die/dye/dye it/diet

One of the topics in the textbooks this week was clothes and fashion, including hair. What’s left of my hair might fairly be described as ‘greying’ (rather than ‘grey’). I said ‘My wife wants me to dye my hair. Do you think I should?’. One student said ‘Yes, I think you should dye’ — which, of course, sounds exactly like ‘I think you should die’.

die/dye is used in at least one limerick which I could vaguely remember but couldn’t find on the internet. Fortunately, one of the limerick books I have is organised alphabetically by the last word of the first line, so I easily found it there. It runs:

Said a fair-headed maiden of Klondike,
‘Of you I’m exceedingly fond, Ike.
To prove I adore you,
I’ll dye, darling, for you,
And be a brunette, not a blonde, Ike.’

I vaguely remembered the third and fourth lines as ‘To prove that I’m true/I’d dye, dear, for you’. This limerick is probably more effective when spoken rather than when read.

There is another joke which relies on dye it/diet, which I similarly can’t find. It’s something like:

Girlfriend/wife: I don’t like my hair colour/My hair is going grey. Do you think I should dye it?
Boyfriend/husband: [something unkind about her weight]

PS It might have been the other way round:

Her: My bum is too big. I’m going to diet.
Him: What colour?

McDonald’s Uncle and KFC Grandpa

Today’s topic was fashion, and to give the students ideas for free talking, I searched for ‘image fashion’. One picture showed a woman with very big, very red hair. One student said ‘Looks like McDonald’s Uncle’. I asked ‘Is that what you call him?’ and they said ‘Yes, McDonald’s [Chinese word]’. I asked ‘Do you know his name in English?’ and they said ‘No’, so I metaphorically gritted my teeth and told them. Then a student said ‘What about KFC Grandpa?’. Oh dear, now I’m a tool of Big Fast Food.

I found that Harland Sanders‘s colonelcy is not a military one, but an honorary title bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on just about anyone. I can’t find anything on the website of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels about the use of the title ‘Colonel’. If Mr HD Sanders can be ‘Colonel Sanders’, then we can equally have ‘Colonel Presley’, ‘Colonel Ali’ and ‘Colonel Trump’.



On Tuesday a student about the difference between lay and lie. I gave a brief explanation to the effect that lay is transitive. It needs a direct object – hens lay eggs and humans lay tables. Lie is intransitive. It does not need, in fact it actively resists, a direct object – hens do not lie eggs and humans do not lie tables. (But some people use lay intransitively – Bob Dylan invites a lady to lay on his big brass bed and Gloria Gaynor’s ex-boyfriend thought she’d lay down and die, to varying degrees of horror from the purists.) I said to the student that it is very easy to get these two verbs mixed up, and many native English speakers do. (It does not help that the past simple form of lie is lay.)

By coincidence, Wednesday’s listening included the adjective laid-back, which I didn’t comment on at the time, because I knew Thursday’s lesson expanded on hyphenated adjectives. But it struck me that laid-back is built on the transitive lay-laid-laid and not the intransitive lie-lay-lain. If you are laid-back, then presumably it’s because someone or something has laid you back somewhere, and not because you have lain back somewhere. I’ve consulted several dictionaries and searched generally online, but I can’t find anything about this. Maybe the concept is reflexive: you have laid yourself back. Or maybe informal words don’t have to follow the rules of grammar.

In yesterday’s class, I briefly mentioned this to the student, then said ‘The word is laid-back, whether it comes from lay or lie’. Another student then asked about the other lie, to tell an untruth.

He is walking

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted this video. I decided to use it to start yesterday’s lesson with a review of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. The simplest sentence to describe the video is ‘He is walking’, and one student supplied ‘on a machine’ (none of them knew ‘treadmill’).

From there, some gaits are better described by a verb (He is V-ing), a noun (He is walking like a(n) NP), an adjective (He is walking a(n) adj walk,* He is walking like he is adj, or He is walking like (he is) a(n) adj person), an adverb (He is walking adv-ly) or a prepositional phrase (He is walking in a(n) adj way, or He is walking with NP). There are sometimes too many choices. Some verbs and nouns have the same form, and some can be changed to adjectives or adverbs. The first gait in the video is sneak, so we could say: He is sneaking, He is walking like a sneak, He is walking a sneaky walk,* He is walking like he is sneaky, He is walking like a sneaky person, He is walking sneakily and He is walking in a sneaky way. (Is sneak a verb first, or a noun first, or both at the same time?) Some words are less flexible: ballerina is clearly a noun, so we can only say He is walking like a ballerina, not, for example, *He is ballerina-ing or *He is walking ballerina-ly (though people are very creative about verbing or adverbing nouns).

The performer is Kevin Parry, who has a longer version, without music, on his Youtube channel.

* This construction is possibly the most awkward, but we quite happily say (or sing) things like To dream the impossible dream.

‘ran ____ the road’

The question in the grammar practice was:

The little child ran ____ the road and went into the shop.

The students came up with five possible answers (from memory on, to, near, along and across) and most of them chose on. That wasn’t my choice or the answer in the teacher’s book, but is it ‘wrong’? The more I thought about, the more prepositions seemed to fit there. Searching Google Ngrams for ‘ran * the road’ returned off, across, down, along, up, into, alongside, to, beside and over, and there’s possibly another 10 options besides those. (Technically, any preposition will fit there, but some are precluded because of their meaning, for example, between.) Some of them fit more happily with ‘and went into the shop’ and some less happily, but what’s to say that any one of them is ‘right’ and all the rest are ‘wrong’?


I am currently filling in for my colleague who teaches the weekend class, which is working from the advanced textbook, so I have suddenly been confronted with words like ‘multitasking’ and ‘mindfulness’, which I haven’t taught about for a long time. The reading about multitasking says ‘Multitasking is a natural everyday occurrence … we can talk to a friend while walking down the street without bumping into anyone’. One of the comprehension questions (true/false) is ‘It is often dangerous to chat to a friend while walking down the street’. (This can possibly be answered from real life, without even looking at the reading.) In one pair, one student said ‘false’ (the ‘correct’, or at least ‘expected’, answer) and another said ‘true’, and they were deep in conversation about what kind of ‘chat’ this sentence meant. The first student and I thought that it meant actual talking, which would make the sentence false, but the second student was adamant that it meant text/email/video chat, which would indeed make the sentence true. If this was a test, and I was marking his answers, I would have to mark it incorrect. Fortunately for him it was a lesson, so we were able to talk about it. For me, ‘chat’ is, all else being equal, actual talking. Both of the students are about the same age (?late 20s), and the first first is from a country largely associated with electronic communication, while the second isn’t.

Memory v Memories

A few weeks ago, one topic was memory and forgetting. I decided to play the song Memories, quickly searched, and got the song Memory.

Memories isn’t a song – at least, it might be another song, but it’s not the one I was searching for. The one I was searching for is The way we were, and the first word is ‘Memories’ (or ‘Mem’ries’). The words ‘the way we were’ occur at the end of the first, second and last verses.

The song I got is Memory, and the first word is ‘Midnight’, but no-one would ever think of searching for it that way (or at least I wouldn’t). The word ‘memory’ occurs at the beginning of the second verse, and is also tucked away in the last line of the second verse and the second last line of the last verse.

memory (uncountable) refers to the general ability to remember. a memory (countable singular) refers to one thing remembered. I can have a bad memory in general, but a good memory of a particular person, thing, place or time (and vice versa). memories (countable plural) are simply more of those. In terms of computers, we only use memory. Computers don’t have memories – yet. (Replicants, on the other hand …) Continue reading