Last updated at 11:07 BST, Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Can of worms

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What's in the can? It's full of worms. But what does 'a can of worms' mean in English? Find out by listening to this programme.

A can with worms in it

What's in the can?

The script for this programme

Finn: Hello and welcome to The English We Speak. I'm Finn.

Feifei: And I'm Feifei.

Finn: Worms are great - don't you think they're really interesting?

Feifei: Erm, yeah, kind of. But what's today's phrase?

Finn: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll come to that in a minute. But, did you know earthworms, the kind you normally find in the soil, are both male and female in one body?

Feifei: That is quite interesting.

Finn: And if you cut a worm in half - only one part of the worm will die!

Feifei: Oh yes, the part with the fat little bump on it will survive. I knew that.

Finn: And earthworms can be really short - from only one millimetre - to a massive three metres! Oh, and, another one, worms can...

Feifei: Finn, hang on a second, why are we talking about worms so much?

Finn: Sorry, yes, I was doing some research for today's programme. The phrase, today, is: a can of worms!

Feifei: Right. Well 'a can of worms' is a phrase we use to describe a situation that causes a lot of problems when you start to deal with it.

Finn: Yes, sometimes you want to deal with a problem, but you realise that by dealing with that problem it will open up a whole set of new problems.

Feifei: Like in these examples:

  • A: Charles, have you finished writing that report about our fantastic sales figures this month?
  • B: No, because actually I realised our sales figures are all wrong. Someone has been giving us false information for months…
  • A: Oh no, what a can of worms.
  • When Frank asked why his brother arrived late to the party, his brother started telling Frank all about the problems in his life: why his car wasn't working and that he had to take it to the garage on his way; after visiting the doctor because, yes, his foot was very painful, because he hurt it playing tennis, which he didn't want to play anyway but did because his friend loved playing it so much, even though he didn't like the friend any more, because the friend still owed him money… Frank realised he'd opened a can of worms.

Feifei: That was possibly the longest example we've had on The English We Speak!

Finn: Yes, well anyway - I hope everyone listening understands the phrase now. I think I'll get back to my reading. 34,000 different kinds of worm, wow... They can live for up to 10 years! Fascinating... They eat their own weight every day...

Feifei: OK, well I think we've lost Finn there. I think I've had enough of worms for one day. Do join us again for more The English We Speak! Bye.

Finn: ...worms have existed for about 600 million years, and they breathe through their skin, cool!