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Last updated at 10:01 BST, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Two Ticks

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It will only take two ticks to learn these useful phrases with William and Wang Fei in The English We Speak.

An alarm clock

How long is two ticks?

The script for this programme

William: Hello and welcome to The English We Speak, I'm William Kremer.

Wang Fei: And I'm Wang Fei. So how are you today?

William: Two ticks...

Wang Fei: What?

William: Give me two shakes, Wang Fei, I just need to...

Wang Fei: Eh? What's that?

William: I'll be with you in a jiffy...

Wang Fei: In a jiffy. What's a jiffy? William, what are you talking about?

William: There, done now. I just needed to send a text.

Wang Fei: But what were all those ticks and jiffys?

William: Ahh, and shakes?

Wang Fei: Yes.

William: Well they're all expressions of time, Wang Fei. So they're ways of saying 'just a moment', or 'just a minute'.

Wang Fei: I see.

  • Can you come and help me lift this sofa?
  • Yeah, I'll be with you in two ticks.

William: Two ticks. In English, we say clocks make this noise: tick tock, tick tock. So two ticks is just like saying two seconds.

  • I said, can you come and help me here? It's too heavy for me.
  • Yes, yes. I'll be there in two shakes.

Wang Fei: Hmm. Two shakes?

William: Yeah, the full phrase here is 'two shakes of a lamb's tail', but we shorten this to 'two shakes'.

Wang Fei: Oh I see. Two shakes of a lamb's tail. English can be a very weird language!

William: Yes, it can be! I guess that this is because lambs' tails shake very fast, so two shakes is a short time! And finally...

  • Look Neil, this sofa isn't going to lift itself. Get a move on!
  • I know, I know. I said I'll be with you in a jiffy.

Wang Fei: In a jiffy. So in a jiffy also means 'in a short space of time'. But what's a jiffy?

William: Well, you know what, Wang Fei? Nobody is completely sure of the origin of this word. But it has been in use for over 200 years!

Wang Fei: 200 years! That's quite a long time. More than a jiffy!

William: Yes, and that's several billion shakes of a lamb's tail.

Wang Fei: Yes and all those ticks of a clock! Bye for now.

William: Bye bye.

  • Are you going to help me with sofa or not?!
  • What sofa? You need help with a sofa?

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