Mon, 26 March 2012
Yakima is a small city located an hour and a half's drive(1) from Wenatchee. It is a wide valley, famous for its grapes and apples. We were there last weekend for a baseball tournament, the first of the season(2). One interesting fact about Yakima is that its name is taken from the Yakama indians who are from this area. There are actually indian names in many areas of the state. When the baseball tournament was over and we were leaving Yakima, we drove past a barren(3), rocky few miles and crossed over a bridge. Immediately after the bridge, I saw a sign 'Umtanum Canyon'. The name sparked my interest(4). "Now, that must be an indian name," I thought to myself. When I got home, I looked up the name on the internet. I found quite a few pages about Umtanum, but no translation of its name. Reading about the canyon made me even more eager to find out its name, because the land is geographically interesting, and has a wealth(5) of wildlife. Hunters would love it because there are big horn sheep, deer, and coyotes, aswell as pheasants and all kinds of rodents(6). Most of these creatures come to the creek, which is a small river, to drink. The predators obviously take advantage of this being the only water source for all the animals nearby. The canyon walls are steep and rocky, which are perfect for big horn sheep who are expert climbers. The banks of the creek are grassy with wildflowers, a perfect place for ground squirrels, marmots, and rabbits. They have to watch out for the coyotes all year round, and the rattlesnakes in the summer. Infact, it's recommended that hiking parties go during the autumn, winter, and spring, and avoid the snakes in the summer. Umtanum, I would say(7), is typical of eastern Washington. There are many such large expanses of land that look seemingly(8) empty, lifeless, dry, even boring. But, when you get out of the car, and walk deeper into the countryside, you find that it is full of life.
1. An hour and a half's drive. When the duration of something is between one and two hours, we use an apostrophe s to show possession.
a. It's a two hour walk. It's a three day hike. It's a four hour swim.
b. The mall is an hour's drive from here. It's an hour and a quarter's wait until the next bus.
Note that it is used mainly with one hour or when 'half' an hour is being used.
2. The first of the season is easily understood. I am emphasizing this because it is a very natural sounding add-on to a sentence that will make you seem more native.
a. On May 2nd there is a country dance, the first of the season.
b. We waited to see the main ballerinas, the best of the dance troupe.
c. The politician answered the questions, the most difficult ones he has been asked.
3. Barren is a word often used for being lifeless, bare, or childless. It is quite poetic, and often used for bare landscapes.
a. The land looked like a barren wasteland.
4. To spark someone's interest means to get someone's attention and create curiosity. You can also spark anger.
a. The sudden movement of something in the dark sparked the cat's curiosity.
b. The conversation sparked his anger.
5. A wealth of wildlife. 'A wealth of' is used to describe a large quantity. It implies something positive.
a. On that beach, you'll find a wealth of different crabs.
b. My grandmother and her friends are a wealth of knowledge and experience.
6. 'Rodent' is the general name for mice, rats, rabbits, and other small ground creatures.
7. 'I would say' is a little phrase that expresses opinion. Sometimes 'you could say' is used in its place. It's rare now for people to use 'one could say' or 'one would say'.
a. Elizabeth, you could say, has the destiny of becoming a star.
b. I would say that growing wheat on that barren land is a rough, tough job.
8. Seemingly means to have an appearance of. It comes from the verb 'to seem' and, as you can see, it implies that perhaps reality is not what is seen.
a. The house was run down, lightless, and seemingly deserted. But then, from a distance they heard music coming from the upstairs.
b. When I spoke to him he didn't respond, was quiet, and seemingly uninterested.
Let's hear the paragraph once more.
Tue, 20 March 2012
Because many of you have responded positively to my new series 'Analysis time', we will continue with a particularly interesting one today taken from an article about 'break-through' scientific technology. If you haven't come across the phrase 'break-through', you might be able to imagine its meaning. It is literally the idea of breaking through a wall of ignorance, and arriving at new knowledge and new technology. A break-through is positive and exciting, and it can be used in many different areas: science, medicine, even psychology. Infact, you can even use it on a personal basis
Ex: I had a break-through with my counselor yesterday; I realize that I must forgive my parents.
So, there will be many more examples coming up. Let's here the article.
A plant that was frozen in Siberian permafrost for about 30,000 years has been revived by a team of Russian scientists - and borne (1)fruit, to boot(2). Bacteria and other simple organisms had been known to survive in the ice for thousands of years. But reviving a life as complex(3) as a plant is an entirely different matter(4), scientists said. For this study, the researchers managed to(5) grow a plant without even using a seed. Instead(6), they thawed, washed and disinfected the fruits and took out bits of nutrient-rich fruit flesh known as placental tissue(7). When bathed in the right broth(8) of chemicals, placental tissue acts like the plant version(9)of stem cells. The study is an encouraging sign that it may be possible to revive larger and more complex beings that were preserved in the frozen tundra.
1. Borne comes from the verb 'to bear fruit' . The sentence should have said 'and has borne fruit' to be clear. The plant has produced fruit. It is an irregular past participle that obviously looks nothing like the original verb 'to bear'. It is spelt the same as the predatory animal 'bear', is pronounced the same, but has nothing to do with it. It is also often used with other meanings, such as 'to accept' or 'to carry'. There are other meanings, but these are the most common.
Exs: a. He bore all the criticism, even though other people were guilty.
b. I can't bear the pain anymore; I'll take a headache pill.
2. To boot is a funny little phrase that means 'also'. or 'besides'. It carries (or bears) more of a sense of surprise or significance than 'also'.
Exs: a. He not only sailed the Atlantic, but he wrote a novel at the same time, to boot.
b. I returned the dress to the shop and got my money back, and a gift certificate to boot.
3. Complex is a straight forward word meaning complicated or difficult. It is used in any arena.
Exs: a. She is a complex individual. Just when you think you know her, she says something very unexpected.
b. The math that my son is doing in school is too complex for me!
4. 'An entirely different matter' is a very useful phrase that adds seriousness to a second idea.
Exs: a. Why they argued is one thing. The state of their marriage is an entirely different matter.
b. Making austerity cuts might be necessary, but creating economic growth is an entirely different matter.
5. 'To manage to + verb' is a very useful and common phrase implying that some effort has been used to achieve an outcome.
Exs a. I managed to find my wedding ring; it had been missing for two months.
b. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to pull himself out of the hospital bed and walk out of the building.
It is also used when asking questions in an accusatory way:
c. How on earth did you manage to crash the car into the mailbox?
6. 'Instead' means 'as a substitute for' or 'as an alternative':
a. I was going to call you, but I decided to walk to your house instead.
b. I told him to study, but he played outside instead.
7. Tissue is the soft paper we use to wipe our noses. It is, however, also used as 'material' or 'substance' when talking about animal or plant life.
Exs: a. They took some brain tissue to do a biopsy.
b. Some of the inside tissue of the leaf was studied.
8. Broth means a thin, watery soup that usually has meat or fish extract in it. It can be used, as in this case, in science when talking about a mixture.
Ex: To make the best chicken broth, boil the bones for at least half an hour, then add vegetables and seasoning.
9. The ... version of indicates that something is similar to something else in function or essence, but different in a fundamental way.
Exs: a. That boy is the young version of Elvis Presley!
b. 'Lovesong' by Adele, is a slow jazz version of a song by The Cure.
c. I met Mary's mother the other day. She is an older version of her daughter; they are so similar.
Let's here the excerpt one more time.
Wed, 7 March 2012
Today we will analyze part of a newspaper article in depth.
Wukan, China - The Chinese fishing village that went into open revolt(1) against government control last year held elections on Saturday, an event that(2) some local people said was the first time they'd been able to elect their leaders. After years of resentment(3) about real estate(4) deals (5)between local leaders and businessmen, villagers staged a series of demonstrations. "We will solve the land issue (6)step-by-step," said Lin, the newly elected chief of the village. If those efforts to reclaim land come up short(8), then the experience will have been an empty one, many said.
1. Open revolt is when people demonstrate, express disagreement, rally together, and do so in a very public and obvious way.
Ex: After the votes were counted, the people went to the town hall in open revolt at the result.
There has been open revolt in Greece over the government's plans to raise taxes and cut public spending.
2. The arrangement of (2) 'the event that' is a good stylistic way of adding more information about the elections. Many nouns that describe times or events can be reviewed and have more detail added to them. The arrangement of words, reflecting on the event, avoids having to make two sentences out of one, or one that doesn't sound as well crafted:
The Chinese fishing village ..........held elections on Saturday, which some local people said was the first time..... .
Or it could have been written:
The Chinese fishing village........held elections on Saturday. Some local people said that this was the first time...... .
The sentence structure in the article is much better than these two:
The Chinese fishing village ........held elections on Saturday, an event that some local people said was the first time ...... .
Let's see some other examples of this structure, and how it improves the flow of a sentence:
Exs: The ball was a magical occasion, a special moment in time that Cinderella would never forget.
This sentence flows nicely because of its second part. It could have been split into 2 sentences:
Either: The ball was a magical occasion. It was a special moment in time that Cinderella would never forget.
Or The ball was a magical occasion, and was a special moment in time that Cinderella would never forget.
Let me give you a few more examples of sentences using the more successful format:
a. They bought the company in 1902, a decision that changed their lives completely.
b. She sang "We'll meet again", a rendition that had everyone standing and applauding.
c. He will analyse the book for a class, a job that most people would hate.
d. We left town in winter of 1988, a season no one will ever forget because of the record snowfall.
e. Their private conversation was not quiet enough, a mistake that caused a lot of embarrassment.
3. Resentment is similar to anger, or holding a grudge, or not letting an offense be forgiven or forgotten.
Exs: He didn't get the promotion, so he was full of resentment.
The teacher was unfair, and that caused resentment among the students.
4. Real estate is property in the form of land or buildings
Exs: She bought good real estate at just the right time; now it is worth ten times as much money.
The real estate market is slow at the moment, a sign that the economy isn't healthy yet.
5. Deal is both a verb and a noun. To deal is to hand out cards in a card game. You can also 'deal a blow' which basically means to punch. That expression is used figuratively as in this example:
The financial crisis dealt a blow to the car companies. It sounds old fashioned to use this expression when talking about punching someone; it's best to use 'punch'.
A deal is a business or personal arrangement, some kind of agreement:
Exs: The banks made a deal. The buyers made a successful deal with the sellers.
Note that the word 'dealings' has a sense of something illegal or secret, or unpleasant:
Exs: The govenor's dealings with oil companies were exposed. I don't want to talk about his dealings with the mafia.
6. Issue is an emotional or psychological problem. It can also be an important topic, or a disagreement with something.
Exs: The issue of raising taxes always causes a lot of discussion and emotion.
He disrupts the class, is rude, and doesn't do any work. I think that he has serious issues.
I have an issue with the way he talks to people. I don't like it, and I think he needs a different approach.
Mon, 5 March 2012
Last week, as some of you know, I met with the Superintendent of Wenatchee Schools. I was very nervous, for some reason. I had never met him before, though I had seen him a couple of times in School Board meetings. My intention was to encourage changes in the school district, changes that have been wanted and recommended for a long time but haven't taken place. But, as I stepped into the office, and sat down in the waiting area, I began to feel very small. For some reason, I started to doubt my right to be there. Was I informed enough to have a pertinent conversation with this very busy man, a man who obviously knows more about the school district than me? Would I forget what I had planned on saying half way through a sentence? Would I stutter, or burp, or trip and fall and smash something important, like his laptop? "Okay Anna, what's your problem? Are you losing your edge?" (1)I said to myself, "Whatever happened to the girl who did public speaking, or the rock climber, or the hitchhiker? Pull yourself together!" (2)I talked reasonably to myself in order to calm down my thumping heart, and my sweating armpits. I did some deep breathing exercises, and focused on the meeting being over, rather than the meeting itself. "Hello Anna," a voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked up, and standing there was a smiling man, reaching out his hand to shake mine. I quickly got up and shook his hand, "Hello Mr Flones, how are you?" The Superintendent had just got back from lunch, and had approached me while I was in the middle of my deep breathing exercises. He led me to his office, which was moderate, and practical, and not intimidating at all, plus there was nothing that I could easily break, so I started to relax. "I appreciate you meeting with me, Mr. Flones. I will be brief, I won't take up much of your time." "That's fine," he replied, looking at the clock, "I'm good."(3) I realized that I could stop being apologetic, and could just get on with what I wanted to say and ask. It turned out, actually, to be the opposite of what I had expected. He was not only very open, but he was very candid about the state of schools, and changes that needed to be made. What a relief! We agreed on many things, and towards the end, I said, "Really, I want to offer my hand of friendship, and to help in this transition to an upgraded school district." I said this because I have felt in the past that there were two separate and conflicting groups: parents and the school district. Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. If we work together, we can get twice as much done in half the time, as long as we really listen to eachother. I left the meeting feeling very satisfied, and stood outside for while, taking in the early Spring sun. As I walked to my car, I pondered why I had been so nervous. Well, if you've recently raised four children, and not worked, then you've been out of the loop(4): no office meetings, no business lunches, no professional decisions etc. It can be intimidating to step back into that arena when my world has been diapers, a-b-c's, and the price of milk. But, the impression that I got from the Superintendent was that, as a teacher and a parent, I have very valuable things to say. It didn't take long to adjust back to the school-decision making world. So, I've planned for another meeting in a few weeks, to check on progress, but this time, I won't need the breathing exercises.
Related expressions: to lose your edge, pull yourself together, I'm good, to be out of the loop.
1. To lose your edge means to lose the quality of a skill through lack of use or fear.
Exs: I used to tell jokes at parties, but I haven't done that for years. I've lost my edge.
I couldn't possibly skydive anymore; I've lost my edge.
2. To pull yourself together means to become brave by effort. You can use this as a command, even for yourself.
Exs: Pull yourself together, man, you only need one filling. Your other teeth are fine.
I need to speak to him right now, but I really don't want to. "Pull yourself together Anna! Just do it!"
3. I'm good is used in the U.S. It's an expression that means "That's okay, I'm fine" or "I don't need anymore". It is used when people are asked if they want some more to eat, or if they want to communicate that they have plenty of time.
Exs: Do you want some more cake?
No thanks, I'm good. Here it means that he is satisfied and has had enough.
I won't take up much of your time.
I'm good. I've got plenty of time. It can be used by itself without specifying 'I've got plenty of time' afterwards.
4. To be out of the loop means that you have been away from a certain arena, perhaps work, or a circle of friends, or an activity.
Exs: I haven't sung in the choir for a few months; I'm out of the loop.
I used to meet with the ladies from my dance class, but I haven't been to it for two years. I'm out of the loop.
Here, 'I'm out of the loop' is used because she hasn't been to class, and she hasn't had connection with her social group.