Nature’s greatest masterpiece

You might have noticed that we like TED talks and TED-Ed. The other day I received another TED-Ed  video, which I would like to share with you. It’s about  elephants and memory. In a recent blog we talked about repetition and memory, so today’s focus is on elephants.

In the video, the following John Donne’s quote is mentioned:

” Nature’s greatest masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing”

I found the explanation about why elephants attack villages fascinating. They actually remember the people who have hurt them. Therefore the expression: to  have a memory like an elephant.

As I myself am a great elephant lover, I stubbornly watch every documentary on elephants that’s on, even though the information often repeats. If you feel like finding out more about elephants as well as practicing your listening comprehension here’s an excellent documentary from BBC :

Elephants have formed a part of our childhood. Many of us cried  and felt sorry for poor Dumbo. Do you  remember the scene with pink elephants? You might not know that it relates to an idiom: to see pink elephants, which means to be intoxicated; recovering from a drinking bout; having the delirium tremens.

e.g. When I got to the point of seeing pink elephants, I knew that something had to be done.The old one who’s shakinghe’s probably seeing snakes. (N.B. You can also see snakes and spiders.)

Here they are: pink elephants on parade.  Just be patient and wait for the  lyrics to start.

There are some more idioms and expressions mentioning elephants. I came across this blog, which explains them very well:

I can go on and on about elephants, from serious to silly and back. And I will:

Serious: The Elephant man.

I remember watching this film when I was really young. The whole atmosphere was so oppressive and gloomy that I couldn’t fall asleep that night. I was thinking about the cruelty this person had been treated with and how little kindness he had received, just for the fact of being ugly and different. Here is the story of the real elephant man;

and  a documentary about the studies of his remains, which may eventually help us find a cure for cancer.

To finish off lightly, I ‘ll quote Dr. Seuss: ” I meant what I said and said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent.”  (from “Horton hatches an egg”)

When we teach children English we start off with colours and shapes and family members, often forgetting the beautiful rhymes  from our childhood. If you started learning English late and never had an opportunity to read or hear any children’s books, give this story a go.  You will surely enjoy it!





What exactly is a cliché?

A cliché is a saying or remark that is very often made and is therefore not original and not interesting. Every language has them and I’m sure you will be able to translate some of the clichés below into you own language.


1. Granddaughter: Bye Granny!  Jamie and I are off out for the evening!

Granny: Have a great time! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!

2. Friend 1: I don’t know whether to apply for that job or not. What do you think?

Friend 2.: Well, I’m not sure. At the end of the day, it’s your decision.

3.  Doctor: You should get a new job, stop smoking, and have a healthy lifestyle.

Patient: Easier said than done!

4.  Businessman: It took me years to build up this business. Nearly killed me!

Wife: Well, you know what they say. No pain,no gain.

5.   Father: I got  a card from Gerry a week after my birthday.

Mother: Oh, well. Better late than never.

6.  Friend 1: Bob’s really weird. Have you heard he’s going to walk across Europe?

Friend 2: It takes all sorts.

7. Holiday maker: It’s been raining for 3 days! We need some sunshine!

Hotel owner: You can say that again!

8. Jane: I need to get back in the house and make sure I’ve turned off the iron.

George: Good idea. Better safe than sorry!

If  we managed to spark your interest, here’s a link to lists of cliché phrases and their origins.

A cliché is an expression, but it can also be a situation. I’m sure you are fed up of movie or advertising clichés.Here’s a choice of 10 action movie clichés.

And a very beautiful  and cynical example of clichéd advertising.



Angry Words

While studying English most students get the wrong idea about how polite this language is. Admittedly, it’s the fault of us teachers who tend to expose them to perfect English, perfect standard pronunciation and works of great writers or poets.We spend hours trying to  teach the differences between  formal and  informal registers, how casual one can be in certain situations and when asked about bad words we usually say: “Look it up in your dictionary”  or ” We don’t have enough class time to spend on that!”.

This post is dedicated to all my students who think that it’s difficult to insult in English. You can spend hours trying to write down or remember some truly imaginative insults, compare them to your own language or just have a good laugh.

Warning: Not appropriate for people who hate strong language, although there are also some quite innocent  insults such as “You look like a blueberry!” and  “Your mother was a hamster.”


After being exposed to some truly imaginative insults, let’s get a bit more serious. Here is a link to idioms used to express anger.

Of course, a list is just a list and using idioms is quite a different ball game. Here’s a little exercise to help you check out just how “angry” you are!

I can’t help but include a scene from one of the best movies made on the topic of rage:” Falling down”

All the world’s a stage

There is a reason why  23 April is The International Book Day.

April 23,1654. Shakespeare’s birthday. He makes us laugh and cry and think. Let’s homage his birthday in a slightly less serious fashion starting with  “As you like it” Act II,scene 7 in – plasticine!

Then, Blackadder bumps into Shakespeare  and “revenges” in the name of  all future school boys and girls. Hilarious!

How about trimming Hamlet and making it snappy? Listen to this curious agreement.

23 April, 1616. Miguel  de Cervantes died. Surely, Blackadder would have punched him in the face as well! I managed to find a cartoon  about Don Quixote in English, as most of the video clips are in Spanish.

And for the lovers of musicals, the great Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren,  Man of La Mancha, 1972.

Unfortunately, this month we also witnessed the passing away of another great author and great man, Gabriel Garcia Marques. We cannot finish this post without paying our modest tribute to this great writer.

From The Guardian blog, readers explain how his work, namely One hundred years of Solitude, influenced them.

Rest in peace, dear Gabo. We hope you have found the eighth stage of man.




“Can’t repeat the past?….”

Wouldn’t you just love to meet your literary or other heroes in person? Woody Allen made this dream come true in his movie “Midnight in Paris”. One of the writers “poor” Gill meets is F Scott Fitzgerald, which leaves him quite flabbergasted, as you may imagine!

So, let’s be reminded of one of America’s beloved writers.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was an American writer of novels and short stories, whose works have been seen as evocative of the Jazz Age, a term he himself allegedly coined. He is regarded as one of the greatest twentieth century writers. Fitzgerald was of the self-styled “Lost Generation,” Americans born in the 1890s who came of age during World War I. He finished four novels, left a fifth unfinished, and wrote dozens of short stories that treat themes of youth, despair, and age. He was married to Zelda Fitzgerald.

By far his most popular novel is “The Great Gatsby”. When this novel got its new film version last, I just had to see it.  However,constantly comparing Leonardo DiCaprio with Robert Redford  while watching was painstaking! I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as:

“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

And the new version of the same scene:

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Sorry about starting from the end.Now, let’s just check out how it all begins.

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

…and goes on:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

If you’ve got hooked, as many have before you, you might want to find out a bit more about the man behind the book. Here is a link to an article in The Esquire written by Andrew O’Hagan:






“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”

Keats was right. Beauty is a joy but it is also frail. It is in the eye of the beholder. Remembering that expression, not to say truth, made me look for the old twilight zone episode of the same name. Here it is again:

However, most of us recognise beauty when we see it.There is a universal feeling of pleasure when we are reading a beautiful poem, watching  a good movie or just sharing a smile with young children.It is also the reason why visual arts are ever so popular. I found a presentation made by a National Geographic photographer on Ted talks. Enjoy his talk and his wonderful photos!

And back to poetry. Lord Byron, a romantic poet, a true admirer of nature, his country and of course, beautiful women. Here is one of his most famous poems.

She Walks in Beauty
By Lord Byron (George Gordon)
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

In the following article from The Guardian you can read an opinion of a father of four beautiful  daughters. Controversial? Sincere?

And after this serious reading, watch this light- hearted video on the famous beauty school drop out from Grease. The moral is clear”Beauty’s sweet, but beauty’s frail.

Friday Smiles

It’s FRIDAY! Our favourite day, isn’t it? We are usually full of great plans for the weekend, checking out the weather forecast, making arrangements to meet up with friends or family, looking at what’s on in the cinema or the theatres or planning a day out with our kids.

All that makes us SMILE! And smile is what me must do as often as possible. At least that’s what  the following video recommends. It explains all the benefits of smiling. It might make you want to eat more chocolate, though!

This article about Mona Lisa might make you smile, or just simply laugh out loud!

Julia Robert’s smile made her famous. She also starred a movie called Mona Lisa smile.

Let’s end with some music . Nat King Cole.

And something completely different. Avril Lavigne.

SMILE. It’s Friday. Have a nice weekend!