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Monday, 30 April 2007

An Embarassing Experience

Dear Ana Paula, and everyone else,

I’ve just had a very embarrassing experience on the bus. I travel to and from work on the bus every day, and the journey takes about half an hour (or 45 minutes in the early morning rush-hour traffic). As I mentioned last time, I’m an inveterate bibliophile, so I like to read on the bus. This morning I finished a book (it’s irrelevant to this story, but the book was ‘Fictions’, by a writer from Argentina called Jorge Luis Borges – a wonderful book). I didn’t want to be bored on the bus home, so after class I went to a bookshop opposite my school to get another book. I could think of several books that I wanted to read, but none of them were in stock. For a while I wandered around the bookshop, unable to find anything that I wanted to read. “This is no good,” I eventually thought to myself. “I have to get home and write something for Ana Paula and all my new friends. What the heck, I’ll just choose something at random and get out of here.” So I hastily found a book that looked kind of interesting (and wasn’t too expensive), paid for it, and went and got on the bus.

The bus was very crowded, and there was no space for me to sit down – in fact, there was only just enough space for me to pull the new book out of my bag and start reading. But when I started reading, I soon realized that I had a problem. This book was very weird, but also funny. In fact, this book wasn’t just funny, it was side-splittingly hilarious. As I read, I started to smile, then to giggle, then to chuckle, and soon I was laughing so hard that tears ran down my face.

Why was this a problem? If you’ve ever visited London and traveled on public transport, you’ll probably understand why. There is a very strong social rule on public transport in London – when traveling on the bus or the tube, you must stay completely stone-faced and silent. You must never, never, never speak or express any kind of feeling or emotion. In the opinion of most Londoners, someone who speaks on the bus is at best annoying, and at worst mad. And if someone stands on a crowded bus shaking with uncontrollable laughter, this person is certainly mad, and probably also dangerous.

As I laughed and laughed and laughed, I could see the other passengers looking at me strangely, and shuffling away from me. I struggled to control myself, but I couldn’t. Eventually, a group of young schoolchildren got on the bus, with a couple of teachers, and I could see the fear in the teachers’ eyes as they tried to move the kids away from this laughing madman. When I noticed that, I finally forced myself to stop reading and put the book away, but it still took several minutes for my laughter to subside.

In case anyone is curious, the book is called ‘Lint’, by a writer called Steve Aylett (I know this sounds like an advertisement, but honestly it isn’t – until today I had never even heard of Steve Aylett, or this book). As I said, it’s a very strange book, and I’ve only read the first 20 pages or so. But the first 20 pages or so are funnier than anything I’ve read for a long, long time.

Anyway, let’s get down to business. Today, there’s some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the good news – you got the answers to my nasty questions exactly right, Ana Paula, and so did Paco from Spain. Well done to both of you! Just to refresh your memory, the questions looked like this:

‘The green colour of the grass becomes more vivid when _____ starts to rain.’

‘Sometimes _____ is really good to find yourself alone.’

In both cases, we have to add the word ‘it’ in the gap, as a subject for the main verbs (the main verbs are ‘starts’ and ‘is’).

Perhaps I made those questions a little too easy. The first piece of bad news is this: today I’m going to ask you a similar question, but I’m not going to give you any help! Please have a look at these two sentences:

‘Just like you, I love coffee and books (and of course, films is among them), actually I think they make a perfect partnership, though I’ve never read a book sitting at a café beside a river.’

You mentioned my poetic mood in your blog, in fact, I felt like this because yesterday I read an article about a new temporary exhibition at Língua Portuguesa Museum (Museu da Língua Portuguesa) inspired by Clarice Lispector’s works.

These are almost very good sentences. However, I’m afraid both of these sentences contain a sentence-structure mistake. Just like last time, it’s the same mistake in both sentences – but this time, it’s not missing subjects, it’s something else. Can you find and correct the mistakes?

This month is almost finished, and Ana from Poland left a very generous comment, saying goodbye to me. The second piece of bad news is… I’m staying for another month! Yes, another month of bad jokes and nasty, nasty grammar questions!



Lots and lots of vocabulary today!

If you do something silly in public, and your face turns red, you feel embarrassed. ‘Embarassing’ and ‘embarassed’ are related in the same way as ‘interesting’ and ‘interested’, ‘frightening’ and ‘frightened’, etc.

The period of time in a city when the streets are particularly busy, because everyone is going to work or going home, is called the rush-hour.

The adjective inveterate is used to describe someone who always does something and probably will not stop. We use it in phrases like ‘an inveterate liar’, which means someone who always tells lies, and probably will never stop telling lies. We often use ‘inveterate’ with negative words, like ‘liar’, ‘drinker’, ‘smoker’, etc.

A bibliophile is someone who loves books. Therefore, an ‘inveterate bibliophile’ is someone who is always reading or hanging around in bookshops, and will probably never stop.

Something is irrelevant if it’s not connected to the subject you’re talking about.

If something is available to buy in a shop, it is in stock.

To wander is to walk around at random, with no purpose or aim.

If you do something at random, you do it without a purpose or an aim.

Side-splitting’ and ‘hilarious’ are both words meaning ‘very funny’. I’ve combined them together by changing ‘side-splitting’ into an adverb, ‘sidesplittingly’. (This is a tautology. Can anyone tell me what ‘tautology’ means?)

To giggle is to laugh just a little bit. Chuckling is a little louder and stronger than giggling.

The adjective stone-faced is used to describe a person when their face shows no feelings or emotions at all.

To shuffle is to move in a slow or awkward way, without taking your feet off the ground.

To subside is to decrease or stop in a slow, gradual way.

We use the informal phrase ‘or so’ to mean ‘approximately’. So ‘20 pages or so’ means ‘approximately 20 pages’.

Finally, there is ‘Mwahahaha!’ This doesn’t actually mean anything at all; it’s the sound of ‘evil laughter’. Imagine you’re watching a stupid movie. The bad guy probably explains his plan to rule the world, and then he probably laughs, ‘Mwahahaha!’. Obviously, this is a very informal phrase; don’t use it in your university essays!


I wonder if the spelling of "embarassing" is not correct.

Dear Alex;Hi! We are so lucky to have you as the teacher blogger for the next month. Your recent blog was more interesting than the other amazing blogs you have written so far. In fact, it was great! It made me simply smile , then giggle and then burst into laughter as I was going through it sentence by sentence. Fortunately, there was no one around to shuffle away from me for the fear that madness might be contagious. That's just your admirable teaching skill to make these blogs such attractive.Also the vocabulary was all perfect. Thank You! I believe "tautology" means a statement in which you put two words with the same meaning unnecessarily together . Actually, one is redundant and without it , the sentence already conveys the complete meaning.Like what you have done for " side-splittingly hilarious". Am I right? Thanks Again Dear handsome great teacher and All The Best! Katy / Iran

I found some mistakes in those sentences, but I don't know if they are what you are asking about. In the first sentence, I think that films can't be among cofee and books, and in the case they were "(and of course, films are among them)". In the second sentece I found that Ana Paula mixed Portuguese with English by saying: "exhibition at Língua Portuguesa Museum". I think she should say: "exhibition at Portuguese Language Museum". See you

HI! Alex,it´s a great new, you still with us another month. I really loved your blog,it´s so funny and interesting too, you're a great teacher. :D Best Regards!!!

Hi Alex! I had to giggle at the end as you (and wonderful Samantha too) worry about our university assayes. These blogs became my `third-age´ university and I feel more and more comfortable. However, I try re-read my previous comments and analyze my sentence structures in order not being so embarasingly laughable at next lessons with a teacher that don`t like to see grammar mistakes. By chance, I borrowed The Trial at library today. Once again it was a pleasure to read about odd public transport rules in London but, fortunately, I could assure myself that our Alex isn`t so aloof and cold.

Dear Alex ; Hi again. As for your really nasty Q's isn't it that "in fact,..." and "actually,..." should be used after completion of the pervious sentence using a full stop [.] and then continuing with a capital , or using a dash [-] and then continuing the rest of the sentence? Besides, in the first one we should put "are" instead of "is" like this; " ... films are among them" . I am waiting to get the correct answer. Katy /Iran

My nasty dictionary says that tautology means a statement in which you say the same thing twice using different words in a way which is not necessary. I was in London once and I didn't notice that kind of peoples' behaviour in tubes that you mentioned. Everyone was talking, laughing, doing all sorts of things. Actually, London seems to be a city of wild people without any inhibitions. But maybe it is a misreading. Actually you have inspired me to visit the city again and check if you are right or not. Thanks for last month and see you.

Hi,well the correct one is "embarrassing",which i think is a typo. The answers to the tough questions:Just like you,I love coffee and books,actually i think they make a perfect parntership,though i've never read a book sitting at a cafe that besides a river. You mentioned my poetic mood in your blog,in fact,i felt like this because yesterday I read an article about a new temporary exhibition at Língua Portuguesa Museum (Museu da Língua Portuguesa)which is inspired by Clarice Lispector’s works. As for "tautology" it means saying the same thing more than once in different ways,which is used to emphasize.Sir,i hope you will be content with my answers.May your hilarious style never subside.Amen.

Hi Alex, you know, now it’s trendy in Poland to change the word-order and the words that usually go at the end of sentence are put at the beginning – it depends on your intentions and sometimes the final effect is really unexpected, and that’s really a fun to see how sentence receives a new ‘melody’. It’s nothing new of course, but when more commonly used gives a breath of fresh air to our language. Just a sample: Nasty though the question is, it does have its advantages! Best,

Would anybody please get Alex our of here? We don't want to have him for another month as he has made a big fuss of ch...and fug..and given us very very very tricky and nasty questions. But he has had fantastic weekends while we were struggling the answers which was unforgivable.Hang on a minute,how about his rotten jokes!! Alex,you know better yourself what you have done to us.However, there're some reson to keep you here,'re hunky, amiable, side-splittingly hilarious and you're a fantastic teacher as well.i am so glad to have an another chance to brush up my English with you.hyoshil

Hallo Alex :: I'll begin my blog with the answer to your question. I guess that in front of 'actually" and 'in fact' Paula should have put full stops and begun the second sentences with a capital letter. As for the rule to stay completely stone-faced and silent when traveling on the bus or the tube, I think it's realy weird. British people are probably not very talkative. I remember traveling everyday by bus in Oxford some years ago. Everyday on the same bus there were traveling young people from Italy and they talked all the time they were on the bus. Therefore, I reckon that the means of transport like the bus or the undergroud isn't the reason why people stop talking. What makes British people keep silence but doesn't make others? It's difficult to guess.

Alive and kicking in spite of First of May celebrations. Dear people, my short absence (which you haven’t even noticed) has been caused by our public holiday, First of May. The day is celebrated in so many ways in these parts of the world. Here in Finland it is a day for students, workers and mainly we celebrate it in honor of spring. Were you aware that Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Finland just now? This year´s competition is to start any day now. You may remember last year´s winner Hard Rock Hallelujah, the group that rocked Finland to win last year is called Lord. Ugly beasts I say, but I do like their sound. Their home town is Rovaniemi, which is in Finnish Lapland. Talk to you later, nice to hear that Alex is coaching us in May. And no more food issues it would certainly be tautologial issue.

Alex, hope everything is ok, I’m just worrying why Paul has invited a prosecutor to the BBC blog. It’s not that I has something against James – he’s really ok and seems to be an easy-going guy, I would even say that he’s got a chance to add a new value to our blog. But however charming James is he is a prosecutor! Hope that it has nothing to do with ..... hm .... you know what I mean. Take care,

Thanks for all your contributions. This blog has now closed and can no longer accept new comments.

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