A few days ago my class was doing a activity based on prompts like “I like …”, “ I spend time …” and “I am good …”, with various variations. There is a small number of ways in which each of these can be completed, so I started by eliciting some of the most common.
One student completed the prompt “I’m quite good …” with “at nothing”. This flummoxed me. I can’t think of any reason why “I’m quite good at nothing” (and “I’m very good at nothing”) aren’t possible, but no-one has ever said or written them where Google can find them. It is possible to say “I’m good at nothing”, though “I’m not good at anything” has overtaken it in the last 90 years. “I’m not quite good at anything” is also non-existent, while “I’m not very good at anything” has a different meaning – “I’m good at many things, but not very good at anything”.
It was impossible for me to explain why “I’m very good at nothing” was ‘wrong’ (if indeed it was). I tried to accentuate the positive and find something – anything – she is good at, but her English is limited. I eventually said “Are you good at [her language]”. She brightened and said “Yes”.Continue reading →
While I was researching the spelling ough for the previous batch of Grammarbites, I saw in the Wikipedia article on that spelling a list of four poems highlighting the inconsistencies. I easily found them on the internet and gather them here for your convenience. Two of them are written in the voice of an English language learner, the second one possibly the writer’s own experience.
A few days ago at the gym I saw on one of the televisions a quiz show which gives the question and a choice of four answers. One question and answers was (approximately): “Which one of these is a pirate in the 1883 novel Treasure Island? A) Long John Silver B) Chips O’Hoy C) Polly Wanda Cracker D) Buck Kinnear”. The contestant didn’t know. The contestant didn’t even guess.
Quite apart from whether any random quiz show contestant might be expected to know the answer directly or indirectly, possible thought process: “John is a real given name, Silver is a real surname and I’ve heard that name somewhere. Chips is a nickname, but doesn’t sound very 1880s [the novel is set in the mid-1700s], O’Hoy might be a real surname [it is, but Hoy is more common], but ‘Chips O’Hoy’ sounds like a joke name. Polly and Wanda are real given names, but Cracker isn’t a real surname and ‘Polly Wanda Cracker’ sounds like a joke name. Buck could be a real nickname and Kinnear is a real surname, but ‘Buck Kinnear’ sounds like a joke name. Hmmm … I’ll go for ‘Long John Silver’.” It’s possible to think all that in the time allowed to answer.
I’m not sure that I could have kept a straight face if I was the quizmaster, either at the names or the contestant’s inability to even guess.
One of the blogs I regularly read is English Language Thoughts, by Niall O’Donnell, an ESL teacher in Ireland. Two days ago, he posted about a BBC quiz show which asked contestants to name countries ending with two consonants. He didn’t discuss the actual answers, but rather the fact that the show officially categorises y as a consonant, regardless of context.
The most obvious set of answers are the countries which end with -land, namely Fin, Ice, Ire, New Zea, Pol, Swazi, Switzer and Thai. (I thought of most of those on the train on the way home.) There is also the Netherlands and four sets of Islands, namely the Cook, (Faroe), Marshall and Solomon, but it might be argued that these do not end with two consonants. (I put Faroe in brackets – although it was on the list of ‘sovereign states’ I consulted, it is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.)
Oh now I feel old! The topic in the textbook was science, and as a filler I showed the students some science-related movie trailers, starting with the ‘based on a true story’ movies Hidden figures, The theory of everything and The right stuff. Then I showed some science fiction, starting with 2001: A space odyssey. I said ‘How many of you remember 2001’? I was expecting a few hands. I don’t know how old my students are, but I would guess late 20s or even early 30s for some of them. (Others are much younger, possibly late teens or early 20s.) No-one (but me) remembers 2001???? At least they could have said ‘Oh, that was the year I started school’ (as indeed one of my nieces said when I posted on Facebook about this later.)
Then I showed them Back to the future 1 & 2, and 1989’s imagining of 2015 made much more sense to them than 1968’s imagining of 2001. (In general, BttF got more right than 2001.) Along the way I found 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Right, 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Wrong and a parody by CollegeHumor made in 2015 with the benefit of nowsight. I also tried to find the American talk/comedy show which snared Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd as guests on 21 October 2015, but I couldn’t find it and couldn’t remember whose show it was on. A Facebook friend later told me it was Jimmy Kimmel.
My wife and I are looking at going to a performance of My Fair Lady, currently playing in Sydney. One website says that it stars ‘Downton Abbey‘s Charles Edwards and Anna O’Byrne‘. Don’t recognise those names. Quick interweb search. Charles Edwards played Michael Gregson (a minor character) and Anna O’Byrne … wasn’t in Downton Abbey. Oh, that’s ‘(Downton Abbey‘s Charles Edwards) and Anna O’Byrne’.