Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wonderful word: MONGO


[origin unknown] /MAWNG goh/
New York City dialect term for
an object retrieved from rubbish; a scavengerhttp://www.worldwid weirdwords/ ww-mon1.htm

"Nagle's interests lie more with the trash collectors than with the trash, although the two intersect on the
subject of "mongo" -- sanitation lingo for "redeemed garbage" or the act of collecting it. (Nagle consulted a lexicographer, looking for help in tracking down the etymology, to no avail.)"
- Ben McGrath, New Yorker magazine from Nov. 13, 2006

(not to be confused with any other mongo, or mungo)

Great English Words: NAFF!

Naff. N-A-F-F. This is strictly British slang and not used in the States, as far as I know. It means worthless, tacky, unfashionable - 'that's naff', 'the party was naff', 'those clothes are naff' - unenjoyable, of poor quality. 'Uncool', I suppose people would say these days - 'that décor is naff', 'that software is naff', 'that pub is naff'. In other words, it's used in a huge variety of circumstances as a general dismissive term, and it's also used as an expletive, to avoid the worst swear words - 'naff off!' - you hear people say, 'stop naffing about!' Now, that usage was made popular by the comedian Ronnie Barker in the 1970s television series 'Porridge'. And it became very, very popular in British usage, and went right up the class system too! I mean, there's a story for instance that Princess Anne told paparazzi to 'naff off', back in 1982. At least, that's how it was reported.

The origins of the word are unclear. It might well be a gay usage. Kenneth Williams recalls it from the 1960s used by gay people, and often in a theatrical context as well. It may be an acronym meaning NAFF - not available for fun.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


There was a time and it was not such a very long time ago, when telephone communication was a box on a wall in the kitchen or on a desk in the entry hall with a loopy cord and reliable ring.
Now we take our communication with us wherever we go, we are constantly connected and ever ready to text or ring or answer a call. The billboards along the main road in our capital city warn us that phone use while driving is strictly forbidden. Many motorists have their power SUVs rigged with no-hands devices which require only a click of a level under the steering wheel to keep the driver or passengers in touch with some distant point.
I remember an early Woody Allen film in which the main character was constantly at a pay phone telling his answering service "If anyone wants to ring me, I am at Santa Monica 367 459..." and his hapless entreaties seemed pathetic but garnered a good laugh. Now the public pay phone seems almost ridiculously out of date. I must be the only person I know who still carries a black "pirate card." This costs me a fiver and I can get several hours on a pay phone to anywhere in the world where someone has a land line.
A land line? Does that sound odd or what? Alas many people I know have abandoned their home phone or fixed line and rely on what must be a cheaper option of a cell or mobile phone (the latter is British and the former American terminology).
As with on-line communication, I generally fail with mobile technology although I do enjoy that SMS language: "BTW, r u home?"
A young friend of mine (in her mid 30s!) wrote me an entire email message, quite long and involved, in SMS-style language. Quite a chore to wade through that scroll!
Anyway, as we are more and more in touch, the question is do we communicate more? And more to the point, how available do we need to be?

Friday, June 24, 2011


The two Logues, the real life one and the actor's portrayal (G Rush).


Lionel Logue: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.

King George VI: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.

Lionel Logue: They're idiots.

King George VI: They've all been knighted.

Lionel Logue: Makes it official then.

The recent movie, The King's Speech, tells the story of a British monarch's struggle to conquer a terrible stammer and speak to the nation at the dawn of WWII. It is a compelling tale which features excellent acting by Colin Firth, Helen Bonham Carter and most notably, Australian Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue. The film was a great success although ultimately criticized for historical inaccuracies. Apparently George's stammer was not that pronounced and there are other inconsistencies concerning the run up to the second World War. My hero, Timothy Spall, does a grand job as Churchill but this was portrayal was also rebuked. In a guarded moment, Churchill confides that he (Churchill) had also overcome a speech problem. He advises the King to make any hesitation seem to be charged with drama, to give his discourse more severity and weight, the pregnant pause.

It is the banter that Logue uses in the training of his patient "Bertie" that endeared me to this film. The speech therapist also demands absolute dedication from his patients as he employs a plethora of methods (both physical and psychological) to focus the person on the job at hand.

I recommend the film most enthusiastically.

Here are 33 Phrasal Verbs for Your Edification!

Here is an amazing list of 33 phrasal verbs using the verb "come" with a slew of prepositions.

Come on, you have to admit this is quite a list!

Come about
- Happen, occur
- Shift direction (nautical)
Come across
- Find by accident
- Agree to have sex with someone
- The way other people see you
Come along
- Accompany
- Move faster or keep up
Come apart
- Break into pieces
Come around
- Recover consciousness
Come around to
- Agree with or accept something you had previously disapproved of or disliked.
Come before
- Appear in court charged with a crime or offence
Come by
- Visit
- Acquire
Come down
- Rain
- Travel
Come down on
- Criticise heavily
Come down with
- Fall ill
Come forth
- Appear
Come forth with
- Provide information
Come from
- Country or town where you were born
Come in
- Arrive for flights
- Place or ranking in a competition, etc.
- Receive news
Come in for
- Receive (criticism or praise)
Come into
- Be important or relevant
- Inherit
Come off
- When something breaks off
- Be successful
"Come off it!"
- I don't believe what you're saying (imperative)
Come on
- Encouragement
- Start an illness
- Start functioning (machines, etc)
Come out
- A secret is revealed
- Be published or otherwise available to the public
- Disappear when washed
- Let people know that you are lesbian or gay
- When the sun appears
Come out in
- Have a rash or similar skin problem
Come out of
- Recover consciousness
Come out with
- Make something available
- Say something publicly and unexpectedly
Come over
- Feel strange
- Affect mentally in such a way as to change behaviour (possibly related to 'overcome')
Come round
- Become conscious, wake up from anaesthetic
- Change your opinion
Come through
- Arrive (messages and information)
- Communicate an emotion
- Produce a result
Come through with
- Provide something needed
Come to
- Become conscious, wake up from anaesthetic
- Result in
Come up
- Appear
- Rise (the sun)
Come up against
- Encounter problems or difficulties
Come up with
- Think of a solution, excuse, etc.
Come upon
- Find by chance

Jesse James and his brother Frank: the Missouri outlaws

Follow this link to a beautiful rendition of an amazing song.

Jesse James and his brother Frank were outlaws of the Old West. They roamed the post-Civil War states of Missouri and Kansas but also travelled north to Minnesota, I read. They were desperate men, by all accounts, who were immortalized in song with that impeachable verse about stealing from the rich and giving to the poor as Robin Hood and others of that persuasion once did and probably still do. I love the ballad of Frank and Jesse James and I am not the only one as the list below indicates. Some folks who recorded a version of the song are
Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and many many others.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Take a Few of These and Call Me in the Morning!

Some doctors in Scotland are prescribing potentially dangerous medications for their patients. Read about it on the BBC web site.


Here are some useful phrasal verbs using the verb "put" and different prepositions.
By useful, I mean that you should recognize them even if you do not use them too much in your own writing or speaking. Some phrasal verbs are more colloquial.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) and his mentor (and eventual rival) Plato were perhaps the greatest minds of their age. They certainly gave us much food for thought in philosophy, politics and metaphysics, among a load of other areas of study.

But like all humans, they could goof from time to time. Plato once proclaimed that all poetry should be banned and poets thrown in prison. Gosh, what did that great master want to hide?

Meanwhile Aristotle, a very serious thinker, once pronounced this amazing sentence:

"In the beginning, no one took comedy seriously."

Ouch! What a great blooper!

(En español: bloopers = sandeces)


This link provides an incredible index of phrasal verbs and their meanings. There are tons of phrasal verbs out there in this wide world of English idiomatic expressions.

So, do not be "put off" (daunted) by all the possibilities. Keep at it!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Singing in Valsequillo Primary School in late May 2011

If you follow this link, you will find a short clip of your teacher sharing a song with a kindergarten class in Valsequillo in late May. We were preparing for the Canary Islands Holiday which happens to coincide with my birthday. So it was a double celebration for me!
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Anthony in Santa Brigida so there is a big festival in the park and lots of fun activities. But the EOI Sta B is closed! Sorry!!!!
See you in the park--I'm the one with the timple (Canary five-string ukulele), the fellow who can't quite keep in tune!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Another Great Novel by Philip Kraske

I just finished Philip Kraske's novel The Magnificient Mary Anne ( Encompass, 2011) and it is, well, magnificent!
The book tells the tale of a globe-trotting engineer named Hal Dormund who gives some sage advice to a young woman on a flight from New Jersey to Chicago. The listener, one Mary Ann Jaalkov, takes these words of wisdom to heart and years later they lead to a unique love story and thriller.
It took me a while to warm to Hal in his consulting role with the world nuclear power industry but the author skillfully draws in his reader with his prose. The more I read, the more compulsive I found the 176-page novel.
Philip Kraske works hard at his craft, providing just the right details to drive the story along. The plot is well researched, with insights into the world of world finances (and betrayal) and also the high art of flamenco dance. It is an irresistible, if improbable concoction. Even as I write these lines, reflecting on the storyline, I think to myself, "nobody is going to believe me, unless they read it for themselves!" So I entreat you to do so. It is well worth the order.
I should add that in addition to his consummate craftsmanship as a fiction writer, Philip Kraske also is a fine journalist and packs some amazing descriptions into the book. My favorite (though it is hard to choose just one for this review) is when he describes Mary Ann's father, the radical fire-and-brimstone Reverend Jaalkov's fateful visit to Boston where he goes on a gay-bashing rampage in the wrong place:

"... His traveling show had been in Boston the week before and I don't know if Bostonians are inhospitable people or if Jaalkov has simply shot one broadside too many, but they gave him one hell of a welcome. About 600 people--most of them gays and lesbians--turned out on Sunday morning to protest against him, and another one hundred to support him.
One of the hundred--there's always one asshole in a hundred--a thick, gopher-faced guy with huge buck teeth, took offense at the chants of the anti-Jaalkov group, pulled a crowbar and reduced their numbers by ten before he could be gang-tackled. The odd thing was, he got away with it. Before the Boston police could burrow through the melee, a few of the Reverend's fans bundled the assailant into a stationwagon and drove him away at high speed. The police were hopping mad: nobody got the license plate since the front one was missing and the rear one hidden under an open tailgate. Even the crowbar disappeared. ..."

You get the idea. It is a great read and I congratulate the author on another excellent novel. Philip has written about 20 or so book manuscripts and three have been published. Although he started in teen fiction, he has moved seamlessly into adult works.
I recommend this book most enthusiastically.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Improve Your English Pronunciation at Home: Some Tips

Alex Case´s tips on improving pronunciation outside class

I have found that my students find it a challenge to improve their pronunciation outside class. Indeed this may be the most difficult part of your English to improve. "How can I tell if I am pronouncing something wrong?" students ask. Actually you often can, and the ideas below will show you how. There are many useful ways to work on pronunciation, all without teacher assistance. The text is adapted from a longer piece by Alex Case. Check out his web site if you want more details and suggestions.

Record yourself

Just as people are often shocked when they hear a recording of their voice for the first time ("Oh my goodness! Do I really sound like that??"), you will be surprised by how many of your own pronunciation mistakes you can pick up just by recording your voice and playing it back. You can make that even more effective by playing back the model recording and your own recording at the same time or one just after the other. This is most easily done on a computer, or in an old fashioned language lab with the two parts recorded on opposite sides of a cassette. There will still be plenty of pronunciation points you miss, for example vowel sounds that you can't even hear the difference between, but you should be able to get your rhythm and pausing almost perfect just by doing this. You could also listen to a recording of yourself while just listening for one sound that you want to work on, e.g. making sure that your th sounds don't sound like s, or that you don't miss out h sounds.

Nowadays there are also computer programs and one or two sites that show you a wave form analysis of your voice and compare it to the wave form of the voice that you are copying. Most of the programs then give you a score, e.g. 76 points for being 76% similar to the model recording. It is as amazing as that sounds to see that up on the computer screen, but there are still all kinds of technical and practical problems with this system. One issue is that equal weighting is given to unimportant things like exactly matching the tone of the speaker and important things like stressing the right words. The other thing is that there are actually many other perfectly correct ways of saying the word or phrase, but you have to copy the (perhaps idiosyncratic) version that the computer is producing. If you are copying someone with a different age or gender, you might not want to copy them 100%! Nevertheless, getting visual clues or a score is very motivating, and I spent longer on a Japanese CD ROM that did this than any of the other language learning games and other materials that I was using at the time. It also made me listen to my own production very closely.

You could also try videoing yourself and checking your mouth shape against the original speaker or a model mouth shape.

Working with transcripts

Before you listen to the recording, try marking stressed words, weak forms (e.g. a "ter" sound for the word "to"), linked sounds (e.g. "saton" for "sat on"), and/ or one particular sound (e.g. all the examples of schwa) on the transcript, then listen and check. After that read the tapescript out, concentrating on getting the points that you were working on right.

A great activity with a transcript and recording is Shadow Reading. Try to speak over the recording, using the same rhythm as the speaker and so finishing each sentence at exactly the same time. When you seem to have the hang of this try again, but this time turning the volume down in the middle of the recording. When you turn the volume back up again, your speaking should still be exactly in time with the recording.

Learn the phonemic script

If you want to be able to use a dictionary properly, you will need to learn the symbols that dictionaries use to show the pronunciation. For example, /j/ in a dictionary means the y from yacht, not the j from jam. Dictionaries will always have a list of these symbols at the front, and you can photocopy this and test yourself on it until you know them all. As in this article, phonemic symbols are usually put between forward slashes, e.g. /a:/ for the vowel in hard.

Learn spelling and pronunciation rules

Although it might seem that English spelling is totally random and that it is impossible to know the pronunciation of a word the first time that you see it, that isn't quite true. In fact, with a few pronunciation rules you can usually make a good guess. For example, there is the Magic E rule that explains the difference between rat and rate, and the different pronunciations of ch in chef, cheese and chorus can be explained by the roots of the words being in different languages.

Hold your throat or your ears

Most consonant sounds in English (b, k, d etc) can be put in pairs with another sound that has the same mouth shape and tongue position but is a voiced or unvoiced version. In other words, most sounds come in pairs where one uses the vocal cords and the other doesn't. For example, if you say /p/ for pat and then /b/ for bat while holding your fingers on the side of your throat around the Adam's apple, you shouldn't be able feel anything during /p/ but there should a vibration when you say /b/. The same should be true for /k/ for kangaroo and /g/ for goat, and most of the other consonants in English (the exceptions include r, l, m, n. w and /j/). You can do the same thing by holding your hands cupped over your ears and listening for a booming echo sound.

Use a mirror or video cam

Another thing you can do with unvoiced and voiced sounds like t and d is look in a mirror and make sure that your mouth doesn't change shape. If the two consonant sounds you are practising are not a voiced/ unvoiced pair, however, you should check at least that your mouth changes shape when you pronounce them. For example, the sh from sheep should have a much more rounded mouth than the s from sleep. The same thing is true for vowel sounds, as no two vowel sounds are said with the same mouth positions. This is true even with vowel sounds which are sometimes paired up. For example, the ee from sheep is not just a long version of the i from ship, as the mouth needs to be pulled much wider in the former - that is why we say "cheese" and not "chips" when we take a photo!

With diphthongs like /ai/ and /ei/, you should make sure that your mouth is moving while you are pronouncing the sound. This is because diphthongs are basically a combination of two short vowel sounds. This is also the best way of distinguishing diphthongs from similar long vowel sounds. For example, your mouth should move while you say the O in hope but stay still while you say the long "or" sound in more.

You can practise mouth shape in more detail with a book or website that shows mouth shapes for each sound, or you could watch a video very closely and try to copy the actor. If you have problems pronouncing h in English (common for Spanish speakers, for example), you can practise this with a mirror in another way. Put the mirror very close to your mouth. After a word with h, the mirror should be steamed up as if you were going to polish it - but not covered in spit!

Use your hands

One well-known trick using your hands is to put your right index finger in front of your mouth as if you were going to ask someone to shut up with a "Shhhh!" After you have said a word with a th sound in it, you should be able feel a wet patch on your finger where your tongue has touched it.

The other trick with your hand will look even sillier if you try it in public! If you are having problems putting your tongue in the right position, e.g. when saying l and r, put your hand next to your mouth as if it were your tongue, and move it in time with your tongue as you make the sound. For example, with the r you should keep your hand still and try to get your tongue to copy your hand. With the l sound your hand should bend right back and then flip down, with your tongue doing the same.