It’s been a wonderful week language-wise, starting on Monday with the “skunk at the picnic”, doomscrolling, Bon Jovi, an update on genius dogs, phrasal verbs and more.
The skunk at the picnic
On Monday, major newspapers such as the New York Times and The Guardian featured Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and advisor to the president. He has advised 7 presidents over 40 years on infectious diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, the SARS bird flu and Covid.
Dr Fauci graciously explained how he did his best to keep the voice of science alive in a reluctant Trump administration. While Dr Fauci was further sidelined as the pandemic spread throughout the United States, he began to use the power of his presence as a deterrent. Indeed, few feel comfortable spewing unscientific aberrations in front of an eminent doctor. This strategy made use of an open joke, no less, demonstrating the power of humor in a sea of disagreement:
So there was a joke — a friendly joke, you know — that I was the skunk at the picnic. (Dr Anthony Fauci)
What would you do if you encountered a skunk at a picnic, or at a business meeting? I bet you would keep still to stop it from making a stink.
When asked if he had ever thought of stepping down from his responsibilities (he is 80 years old, after all), he replied:
I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic. (Dr Anthony Fauci)
Dr Fauci has just given us a terrific recipe on human relationships - sometimes the weight of presence, of just being there, speaks louder than words, knowledge or rational thought. Better yet, turn it into an open joke to “sugar the pill*”.
Have you ever found yourself reading dark news (like much of 2020) and scrolling down the page, clicking article to article, on the endless web? This is doomscrolling (using your mouse to move down the page) or doomsurfing (surfing the vast web). Unsurprisingly, doomsurfing has negative effects on mental health.
Doomsday is another word for the Apocalypse while doom is a synonym for destruction, death, negative outcomes and/or failure. Yet, doom is also a synonym for success in the movie and game industry, with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or Doom, one of the most popular video games, demonstrating incredible longevity, from its start in 1993 to 2020 releases!
Pooch Update - Learn Through Play
There is an update from the Genius Dog Challenge research team (see Good to Great English, vol. 2). As it turns out, genius canines learn fast through play in a social context with their owners. Like children, genius dogs learn by associating a new word with a new object. But the same dogs then failed to learn the names of objects in exclusion-based tasks. Does this remind you of multiple choice questions? You know A and C are false, so B sounds good, but you don’t know what B is and wouldn’t recognize it if someone said it after the test.
So far, both kids and dogs learn fast but more research is needed to discover whether the mechanisms behind rapid learning are the same for genius dogs and toddlers.
Bon Jovi - Lower the Flag
Rock singer Jon Bon Jovi’s band, the Bon Jovi band, has been around since 1983. Their 2020 album includes Lower the Flag, a song on mass shootings and gun control (See Good to Great English, vol. 3). The lyrics are powerful and set contrasting emotions side by side. This topic is so unusual for a popular mainstream artist that Jon Bovi was asked if he wasn’t afraid of alienating some of his fans over the song. He replies,
There are men on my stage who see things differently, but I don’t let our differences come between us. (Jon Bon Jovi)
Lyric language tips: A flag lowered or flown at half-mast marks mourning that affects the whole of a nation. “Joe” is a generic name for a man - in this case, the one whose job is to lower the flag, or to pass the order on. “The brass” refers to people in authority and comes from the brass buttons and medals/insignia traditionally on a uniform.
Grin and bear it (smile and endure)
A final chapter on the verb “to bear” (issues 2 and 3, Good to Great English) - grin and bear it - smile and read on!
to bear a grudge: to have rancor, resentment towards someone, often for a long time : John still bears a grudge on me because I won our tennis championship 10 years ago.
to bear fruit - come to fruition, to bear results, to succeed and benefit from the outcome (both literal and figurative meanings): Our strategy finally bore fruit after months of teamwork.
to bear someone ill will - to actively wish for something negative to happen to someone: In fairytales, stepmothers and stepfathers often bear ill will towards their stepchildren.
to bear the burden - to carry a heavy load, to suffer consequences: My parents bore the burden of their debt in silence. They kept it from us.
to bear witness to - to serve as proof, evidence: Worldwide protests to save the planet bear witness to the young generation’s concern for their future.
Some phrasal verbs
to bear on - to influence, have an effect on: Doomsurfing is one factor that bears on mental health.
to bear up - to bravely, cheerfully endure hardship: Anna is bearing up remarkably well since her car accident.
to bear with - to be patient: Please bear with me as I sort out my audio on Zoom.
What is the Power of this Trend?
An eye-opening incident over Wall Street traders losing out to individual traders leads me to think we will see more of this in 2021. Reddit users in the 6-million strong group r/wallstreetbets were able to reverse a short trading* event and they have so far caused a 5-billion-dollar loss to Wall Street. Short trading is selling stock and later buying is back at a lower rate. It’s complicated, but the key message is that a huge online group decided to leverage the power of small investors and change the course of a Wall Street trading bet.
In layperson’s terms, a trading bet takes place when hedge fund investors, lined with deep pockets, purposefully zoom in on a company, start some kind of short trading event, reduce the value of its stock and buy it back at a lower price, making a quick profit. The business may well collapse but the trade bet is won. It sounds unfair, especially if you are on the losing side. But then r/wallstreetbets happened, and small investors won the bet.
In simpler terms, a pool of online investors, people like you and me, joined forces through Reddit, defended a cause and won the trading bet. As “the Internet says”, they have succeeded in making Wall Street accountable in ways the Federal government never has. I would love to see this kind of power harnessed to enact large-scale environmental change.
Will 2021 see more individual investors joining forces to make massive investments for the common good and counter trading bets that characterize unfettered capitalism? How will Wall Street react? (Hint: Wall Street dislikes regulation yet is suddenly interested in regulating the power of small investors - that will not come easily.)
Recipe - Crêpes
Thin crêpes are not only February favorites but they beloved throughout the year. Grand Marnier is optional but gives a light orange flavor to complement toppings ranging from sugar to jam, or Nutella.
Practice speaking with Online English Book Club
Details on https://learn.ohyes.ch/courses/step-up-book-club-january-2021/preview
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Are you making this mistake in English? (not on podcast)
We often hear *“explain me”* instead of explain to me. (*…* indicates the English is incorrect.) For example,
Mistake: *Can you explain me the story.*
The right way
The italics show what is being explained.
Can you explain the story to me?
Can you explain it to me? Can you explain it to him?
I tried explaining that to my colleagues.
The presenter unsuccessfully tried to explain the process to us.
He unsuccessfully tried to explain it to us.
Describe and recommend also follow this pattern:
We described the project to the team members. —> We described it to them.
This is because we explain/describe/recommend SOMETHING to SOMEONE. Something is the direct object - what is being exlained/described/recommended. A direct object never has a preposition. Also, it can be a person, but make sure that this is clear from context:
The police asked me to descibe the robbers. I described them (to them/to the police).
Finally, to me - to them - to the police are called indirect objects. In the simplest of terms, adding an extra word, the preposition “to”, makes verb-object relationship indirect, you’ve got a word blocking the way: verb-to-object.
From a practical point of view, the “to” needs to be there for clarity. In the above police example, I’m sure you’ll agree that *“I described them them”"* is totally unclear and incorrect.
If you find that you do make this mistakes, remember that practice is the best way to get rid of old language habits.
Our Speaking Club meets on February 9th, feel free to join us for a complimentary class by registering to this newsletter.
Links and notes
Anthony Fauci, the skunk at the picnic: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/24/fauci-says-he-was-the-skunk-at-the-picnic-in-trumps-covid-team and https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/24/health/fauci-trump-covid.html
*sugar / sweeten the pill: make something disagreeable more agreeable, easier to accept
Good to Great Newsletter and Podcast, vol 2: https://english.languagesandmore.com/p/good-to-great-english-vol-2
Good to Great Newsletter and Podcast, vol 3: https://english.languagesandmore.com/p/good-to-great-english-vol-3
Lyrics, Lower the flag: https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Bon-Jovi/Lower-the-Flag
Interview Jon Bon Jovi: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/jan/25/jon-bon-jovi-on-wealth-love-and-his-ugly-tussle-with-trump-it-was-seriously-scarring
Lower the Flag, lyric video:
Wall Street Bets Reddit group: https://new.reddit.com/r/wallstreetbets/
*short trading: selling securities because a decrease in value is expected, then buying back these same securities later at a lower price
French crêpes: https://www.casseroleetchocolat.fr/en/les-crepes-de-la-chandeleur/