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A fishy blog

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diarmuid diarmuid | 14:56 UK time, Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hello Jan,

You are probably surprised to be hearing from me rather than Nuala.

Nuala is away this week so I am stepping into her shoes temporarily.

Quick introduction: I'm Diarmuid and I am normally to be found on the BBC's website for Chinese students of English - www.bbcukchina.com .

However I'm always ready to lend a helping hand to my colleagues when necessary, so here I am. Nice to meet you!

I've been reading through some of your recent posts and I have to say they are very interesting. It sounds like you and your family are very active people with lots of interests and hobbies.

I particularly enjoyed your latest blog on fishing. This subject got me thinking about how activities like that feed the English language with rich and vivid idiomatic expressions.

So let's have a little bit of fun for your homework...

Look at the idioms below - all are connected to fish and fishing. Can you work out what they mean without reaching for your dictionary?

See if you can tell me what they mean, or what situations they would be used in (I'll highlight difficult words, but not tell you the meaning of the idiom).

1. cast your net wide
2. take the bait
3. fishing for a compliment
4. there are plenty more fish in the sea
5. a big fish in a small pond
6. like a fish out of water
7. drink like a fish
8. a different kettle of fish
9. a cold fish
10. a fisherman's tale

There are lots of other fish/fishing-related phrases in English. Can any of the blog readers think of one they'd like to share with us?


So now it's time for me to comment on your English...

I think overall the standard is very good. There are some issues with the definite and indefinite articles (a/an and the), but I know that Nuala has already given you some good advice there.

There are lots of rules and strategies to help you with mastering articles, however, this really is an area of English that you need to get a feel for, especially if your own language doesn't have them!

The best thing is listening to native English speakers and mimicking the way they speak.


Now turning to other matters, I would like to analyse the language you used in your blog entitled 24th of June.

In that entry you described one of the ceremonies that Bulgarian and Russian people perform to celebrate the 24th of June.

In the ceremony young girls throw a wreath into a river and they also set fire to a splinter to divine whether they will have a long and happy life.

Here's how you said it:

Who's wreath sails farther, that girl will be the happiest, and who's splinter is alight longer, that girl will live a full long life.

I understand your meaning: that the girl whose wreath goes a long way will be happiest, while the girl whose splinter burns for the longest time will have a long life.

However, in this kind of sentence instead of saying 'who's' we need to use the word whoever.

Like this:

Whoever's wreath sails farther, that girl will be the happiest, and whoever's splinter is alight longer, that girl will live a full long life.

So how, when and why do we use the word whoever?

Let's look at the meaning first. When we use the word whoever, we mean that we don't know or don't care who is performing the action.

Here's an example:

"Who should I choose to do this job?"
"I don't care - whoever is available at the time."

But we also use this word (and words like it such as, whenever, and wherever) in phrases like yours, where we use it as a conjunction, joining its clause to the rest of the sentence.

Here are some examples:

Whoever gets the question right will win a prize.
Wherever you go, I'll come too.
Whenever I think of you, I smile

Now for a very common '-ever' expression that I'm sure you've heard if you watch American films or TV shows, or ever spoken to a British teenager, for that matter.

It means I don't care what you say or do (and is quite rude in my opinion, although extremely widely used).

The word is... whatever!

So if you're really not interested in what someone is saying to you, you can simply say:

Whatever!!!!! Like the girl below:

LE's Natalie does the whatever symbol

Bye for now,


stepping into her shoes - replacing somebody
lend a helping hand - to help somebody as a favour
work out - to discover the solution to a problem by thinking about it; to deduce the answer to a problem
cast - to throw
bait - the insect, for example a worm, that is put on the end of a hook by a fisherman for fish to try to eat
pond - a small body of inland water, much smaller than a lake
kettle - a machine for boiling water
mimicking - copying exactly the sounds made by another human being
wreath - a circular object made of flowers and plants for ceremonial purposes
splinter - (in this context) a small piece of wood that is on fire
divine - to guess or predict the future using 'magical' powers. Note: this is a superstition not a science


  • Comment number 1.

    Hello Diarmuid,
    What a beautiful name - I wish I knew how to pronounce it...
    As for fish idioms, I remember hearing one in connection with adolescents: They're neither fish, nor flesh. Or even: They're neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring. The meaning is rather obvious: neither one, nor the other - in this particular case: no longer children, but no adults yet. (I've got two teenage daughters, so I know what I'm talking about.)
    Another idiomatic phrase I can think of is "that sounds a bit fishy to me" - meaning that I have the sneaking suspicion that there's something wrong with whatever I may have heard there.

    All the best,
    Elisabeth (Austria)

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Diarmuid,
    I'm very feeling very smooth to read your aticle.You say you are normally on the BBC's website for Chinese students of English.So can you speak Chinese?

    I don't know most of the idioms of fish you have listed. But I think one of them is easy. The idiom of a fish out of water , is it just like a hero but no place to show in Chinese.
    Any mistakes, please point out.Thank you

    Best wishes,


  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Diarmuid,
    nice to meet you our new Teacher! Thanks for your "the wh-ever's words lesson", it's really was enriched my vocabulary. And it was amazing to learn meanings of some fish/fishing-related phrases in English (your answer to Jan's homework no.7). I like the pictures also, they are contain any creative ideas, not only just some beatuful views.
    I hope everything is OK with Nuala? She usually wrote something to us in advance if some change of her plans, that's why I'm asking.
    Best wishes,


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