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The English We Speak

Intermediate level

Creatively bankrupt

Episode 220516 / 16 May 2022


Sometimes things feel unoriginal or have a lack of innovation. Rob and Jiaying use an informal phrase for this very situation.


Hello, I’m Jiaying. This is The English We Speak.

And hello, I’m Rob. You know, I’m a little bit worried about Roy. Have you seen him today? Is he OK?

I saw him earlier. He was smiling as normal and in a good mood. Why were you worried about him? 

Well, I overheard him talking and he said he was bankrupt.  

No, Rob. Roy was talking about a film he watched, and he said it was creatively bankrupt. We use the expression ‘creatively bankrupt’ to describe something that is completely unoriginal or lacks creativity or innovation.

Ahhh that makes sense! So, I guess he really didn’t like that film, then? Mind you, films were better when I was younger!  

Well, Rob - we can talk about your nostalgia right after these examples.

Margaret’s third novel didn’t do anything new and it just felt creatively bankrupt.

The singer’s new album felt creatively bankrupt. All the songs sounded boring and unoriginal. 

The film is creatively bankrupt. It’s like the director repeated things he did in his last movie.

This is The English We Speak from BBC Learning English. We’re talking about the expression ‘creatively bankrupt’. We use it to say there is a lack of creativity in something that should normally feel innovative, like the story of a film or a video game. We can also use it to describe someone who’s not original or out of good ideas. So you think films used to be more creative?

Yes! Everything seemed so fresh and new. These days, I feel like I’ve seen it all before... the same stories, characters, and conversations. It just feels so…

Creatively bankrupt! Rob, have you thought about writing your own films? You’re always full of great ideas.

But sometimes I also feel a bit creatively bankrupt, like I have no idea how to be original and innovative when I’m writing stories.

Have you tried speaking to Roy? He writes some really crazy stories that are always really original. Maybe you could write something together?

That’s a great idea! He’s always putting unicorns, flamingos and chimpanzees in his stories. I reckon it would be so good that it’ll win awards. I might even give up my job and work on a film with Roy, full time! 

Careful, Rob. If you give up your job, you might run out of money and then instead of being creatively bankrupt, you would be literally bankrupt! 

Good point, better to be out of ideas than out of money!

That’s right! Bye.

Bye bye.

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