Archive for the ‘Forum ~ Idioms/expressions’ Category

Snowy NC

(photo by Rene D. Caputo)

So much snow…for North Carolina, at least!  Durham had about 8 to 10 inches this past week and even more snow fell in western Chapel Hill. Enough snow to shut down the universities and other area schools for a few days. We’ve had snow twice already and it feels likely that we’ll see more this winter. Here’s a bit of vocabulary to arm you for the next snowfall.

Snowplow or plow ~ The vehicle that removes snow from the roads and parking lots. If you don’t live on or near a major road, you might wish North Carolina would buy more plows! *Note: Plow can be either a noun or a verb.

Power outage ~ When your electricity goes out. Some homes just had their power flicker (flash briefly on and off), but others had a power outage that lasted over 24 hours. I hope your power stayed on! The minute my power goes out, I notify the electric company.

Slush ~ Partially melted snow. Most dangerous after re-freezing, often overnight.

Black ice ~ Ice atop the road or other surface that can seem invisible. You might hear weather forecasters warning you to stay off the roads because of black ice.

To be snowed in ~ When you stay at home (or elsewhere) because there is too much snow to go anywhere.

To be snowed out ~ When an event is cancelled due to snow: The concert was snowed out.

Since snow will be out of sight this week, our International Conversation group will gather again at 12:30 on Thursday.  Join us in Griffith Boardroom, main level of the Bryan Center. Share your snowstorm adventures, catch up on current events & more, and enjoy the company of other members of the Duke community.

See you soon!
Rene D. Caputo

Duke University Lecturing fellow and ESL Specialist


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We had our second International Conversation Café gathering of the semester last week and one of the topics that arose was accents in the United States.  One participant talked about how some people did not understand him sometimes ~ and how it felt as if some listeners did not make an effort to understand.  When he asked about fried potatoes at a restaurant, for example, it took the assistance of another customer, who offered the idea of  “french fries,” to get the desired food.

I sympathized and then shared my experience (after having lived in North Carolina for around a decade) of not being understood when asking for some milk at a biscuit place in Durham.  After asking for it twice, the person behind the counter said something such as, “Oh, you want meeelk,” which is a traditional North Carolinian pronunciation of milk.  And is an example of what is called an “i-e shift” in linguistics.  That is, for that person, the words “pin” and “pen” would be pronounced in the same way.

If you are interested in learning more about English accents and dialects ~ and would perhaps even like to listen to some examples of those, check out some of the sites below.

On the map of American English dialects here, look at North Carolina and notice the “pin=pen” near the coast: http://aschmann.net/AmEng/

IDEA, a collection of international English dialects: http://www.dialectsarchive.com/

The speech accent archive: http://accent.gmu.edu/ 

Do you speak American?  http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/americanvarieties/map/map.html

Did you know that “soda” is called by different names in various parts of the U.S.? See: http://kottke.org/13/06/maps-of-us-linguistic-patterns.  And for a map dialects U.S. dialects: http://kottke.org/13/11/an-audio-map-of-us-dialects

The Audio Archive:  http://alt-usage-english.org/audio_archive.shtml

On another note, if you’re in North Carolina, you know we’ve had some roller coaster weather lately.  Highs in the 60s on Monday, January 27th, and then snow on the 28th and 29th!   Wishing you good health and many other positive things as our roller coaster continues into the new lunar new year.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Rene Caputo, Duke University ESL Specialist

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Have you noticed that people you meet in the U.S. often speak in this way?  Whaddya gonna do? Wherya wanna go?  That is, what are you going to do ~ and where do you want to go.

We talked about this in our International Conversation Café gathering in Duke’s Bryan Center yesterday afternoon. These phrases involve reduced forms of words ~ or reduced speech ~ and understanding them is an essential part of listening comprehension.  Whether or not you want to talk this way is your decision.  The more familiar you become with this style, though, the more you’ll be able to understand English in conversations, on television shows, in movies, and in songs.

Djeet yet? J’eat yet? No, dju? Jawanna do that now? Yes, tsko. Ok, sko. Wutcha wanna eat? What do those mean? Try saying them out loud a few times.  If that doesn’t help, scroll down.

You can find a liist of reduced speech forms to get started with here: http://www3.telus.net/linguisticsissues/ReducedForms.html

I hope you have fun playing with the examples there.  As you play with saying them, consider in what situations using them would feel more appropriate ~ or less so.

If you’re part of the Duke community, come join us for our Thursday conversation gatherings in Griffith Board Room (also known as Meeting Room B) of the Bryan Center.  Our remaining gatherings this semester are on Thursdays, Nov. 14, Nov. 28, and Dec. 5, from 12:30 to 1:30.

See you (seeya) there,

Rene Caputo
Duke ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program and Writing Studio

[Djeet yet/J’eat yet:  Did you eat yet? No, dju? No, did you?  Jawanna do that now? Do you wanna (want to) do that now? Tsko/Sko. Let’s go.  Wutcha wanna eat?  What do you want to eat?]

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We had a gracious plenty of 15 participants today (not counting Beth and me).  And we wish you a gracious plenty of good things ~ and people, of course, during the coming week.

Here’s some advice about thawing and cooking a turkey. http://www.butterball.com/en/index.jsp If you’re thinking of buying a frozen turkey, remember to do that several days ahead so it will have time to thaw in the refrigerator.  Fresh (non-frozen) turkeys are also available in many stores.

Don’t forget to get and use the little grocery store customer cards to save money. As we mentioned during our money matters discussion, many stores (supermarkets, pharmacies, office supply stores ~ and even Sears department store) in the U.S. have these cards today. Ask for one at the customer service desk.  At Harris Teeter, this is called the VIC card (and if you get that, also sign up here for the “e-VIC,” because you’ll save even more money on certain items each week: http://www.harristeeter.com/promotions/vic_programs/vic_programs.aspx).

Back to traditional Thanksgiving foods.  If you want to make cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries, it’s very easy.  If you do not like things to be very sweet, though, start with one half to two-thirds of a cup of sugar (rather than this recipe’s recommended one cup) and add a little more later if you want to. But don’t burn your tongue tasting the sauce when it’s hot.  http://www.oceanspray.com/recipes/Homemade_Whole_Berry_Cranberry_Sauce.aspx?id=2089&nid=6
Fresh cranberries are not available all year round, so take advantage of their availability if you’re a fan.

Here’s a link to information about the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which one of our group’s members plans to attend up in New York City ~ http://social.macys.com/parade2010/#/home.  It’s the 84th annual parade and many Americans will watch part of it on Thanksgiving morning. Others will watch football (American style) as well.  Here are links to information on college games: http://www.cbssports.com/cbssports/story/9834235 and professional games: http://www.nfl.com/thanksgiving . There are additional games, so check your local tv listings, the newspaper, and ESPN for those.

If you want to brave the shopping lines on Black Friday ~ the day after Thanksgiving, when businesses hope to earn a lot of profit, staying firmly “in the black” ~ you can see ads on t.v. and in the local newspapers, but also all over the internet.  Here are two websites that have details on the sales. On this first site, scroll down and read “Brad’s Top 10 Tips” on the left:  http://www.blackfriday2010.com/. Also check out  http://www.black-friday.net/. Remember that many stores have online sales as well.

If you’re going to an early morning sale, watch out for deer on the way (look for their eyes shining in the dark).  And for any of the Friday sales, stay alert in the parking lot as well as if you are in a large crowd.

Our International Conversation Cafe will be back on Thursday, December 2 in Meeting Room B (Bryan Center), 12:30 to 1:30.  Until then, post a note to tell us about your Thanksgiving and Black Friday cultural adventures ~ or to ask a question about such things.

Wishing you a positive Thanksgiving holiday and two weeks,

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My last post included some typical expressions from the U.S. Perhaps you don’t yet know what they all mean. Where would you go to find the answer?

You could ask an American, of course. But what if you did not want to do that ~ or you wanted an answer right away? One place you might check is an online idiom dictionary.

Look here to read an explanation for “in the long run” ~ http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/search.php?q=in+the+long+run

And here’s another website with idioms. Learn what “take the bull by the horns” means: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/take+the+bull+by+the+horns

While you likely know what it means to unpack your suitcase, what does it mean to unpack what someone says or writes? It means you are examining what someone said or wrote to reveal the meaning. Here’s a definition from Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unpack?r=66

Those are a few helpful websites to keep in mind next time you are trying to understand an American expression. And if you’d like to talk about such things with some native speakers as well as internationals at Duke, come to our International Conversation Cafe this Thursday. We had eight participants in our group last week ~ and would be happy to welcome you into the gathering as well.

International Conversation Cafe
Discuss culture, current events and more!
Join us on Thursday, September 16

12:30 to 1:30 in Meeting Room B of the Bryan Center

Beth and I look forward to seeing you there!

~Rene Caputo, ESL specialist and lecturing fellow, Thompson Writing Program

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The Winter Olympics are under way in Vancouver, Canada. By “under way” we mean they are going on or happening right now. The other night I watched Shen and Zhao win China’s 1st figure skating gold medal. Americans have won medals in skiing. Are you following any athletes from your country in the Winter Games?

Here is a list of vocabulary you might see and hear relating to the Olympic Games:


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1. keep your eye on the ball ~ pay attention to what is important (which could actually be a ball if you’re playing some sports)

2. eye candy ~ something or someone that is attractive (but possibly does not have additional positive qualities)

3. be in the public eye ~ often be seen in public

4. red-eye flight ~ a flight taken late at night, overnight, or really early in the morning (5 a.m., for example)

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