Monday, December 30, 2013

Test your English vocabulary :)

1. harrowing - very frightening
2. impertinent - this usually means rude or disrespectful; it can also mean 'beside the point'
3. repose - rest
4. emaciated - the way a person looks who is starving; very thin
5. melancholy - sadness, but a special kind of 'thoughtful' sadness

Bob was fortunate to go to a little liberal arts college out in the countryside of Pennsylvania. When he was tired of studying, he could take a short walk and lie on the grass, under the trees for some much needed _____________.

Most clerks at department stores are very cordial and polite, but sometimes clerks can also be _________________ toward customers.

Our vacation trip down the Amazon River was supposed to be safe and tranquil, but when we got deep into the river we experienced some ___________________ adventures.

A person probably shouldn't dwell too much on the mistakes he/she has made.  This just leads to a type of useless _____________________.

I could tell Bill had been ill for quite some time.  When I had last seen him, he seemed hardy and robust, but now he looked weak and _______________________.

answers are below:



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where does the word "January" come from?

Soon the year 2013 will be ending and 2014 will be beginning.  Of course, the first month of the year is called January - and there's a good reason for that.

The word January comes from the name of the Roman god Janus.  Janus could see behind and in front of himself at the same time.  He was the god of doorways and new beginnings.  When the Romans developed the type of calendar that we, basically, still use today, they decided to call their first month "January" because it is the month in which you look back on the previous year and look forward to the next year.

Here's an article about the god Janus that I found online:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to undertake something - to begin something

frankincense - this is a type of liquid that smells very nice

the prow of a ship - the front portion of a ship

a chariot - 

to set forth - to go forward

gilded - covered with gold

to allay - to come to a rest (this is a very old poem, so basically the poet is saying here: when the golden chariot stopped, Apollo headed east....)

reckless - not careful

plunged - in this case it means the horses ran wildly forward, out of control.  To plunge usually means to fall.

bore - bear, bore, born - carried, took

scorched - burned

enraged - very angry

daring - brave; if someone is daring, he is a risk taker

a thunderbolt -

headlong - with his head going down first

to be fond of - to like

quoits -

distressed - upset

he took no heed of her - he did not notice her

to be mortal - basically everyone is mortal, we are all going to die

immortal - non-dying

shrill - a loud, high-pitched sound

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Japanese elderly are preparing for lonely deaths

I am not sure whether this is a sad story or not.  It looks as if many Japanese elderly (older) people are planning for their own funerals and determining how their bodies will be taken care of once they die.  It seems as if this is due to the fact that there are many elderly Japanese who do not have children or family members who can make these arrangements for them after they die.

Here is the article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

the emperor - even though Japan is a democracy, they still have a royal family.  The leader of their royal family is the emperor.

a funeral - this is usually the ceremony that is held for relatives and friends after a person dies.

relatively modest - kind of ordinary - nothing fancy; modest means nothing fancy, plain

heart bypass surgery - basically this is surgery where they take veins (blood travels through your veins) from other parts of a person's body and use these veins to make sure enough blood can get into the heart

prostate cancer - this is a relatively common cancer for men; the prostate helps in the reproductive process but as men get older they often have problems with their prostate glands

the palace - this is where the emperor lives

cremated - his dead body will be burned and the body will be turned into ashes

mausoleum - a stone building where a dead body or a dead person's ashes can be put

the Imperial compound - a compound is an area of buildings; Imperial refers to the royal family

burial - when a dead body is placed under the earth, in a grave

a monarchy - a system in which there are kings or emperors

to trim costs - to cut or lower costs

burden on the people - trouble for the people

the revelation - the expression or revealing, the showing

fastest graying - more people are getting older in Japan than in any other country

a senior citizen - someone over 65 years old

eroding traditions - slowly eliminating traditions; erosion is when the wind or water cuts into rocks or makes rocks smaller

changing demographics - if a country's demographics is changing, that means that, basically, some important measurement of the people is changing. Maybe people are getting older, or more immigrants are coming in etc.

lack younger relatives - do not have younger relatives

empathize - feel

imperial - royal

commoners - normal, real people

retirement - when you stop working

a niece - the daughter of your brother or sister. A nephew is the son of your brother or sister.

to reserve - to make sure that she will be able to get something ahead of time

a tomb - a structure in which a dead body is put

abandoned - thrown away, discarded, gotten rid of

disposed of as waste - thrown away like garbage

considered funeral ceremonies an obligation - they felt that this was something that had to be done

booming - growing rapidly

business incentives - ways to make money; actually, if there is an incentive to make money, that means there is an opportunity to make money - so businesses are realizing that there is now a way to make money from older Japanese people who are planning for their deaths.

abound - are happening a lot

a tombstone - a flat stone that states who the dead person is

lingering - something that never seems to end

Test your higher-level English vocabulary! :)

1.  quaint - something which is charming or appealing because it seems old fashioned
2.  viscous - something that is in between being a solid and a liquid
3.  a liability - this word has two big meanings 1) a liability can be a responsibility or 2) a liability can be a handicap, or something that makes something more difficult for a person or group
4.  superfluous - too much, something unnecessary, more than you need
5.  gratifying - pleasing
6.  fickle - changing quickly; usually fickle is used in regard to a person - if a person is fickle he/she changes his/her mind quickly or does things randomly
7.  to rescind something - to remove something, to repeal something; for example, if a law is rescinded the law is eliminated
8.  to depreciate - there are two big meanings for this word 1) to lessen the value of something - for instance, after you buy and use a car it depreciates in value or 2) to speak negatively about someone or something
9.  didactic - instructive, trying to teach something; the opposite word is pedantic - if a teacher is   pedantic, he wants to impress his students with his knowledge but if a teacher is didactic, he really wants his students to learn something

I had heard that my new professor was world-renowned for his scholarship, but he had an amazing teaching style and was concerned with being more ____________________ than other professors who were more pedantic in order to demonstrate their mastery of their subjects.

I honestly think that we can settle this matter in just one meeting.  More than one meeting will just be ____________________.

I just had to have that rocking chair which I saw in the antique shop.  It was very sturdy and had such a ________________ design - like something you'd see in the early 1800s.

Although the crust and upper mantle are certainly made of solid forms of rock, as you go deeper toward the earth's core you find hotter and more ________________ substances. 

We really need a bilingual speaker for this new position.  Although Bob is really smart, his inability to speak Spanish will be a ________________ to our whole program.

Although your compliment is certainly ________________, I was only doing my job.

Although it's true that Alexander Hamilton experienced some scandals and died as a result of a duel (an illegal activity), I don't think we should ________________ the value he had in the service of the United States of America.  He contributed greatly.

I don't even ask my girlfriend what she wants to do on a date any more - she is so _______________!  She'll tell me one thing, then suddenly change her mind, and then she'll change back to the original decision!

Initially the school library was going to charge students $1 per day for overdue books. However, so many students complained that the library _____________ their policy.

answers are below:



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Obama's health insurance system has become a complete mess in the USA

If something is 'messy' it is not orderly or systematic.  So if something is a 'mess' it is difficult to understand or use and it is not well-organized.

When Obama was running for his second term as president, he made some statements about the new US healthcare system that turned out to be false.  Now many people believe that Obama deliberately (if you do something deliberately, you choose to do it, it is not an accident) lied about the healthcare system.

Most Americans seem to distrust and even dislike Obama at this point.  People who had good health insurance will lose their insurance and they will have to pay more money for worse health insurance coverage.  People who do not have much money will be forced to buy insurance they don't have money for.

So basically the 'affordable' (if something is affordable it does not cost too much money) health insurance Obama promised is not affordable and it's not very good. And basically the law states that everyone 'has to' have some type of insurance or the people who refuse to get insurance will be fined (they will be punished by being forced to pay money to the government).

Furthermore, the website that the US government established so that people can buy the insurance didn't work when it was started and there are still big problems with the web site.  So people who want to buy the insurance still can't.

There are over 50 million people in the USA who do not have health insurance, and so far only 1 million have bothered to buy the insurance.  Many people seem to be refusing to even buy the insurance.

So now this situation is causing people from Obama's own Democratic Party to start to worry. There are going to be huge elections next year for the US Congress and people are so angry about "Obamacare" that they will probably vote against Democratic politicians and for Republican politicians.

There is a comment section under the following article.  If you want to read how angry Americans are about Obamacare, you can read the comments section. 

Here is an article about this situation:,0,5751122.story

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

a meltdown - this is when everything goes wrong and something completely fails and there are negative consequences.  The Chernobyl nuclear power plant (facility) had a 'meltdown' in the 1980s - this meant some huge problem occurred and the nuclear power facility (plant) was partially destroyed and released a lot of radiation that killed people.  So now if something terrible happens it is often called a 'meltdown.'

The Senate - the US Congress (where laws are made) is divided into two parts: The Senate and the House.  Right now Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House but Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate.  It is difficult for Obama to do much as president because the Congress is divided.  If Republicans control both the House and the Senate, Obama will not be able to do anything.

urged delaying a penalty - because the system doesn't work (the website doesn't even work) this Senator is saying that it would be wrong to punish people for not signing up for the insurance on time.  he urged (encouraged) delaying (putting off or postponing) 

to enroll in s/t - please remember this is kind of a phrasal verb, you always enroll 'in' something or enroll for s/t.  To enroll in something means to sign up for something to become a part of something.

transitional year - a year in which people get used to the system and begin moving into it; if you transition from one thing to another, you move from one thing to another

it falls of its own weight - this means the Obamacare system is so bad that it is failing purely because it is bad, not because of any other reason or factor

the cost became more than we can absorb - the cost is too high for us to handle or deal with

scrambling - basically running around desperately, running around in a panic

botched - messed up, ruined, broken

to botch something - to mess something up, to ruin something, to break something so that it doesn't work

higher premiums - the amount that has to be paid per month

lingering problems - problems that won't go away

woes - problems

the chamber - the Senate

highlighting - focusing on

the bungled launch - the messed up or bad beginning; to bungle something is to botch something

public approval numbers - the number of people who think Obama is doing a good job. Not many people think he is doing a good job any more. He couldn't even put up a web site that worked.

a debut - a beginning or a start

a hardship exemption - hardship means 'difficult times' an exemption means' you don't have to do something' so if someone had his/her insurance cancelled because of Obamacare, they can apply for an 'exemption': they might not have to sign up for the insurance by March 2014.

trending Republican - more and more people are becoming Republicans there

conservative - the opposite of liberal.  Republicans tend to be conservative while Democrats tend to be liberal.  Conservatives believe in low-taxes and few restrictions or laws to control businesses.  Liberals believe in higher taxes, more social programs and more laws to control businesses.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Indian maids speak out against their poor treatment in India.

(This image is from - it shows people protesting because maids in India do not seem to have enough rights or legal protections)

There has been a lot of negative news recently about the country of India - India has been receiving a lot of bad publicity. (Publicity means stories in the news. Normally you can receive good or bad publicity from the news.)

Awhile ago it was reported that slavery (people being 'owned' by other people) still exists in India and that 1/2 of all the world's slaves live in that country.  Recently there have also been stories about the poverty in that country and the fact that many children do not grow to a normal height because they do not receive enough food when they are younger. India is among the world leaders in poverty (poverty is when people do not have enough money to live decently).

Now, an Indian diplomat (someone working for the Indian government in America) has been arrested in New York City for allegedly (it is claimed but hasn't been proved) treating her maid more like a slave than an employee.  (A maid is someone hired to do cooking and cleaning etc.) The Indian government claims this is not true, yet, in order for a person to be arrested (taken into custody by the police or other law enforcement authorities), there has to be some evidence.  

Apparently the diplomat's maid claimed that she was not being paid very much money and that she was being forced to work too many hours.  In the United States this type of allegation (a statement that something wrong has occurred) is taken very seriously. We do not allow wealthy/rich people to treat their maids or servants like slaves.

The poor treatment of maids seems to be common in India.  Here is an article about this situation. It seems to me that there are many terrible social problems in India that its government needs to try to fix.  

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to speak out on something - to forcefully make statements about something, usually to express a truth which most people don't know about; to attempt to make people aware of something that is wrong (you can also 'speak out against' something)

a controversy - an issue over which people really disagree

alleged mistreatment - if something is alleged, someone claims something but it hasn't been proved. Mistreatment means bad treatment or a case where someone or some organization acted badly toward someone else

a fellow maid - another maid; in this case 'fellow' does not mean 'male' - it means another

little recourse - recourse means the ability to get something done; therefore to have little recourse means that if something bad happens to them, they can't get justice for what was done to them.  

minimum wage - the lowest amount of money you are allowed to pay someone

lashed out at - been very critical of, criticized.  Literally, to lash someone is to hit someone with a whip.  This is a whip. So to lash out at someone is to verbally attack someone.

to be strip-searched - this means the police forced her to remove all of her clothing so they could make sure she was not carrying a weapon.

U.S. Marshals Service - the 'police' who arrested her

standard procedure - they said they strip-search everyone they arrest

the dropping of charges - charges means the formal complaint by the government of the US that a person did something wrong.  If charges are brought against a person, the person must appear in court.  Court is where a person is either found guilty or innocent. India doesn't want this diplomat to have to go to court.

atrociously - very badly

a legitimate expectation - a fair or real expectation.  If you expect something, you believe something should happen.

to err - to make a mistake

protests erupted - a protest is when a group of people gather to express their dislike for something. A volcano erupts:

demonstrators - protesters

to burn an effigy of Obama - this means that they burned dolls that looked like Obama.

to snub someone - to deliberately refuse to meet someone in order to try to insult them or make them feel upset

to tender an apology - to offer an apology

unsettling - disturbing, bothersome; if something is unsettling it should bother or trouble a person.  This US official is saying that the people in India are focusing on the story of the diplomat but not on the story of the poor maid who was possibly badly treated.

in cases of exploitation - in cases where maids are not treated well

they will side with my employers - they will take the side of the employer, they will help the employer cover up the poor treatment

affluent - wealthy; if you are affluent, you have money

near starvation - near dying due to a lack of food

exploitation - the misuse of another in order to get some type of benefit

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A student was suspended for hugging his teacher

(photo from

This is a very strange story.  A 17 year old boy gave his teacher a hug and she claimed that it was a form of sexual harassment.  A hug is when you put your arms around a person; harassment is when you do something aggressively to bother or emotionally harm someone.  So sexual harassment is when you approach a person in an aggressively sexual manner.

You can see the video from the link below.  It does not look like 'sexual harassment.' It looks like a hug. Nevertheless, the student was suspended from school for one year because he was found guilty of committing sexual harassment. To be suspended means that he will not be allowed to attend school for one year - a suspension is a type of punishment.

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

Ga. student - the student lives in the American state of Georgia.

a hearing officer - this was a person from the school who listened to details about what happened and who made the decision that the student was guilty of (committed) sexual harassment. A hearing is a process in which someone or a group of people listens to evidence about something "wrong" that supposedly happened.

a surveillance camera - a video camera that records what happens in a space

tucking his head - placing his head (do not worry too much about the exact meaning of 'tucking' - it is rarely used as it is used in this sentence: usually a parent will tuck a child into bed - that means the parent will cover the child with a blanket.  Or if your shirt is not inside your pants, you will tuck your shirt into your pants.)

alleged - claimed, stated

a discipline report - a report claiming something wrong happened and requesting punishment

inappropriate - not right

to jeopardize his college plans - to destroy or ruin his plans for college

a senior - he's in his fourth year of high school.  1st = freshman, 2nd = sophomore, 3rd = junior.

lacrosse - another type of sport that is played in American high schools and colleges but probably not anywhere else.

stripping him of getting a scholarship - taking a scholarship away from him.  The mother is worried that a college will not take her son if he has been found guilty of sexual harassment and she is worried that he will also lose his chance to receive a scholarship from a college to play a sport.  In America, many young people can get into college for free if they are very good at a type of sport.  They play for their college sport's team and help the school make money.

witness testimony - what people who saw what happened might say

to appeal the decision - to go to someone higher than the hearing officer and ask that the decision be reversed or changed to not-guilty.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Don't get scammed! Don't give money to beggars in New York City!

The police officer in this photo bought a new pair of boots for this guy who was lying in the streets without shoes and socks.  The officer wasn't a hero, though; he got scammed. The guy without shoes was not homeless - he chose to sit on the street without shoes to make money by begging.  The guy actually had an apartment and was getting free money from the government.  "To be scammed" means that someone tells you something false in order to get money from you.

I wrote a pretty good book for people who are interested in New York City.  

The book is called:
New York City Sucks, But You'll Want To Come Here Anyway
(If something 'sucks' it is bad.)

Here's the link on amazon.  It's very inexpensive, so please buy it if you want to work on your vocabulary. :)

I wrote a new, little chapter for the book. It is called: Don't give money to beggars!

I hope you like it:

5. Please don’t give money to beggars!
(underlined words are defined after the reading passage)
One night, around Christmastime, a police officer in Times Square saw a man lying on the sidewalk who wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks.  It was extremely cold outside and the cop felt sorry for the man.  He was afraid that the man’s feet might freeze in such cold weather.  And, of course, it was around Christmastime, when everyone in America feels very generous. 

So the cop realized that there was a shoe store right next to where the guy was lying and he decided to do a good deed.  He asked the man what his shoe size was, then he went into the store and bought a pair of beautiful boots for the homeless man.  He paid over $100 of his hard earned money for those boots.

The police officer didn’t realize it, but there were some tourists standing nearby who not only observed what he did, but they also took photos of him handing the new boots to the homeless man. (You can see one of the photos above.)  Then they sent the photos to the local newspapers and the cop’s photo was on the front page of newspapers, not just in New York City, but all over the country.  The cop became an instant hero and was on many TV shows.

But, this whole situation seemed very strange to me from the start.  I have a lot of experience in this city and I can smell a rat a mile away.  In another chapter of this book I wrote about my volunteer experience with homeless people and I knew from that experience that there are many places in Manhattan where homeless people can get free clothes.  There are churches all over the city that give homeless people free food and free clothes.  In fact, there are very good people who travel around at night looking for homeless people who might need clothes.  So how could this guy be sitting on the street with no shoes on his feet?  It didn’t make sense.  Honestly, some homeless people are better dressed than I am!  I’ve thought about going to these churches to get free food and clothing too! (I'm joking.)

So the situation didn’t make sense.  You just don't see people sitting around Manhattan without shoes.  The homeless know where to go to get food and clothing.  In fact, there are homeless 'shelters' that are provided by the city where they can sleep at night for free.  

Apparently a couple journalists didn’t think the situation made sense either because they began looking for the homeless guy who got the free shoes.  They wanted to ask him a few questions.  And, in fact, one journalist found the guy near Columbia University – walking around with no shoes on his feet again!

When the journalist asked the man where his beautiful new boots were, the man stated that the boots were so nice that he was afraid other homeless people might try to kill him and steal the boots.  But, this was, of course, a lie.

It turned out that this guy wasn’t even homeless!  People from his apartment building saw him in the newspaper and called the newspaper and said that this guy had free housing from the government because he had been in the military and was suffering, apparently, from a psychological disorder.  So he wasn’t homeless, he was getting free housing, free food and free money from the government.  But, sometimes he would walk around in the cold without any shoes just to make people really pity him!  

He would deliberately sit on the sidewalk without shoes and socks because this made him look more pitiful and, therefore, people would be more likely to give him money.

It all made sense now.  This is why he was literally lying right outside of a shoe store. He wanted someone to feel sorry for him and buy him a pair of expensive shoes, so that he could take the shoes back later and get a refund.  So, basically, the cop got scammed.  He wasn’t a hero, he was a guy who got taken advantage of by a shady fake homeless guy who was already getting lots of free stuff from the tax payers.

So what’s the lesson you should learn?  Please!  Please please pretty please!  Don’t give money to anyone.  They are all trying to scam you.  Sometimes you’ll even see mothers on the subway holding babies.  The woman will say, “My baby and I can’t find a shelter…we are so hungry…..” No.  Not true.  There’s definitely a shelter that will take a homeless mother and baby.  This is America not India.  There are not people starving and dying in the streets here.  You’ll hear beggars giving you all kinds of sob stories.  No!  Don’t believe them! 

The homeless people I helped as a volunteer even told me this – the people who are begging are just trying to make money, usually for drugs or alcohol.  If you give them money you are probably hurting them more than helping them.  Sometimes people will stand in subway stations and say, “Please….I just need $1 to get on the subway and get home…” No!  They are lying.  In fact, my language exchange partner Bob once made a stupid mistake.  He had to make a quick subway trip and just grabbed a leather packet with his Metrocard in it.  After he got to where he was going he tried to use the card again for a return trip and it wouldn’t work. There was no more money on the Metrocard.  Bob then realized he had not brought his other wallet with his credit cards and money.  So now he was far from his apartment without any money and without any Metrocard.

So what would you have done?  Some people might have explained their situation to the subway attendant, but, realistically, this person wouldn’t have believed Bob.  Some people might have tried turnstyle jumping, but this is illegal and Bob doesn’t do anything illegal.  So Bob walked.  It was in the summer, the weather was OK, and he just walked home.  It took him 3 and ½ hours, but he simply walked home.  Basically, that’s what honest people do.  He was in desperate need of a little money, but he could not bring himself to beg.  It was beneath his dignity. Listen to Suzy, if you come here, please don’t give these beggars a penny.

Definitions of terms:

a beggar – someone who asks for money from strangers

the sidewalk – this is the long area of concrete that people walk on. The sidewalk is separated from the street by a curb.  You always park your car next to a curb.

a cop – police officers are called cops.  What’s interesting is that in previous generations there were often negative and nasty terms for police in America.  Young people usually used these terms. For instance, in the 60s and 70s cops were called ‘pigs.’ That might be because of how the police acted toward young people who protested the Vietnam War. Now, in America, I don’t think there are any slang or nasty terms for the police.

the guy – you hear ‘guy’ all the time.  He’s the guy I told you about. He’s the guy who lives near me.  He’s the guy who was in the newspapers. Etc.  So ‘guy’ refers to a man.  There’s really no term like this for women.

to do a good deed - to do something good for someone; a deed is an action.  For example:  I saw an elderly woman who was having trouble carrying her groceries, so I did a good deed and helped her carry her bags home.

my hard earned money – this is an expression you hear a lot of. I am not wasting my hard earned money on such a bad movie!  A person could say, “I am not going to waste my money on…” but people will often say, “I am not going to waste my hard earned money on…”  Adding ‘hard earned’ provides greater emphasis. It implies that the person works very hard and does not want to waste money he/she worked hard for.

I can smell a rat – this means that you can sense that something is wrong.  A rat is like a big mouse.  It is an animal that likes to eat garbage and that nobody likes.  You can’t say for sure, or you can’t prove it, but if you ‘smell a rat’ you feel as if something is very wrong.  ‘I can smell a rat a mile away’ means you are really good at sensing when something is not as it should be.

It didn’t make sense – this means something really looks or is strange.  If something doesn’t make sense, you don’t expect to see it and the fact that it exists indicates something is wrong.

It turned out that… - you hear this a lot.  If a person wants to jump to the end of the story quickly, he/she’ll say, “It turns out that…”   So “it turns out that…” means basically, “the result was that…”

suffering from a psychological disorder - if a person has any type of illness, physical or psychological, we can say he/she is 'suffering' from this illness.  i.e. Where is Joe today?  Oh, he's suffering from a cold. he won't be back to work until next week.  i.e. Did you hear that Bob's father suffered a heart attack yesterday?  i.e.  I have been suffering from a headache this afternoon.

to feel pity – to feel sympathy or to feel sorry for a person

deliberately - if someone does something deliberately, he chooses to do it, he does not do it accidentally

pitiful - if a person is pitiful he/she is in a bad situation that makes you feel sorry for that person

a scam – this is when someone creates a plan to take your money from you, or to ‘cheat’ or ‘trick’ you out of money. Basically they want to steal your money from you through some plan.

shady – dishonest, not to be trusted

a shelter – this is a place, either provided by the government or a charity, which provides a place for people to stay and sleep at night. It is free.

starving – not getting enough food to the point where it has become painful and you might die.

a sob story – this is a story the person thinks will make you cry or make you feel pity for them.  The proper response to a sob story is: I don’t want to hear your sob story!  To sob means to cry.

a Metrocard – this is the magnetic card that you need to use to get into the subway system in new York City.  It is usually a yellow card with the letters MTA on it.

a subway attendant – this is a person who works inside a large glass booth (box) in the subway station.  You can ask this person for help or buy a Metrocard from this person (although most people buy their Metrocards from Metrocard machines).

turnstyle jumping – in order to enter into the subway system, you have to pass through a turnstyle.  This is a device with three silver, metal arms (long bars). You push on an arm and it turns downward allowing you to enter into the system.  Some people literally jump over the turnstyles to get a free subway ride.  But, if you are caught doing this by the police, you will be arrested and taken to the police station.

beneath his dignity – your sense of dignity is the way you feel about yourself if you are an honest person.  If you think you are a good person, you will have a sense of dignity.  If you are ashamed of something, you have a low sense of dignity.  If something is beneath your dignity, you think you are too good to do it.

Grammar Stuff

could vs. was able to

It’s important to realize that ‘could’ is not always the past tense of ‘can’.  Sometimes ‘could’ points to the future and you have to use ‘was able to’ instead.

For instance, if someone says to you, “Where did you buy that cup of tea?”  You can’t say, “I could buy it at Starbucks.”  That points to the future.  “I was able to buy it at Starbucks.” ß--that points to the past.

How did you get here so quickly?  I was able to catch a cab.  (Not: I could catch a cab. I could catch a cab literally points to the future.)

Why is your English so good?  I was able to learn so much from the Suzy book! (Not: I could learn so much from the Suzy book.)

11 Terms/phrases – Fill-in-the-blank exercise

cop, my hard earned money, to smell a rat, pity, scam, shady, shelter, starving, sob story, subway attendant, a turnstyle

I was tempted to give the beggar a dollar, but I looked at how he was dressed and he was better dressed than I was. So I realized his attempt to get money from me was just a ____________.

During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade someone stole my wallet from my backpack.  I found a ____________ and he told me to go to the nearest police station and file a report.

The beggar told me that he had been kicked out of his apartment and that he could not find any place to stay or to eat, but he was a fat guy with nice clothes, so I decided he was telling me a ________________.

There was something about the accounting books that didn’t look right to me.  When I asked the boss, she did not answer my questions directly.  I ______________________.

My children kept bothering me to take them to the latest action/adventure movie, but I knew the movie was going to be crap and I didn’t want to spend my _________________________ on it.

I do feel ______________ for the homeless.  That is why I do volunteer work to help them.  I will not give my hard earned money to a beggar, however.

I noticed that some people simply walk through the _____________ while some people push it in order to enter the subway system.

I always knew that politician was ____________________. Therefore I was not surprised when he was arrested and put on trial for taking bribes (money).

If I ever have a question about how to get to where I am going, I usually ask the ____________________ and he/she will usually give me good travel advice.

If a person does not have enough money to pay his/her rent, he/she does not have to live in the streets.  There are numerous _____________________ around New York City which will provide a safe place to stay until the person can begin to make money to live independently again.

I had been working so hard that I wasn’t able to eat all day.  I felt as if I were _________________ when I finally got home.

Answers: scam, cop, sob story, smelled a rat, hard earned money, pity, turnstyle, shady, subway attendant, shelters, starving

Sunday, December 15, 2013

7 useful English words plus examples plus an exercise

to fuss (or to fuss over) - to be worried about something that isn't important
a whim - a sudden, random idea or desire
savory - something that looks delicious to eat
your conscience - the little voice inside of you which tells you what is right or wrong
timorous - being fearful or timid
shrewd - this could mean very clever or very sneaky
rueful - showing sadness, sorrow or regret

Why are you fussing so much over this chapter?  The material in that chapter will not even be on the test.

On a whim, I decided to go visit my cousin in Toronto.

Although Bob bought the book "The Joy of Cooking," he was a terrible cook and never made any really savory meals.

In good conscience, I can't help you cheat on this test.

Some people are risk takers but some people are more timorous, cautious and conservative.

The politician was very shrewd.  He knew that there were many elderly people in his district so he always campaigned around the theme of preserving social security and other programs for the elderly.

That was one of the most stupid things I ever did and I remain rueful to this day about it.

From the smell of the food that was wafting from the kitchen into the dining room, I could tell we were in store for a most ________________ dinner.

After it became apparent that the War in Iraq was not going to end quickly, many Americans became ________________ that the war had ever been started.

I bought this tie on a _____________.  I didn't expect to buy anything, but when I saw it, I felt I needed to have it.

As far as I can tell all of the preparations for the wedding are in place.  Bob, however, still feels he has to ________________ over some minor details.

Bob is a ________________ businessman.  Even in an economic downturn he can make lots of money.

I felt that I had to quit that job because I have a ______________ conscience.  I did not think that company was doing the right thing.

I tend to be a pretty conservative person because I tend to be a _________________ person.  I'm a little scared of taking risks and trying things that might hurt me.

answers are below:



Tourists walk too slowly in New York City, or they just stand on the sidewalks

(photo from

I noticed this too.  There are certain areas of New York City you should avoid unless you absolutely have to go through them.  Why?  Because there are some areas where you know tourists are going to be and it's very difficult to walk through those areas.  The tourists just stand there looking at stuff or talking to each other. It can actually be very annoying.  Here is an article about this phenomenon (situation).

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

New York City turns sour - to turn or become sour means to start to feel as if you are in a bad mood.  Sour is the opposite of sweet.

walkin' - walking.  Many people drop the 'g' sound at the end of 'ing' words.

tourists flock to the city - birds fly in flocks, so when you hear that people are flocking to some place, they are gathering in huge numbers

to clog the sidewalks - to make the sidewalks so crowded that people cannot pass through

that grates at locals - that makes people from New York City upset (to grate at is rarely used)

sharp elbowed - this means kind of rude or aggressive when people are walking through crowds; This is an elbow: 
So sharp elbowed means a person who might use his elbows as a type of weapon while walking.

a pace - the speed at which you walk

to be accustomed to do something - to be used to doing something

agonizingly slow procession - a painfully slow pace

a Scrooge is a person who is in a bad mood at Christmas time

a Grinch is another character who hated Christmas

etiquette - manners, the right way of doing things in a social environment

to stop in your tracks - to just stop without warning while you are walking

to stroll - to walk casually

a caterer - someone who makes food for parties and other events

smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk - right in the middle of the sidewalk

boom - a good example of 'onomatopoeia' - onomatopoeia is when a word corresponds to a sound.  So in America we say that a dog makes this sound: "Aarf!" or "Woof!"  A cat goes: "Meow..."  "boom" represents the noise of a collision or when something explodes

walking brisk - many Americans speak poor English.  This should be: We walk briskly. Briskly means quickly.

to double down on his resolve to maneuver sidewalks - to work harder at moving through the crowds on sidewalks; to double-down means to focus harder on s/t (I've never heard double-down used before so don't worry about it.)

noshed on - ate

between shifts - between work shifts; a shift of work might be from 9am to 5pm

to be in a rush - to be in a hurry

to zig-zag - to walk in this pattern:

to navigate - in this instance it means to walk through

no walk in the park - it's not easy; a walk in the park is an easy activity.  i.e. How was your test? It was a walk in the park.

a snotty way - a nasty, mean, rude, insulting way

an improv group - a group of comedians

chalk - 

urge their employees - encourage their employees

a concourse - a large open space

a courier - someone who carries messages or other things between addresses

to kvetch - to complain (this word is rarely used)

ambulatory - if you can ambulate, you can walk; ambulatory means dealing with walking

an annoyance - something that irritates you

to be just - to be right

the Kumbaya approach - Kumbaya is a song about how people should love each other. So if someone says you are taking a Kumbaya approach, he/she is joking and lightly making fun of you saying that you are acting like an unrealistic person who believes that everyone can love each other.

venturing - taking a risk