples, because I am not certain what meaning you intend to convey. The two examples you have proposed would not work for me, because (a) "whored herself" sounds crude and awkward, and (b) "gave herself away" would not make sense to a typical reader in this setting (they would be thinking about the more common meaning of giving away a secret).

The right way to express your thought would depend on two things: the meaning you wish to convey, and how euphemistic you want to be about it. Because the overall thrust of this sentence is a favorable and complimentary one, it would be incongruous to use something graphic and crude to express your thoughts. Some possibilities:

Unlike other beautiful actresses, she never had to sell out to gain a movie role.

Unlike other beautiful actresses, she never had to sleep with the producer to gain a movie role.

Unlike other beautiful actresses, her accomplishments are based on true talent. She never needed a casting couch to get a role.
(By the way, note that an actress (female) is referred to as "she" rather than "he.")

For what it's worth, the premise in your example -- that beautiful actresses typically must use sex to "buy" their way into desirable roles -- would be a fairly touchy subject in a lot of settings. It would be safer to say something such as "Despite the myth about beautiful actresses ..." or "Hollywood legends notwithstanding, this beautiful actress has never had to ..."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/21/04 - Catch one's eye - catch one's attention

Dear Rich:

When do you use "to catch one's/somone's eye" and when do you use "to catch one's/someone's attention"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which the two may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you also give me some examples?



As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/23/04:

One obvious distinction is that "to catch one's eye" would be appropriate only when the use of an eye (vision) makes sense, either literally or metaphorically.

Thus, most commonly, we say that someone or something "caught my eye" when we have just been looking at it.

I don't have a problem with most of this contract, Alex, but the language in paragraph 8 really caught my eye. What kind of stunt are you trying to pull, anyway?

It looked like just another boring day in History class until a new girl in the third row caught his eye.

It wasn't until his own child was kidnapped that the whole issue of child safety caught the Senator's eye.
In fact, we have an English word -- eyecatching -- that denotes the character of something that stands out and attracts attention. It is usually used in a favorable sense, meaning that the attention it attracts is favorable. And it refers specifically to visual qualities of the item in question.
She wore an eyecatching gown of gold and black.

That's really an eyecatching design, Jack. I think the client will love it.
Catching an eye would make no sense where, for example, the person in question was listening to the radio, or groping in the dark, or otherwise affected by something non-visual:
Just then, a snapping twig caught my attention.

We were about to walk further until the unmistakable sound of swarming bees caught our attention.

The skunk let loose right under our front window. Boy, did that catch our attention!
Perhaps the simplest way to view the distinction is this: Attention can involve any of the senses, whereas an eye is involved only in things that are visual. If the subject involves the act of seeing, or something that can be seen, there is a good chance that the expressions could be used interchangeably. If a different sense is involved, or perhaps no sense at all (i.e., the person is engaged in reflection and a thought or memory has caught his attention), than a reference to "catching" an "eye" would probably not make sense.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/22/04 - Room & space

Dear Rich:

What is the difference between "room" and "space"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Are there any cases in which the two may be used interchangeably?

If so, would you also give me some examples, please?

For instance, should I say "In the back of this car, there's room for no more than four people" or "In the back of this car, there's space for no more than four people"?

Is the phrase "to leave room/space to something/someone" (speculation/immagination/etc.) ever used in a figurative way?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/23/04:

Is the phrase "to leave room/space to something/someone" (speculation/immagination/etc.) ever used in a figurative way?"

We hear "room" used frequently in the figurative sense I think you mean:

There's a lot of room for speculation as to how many weapons really existed.

I don't want to go forward with this project unless there is absolutely no room for doubt that it will work.

Politicians never make clear, unambiguous statements. They always want to keep some room to maneuver.

Well, sure, Mr. Baker, there's a lot of room to guess where the prosecutor wants to go with this case. Our job is to prepare based on what we already know.

Every actor knows that no matter how good he or she becomes, there is always room for improvement.

The President came out pretty firmly in favor of this new policy, but he did leave himself some wiggle-room in case the whole thing backfires.

Spend as much time as you need writing this language, George. I don't want to leave any room for misinterpretation.

They paid him such a big advance on the book that it didn't leave much room for profits later on.

This new anti-spam law is very strict, leaving very little room for error.

Though the technology itself doesn't leave much room for debate, the social impact is troubling.

The way he made that challenge, it doesn't leave much room for him to back down.
Note that we use "for" rather than "to" in these constructions.

Try as I might, I cannot think of any comparable figurative uses of "space" in these kinds of phrases. I think this is another case where people would probably understand what was being said, but would think that it sounded a bit unusual.

There is a somewhat related figurative use of "space" in pop culture, but in this use the "space" is an end in itself (and often has a somewhat sacred or meditative quality):
I just need you to give me some space. [meaning = keep your distance; leave me alone]

Everybody needs to find their own space.

I look forward to the late afternoon, when I can relax and be in my own space.

Seek a quiet environment. Find your own space where you feel calm, such as a secluded room, a park or a place of worship.
I have occasionally heard this referred to as "breathing space."

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/22/04 - Get something wrong - get something right

Dear ESL Experts:

When do you use "to get something right" and "to get something wrong"?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use these two phrases?

Is "to get someone right/wrong" also possible?

If so, would you please give me a couple of examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/23/04:

A few additional notes.

    1. In vernacular English, a common rejoinder of agreement is, "You got that right! " The stress is on the word that:

"You gonna see Donna tonight? " "You got that right, my man! "

"I think maybe it's time for us to leave, Miss Whittaker." "You got that right, brother."
    2. The expression "Don't get me wrong" is often used to introduce a statement of excuse or explanation, as a way of saying "don't read too much into what I am about to tell you, but ..."
Hey, don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't like children. I just don't like having all that noise right under my window when I'm trying to work.

Now don't get me wrong, Mr. Dumont. There's nothing I would like better than to extend this loan to you. Unfortunately, our bank has rules, and I must follow them.
    3. Another expression in the same vein is "You've got me all wrong." This seems to pop up in movie and television dialogue more than real life. It is a protest (usually by someone who has been caught red-handed) that others are misinterpreting the circumstances:
Now wait a minute, Jill. You've got me all wrong. I'm not trying to break up our marriage.

You've got me all wrong, Harry. I have no intention of hurting you. I have nothing but your best interests at heart.
In a similar movie-dialogue vein, we could refer to "it" or "this thing" instead of "me":
You've got it all wrong, Aaron. Nobody's out to get you.

You've got this thing all wrong, boss! I wasn't shootin' at you. The gun, it went off accidentally, see?
    4. I cannot remember encountering the expression, "to get a person right." It is common enough to hear wrong, but right sounds unusual to me. (However, it would be understood, I am confident.) To convey the meaning that a person has been properly understood or evaluated ("got right") I would expect other idiomatic expressions such as these:
He's got her pegged.

She's got his number.

That's her, to a T.
In summary, it seems to me that with inanimate objects or concepts, both "get wrong" and "get right" are appropriate and commonly used, but with people only "get wrong" is commonly heard.

That's the way it is, I suppose. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/22/04 - That's the way it is

Dear ESL Experts:

Are the following three phrases commonly used in American English?

1) That's the way it is
2) That's how the world goes
3) That's how things are/go

If all three are common in US English, do they convey the same meaning?

If so, would you please give me some examples of when it's correct and appropriate to use them?

Also, would you please give me some other phrases that have the same or a similar meaning?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/23/04:

How strange -- somehow my answer turned into a clarification. ("I guess that's just how it goes!" :-)) Here it is in the proper location:

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American journalist Walter Cronkite spent 19 years as the anchorman for the "CBS Evening News" on television, often described in this time as "the most trusted man in America." Cronkite ended each news broadcast with the phrase, "And that' the way it is." While Cronkite did not invent this phrase, his use of it night after night certainly planted it in the popular mind.

In his use of the phrase, Cronkite sought to conclude his broadcast with the thought that the viewers now knew something about the state of the world that day. It was not a statement of resignation or fatalism; it was an assertion that the news broadcast had succeeded in summarizing things well, and a reassurance that you could trust him to give you the true picture.

Years later, musician Bruce Hornsby had a hit recording of a song he wrote called "That's Just the Way It Is," It was a pessimistic song, lamenting the fact that people continued to mistreat others on the basis of poverty, race, and misfortune.

That's just the way it is;
Some things will never change.
In today's world, Hornsby's meaning (amplified by the addition of the word "just") is the one commonly conveyed. It is a non-answer to the implied question, Why? It is a way of saying, I wish I knew. Or, What's the point of trying to figure this out? Or, God moves in mysterious ways. Or, It is so because I say it's so. I describe it as a non-answer because it contains no explanation; it merely asserts, "it is because it is," and there's nothing that can be done about it.

Your examples (2) and (3) would be understandable to American speakers, but might not be used in those exact words. For example (2), I would expect to hear "That's how it goes" in everyday writing or conversation.
Sorry you didn't make the team. That's how it goes, I guess.
Author Kurt Vonnegut, in his book Slaughterhouse Five, used the related phrase "and so it goes" throughout the book as a kind of theme.

For example (3), I would expect to hear "That's the way things are." There is nothing wrong with the wording you have used; it is grammatical, and people would understand it. It just sounds like a less common way of phrasing the thought.

With the first phrase, "that's the way it is," there is an additional meaning for which the other phrases cannot substitute. In that meaning, the speaker is delivering an ultimatum:
I have told you my terms. There will be no more discussion. That's the way it is.

You may not like it, but that's the way it is. Get in there and get to work.
In the more common usage of "that's the way it is" -- meaning, We can't always control what happens to us -- other expressions include:
That's the breaks.

You win some, you lose some.

That's the way the cookie crumbles.

That's how the ball bounces.
The suitability of these other expressions would depend on precisely what meaning is sought to be conveyed.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/21/04 - She's fun & she's funny

Dear Rich:

What is the difference between "She's fun" and "She's funny"?

Would you please give me some examples of when it's correct to use the first and when it's appropriate to use the second?

Are there any cases in which the two are interchangeable?

If so, when? Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

P.S. Is the question "Would you please give me some examples of when it's correct to use the first and when it's appropriate to use the second?" correct and well-formulated?

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/22/04:

It is important to note that there is an additional meaning of "funny" that has nothing to do with "fun" or "humor."

It can also mean "weird" or "strange" or "curious" or "off-kilter."

Thus, if someone says, "It's funny you should mention that," they mean it is curious or surprising or perhaps coincidental that the matter has been mentioned, not that it is humorous. It might equally be expressed, "How interesting (or extraordinary) that you should mention that just now."

In your example, if you did not know from the context that you were talking about humor, the use of the word "funny" could denote something else:

Whatever you do, don't talk about spiders or snakes. Shes funny about those things. [meaning = she has an odd reaction]

In all the years I have known her, she has never let anyone buy her a drink. I guess she's kind of funny that way. [meaning = quirky, out of the ordinary]

That's funny -- I was absolutely positive I had set my glasses on this countertop. Now, where are they? [meaning = strange]

Don't you dare try any funny stuff with me! [meaning = underhanded, tricky]

It's funny that she left without saying goodbye; I wonder what's wrong? [funny = curious, unexpected]
As always, hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/21/04 - Be done/finished - Have done/finished

Dear ESL Experts:

Which of the following two is correct and natural - "to be done/finished (with something/someone)" or "to have done/finished (with something/someone)"?

If both phrases are correct and possible, when do you use the first and when do you use the second?

Would you please give me some examples?

For instance, should I say "Have you done/finished with the salt/newspaper/computer?" or "Are you done/finished with the salt/newspaper/computer"?

"Just a couple of minutes and I'm finished" or "Just a couple of minutes and I've finished"?

"If you've done/finished with that magazine, can I have a look at it?" or "If you're done/finished with that magazine, can I have a look at it?"

"When the police had done/finished with him, he was free to go home" or "When the police done done/finished with him, he was free to go home"?

"I haven't done/finished with you yet" or I'm not done/finished with you yet"?

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As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/22/04:

In American usage, three of the four combination you mention can be found:

to be done with

to be finished with

to have finished with
Americans would not use the form " have done with" in the sense you are addressing here.

(Note: The British will say that they want "to have done with" something or someone, but the meaning there is slightly different: It is more of a sense of wishing to terminate all further contact or involvement, rather than merely completing a task.)

Reviewing your specific examples:

"Have you done/finished with the salt/newspaper/computer?" or "Are you done/finished with the salt/newspaper/computer?"

"Have you finished," "Are you done," and "Are you finished" would all be proper in American usage. "Have you done" would not be appropriate.

"Just a couple of minutes and I'm finished" or "Just a couple of minutes and I've finished" ?

These examples would call for a different verb tense in each case, but the use of both root verbs (to be and to have) is permissible. For the first, we would use future tense: "Just a couple of minutes and I will be finished" (you could use the contraction "I'll" in place of "I will"). For the second, you would use future perfect tense: "Just a couple of minutes and I will have finished." This second example might sound somewhat more formal than the first.

"If you've done/finished with that magazine, can I have a look at it?" or "If you're done/finished with that magazine, can I have a look at it?"

This group comes out just like your first group. "If you've finished," "If you're done," and "If you're finished" are all fine. "If you've done" would not be used. (By the way, strictly speaking, it should be "may I have a look at it" rather than "can," but in conversational English you would often hear "can.")

" the police had done/finished with him, he was free to go home" or " the police done done/finished with him, he was free to go home" ?

Of these, the only permissible one is "When the police had finished with him." The other combinations would not be used. (A construction such as "done finished" to convey past tense is associated with illiterate speakers, particularly in the south. You may see that kind of construction in works of fiction involving uneducated characters -- "He done wrecked the car" -- but it is not proper English.)

"I haven't done/finished with you yet" or "I'm not done/finished with you yet" ?

This group, again, would be analyzed just like the first group. "I haven't finished," "I'm not done," and "I'm not finished," would all be acceptable. "I haven't done" would not be used.

Of course, anyone learning English has to confront the many uses of "do" and "" throughout the language. The discussion here addresses the specific case of "done with," meaning "finished." Obviously there are many, many instances where "have" could properly be used with "done" when other constructions are involved:
Have you done your homework?

I have done everything I can to figure out this assignment, and I still don't understand a thing.

She has done more than anyone I know to champion the cause of animal rights.
Hope this helps.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/20/04 - Turn out the lights

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please consider the following passage and explain what "turn out the lights" mean in this context? Is it used in a figurative way? If so, when do you use it figuratively? Would you please give me some other examples?

Here is the passage.

"It's a blow for us if they leave. It's a victory for al-Qa'ida, and we're really worried it will leave a vacuum around us here," one says. "We've come to rely on the Spanish. Officially I suppose they will be leaving on 30 June, which is what their new prime minister says, but I'm told they might stay until July or August if they're going to turn out the lights."

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/21/04:

My first reaction to the sentence was the same as Schoolmarm's: "turn out the lights" seems like a somewhat unusual metaphor to choose. Others, such as "pull the plug," "cut and run," or "bail out" seem to fit the sentence and the context more naturally.

It occurs to me that this usage may have been based on the expression, "Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?" This expression, often stated in a mood of discouragement, could apply when a group (such as, in this case, a peacekeeping force) is going to pack up and go home, regardless of whether the group has accomplished its objective or not. It is kind of a wry or ironic comment because it juxtaposes the saving of a few pennies on electricity (by turning off the lights) with a much larger concern (the abandoned enterprise).

This expression is often heard in the hallways of a failing enterprise, where people are quitting (or being fired) right and left.

Will the last one to leave Kodak please turn out the lights?

Will the last person to leave New Jersey please turn out the lights?
Of course, the expression has a serious, non-metaphorical use, where, for example, a teacher asks the students to make sure the lights are turned off when they are done using a classroom after school. There, school administrators indeed worry about saving pennies.

My guess, then, is that the person quoted in your article may have had this "last one to leave" expression in mind while speaking to the interviewer, and was using "turn out the lights" either consciously or unconsciously as shorthand for that concept. In any case, it is clear that the phrase refers to the threatened decision by the Spanish to depart from Iraq and "turn out the lights" at their living quarters and command centers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/19/04 - Clear the way - Pave the way

Dear Rich:

Is there any difference between "to clear the way for something/someone" and "to pave the way for something/someone"?

If so, when do you the former and when do you use the latter?

Would you please give me some examples?

Is "to clear/pave the way to do something" also possible?

If it is, would you please give me some examples of how to use this phrase?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/20/04:

Note the many other metaphorical expressions with the same or similar meaning:

open the door for ...

set the stage for ...

lay the foundation for ...

clear a path for ...

lay the groundwork for ...

set in motion ...

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/19/04 - Go out on a high

Dear ESL Experts:

Would you please consider the following passage and explain what "go out on a high" mean?

Also, would you tell me when you use this expression and give me some examples, please?

Here is the passage in question:

European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti's legacy will be decided in the same place as Microsoft Corp.'s business model: in the European supreme court.

After five high-court defeats that curbed the European Commission's antitrust powers, Monti struck back on the day before his 61st birthday by moving to sanction the world's largest software maker for abusing its Windows software monopoly.

With his term as Europe's top trustbuster over in November, Monti "wants to go out on a high," Martin Baker, an antitrust lawyer at Taylor Wessing in London, said in an interview yesterday.

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As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/20/04:

It means that the Competition Commissioner wants to end his term with a notable success (particularly in light of his recent string of losses).

In the U.S., the expression would typically be "go out on a high note." The expression as shown in your passage -- "go out on a high" -- appears to be more current in the UK (and note, of course, that the person quoted is a lawyer based in London). People in either culture would understand either version, I am confident, and I have no doubt that both versions can be found to some extent in both places. It would also be common to see the word "end" used in place of "go out."

Edwards was determined to score at least 5 goals in his last game, so that he could go out [end his career] on a high [note].

"You have all got this procedure correct," said the professor. "Let's go out on a high [note], shall we? Class dismissed! "

"Eric's final race broke the course record by a full three seconds," he said. "I've heard of going out on a high [note], but this is ridiculous! "

After only four years, The Gordon called it quits last April, and the theater goes out on a high note, surrounded by warm community feeling and a record of sold-out performances.

With only one game remaining in his Virginia career, Aykroyd is looking to go out on a high note after a relatively difficult senior season.
In some situations, a person may seek to "go out with a bang," meaning that they seek to leave behind an especially memorable legacy by accomplishing something particularly impressive. Someone might also "go out with a flourish."

Occasionally, the notion of ending/going out "on a high note" will be used where there has been an acrimonious dispute going on, and an attempt is made to resolve it in a relatively constructive or high-minded manner.
"I think the least we can do is try to end this on a high note," she said. "Our families have suffered enough already."

Even though John had just been fired, it was impressive to see how determined he was to go out on a high note. He went around and personally thanked everyone he had worked with for their support over the years.
Cheers.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/18/04 - Get down on it

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "Get down on it" mean?

When do you use this expression/phrase?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/19/04:

I have only encountered this expression in the dance song by Kool & the Gang.

In that context, it is a variation on the more general expression "get down," used by, or to encourage, a dancer. For instance, if the dancer is doing something particularly impressive, the others around may exclaim "All right! Get down!"

If I knew more about the African-American culture from which this expression comes, I could offer a more confident explanation. I suspect it may have started out with a less polite, sexual meaning, but that is only speculation. Today, however, I believe it is heard primarily in connection with dancing or a similar performance (such as the people who perform to music on rollerskates every weekend at Venice Beach here in Los Angeles). It is used to express admiration or acknowledgment of the fine work being done by a dancer, or to announce to the world that a dancer is doing impressive work. (But the expression would be "get down!" in most cases, rather than "get down on it.")

In the context of the Kool & the Gang song, the singer is challenging or encouraging his girlfriend to "take a chance," "get her back up off the wall," and come out to the dance floor to dance. It would certainly be possible to read a sexual theme into these lyrics as well -- in other words, viewing the invitation to dance as a metaphor for encouraging the girlfriend to overcome her shyness about engaging in sexual activity -- but there is certainly nothing explicit about this in the lyrics.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/18/04 - Stop & start behaving

Dear ESL Experts:

What do "to stop behaving" and "to start behaving" mean?

Would you please give me some examples of how to use them?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/19/04:

Fascinating question. I had never noticed this strange "symmetry" of expressions.

Both of these expressions refer to young children who are not behaving properly.

"Stop behaving" really means "stop misbehaving." Perhaps it can be thought of as "stop behaving badly."

You children stop behaving! [meaning: settle down; quiet down; knock it off.]

I am frazzled, Jeanie. I could not get the children to stop behaving all afternoon. Thank goodness they're asleep now.
"Start behaving," interestingly, conveys a similar message: "You had better start behaving properly."
You kids had better start behaving this instant or your father will have something to say when he gets home!

You have exactly one second to start behaving or you will spend the rest of the evening in your room.
Just keep in mind that both expressions arise when children are misbehaving, and they will probably make sense in context.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/17/04 - Lose face

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian we use the figurative expression "to lose face" when someone loses the respect of other people?

Do you have the same or a similar expression in American English?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

Do you have other phrases and/or figurative expressions to express this concept?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/18/04:

Actually, all you were supposed to see was the word "calling" in quotation marks.

Due to a software bug at Answerway which they have declined to fix, I cannot simply type quotation marks or apostrophes. I have to type in a special code which has an ampersand (&), followed by a pound sign (#), followed by a two-digit number representing the ASCII code number for that symbol (34 for a quotation mark), followed by a semi-colon. What you saw was the result of a typing mistake: the # was missing. Thus you saw &34. (This problem only affects people using Apple Macintosh computers.)

I put the word "calling" in quotation marks because I was not sure whether you would be familiar with that term in relation to loans. When a bank "calls" a loan it means that the loan has been declared immediately due and payable.

Sorry for the confusion. If you see any stray 34s or 39s in my answers, it means that I have mistyped the symbol for a quotation mark or an apostrophe.

Life would be simpler if Answerway would correct this software glitch, but I do not expect it anytime soon. :-)

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/17/04 - Lose face

Dear ESL Experts:

In Italian we use the figurative expression "to lose face" when someone loses the respect of other people?

Do you have the same or a similar expression in American English?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

Do you have other phrases and/or figurative expressions to express this concept?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/18/04:

It is from the Japanese culture, where "face" is a significant consideration in every setting. It is not just a question of losing respect; it is a matter of dishonor.

For example, one reason the Japanese banking system is in such a crisis with bad loans is that "calling&34; a loan -- declaring a default -- will cause the borrower to lose face. Bank executives are reluctant to inflict this dishonor on customers.

Similarly, the traditional Japanese ritual-suicide practice called harakiri was engaged in by warriors who had failed, thereby losing face, and had been taught by their culture to prefer death to dishonor.

In American usage (and, I am sure, in Italian as well), the expression has a far less momentous and grave meaning. It refers to situations where a person or entity has lost respect, or become lower in standing or esteem.

The President could not admit making a mistake, for fear of losing face with the voters.

The fur-thief had fooled him. He had lost face before all his people. Still they continued to roar out their laughter as he stalked away.

Southern California seems to be losing face as none of its basketball teams are going to the NCAA tournament.

What's more important to you, Jack? Losing face, or saving this company? There are a lot of people depending on you, you know.
There are a number of expressions using "face" in a somewhat related fashion:

"To put the best face on things": To try to view or portray a situation in its most favorable light

"To set one's face against something or someone": To oppose or declare hostility toward something or someone

"Two-faced": Duplicitous; untrustworthy; back-stabbing

"To maintain a brave face": To display confidence even though fearful or discouraged.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/17/04 - Six feet under

Dear ESL Experts:

What does "six feet under" mean?

Is this expression particularly common in American English?

If so, would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/18/04:

A related slang expression is "deep six," which means "to throw something away" or "to put an end to something."

I hear they decided to deep six the tree-planting project.

This entire box of junk should get the deep six.

Let's deep six these old records we never listen to any more.

Windows users were overjoyed when Microsoft deep sixed that irriting little Clippy character that kept appearing on the screen.
No one seems to be able to explain where this expression comes from. It appears to have a nautical meaning, in the sense of "to throw overboard" or "to fall to the bottom of the ocean." Some people theorize that it gets the "six" from "six feet under" and the "deep" from the nautical side, the idea that something that is "deep sixed" has fallen to a watery grave. However, I cannot recall hearing the expression "deep six" used with reference to people dying; it is an expression reserved for things or activities. Thus you would not use "deep six" interchangeably with "six feet under" as a rule.

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Question/Answer
riccioni asked on 03/16/04 - Get the best out of something/someone

Dear ESL Experts:

When do you use the expression to get the best out of something"?

Would you please give me some examples?

Is "to get the best out of someone" also possible?

If so, what does it mean?

Would you also give me some examples, please?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Regards,
Paolo

voiceguy2000 answered on 03/17/04:

I can't improveon Schoolmarm's answer, but I thought it might be useful to mention a couple of closely similar expressions.

    1. "To get the best of someone." This expression means to gain the advantage, gain superiority, or triumph, over someone.

He waited, motionless, in the corner, wondering if the ghost would appear. The striking of the clock's chimes made him jump. Finally, his fears got the best of him and he tiptoed back out to the corridor.

The old man talked and talked, wandering from one subject to another, 'til his whiskey got the best of him and he fell asleep.

Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are constant rivals. Even though Harry always wins in the end, Draco never stops trying to get the best of him.

I have been meaning to plant a new garden in front, but I always seem to let inertia get the best of me.
    2. "To make the best of something." This phrase denotes doing the best one can under the circumstances.
I know you're disappointed, Joyce. But we can't do anything about the fact that Celine Dion has a sore throat and cannot perform tonight. Let's try to make the best of the situation and enjoy the rest of the show.

It's true that I travel all the time. The way I look at things, wherever you're living at the time, that's home. And so you make the best of it.

Yes, it's snowing outside, but we may as well make the best of it. Let's build a nice big fire in the fireplace and cuddle in front of it.
This is the sense conveyed by the expression, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

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