Thursday, July 30, 2009

not my cup of tea

Your cup of tea is anything that you like or enjoy doing. It can be a characteristic or a quality; it can be an activity, a thing or someone's personality. Usually, this phrase is used in the negative. So you usually say that something is not your cup of tea, and you say this to express that you simply don't like it and usually for no other reason.

So if someone invites you to go bowling, and you turn down the invitation simply because you don't like going bowling, you can say, "I'm sorry. Bowling is just not my cup of tea." You can say this about anything you don't like. Perhaps a particular food is not your cup of tea, or skinny dipping or people being loud in public or amusement parks may not be your cup of tea. Anything that you'd rather not partake in can be described as not being your cup of tea.

like this:

A: I'm so excited about the trip to the Grand Canyon next month.
B: I'm not. I love the Grand Canyon, but I just don't like hiking.
A: Oh, I'm especially looking forward to that.
B: Not me. Walking for hours in the hot sun is just not my cup of tea.
A: I think we're going to start walking in the early morning, so it shouldn't be too hot.
B: I hope so. I'm not too much of an outdoorsy person, but I am looking forward to partying in Vegas.
A: Not me. I'm sure I'll enjoy walking down the Strip, but drinking and gambling are definitely not my cup of tea.
B: Well, at least there's something for everyone on this trip.
A: That's for sure.

bowling - a fun activity where you roll a heavy ball down a lane to knock down some pins
turn down - say no to an invitation or a proposal
skinny dipping - going into a pool or the ocean completely naked
partake in - participate in; have; use
outdoorsy - (slang) someone who enjoys being outdoors and doing outdoor activities
that's for sure - I completely agree.

Alright everyone, try to use this phrase in the next few days. There should be plenty of opportunity to do so.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

right up my alley

Something is right up your alley if it's similar or the same as your job or hobby, which therefore makes you very knowledgeable about it. If you work with computers, for example, and a friend is having problems with his computer, you can say, "I can help you figure out what's wrong. That's right up my alley."

An alley is a tiny street usually between two buildings. Your alley is perhaps where you live and where you can find your interests and the things that you are good at. So when you say it's right up my alley, you're saying, "That's my expertise," or "I know how to do that very well."

like this:

A: Do you know anyone who can help me with my computer?
B: What's wrong with it?
A: It just suddenly quit working.
B: I can help you with that. That's right up my alley.
A: Oh, really? Awesome. I'll bring it in tomorrow.
B: Ok. I'll take a look at it.
A: Maybe you can help me with this Webpage that I'm building, too.
B: You should talk to Jack about that. He designs Webpages for a living, so that's right up his alley.
A: Really? Ok, I'll give him a call.

expertise - being an expert at something

Alright folks, think of something you are very good at in your job or as a hobby. Then you can say that's right up my alley if a friend needs more information about it.

Enjoy your day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

(just) happens to + verb

We use this phrase when something unplanned or unexpected occurs. When you go to a party, and someone you know just happens to be there, it means that you didn't plan to meet that person at the party, and it was completely unexpected for you to see that person there.

This expression is also used when someone learns a fact that he didn't know before. For example, if you were in the kitchen with someone you barely knew and you found out later that he was a chef at a five-star restaurant, you can later say, "The person I was cooking with just happened to be a chef. I had no idea." As you can see, there's often an element of surprise involved when you use this phrase.

like this:

A: I hear you're planning a trip to Miami next month.
B: Yes. I'm looking for a cheap, but nice place to stay.
A: Well, I happen to be from Miami, so I can give you some ideas.
B: Really! That's great!
A: ... and you're going with Sarah, right?
B: Actually, she just happens to be visiting some family there at the same time, so we decided to hang out.
A: Really. That's hilarious.
B: I know. We're going to have a blast.

have a blast - have a lot of fun

Happy Monday, folks. ... and have a nice week.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You get the idea.

This is somewhat of an informal way of saying, "You understand, don't you?" or "You do understand, right?" When you say this expression, the assumption is that what you're saying is not too difficult and that the person you're talking to should not have a hard time understanding. You usually say this expression after you explain a procedure. You tell someone what needs to be done, then you say, "You get the idea." Sometimes, there's still more you can say, but you sense that the person you are talking to already understands, so you stop and you say, "You get the idea."

If you've been following this blog for a while, you've probably seen this expression used quite a few times, usually after I explain something. When I do that, what I mean is "here's the explanation; it's not too difficult; now, you should understand it."

like this:

A: When do you have time to study English? You are so busy.
B: I find time.
A: Yes, but how? You work; you take care of your family; you do everything at home; ...
B: I find time. I think it's very important to improve my English.
A: But how do you do it?
B: Well, I turn on the TV when I'm cleaning the living room or I listen to the radio; It's important to listen to English even when it's still difficult to understand it. I try to read one short newspaper article on the train everyday, and I underline the words I don't know. I try to sing English music. I try to speak English everyday. ... You get the idea.
A: I admire you. You're very dedicated.
B: Thanks. Like I said, I think it's very important.
A: I should do the same thing you're doing.

somewhat - kind of; sort of
assumption - what you believe or accept as true

Alright folks, enjoy the weekend.

Have fun!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's at the tip of my tongue

Have you ever been in a situation where you know that a word exists but you just can't think of the word? For example, you are trying to say or write the word "villain", but you just can't think of the word. (Hey, it can happen.) So you say, "He's the bad guy in the story or the .... uh ... what's the word I'm looking for? I think it starts with a "v". Ugh! It's at the tip of my tongue."

When a word is at the tip of your tongue, you often start with the first letter; but sometimes, you're not even sure what the first letter is. However, you are certain that there is such a word. The curious thing is, often, when you ask a friend and describe the word that you're trying to remember, the friend will agree that the word exists, but he can't think of the word, either. It's also at the tip of his tongue. I truly hate it when this happens; but it does.

like this:

Alice: So how did Tom take the news that he got laid off?
Betty: Are you kidding me? He was shocked. He was ... what's the word? I think it starts with an "f".
Alice: Yeah, I know what you're talking about. It also means astonished, right?
Betty: Yeah. Ugh! It's at the tip of my tongue.
Alice: I can't think of the word either.
Betty: I hate it when this happens.
Alice: I know. It's frustrating.
Betty: Anyway, he was not happy.

So, do you know the word that's at the tip of Alice's and Betty's tongues? It starts with an "f", and it also means shocked or astonished. See if you can figure it out.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

knock on wood

This is another superstitious expression. When we're saying something positive, and we don't want it to stop or in some way turn into something negative, we say "knock on wood." Then, we actually knock on wood. Sometimes, it can turn humorous when people use this expression and they have to find wood to knock on, and it takes them a few seconds to do so.

So for example, if you have a new English class that you're enjoying tremendously, and someone asks you how your new class is doing, you can say, "It's going great. I love it. Knock on wood." Then you look for some wood to knock on, and knock on it. This means that you don't want your English class, which is so enjoyable right now, to suddenly become horrible or boring.

Not everyone does this, of course. Those who do may do it because they're superstitious, or they may do it out of habit. Some people even do it to be funny. It's just an expression that you will definitely hear now and then.

like this:

A: I heard that you moved to a new place. How is it?
B: It's awesome. We really love it. Knock on wood. (knock, knock)
A: Where's it at?
B: It's in Park Slope, on Union St. between 7th and 8th Ave.
A: That's a nice area. You're also near the park, right?
B: Yeah. It's really great. I feel really safe walking home at night. Knock on wood. (knock, knock)
A: You know, I go to the library there sometimes on weekends. I'll give you a call next time; we can hang out.
B: Alright. I'm usually free on weekends. Knock on wood. (knock, knock) So just give me a call.
A: Alright. Talk to you later.
B: Ok. Later.

Of course, you don't have to be as superstitious as B, but you get the idea.

superstitious - believing in something supernatural (beyond what is natural and easy to understand)
humorous - funny
tremendously - a lot; in a big way
now and then - sometimes

Alright folks, enjoy your day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

keep your fingers crossed

This is a supertitious phrase that we use when we are waiting and hoping for some good news. For example, when you've just had a job interview, and this is the job that you really want, you can say, "I think the interview went well. I really hope I get the job. I'm keeping my fingers crossed." While you're saying it, you cross your middle finger over your index finger. This is supposed to bring good luck, and a long time ago, was believed to keep away evil spirits.

Crossing your fingers is also used when you're making a promise that you don't mean to fulfill or when you say something that is not true. This is usually done by children, and they usually cross their fingers behind their backs so that the person they are talking to doesn't see it. For example, if a child promises to eat his vegetables when he's at camp, and he's crossing his fingers while making the promise, it means that he doesn't really mean to eat his vegetables. When he returns home, and his parents ask him if he ate his vegetables at camp, and he says yes while he's crossing his fingers, it means that he's secretly not telling the truth; crossing his fingers means nothing bad will happen to him for lying. Remember, this is superstition.

like this:

A: So, how was your exam?
B: I don't know. I really doubt I did well.
A: Yeah? But you studied. I'm sure you did better than you think.
B: Well, I feel like I studied the wrong things. Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
A: I hope you did well. You deserve it; you've worked hard all semester.
B: Thanks. Oh yeah! How did your interview go?
A: I think it went well. Thanks. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one, too. I really want this job.
B: Well, I'm sure you made a good impression.
A: Thanks. Let's hope so.

Alright folks, think of something you really want to happen--you're getting your car fixed and you hope it won't be too expensive or you have to find an apartment by the end of the week or you hope your girlfriend/boyfriend will like the dinner you're making, ... whatever. Say what you hope while crossing your fingers. "I really hope my car won't be too expensive to fix. I'm keeping my fingers crossed." That's how it works.

Tomorrow, we'll do another superstitious expression. Have a good Monday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

tie the knot

In keeping with our theme of getting older and settling down, from yesterday's lesson, let's practice the expression tie the knot, which means to get married. For many people, an important part of settling down is meeting the right person, making a commitment and tying the knot. If a friend has just gotten engaged, for example, you can ask, "so when are you guys tying the knot?"

like this:

A: Sally and I got engaged this past weekend.
B: Congratulations, man! So when are you two tying the knot?
A: We haven't set a date yet, but we're thinking next summer. That way, she'll be finished with school.
B: That's awesome. Are you going to do something crazy, like get married underwater?
A: We'll do something interesting, but not too insane like John and Christi did.
B: Oh, that's right! They tied the knot while skydiving!
A: Now, that's crazy.

settle down - see yesterday's blog (July 16)
get engaged - make a commitment to get married

Alright folks, enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

settle down (part 2)

The other idiomatic meaning of to settle down is usually used when someone stops moving around in his life and finally stays in one place or focuses on one thing. When we are young, many of us move from place to place and travel around a lot. When we get older, however, we stay in one place, maybe buy a house, and perhaps get married and start a family; this is called settling down. It means to stop being restless or moving around too much in our lives.

This can also apply to someone who tries many kinds of jobs and when he gets older, decides to stay in one job that is stable and dependable so he can then provide for his family. Basically, we are restless when we are young, then we settle down when we get older.

However, some people never settle down. In fact, it's against their philosophy in life to ever settle down. For them, settling down means the end of youth and the excitement of life, which they think should last forever. But, that's another issue and another blog.

Whatever your opinion is on the topic, you've probably heard your own parents or someone else's parents repeatedly tell their adult kids that it's time to settle down.

like this:

Mother: So, how are you and Amy doing?
Son: We're doing alright.
Mother: Do I hear wedding bells?
Son: Uh, not yet.
Mother: I thought you guys seemed serious.
Son: We are; we just haven't talk about that yet.
Mother: Well, you know you're not getting any younger. You need to start thinking about settling down.
Son: I know, mom. I'll settle down when I'm ready. I'm not doing it just because I'm 32.
Mother: I'm just saying; you need to start seriously thinking about it.
Son: Alright. alright. ...

perhaps - maybe
restless - without rest; moving around a lot
youth - the time when you are young

Alright everyone, I hope you get to speak English a lot today.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

settle down

The phrasal verb to settle down has a couple of idiomatic meanings that are related but are used in specifically distinct situations. We'll practice the first meaning today, then we'll do the other one next time.

The first idiomatic meaning of to settle down is to stop moving or, specifically, stop any unnecessary movement or activity. Usually, an authority figure uses this phrase to make people sit still and listen. A teacher often says this in the classroom when students are being noisy or are too excited to listen. "Ok folks, let's settle down! Class is not over yet!" A mother or someone watching children also says this when the children need to be calm and quiet. "Hey! Could you settle down in the living room? I'm doing homework, and I can't concentrate."

We can also use this particular meaning with friends and colleagues, sometimes lightheartedly, when we need to focus and stop fooling around. "Ok guys, let's settle down. We need to get this work done in an hour."

Get the picture? Alright, let's practice.

like this:

A: We really need to settle down. We've been laughing for the past 30 minutes.
B: I know. We need to get serious and study for this exam. I could fail this class if I don't do well on this exam.
A: Ok, no more jokes. Let's look at Chapter 10. ... What's that noise?
B: It's the kids. They're playing video games upstairs; they're probably fighting again. ... Hey! Settle down up there! We're trying to study!
A: Should we go check on them?
B: They're fine. But if they don't settle down soon, I'm taking away their video games.

Alright folks, listen to your teacher, and settle down when you need to.

Enjoy your day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

have/throw a fit

A fit is some kind of outburst or sudden show of anger or strong emotion.
When someone is having a fit or throwing a fit, that person is screaming and yelling because of anger or frustration. Sometimes, we see children throw fits at the supermarket when the parent doesn't get them what they want. They usually lie on the floor screaming and flapping their arms and legs. Adults, too, throw fits when they get so angry they lose control of their emotions. You can tell someone not to have a fit if they start looking angry, and especially if he or she is just being impatient and the anger is unreasonable.

like this:

A: Where's Sam?
B: He's having a fit over there in his office. They messed up his lunch order.
A: Really? That reminds me of my 5-year-old, who threw a fit last night because he wanted to eat spaghetti for dinner.
B: That's funny.
A: Yeah. He finally settled down when we took out the ice cream. But he had to eat his dinner first.
B: That's hilarious. So do you want to meet this afternoon to talk about the project?
A: Actually, I have to get out of here early today. I have a dental appointment.
B: John, we have to get started with this project! We can't keep delaying it!
A: Alright. Alright. Don't have a fit. We can meet for 30 minutes. How does 2:30 sound?
B: 2:30 sounds good. See you then.
A: Alright. See you.

settle down - calm down

Alright folks, enjoy your day.
the small guide site

Friday, July 10, 2009

just about

Today, let's practice an expression that I've used in past blogs and have featured in the vocabulary sections several times already. The phrase just about is an idiomatic and informal way to say "almost". It can be used in almost any situation or just about any situation.

You can say you're just about ready, or it's just about five o'clock, so it's just about time to go. The temperature can be just about 90 degrees or it can be just about freezing. ... and if it's really freezing, and you don't have a heavy jacket, you can say you just about froze to death, to exaggerate, of course. When you're just about out of clean clothes, then it's just about time to do laundry. See, you can use this phrase with just about everything to mean "almost".

like this:

A: Hey Tom, we're just about out of sugar, right?
B: Let me check. Yep, just about.
A: Alright, I'm going to go get some. Do you want to come to the store with me?
B: I can't right now. I have to finish my work.
A: I thought you were just about done an hour ago.
B: I was, but I found a few mistakes that I needed to fix.
A: Alright, see you later then.
B: Later.

out of - nothing left (see the June 16 blog)

Alright guys, as always, try using this phrase whenever you can and ask your friends and teachers if you got it right.

Good luck and have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It blew me away.

Something blows you away when it is excellent. This thing can be a book, a movie, a show, etc. It can also be a personality trait that impresses you, such as someone's kindness, generosity or hospitality. It can be an excellent performance, as well, such as that of an athlete or an actor. So if you just watched a show, and you enjoyed it tremendously, you could say something like, "Wow. That completely blew me away."

like this:

A: Wow. That was an awesome movie.
B: It totally blew me away.
A: Kate Winslet was amazing.
B: That scene in the courtroom, I thought, was really gripping.
A: I know. Her performance there completely blew me away.
B: She totally deserved that Oscar.

Alright folks, think of the last thing that you read or saw or experienced that blew you away, then ask friends to tell you about the last movie or book that blew them away.

Good luck.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

get/take your mind off things

This phrase was in the example dialog from yesterday's blog. Why not quickly scroll down right now and read yesterday's like this example. Getting or taking your mind off things means doing something that will make you forget problems or difficult situations in your life. So, you may go on vacation to get your mind off things, or listen to music or go to the movies or any activity that will temporarily erase any negative thoughts in your head at the moment.

We often use the word things to refer to any problem that we may be having, but you can substitute things for a more specific word or phrase. For example, you can get your mind off the bad economy, or get your mind off the fight with your friend, or get your mind off your co-worker's incompetence, which makes you angry. You get the picture.

When you use the activity as the subject of the sentence, we usually use the verb take in this expression. For example, cooking takes my mind off things or playing the piano takes her mind off things.

like this:

Husband: I need to go for a walk. I'll be right back.
Wife: Right now? Dinner's almost ready.
Husband: Yeah. I need to get my mind off work.
Wife: Did something bad happen?
Husband: Yeah. I had to lay off a couple of people. They were really good workers, too. I learned that I had to do it when I walked in this morning.
Wife: Oh, I'm sorry. That's horrible.
Husband: I felt bad all day.
Wife: Where are you going?
Husband: I'll probably walk to the pier and watch people fishing. That usually takes my mind off things.
Wife: Alright. See you later.

lay off someone - make someone leave the job usually because the company can't afford to hire him or her anymore

Alright, think about what takes your mind off things. When you're having a bad day or you had a fight with someone or you failed an exam, what do you do to feel better or temporarily forget the bad situation? Does dancing or going for a run or a good movie take your mind off things? Think about it and ask a friend, "What takes your mind off things?"


Monday, July 6, 2009

treat someone to something

Let's stay on the topic of "paying for other people's purchases". The last two blogs--last Thursday's and Friday's--both talked about expressions that you use when you or someone pays for a friend's dinner or ticket to a movie or a concert, etc. If you haven't had the chance to use the past two expressions, and especially if you've forgotten them, just read both blogs quickly to get a nice review.

Alright, today's expression is treating someone to something. Again, this is very similar to the past two phrases that we learned. When you're treating someone to dinner, the dinner is on you, or you're picking up the tab for dinner. All three expressions mean that you're paying for the dinner and your friend doesn't have to. However, treating someone to something also has an added meaning that you're doing it as a gift to make the person happy. So when you treat your friend to a movie, you're paying for the movie as a gift to your friend.

like this:

Husband: What are John and Sarah doing for the summer? Do you know?
Wife: John's still looking for a job, and they can't afford to send the kids to summer camp this year.
Husband: You know what, why don't we treat them to a week at Disney World with us?
Wife: Do you think it's a good idea?
Husband: Yeah. We can afford it. They're such good neighbors, and they've had a tough year.
Wife: ... and the kids would enjoy spending time together.
Husband: Totally. John told me he wanted to treat Sarah and the kids to a nice vacation just to get their minds off things, but they can't afford it. You know, they're always helping us out with babysitting.
Wife: ... and they bring us some food now and then. Alright, let's do it. I'll talk to Sarah tomorrow.
Husband: good.

Don't hesitate to use the verb treat in any tense. You can say, "I'm treating my friend to dinner," or "They treated us to a movie," or "She's (has) treated me to a day at the spa before," or "Let's treat him to a night out in the city when he comes to visit."

Now, think of someone you can treat to a cup of coffee today, then go and use the expression. If your friend is learning English, you can also teach him the phrase. This way, you're more likely to remember it in the future.

It's on you - you're paying for it (see the July 3 blog)
pick up the tab - pay for the purchase (see the July 2 blog)
get your mind off things - temporarily forget about problems
now and then - sometimes

Have a nice cup of coffee.
the small guide site

Friday, July 3, 2009

It's on me

This is another commonly used phrase that's very similar to yesterday's expression. Basically, if you're picking up the tab for your dinner with friends, then dinner is on you. So when you're ready for the waiter to bring the check, you can either say, "It's ok guys, I'm picking up the tab," or "It's ok guys, this one's on me."

Like yesterday's phrase, this expression is also commonly used to jokingly tell people that someone is paying for the purchase. So if you're out to dinner with a bunch of friends, and one of them, say John, just got a promotion, you can make an announcement and say, "Don't worry if you forgot your wallet, this dinner's on John to celebrate his promotion."

like this:

Bill: Ok everyone, to celebrate John's promotion, this dinner's on him.
John: Hey, not so fast. The promotion's not final yet. Once I see the increase in my paycheck, I'll pick up the tab. But not tonight.
Bill: Ok then. Sam, this should be on you, right? Didn't you get a raise recently?
Sam: Well, yes I did, Bill. But I already picked up the tab last week. You missed it.
John: Actually, wasn't it your birthday yesterday, Bill?
Bill: Hey, nice of you to remember. Now, I feel special.
John: Good! Because this dinner should be on you to celebrate your birthday.
Bill: Alright, alright. I guess it's my turn to pick up the tab.

pick up the tab - pay for something (see yesterday's blog)
say - for example (see the June 30 blog)

Alright everyone, try to use today's phrase when you find a chance. You can say, "This one's on me," or "This dinner's on me," or simply "It's on me."

Enjoy the weekend. Have a fun and safe Fourth of July.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

pick up the tab

When you're out to dinner with friends, sometimes someone in the group picks up the tab. That person may pick up the tab because he just had a promotion at work and would like to celebrate, or it may be his birthday and would like to treat his friends to a nice dinner.

Picking up the tab means paying for the purchase, which can be just about anything. In the U.S., for example, when a couple gets married, the bride's family usually picks up the tab, which means they pay for the wedding. When a guy and a girl go on a date, the girl usually expects the guy to pick up the tab. (I said usually.) ... or when you're grabbing a quick bite with a friend, and one of you forgot his wallet, the other may say, "Don't worry about it, I'll pick up the tab this time."

The tab is just another word for the receipt. So when someone picks up the tab, that person is literally picking up the receipt so he can go and pay for the purchase. This expression is often used to make a joke when you want to say that someone, say John, is buying everyone lunch. You can jokingly say, "Order whatever you want, everyone, John is picking up the tab."

like this:

A: What's the total?
B: It's 32.50. Don't worry, I'll pick up the tab.
A: Thanks. I can't believe I forgot my wallet at home.
B: It's ok. You can get the next one.
A: This is getting embarrassing. The other day, Amy had to pay for dinner, and last week, my boss also had to pick up the tab when we went out to lunch. I forgot my wallet at my desk.
B: Oh no. That is embarrassing.
A: I meant to treat my boss to lunch, too. ... or at least pay my own way.
B: Well, don't worry about it. You'll just have to pick up the tab the next time you go out with someone. ... and don't forget your wallet.

just about - almost
treat someone - pay for something as a gift to someone
grab a quick bite - get something to eat fast
say - for example (see yesterday's blog)
get the next one - pay for the next meal (in this context)

Alright folks, the next time you want to treat your friends to dinner or the movies or a day at an amusement park, instead of saying "I'll pay for it," you can say, "I'll pick up the tab."

Have fun.