Sale on Brids

“Oh, you’d like a decoration for your home with a bird painted on it? I’m afraid we don’t have any birds, but we have some lovely brids today. And they’re on sale!”

Most people have trouble with English spelling; it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But if you want to sell a product that is decorated with words – check a dictionary first!

What do you think? Would you want to buy one of these little decorative pots? The sale price is very low. They are very attractive. Does it matter that the word is spelled wrong?

By the way, did you know that “misspell” is one of the most commonly misspelled words? Fortunately, whoever made the sign in the photo above got it right. If they had misspelled “misspelling”, it would have been terribly embarrassing!


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I Might Be a Redneck

[The Bad Words #4]

When I saw this car in my neighborhood, I was inspired to create a redneck joke: “If your car is held together with bungee cords, you might be a redneck.”

Redneck is a mildly insulting description of white working-class people.  Calling someone a redneck is rude, but some people have reappropriated the word and proudly call themselves rednecks. You shouldn’t call someone a redneck if you don’t know him well. However, if you have a good friend who refers to himself as a redneck, it’s okay for you to call him one, too.

A few years ago, comedian Jeff Foxworthy made redneck jokes popular. The jokes follow a specific formula: “If you __________ , you might be a redneck.”

The jokes make fun of stereotypical aspects of redneck culture such as a love of beer…

If you ever lost a tooth opening a beer bottle, you might be a redneck.

If you ever got too drunk to fish, you might be a redneck.

a passion for hunting…

If you were ever in a custody fight over a hunting dog, you might be a redneck.

If your mother has “ammo” on her Christmas list, you might be a redneck.  ["ammo" = ammunition]

and unsophisticated tastes in food, clothing, music, literature, and everything else…

If you think a “turtleneck” is an ingredient for soup, you might be a redneck.

If you think “Outdoor Life” magazine is deep reading, you might be a redneck.

Surprisingly, redneck jokes were most popular with rednecks. They enjoyed the humor of the redneck stereotype without feeling any shame. Rednecks know that they seem ridiculous to outsiders, but they are proud of their culture.

A person with “Redneck Pride” loves living an independent life in the country, even if he is poor. He sees himself as hardworking, patriotic, and devoted to his family. He doesn’t care about developing so-called sophisticated tastes or following fashion trends. He likes what he likes, and enjoys a simple life that’s close to nature.

Sometimes I think that I might be a redneck!


Would you be offended if someone called you a redneck?


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Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

Life is full of problems. We face unexpected obstacles. We make mistakes. We make poor decisions.

When we face one of life’s problems, it doesn’t help to say, “I wish it had never happened!”It did happen, and wishing won’t change anything. Instead, think of the proverb, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

If you spill some milk on the table, the only thing you can do is clean it up, and continue your meal. It’s the same with the problems of life. We can’t change the past, but we can do our best to face the problems of today, and keep going.

I thought of this proverb when I saw the amazing slow-motion video, “Breakfast Interrupted,” in which a breakfast feast is tossed up into the air. A lot of milk is spilled – literally – along with pancakes, eggs, bacon, strawberries, and orange juice! “Breakfast Interrupted” makes spilled milk look beautiful!

If you are learning a new language, you will make mistakes. If you are adjusting to a new culture at the same time, you will make mistakes all day long, every day! Sometimes mistakes are  funny, but sometimes they’re deeply embarrassing. Every mistake is a beautiful opportunity to learn and grow. The bigger the mistake, the bigger the opportunity! So don’t cry over spilled milk!

Breakfast Interrupted from Marlin Network on Vimeo.

[milk photo: Alecsandro Andrade de Melo]


What have you learned from mistakes?


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Words of Power

[The Bad Words #3]

Why are some words “bad”? English has a large and varied collection of “bad words”; what do they have in common? The answer is surprisingly spiritual.

Words are powerful. They enable us to take thoughts from our own minds and put them into someone else’s mind. This amazing power of words to hold and carry our thoughts makes all human connection possible.

The power of words also makes spiritual connection possible. History shows that people of different times and different cultures believed that some words were more powerful than others.  The most powerful words were those that bless or curse. A blessing is a prayer or a wish for good things to happen to someone else. A curse is the opposite – a prayer or wish for something terrible to happen to someone else.

The curse words that I hear all around me in American culture today are not literally meant as prayer. When someone says, “Damn you!” he is not praying that God will send your soul to hell, although that is literally what those words mean. But he is using the power of words to carry a message of anger, hatred or disrespect.

We modern people may not believe in magic, but we still believe in the power of words. When words are used to curse people, or to twist a beautiful, sacred thing into something ugly or profane, they become “bad words”.



I have more to say about “bad words” in later posts, so keep reading English with Rae! If you missed the earlier posts in this series, be sure to read about Dropping the F-Bomb and The N-Word. You can subscribe to English with Rae by using the colorful buttons in the top right corner of the main page.

By the way, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the blog is not functioning perfectly right now. We’ll get it fixed as soon as possible!


Every language has “bad words” of some kind, but not every language has curse words. Does your mother tongue [first language] have cursing?



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Our First Blogday

Today is our first blogday! Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of a blogday – I just made it up! It’s the birthday of the English with Rae blog. One year ago, I wrote my very first blog post, titled Memorial Day.

It has been a great year for me, and I am so grateful to all of you, my readers! I think you’ll like the new things I have planned for the blog in the upcoming year. I’m going to add a “Word of the Week” feature that will explore a key word in-depth. Also, I am writing a series of lessons for conversation practice that will be available as an e-book. I’ll give you more details about that later.

Today, to celebrate our blogday together, let’s look back at some of the stories from the past year and see what’s happened since then.

In June, I wrote about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Many of the fishermen and shrimpers who were affected by the spill were immigrants. Their limited understanding of English made it difficult for them to receive the help that was available to them.
Carl-Henrik Svanberg, the Chairman of British Petroleum, made a lot of people angry when he said, “We care about the small people.” One year later, Svanberg is still in charge at BP, and the “small people” are still struggling.

Before the World Cup games in South Africa, most Americans had never heard of vuvuzelas.  Now the loud, annoying horns are in the news again. Apparently, vuvuzelas spread disease, so now we have another reason to dislike them!

No one needs another reason to dislike bedbugs, but here’s one anyway: they may be carriers of the deadly MRSA bacteria.

Do you remember the Wilhelm Scream? Now it’s an iphone app! If you just can’t get enough of that famous sound effect, download the free app and listen to it over and over again!

What did you think the plural of Prius should be? Did you vote? And the winner is…

Back in September, I was inspired by
Ben Davis, who started running, lost 120 pounds, and turned his life around. What’s Ben doing these days? He’s still running, and he’s doing great.  This summer, he’s travelling all over the United States, encouraging others to “Do Life!”

I’m ready to “Do Life!” here at English with Rae for another year. I hope you’ll join me!

Thank you for joining me on this blogging adventure!

[cupcake photo: Claire Cresswell]

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The N-Word

[The Bad Words #2]

Negro Hills was one of the many towns that sprang up in California during the Gold Rush. It was founded by a group of black miners, but quickly grew to be a town of several hundred racially and culturally varied inhabitants. The town gradually faded away in the 1860s, when the gold mines gave out.

Today, all that remains of Negro Hills is a cemetery. The graves were moved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1954, when Folsom Dam was built. At that time, 36 unmarked graves were discovered. Headstones were made for them, identifying them as “Unknown”.

But in making the new headstones, the Corps consistently used the epithet usually referred to as “the N-word” in the place of “Negro” when referring to the town. It is uncertain why it used a word that wasn’t accepted in the newspaper in 1954, or why county officials didn’t fix it before.

The N-word is nigger, the ugliest word in the United States.  No other word has as much power to offend, hurt, or frighten. Negro and nigger are both from a Latin root word that means black. Neither word is an acceptable way to refer to black Americans today, but at least negro was acceptable in the past, before black or African-American became more popular terms. The N-word has always been an insult.

Why was the N-word inscribed on the headstones? It might have been a deliberate, hateful act. It’s also possible it was an honest mistake by someone who didn’t know the proper name of the cemetery, and used a common nickname. Either way, it’s a glimpse into our racist history. Fortunately, those 36 unknown pioneers will soon get new headstones. County officials are planning to make new markers for the graves, as well as a monument that tells the story of the cemetery.

You might hear the N-word in hip-hop music and in movies. You might notice that many black Americans use it in various ways. That doesn’t mean that you can use it. When racial slurs are reclaimed and used by the group that has been discriminated against, it’s called reappropriation. It’s a controversial cultural shift that is often debated within the black American community. Opinions are divided over whether reappropriation shows self-empowerment or self-hatred. One thing is clear, however: if you are not a black American, it’s not your debate, and it’s not your word. Don’t use it.

[AP photo/Rich Pedroncelli]

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Write Right Rite

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Homonyms are a subset of homophones – they sound alike and are spelled alike, but have different meanings. The word right is a good example of a word with many homophones and homonyms, as the following story illustrates:

When you write copy, you own the right of copyright to the copy you write, if the copy is right. If, however, your copy falls over, you must right your copy. If you write religious services, you write rite, and own the right of copyright to the rite you write.

Conservatives write Right copy, and own the right of copyright, to the Right copy they write. A right-wing cleric would write Right rite, and owns the right of copyright to the Right rite he has the right to write. His editor has the job of making the Right rite copy right before the copyright can be right.

Should Reverend Jim Wright decide to write Right rite, then Wright would write right rite, to which Wright has the right of copyright. Duplicating his rite would be to copy Wright’s Right rite, and violate copyright, to which Wright would have the right to right.


Use this color-coded key to understand the homophones and homonyms used in the story:

write -( v.) to compose letters or words
right – (n.) a legal or moral claim
right – (adj.) correct, proper
right – (v.) to restore something to it’s proper condition
rite – a ceremonial act
Right – conservative (politically)
Wright – a common surname, probably originally meaning maker (as in playwright, wheelwright, cartwright, shipwright,  etc.)

I got this story from a friend, who got it from a friend, who found it on the internet, but I couldn’t trace it back to the original author. If any of you know who wrote it, let me know. I don’t want to violate someone’s copyright. That just wouldn’t be right!

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Shop ‘Til You Drop

This lounger created by Mike Bouchet reminds me of the phrase shop ’til you drop.  It’s made from a grocery store shopping cart that has been cut apart and re-shaped.

Shop ’til you drop means to go from store to store buying things until you’re too tired to shop any more. If you’re like me, that doesn’t sound very fun, but some people love to shop, even when it’s tiring. For those people, shop ’til you drop describes the plan for a perfect day.

Shop ’til you drop was a popular phrase for decorating T-shirts, purses, and bumper stickers in happier economic times. I don’t hear it or see it much anymore. Most people run out of money before they run out of energy these days. Here are some words and phrases that are more useful in today’s economic climate. They all mean to economize (to spend money wisely; to avoid waste):

  • tighten your belt
  • cut back
  • pinch pennies
  • stretch a dollar
  • be frugal
  • live within your means
  • scrimp and save

Maybe we can learn a lesson from Mike Bouchet’s grocery cart lounger – buy less, and relax more!


Have you tightened your belt? Do you have any advice on how to stretch a dollar?


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Dropping the F-Bomb

[The Bad Words #1]

If you’ve ever watched an American movie, you’ve probably heard it. But it’s not just in movies; you will hear it in songs and on television as well. It’s all over the internet, it’s in homes, it’s in offices, it’s in schools, and it’s in politics. The “f-word” is everywhere.

The “f-word” is a euphemism for fuck, a word that is so offensive that it is sometimes called “the f-bomb.” Like a bomb, this word can be a dangerous, explosive weapon. To “drop the f-bomb” is to say it, and it is a desperate, dangerous thing to do. At least, it used to be. The “f-bomb” may be losing some of its powerful effect by overuse.

Vice President Joe Biden “dropped the f-bomb” last year when he gleefully summed up the health care reform bill by saying, “This is a big fucking deal.”

It was a little disconcerting to hear the nation’s second-in-command using the same kind of language that one might hear from a teenage boy. In his defense, I need to point out that his words were intended for the President’s ears only. At least he didn’t write it into a speech and shout it into the camera, which is exactly what Donald Trump did a few weeks ago.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump served up a profanity laced speech to Republican supporters in Las Vegas Thursday night, attacking American policies and continuing his flirtation with a run for the GOP presidential nomination.

It’s shocking to me that a man who seems to be preparing to campaign for President of the United States would use profanity in his speeches and still expect to be taken seriously.

Language and attitudes are always changing and it seems that profanity is becoming more acceptable.  Research shows that not only are adults using swear words more often, but children are learning swear words at an earlier age. Of course they are! They are mimicking what they hear all around them, everyday.

However, just because more people are “dropping the f-bomb” doesn’t mean that everyone is. There are still a lot of people who don’t say it, and don’t want to hear it. My advice to language learners is: don’t add this word to your vocabulary! It could truly be like a bomb to you, blowing up in your face. It could make people lower their opinion of you. They might think that you are rude or immature, or less intelligent that you really are.

Trust me on this. Don’t drop the f-bomb.

By the way, this post is the first of a series on “bad” words. Keep reading English with Rae for more tips on what not to say!

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Everyone is Super

Is that Wonder Woman? No, it’s Frederika, photographer Sacha Goldberger’s grandmother! Goldberger created a beautiful and humorous series of photographs featuring Frederika as a superhero.

The red, blue, and silver of Frederika’s costume predominate in these glowing photos. Every surface looks smooth and clean, as if it has been polished. These photos show a happy world where everything shines. And Frederika shines brightest of all.

Just as lovely as the photos is the story behind them. Mr. Goldberger feared that his elderly grandmother was depressed. To cheer her up, he planned the superhero photo series. The outrageous costume and funny poses were selected for laughs, but Frederika really is a superhero to her grandson. Through his art, he helped her to feel like the strong, courageous, and amazing person that he knows her to be.

Looking at these pictures, I was reminded of the phrase, “there are no ordinary people.”

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
- C. S. Lewis

Everyone is super – even you!


Super is used as a prefix in many words to mean above, beyond, higher, or greater. See if you can match these super words with their meanings.

Here are the words:

  1. superstar
  2. supernatural
  3. supervise
  4. superhuman
  5. superfluous
  6. superimpose
  7. superficial
  8. superior
  9. supersize
  10. supermarket

Here are the definitions:

a. more than is needed
b. greater than normal ability
c. to make something very large
d. something that can’t be explained by the laws of nature
e. only on the surface (not deep)
f. a store that sells food and household items
g. a very famous celebrity
h. direct or have control over something (or someone)
i. high quality
j. to put one thing over (or on top of) another thing

You can find more detailed definitions for all these words in the Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary, as well as example sentences.

And here are the answers:

1. g     2. d     3. h     4. b     5. a     6. j     7. e     8. i     9. c     10. f

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