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Danny's Reading: English Expressions

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English, it must be admitted, is pretty cool. It has a vast vocabulary and enough grammar to make even the toughest student cringe a little. But more than that, it has all those nifty little sayings and expressions that add spice to it and bring it to life. My personal favourites are 'whatever floats your boat'. and 'here goes nothing...' Don't ask me why. I just think they're pretty cool and like the way they neatly put across an idea without requiring the speaker to ramble on for eternity.

But then again, there are a couple of little sayings and expressions that I feel the language could do without. They do not float my boat at all - in fact, I find them meaningless and misleading. One of them is 'make yourself at home'. And the other is 'in a nutshell'. I find them annoying because the first is insincere, and the second is rarely the case.

Don't see what I mean?


Here goes nothing...

Every time another birthday rolls around, my parents come over in order to celebrate and revel in the fact that I've added another digit to my age. They've been doing this ever since I started 'getting older' as opposed to 'growing up'...

"Wow! Thirty-'whatever' years old!" my mum will exclaim, in the tone of voice usually reserved for those who buy their first ever lottery ticket and then get every number right but the very last one, thereby winning a big fat nothing.

And my dad will put on his mock 'oh well, what can you do?' face - raised eyebrows, closed eyes, pursed lips and gently nodding head - and say, with resignation, something along the lines of "It's all downhill from now on!" or "It'll be false teeth and a toupee any day now!"

Then, when they're done taking the mickey, they give me an envelope containing the obligatory 'funny' birthday card and a gift of a couple of banknotes. And while I'm busy pretending to read the card while trying to surreptitiously count the money and look indifferent, my mum will always say, with a hint of accusation...

"We just gave you money because we never know what to get you. You're so difficult to buy for!"

And I'll look up from the card, glance around the dining room, living room and kitchen to make sure that it is, in fact, my house that we're standing in, and say, in the tone of voice usually reserved for those who buy a lottery ticket every week and have never got a single number right: "Seriously?"

Not, of course, that I have any objection to being given money as compensation for having survived yet another year - and if you would like to test the validity of this claim, please feel free to send a large wad of cash my way and see if you ever get it back - but I really don't think that 'we never know what to get you' is an adequate disclaimer if you've ever set foot in the home of the person you're aiming it at. A person's home will tell you more about the person who lives there than the person who lives there will ever tell you about himself.

The first thing you notice when you step through the door of my house is that we have children. Let me hasten to add, at this point, that I am not hinting that I would like another child for my next birthday - I'm simply making a point. You see, there is a red and yellow pedal-car in the hallway, right next to a tricycle. Should you wander into the kitchen - second door on the right, for those of you with no sense of direction - you would see an art gallery of crayoned pictures of... um, stuff... where the fridge is supposed to be. And in the living-room, there are now toys where there was once a floor and a large section of wall.

Not only would it be immediately obvious to you that we have children, but from the fact that there are as many dolls as there are cars, and as many shades of pink as there are of blue, you would also be able to figure out that we have a boy and a girl. And, if you really have an eye for detail, you'd notice that the blue toys are made of plastic or metal with enough moving parts and fiddly bits to make them 'cool', and the pink ones are made of soft rubber and fabric, and too big to swallow. So now you even know, more or less, how old they are and who came first.

Of course, the fact that, by now, they're probably tugging at your trousers and yelling "Who are you and what are you doing in our house?" and "Are you going to steal our toys?" might also serve to help the logic along, but do you see what I mean? It's not exactly a deduction that requires the mental powers of Sherlock Holmes.

But let's let the kids get back to colouring in the television screen with crayons for a moment, and focus on the more 'adult' content of the house...

There are books everywhere - a book on the coffee table in the living-room, a book on the dining-room table, a book in the kitchen, a book in the hall and a book in the bedroom. All of them are lying facedown and opened to varying degrees of thickness. Yes, I am reading all of them at once, and no, I don't get the storylines mixed-up. And just in case the point is missed, there is a bookcase in the hall which is crammed full of...um...books.

In the living-room, up against a wall, is a shelving unit full of DVDs - rows and rows of box-sets of comedy and drama series. My DVD player is one of those flashy five-disc-changer set-ups, and it's got surround sound. The armchairs and sofa are, technically, too big for the room they're in, but they're very comfortable and they rock and recline and spin around. The TV is... um...off, and yet in glorious colour, and the kids are looking at me with innocent 'it wasn't me' faces and hiding their crayons behind their backs. Hang on a minute...be right back...

So, where were we?

The kitchen. The fridge is full of the usual suspects, but if you look closely enough you'll realise that it contains a higher-than-average quantity of cheese. Lots of cheese, in fact. Especially the soft, creamy, full-fat type of cheese - the kind that will cause your arteries to go into red alert mode should you merely look at it. There's also a higher-than-average quantity of wine, to go with the cheese. And...oh, look...there's a wine-rack in the corner there.

There's no blue cheese though, and there's no red wine either.

Also in the kitchen are the utensils and equipment needed to cook pretty much any dish or delicacy in the known universe. And half a billion cookbooks containing the recipes for everything from homemade pappardelle to wombat chowder. And fresh herbs growing on the window-sill.

And so on and so forth.

The expression 'make yourself at home' is one that is never delivered seriously, and that should be never taken seriously either. If I were to pop round one day, and 'make myself at home', I would promptly scatter random toys all over the floor and then head for the kitchen and whip up a quick meal, undoubtedly involving brie, and then sit on your sofa stuffing my face, slurping on your best rosè and reading a good book while you did the dishes and entertained my children.

See what I mean?

So, for my next birthday, I would like to have the expression officially removed from the language by whoever is in charge of such matters. Either that, or a good book or DVD. Maybe a big wedge of brie and a nice bottle of wine, or a pasta-making machine. Or even money with which to buy all of the above, if you like. Whatever floats your boat...

And that, in a nutshell, is that.

Lesson by Danny, teacher at EC Malta English School

Useful Vocabulary

to add spice to something - to make something more interesting or lively
whatever floats your boat - do whatever makes you happy
here goes nothing - something that you say just before you do something that you think will not be successful
make yourself at home - please make yourself comfortable
in a nutshell - in a few words; concisely
along the lines of - similar to something
to take the mickey - to make fun of someone to make other people laugh
to feel free to do something - to know that you have permission to do something
to set foot in somewhere - to enter a place
an eye for detail - to be good at noticing a particular type of thing
hang on a minute - wait awhile
the usual suspects - the people you would expect to be present somewhere or doing a particular thing
to whip up a meal - to quickly prepare a meal
to stuff your face - to eat a lot