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Three words in English rooted in Paganism

The other day I wrote about Valentine’s Day (BIG thank you to those who read and liked it). So thinking about The Roman’s and their pagan practices, traditions and holidays that have somehow managed to find their way into some of our modern-day customs, made me want to dig into whether any of the words we have today in English are similarly connected to early paganism.

I found three that I thought I’d share in this post today and two of them surprised me and one was new to me. I wonder if you’ll be surprised by any of them also?

The first, a noun and the one I didn’t know before, is

QUERENT

but after reading about it, I thought what a great word! I’ll definitely be slipping it into conversation from time to time lol.

You have heard of tarot readers, right? Those people who read your future by turning over a pack of illustrated cards one by one? You’ve probably seen it on television or in films even if you’ve never actually been to one yourself. (I did many many years ago, but that’s a whole other blog post…).

These are a few examples from a typical pack of tarot cards

Anyway, the person who is having the reading and paying for their fortune to be told is the querent. It has its origins in the word ‘query’ , which of course you all know is ‘to ask’. Of course you can see the link, can’t you, to other words like question or inquiry too. If you look it up in the Oxford dictionary, you’ll see it for yourself.

So next time you ask, or someone asks you a question, you/they are the QUERENT. This tradition of reading tarot cards in order to answer people’s questions about what fate has planned for their lives has been practiced for thousands of years.

The second one, while not a new word to me, was one I had no idea had pagan roots until I began my research and that word is

CIRCLE

Ok, I’m not going to insult you all by finding a photograph of a circle lol, I think we all know what this shape looks like. But finding out it had pagan origins made me think about some of the phrases we typically use in English.

Firstly, for early practitioners of paganism, the circle held a sacred, very special place in all they did. The circle was the place inside which they worshipped. If you were inside the circle you were in a peaceful place, a positive place, a calm place.

However, if you were on the outside, you were in a negative and disruptive, darker place.

Today in English we have phrases such as:

  • Let’s welcome him/her into the inner circle
  • She/he has a tight circle of loyal friends
  • I like to move within a wide range of social circles

All of these phrases are used to describe something positive that is happening to us or a particular person at any given time. There has to be a connection back to the ancient pagan meaning of the word circle. And which of us hasn’t at some point jumped at the chance to become part of some ‘inner circle’ either socially or more specifically to get ahead career-wise?

The last one, again, not one I would have linked to paganism before my research, so I too learned a lot from today’s post lol, is

DEGREE

How many of you have a degree? Maybe a masters degree too? Well this word also has roots in paganism and was around long before the concept of ‘getting a university degree‘ was ever dreamed of.

So apparently, early pagans, if they wanted to, could learn all about their religion in a methodical and planned way by studying everything there was to know about the customs and practices over a set period. These periods of time lasted for a year and a day. After exactly one year and a day’s worth of study had been completed, an individual was said to have their FIRST DEGREE.

If they continued studying they could earn their SECOND DEGREE. If they wanted to really scale dizzying heights and start up their own coven of pagan worshippers, they needed a THIRD DEGREE.

Doesn’t knowing this make you wonder if this might be the reason why degrees all across the world typically (not always, for example doctors and veterinarians to name two) but usually an undergraduate degree takes THREE years to accomplish. Just like the pagan third degree. Interesting thought.

Some of you probably know about degree systems used in martial arts, I personally don’t know a single thing about martial arts except having a black belt means you can kick everyone’s ___. LOL. What degree a black belt is though, I couldn’t tell you, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably a higher degree. Please do let me know if you have privy knowledge from within the ‘inner circles of the martial arts world‘, just drop me a comment below, I’d love to know.

So my querents just think about how ancient some of the language we use in English actually is and where it stems from, as you rush around building your circles of friends and amassing your degrees.

Well all I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I enjoyed finding all the bits and putting it together. I have to thank the Roman’s and St Valentine for being the inspiration behind creating this post! haha

See you again soon.

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Valentine's Day – How did it begin?

I have two stories that might help answer that question and believe it or not, both tales are firmly rooted in Ancient Rome. One describes the typical kind of love story we frequently watch today in cinemas across the globe. The only difference being instead of it ending all happy-ever-after as Hollywood films like Pretty Woman tend to, the ending to this tale was grim, gory and very bloody.

The other might have elements of truth but now after so much time, how would we ever know for sure.

Which of the two stories will appeal to you as the most likely tale to have inspired the Valentine’s Day we have come to love and celebrate today? You’ll have to read them both and decide for yourself.

Story #1

It was the 3rd Century and Rome as always, was busy fighting and conquering everyone around it. Meanwhile back in Rome, Emperor Claudius II was unhappy with two monks who just happened to be named Valentine. (What a coincidence!)

Well, yes, you know what’s coming… they were tortured and executed for whatever crimes they were supposed to have committed. One of them being elevated by the Christian church many years later, to the status of saint, hence we have St Valentine.

Story #2

Again we’re back to the 3rd Century and yes, it’s Emperor Claudius II again and as ever, he’s not happy. This time he’s fuming because he heard reports that a certain priest named Valentine was going against his direct orders that all marriages for soldiers in his army be completely banned.

Valentine had been marrying soldiers and their wives in secret to get around the ban. But then he was caught…

Apparently, Claudius had someone who could “see” into the future who told him that marriage amongst his soldiers would lead to Rome’s defeat in war. So panicked was Emperor Claudius II by this terrible news that he immediately passed his anti-marriage law.

The priest called Valentine was summoned before him and thrown into jail until Claudius had decided how he should die. Not whether or not his punishment should be death, but exactly how he would meet his untimely demise.

However, like all love stories, Valentine fell in love with his guard’s daughter whose task it had been to carry food up to all the prisoners. On one of her visits they both fell in love.

A little while later, she sadly watched as Valentine was dragged from his cell and executed for his ‘crimes’. As she cried and cleared his cell, she found a love-note he had written to her declaring his undying love for her forever.

Oh and the date of his execution?

The 14th February of course! What other day could it have been?

So that is why we buy, write on and send Valentine’s Day cards to those we love. It is one of our oldest celebrations.

There are other supposed tales that could just as easily have been “the one” that inspired Valentine’s Day as we know it today, but it all happened so very long ago that no one, not even history buffs can be certain of its true origin.

So you decide which tale you think is the one most likely to have been the inspiration. While you decide, perhaps you could also think about when or why giving jewellery, flowers, especially roses, and chocolates became such a huge part of Valentine’s Day. Maybe you could be highly creative and write a short story of your own that explains the introduction of diamonds, chocolates and red roses? Some extra writing practice for you.

Do you have any unusual Valentine’s Day customs in your countries? Have you any tales of your own about the possible origins to this winter celebration that we celebrate all around the world?

Finally, do you think Valentine’s Day should become a national holiday everywhere? Most of us might like that idea. Perhaps those who would have to work on that day might not.

Whatever plans you have for Valentine’s Day, have fun and enjoy yourselves.

Frantic January… so busy!

Ok all, I know I’ve not spent any where near as much time on this as I should have but life this January had been very busy and full of fresh challenges almost every day. We’re now in February and finally, it looks like things will calm down a little, at least enough for me to resume blogging.

With all the running (literally) about I’ve had to do throughout January, I thought of a way of turning that experience into a useful post about how we use the word RUN or RUNNING in English to create lots of different expressions to describe being VERY BUSY.

I’ll list below some of the most popular expressions using RUN or RUNNING. Remember, these are to do with expressing how busy we are. There are many other idiomatic expressions using RUN that are not about being busy.

  • I haven’t had a break all day, I’ve been run off my feet.
  • I’ve been running around like a headless chicken all day.
  • I’ve run myself ragged this week!
  • I’ve run one errand after another today, it’s been none stop madness.
  • My day’s been so full with meetings that I’ve had to run a really tight ship or nothing else would have been completed.
  • That was a tough interview, I really had to run the gamut and talk about so many different things.
  • It’s going to take a while but in the end when everything’s up and running, it’ll be worth it.
  • There are a few companies I think I can do better than, so I’m just going to run with it on my own for now.
  • Sometimes you have to admit defeat and just cut and run before you get in any deeper.
  • I’ve really had to hit the ground running since getting back as so much has changed in ten years.

If you’ve had a crazy, super busy start to the new year like I have at least now you have a few helpful expressions to use to help you as you tell others all about it.

See you soon

Why Is Anti-freeze Dangerous —

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Why Is Anti-freeze Dangerous —

Gossip – LOVE it or HATE it? It has its pluses & minuses.

The origins of the term gossip some say began with Shakespeare (who was singlehandedly responsible for a great number of words we have in English today), while others think it has roots in the French language. Personally, I think there must have been a term for this knocking around for hundreds even thousands of years.

People have, do, and will always, intentionally or otherwise, find themselves at some point in their lives, engaging in this social ‘activity’.

IS GOSSIPING A GOOD OR BAD THING?

This will depend on several things:

  • Who the gossiper is? What their standing is within their social circles?
  • Who is being gossiped about?
  • What the content of any gossip being shared might be?
  • Whether it is worth spreading further?

I’ve often engaged in gossip and admittedly, sometimes it has been a bad thing to do because perhaps it might have contained ‘not quite the whole truth’ or might have been salacious or scandalous in some way.

On the other hand, gossip has some important social functions too because it can serve to grease ‘social wheels’, especially when getting to know new people. Gossiping can bring us together by giving us a common focus, even if that focus is someone else.

Anyone who says they never gossip is _ _ _ _ _. (Fill in the blank with 1 word)

In today’s post I want to give you 10 expressions for the word GOSSIP. I’m sure you’ll soon be slipping them in and out of conversation like a pro!

  1. tittle-tattle (the content of gossip)
  2. dirty laundry (the content of gossip)
  3. dishing the dirt (the act of gossiping)
  4. chin-wagging (the act of gossiping)
  5. chewing the fat (the act of gossiping)
  6. talk of the town (the person being gossiped about)
  7. grapevine (the volume of people involved in a bit of gossip)
  8. scandal (the content of gossip)
  9. babble (the act of gossiping)
  10. meddler (the person spreading the gossip)

NOTE: Numbers 4/5 can also be talk that isn’t to do with the act of gossiping but just plain old, regular, non-gossipy conversation.

So next time you’re part of a “juicy conversation” remember this post! LOL

Have you ever been short of cash?

Haven’t most people at some point been short of money? Could be for any number of reasons, the actual reasons rarely matter, what is important to people at the time they’re experiencing a lack in funds is that they have NO MONEY. It can be embarrassing, awkward, even humiliating. People can and do feel a range of emotions when access to money becomes an issue.

Idiomatic language can have many purposes, and one of them can be to provide the speaker with alternative words/phrases that will allow them to still say what they mean but without any potential for embarrassment that might have occurred if they had said the actual word/phrase itself.

So with that said, I’d like to get into my list of 20 helpful idioms for letting others know you have not got any money with an example sentence so you can see how each might be used in conversation:

  1. Skint – I’m really skint after paying that huge gas bill.
  2. Brassic – Sorry mate, I can’t lend you any money, I’m totally brassic.
  3. In the red – I didn’t even realise we’d slipped into the red until the credit card was declined.
  4. Penniless – Her husband died and left her penniless.
  5. Short of cash – I can’t wait for pay day, I’m so short of cash.
  6. Cash-strapped – I feel so sorry for them, they’re always cash-strapped.
  7. Broke – Don’t you just hate being broke?
  8. Can’t make ends meet – It doesn’t matter what I do, I can never make ends meet.
  9. Rob Peter to pay Paul – Month after month all I do is rob Peter to pay Paul.
  10. Hand to mouth – I’m so tired of living hand to mouth.
  11. Tightening your belt – After he lost his job they all had to tighten their belts.
  12. On a shoestring – It’s very hard trying to feed a family on a shoestring.
  13. Staying afloat – It’s all I can do to just stay afloat.
  14. Hard up – I don’t think we’ve ever been so hard up as now.
  15. Cut Corners – Now the factory has closed down everyone will have to cut corners.
  16. On my uppers – I live each day on my uppers and nothing else.
  17. Down and out – He went from being successful in business to down and out in about six months.
  18. Badly off – Can you remember a time when we were this badly off, I can’t?
  19. Feeling the pinch – Birthdays and Christmases are times I definitely feel the pinch.
  20. Keep the wolf from the door – It was no use because in the end she just couldn’t keep the wolf from the door.

Hopefully after your Christmas holiday spending none of you will be trying to keep wolves away from doors or starting off the new decade by cutting corners.

A Happy, Profitable and Successful New Year to you all for 2020.

Seasons Greetings (Happy Holidays) Let's look at Alcohol Idioms…

Now there will be a few (just kidding, they’ll be more likely millions!) of people around the world today who might be feeling a little out of sorts, off colour, not quite their best, under par, peaky, queasy, et, etc… after their Christmas festivities…

All the above are words we can use to describe how we feel after drinking lots of alcohol. Yesterday, many people will have enjoyed a tipple or three, so they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about in this post.

Today we are looking at 11 of my favourite idioms to describe the effects of / or a person under the influence of, alcohol.

  1. HAIR OF THE DOG – The morning after a drinking session people will often say this to refer to the idea of having another alcoholic drink in order to make oneself feel better from the effects of the large quantity drunk the night before. Example sentence: Morning sir, can I get you anything? Yes, I’ll have a hair of the dog please.
  2. HE/SHE DRINKS LIKE A FISH – This refers to someone who can apparently drink without ending! They just drink and drink and drink and drink and drink… You get the idea. Example: Wow, he drinks like a fish!
  3. OMG HE’S PLASTERED! – Someone who is VERY drunk. Example: We can’t take him, he’s too plastered.
  4. DRUNK AS A LORD – This is a historical one and referred to noblemen around 1600 who could afford to get drunk, whereas poorer people couldn’t. It has survived to the present day. Example: I saw him stagger in last night drunk as a lord.
  5. DRUNK AS A SKUNK – So for any animal biologists out there, this one originates from the idea that skunks will often eat fallen fruit that might already be in the process of fermenting. Hence the term drunk as a skunk. Example: He could barely stand up. He was drunk as a skunk.
  6. WASTED – To be wasted means to be very drunk indeed. Example: He’s too wasted to go on to the second party, let’s get him a taxi home instead.
  7. LEGLESS – If someone is legless it means they are so drunk they cannot stand up. Hence, legless. Example: They both drank so many cocktails at dinner that they were legless by midnight.
  8. THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND – Now this one is about ships from many years ago that had sails that had to be tied down and secured. If three of these sails (or sheets) became loose, the ship would become unstable in windy weather and rock from side to side like a drunk person trying to walk. I know this one because I heard my grandparents say it when I was younger, but I don’t hear it being said anymore today. Maybe you’ve heard it recently? Example: Typical of him to come home three sheets to the wind when we still have so much work to do!
  9. WELL OILED – Again, another way to describe someone who has drunk rather too much… Example: Wow, you were well oiled last night, weren’t you?
  10. LIGHTWEIGHT – This is usually said of someone who cannot drink much without getting drunk. So a group of friends might playfully tease another friend who they think can’t drink as much as they are able to. Example: If you invite Peter, we wont have to worry about taking taxis because he is such a lightweight he can drive all night.
  11. DRINK SOMEONE UNDER THE TABLE – This refers to someone who has a reputation for being able to drink a lot (the opposite of the previous one) So much so, that they can take on anyone in a drinking challenge and probably win! Example: Well I heard she can drink any man under the table!

Have you heard any of these before? Have you had any of them said about you or to you? Or have you ever described someone else using some of these? Which (if any) do you think sound a ‘little nicer’ than the others? Which one(s) would you NOT like said about you after a drink or two? I know which ones I don’t like lol.

If you’re going to any parties this holiday, listen out for some of these idioms. (Unless they’re said about you! lol)

Anyway, for the rest of these holidays and at any other time too, remember to be careful if you go out drinking. Some of these idioms are amusing to read about but perhaps not so funny if they become a reality.

Why are you learning English?

Ask five different English language learners why they are studying English and you’ll probably get five different answers. Everyone has their own motivations for learning another language and over many years of teaching I’ve had students give me a wide variety of reasons including:

  • I want a better job
  • I would like to live abroad
  • I need to improve my chances of promotion
  • I want a university place at (?)
  • Because everyone uses English now
  • employers expect you to have good English
  • I had no choice but to learn English after fleeing my country
  • If you want to really engage with the Internet, you need English
  • Because I enjoy languages
  • English is a major world language
  • Because my husband/wife/partner is from (?) so I need to improve
  • I want to be able to help my children more with their school work
  • I run a business and need to communicate with people around the world

This is just a small selection of answers but I think you can get the picture that not everyone is learning for quite the same reasons.

So what are your English goals?

When was the last time you thought about why YOU are learning English? Why YOU are going to language classes and/or sifting through the Internet looking for English lessons? Why YOU are doing English language worksheets hour after hour? Same reasons as those above, or for different ones?

[pinit]

Take a minute now and think very carefully about this. I thought about this same process (only for Spanish not English) because I was finding myself in a slump, a dip, or some say a plateau. Nothing I did seemed to be moving my Spanish on. I didn’t feel as if I was going forwards.

Set small, achievable targets

Then I said to myself one day, you need smaller, achievable goals. Stop trying to imagine you’ll be reading the entire collection of Shakespeare in Spanish in a year. Bite off smaller chunks. So I did.

It worked. I started setting mini-goals a few months ago and it does work. I feel I have moved my Spanish along more in the last few months than I had in the last year. I set myself achievable mini-targets such as:

  • week 1 I will work on present tenses (in a variety of ways)
  • week 2 I’ll cover past tenses (again in various ways)
  • week 3 I’ll go over future tenses
  • week 4 watch Spanish films without subtitles to revise/test the past month’s work
  • Then the goals change for the following month to reading goals or speaking goals because I have to let you in on a secret… I get bored VERY easily! So I occasionally need to shake things up a bit for myself. Maybe you need to do that too?

That’s what I have done for the past couple of months and it really has made a huge difference.

Shake things up!

To shake things up = idiom

synonymous terms = reorganise, stir up, purge, break with past, fresh start

To conclude

  1. Decide WHY you are learning English? What is motivating your pursuit of the language?
  2. What mini goals can you set for yourself now? Week 1 = ? Week 2 = ?

Once you have worked on your mini-targets for a period of time and feel you are achieving again, you’ll be ready to think about some longer term language targets. My personal mini-goals for Spanish are in place to let me realise a longer term vision I have of moving back to Latin America to live/work in about a year’s time.

I’d love to hear about some of your reasons for learning English as well as any longer term goals/plans you hope to achieve. Why not drop me a comment?

Speaking exercise (forming and giving opinions) Intermediate/advanced

[pinit]

I like recycling and I decided to reuse an idea from an older post to form this one. In “33 ways to say walk” you practiced your past participles. Well, sticking with a ‘walking’ theme, please read on…

Now many years ago (too many in fact) when I was an undergraduate, I had a friend who, to earn extra money, worked as a runway model. She left university without any debts, which we all thought was amazing! But, one thing I remember her saying the most was how difficult it was being a model and that no one except other models understood just how tough their job was. I used to scoff, one eyebrow raised VERY high and mumble “yeah, right, really hard!” Then fall about laughing because I also had a ‘walking’ part-time job as a student. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as well paid because waiters were not paid as much as models then (or now) even though they probably walk miles and miles more than models do. Anyway…

So what do you think? Do you go along with my old university friend’s view that modelling is a demanding, tough job? Or do you share the opposite opinion?

Some say modelling is a very hard, very demanding job, but others argue it is easy.

What’s your opinion?

Remember, to also think carefully about expanding what you say. Don’t just give yes/no answers without some reasons for why you’re saying yes/no.

You do not need to be an expert on the field of modelling (or any other topic) to have and give your opinions.

Remember, if you are talking for the purpose of improving your language skills in general, or in order to pass an exam such as IELTS, then showcase your knowledge of the language, not the topic. It is extremely unlikely that your examiner will be Supermodel Naomi Campbell, so think about how you’d talk about work in general, or your current/future job in particular.

Keep the flow of conversation going, don’t be shy, and enjoy speaking with confidence. The more you practice speaking about a wide range of topics the better you will become. So you know what to do, don’t you? Start practicing!

Don't just say WALK, say… (Intermediate/Advanced)

WALK =

  • amble
  • stroll
  • meander
  • mosey
  • shuffle
  • saunter
  • gander
  • pace
  • stride
  • wander
  • hike
  • plod
  • tramp
  • trudge
  • trek
  • ramble
  • patrol
  • troop
  • tread
  • roam
  • traipse
  • prowl
  • yomp
  • promenade
  • march
  • pootle
  • perambulate
  • wend one’s way
  • stretch one’s legs
  • take the air
  • step out
  • foot it
  • hoof it

The next time you’re relaying a story and in that tale someone happens to be walking… use one of these words/expressions instead.

I have to tell you some of them are rather old-fashioned now, if not even obsolete. So you’ll need to do some research to find out which are still current. Some might be particularly British, others might be a little more international, find out which.

BUT everyone of them has at some point in time been used as a replacement for the simple word —— walk.

Have fun. If you know any more please write them in the comments box below and I’ll add them to this list.

Thanks

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