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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL

© 2010 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it

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Klaus Bung:
This is not a good idea

This phrase is an understatement. If you say that John's plan is "not a good idea" you really mean that John's plan is a foolish idea, that it will get John into serious trouble, that John is an idiot even to consider it. Smoking while filling your car with petrol, watching TV while driving, jumping out of a fast moving train, swearing at God when He comes to collect you, telling Saddam Hussain what you really think of him are definitely "not good ideas". On the contrary they are foolhardy.Read more below.

2010-09-02 This is not a good idea

English policemanA few years ago, a Bangladeshi woman in England was attacked by white racists. They put superglue into the lock of her house, threw rubbish into her garden and poured a bucket of paint over her front door. Her MP (Member of Parliament for her district) came to inspect the damage and give her emotional support, the Social Services helped her clear up the mess, and the police came to investigate and find out who had done it.

Of course, the woman was very distressed. Her two teenage sons were not only upset, they were angry. When the police came (all white in this case), the boys started shouting abuse at the police, calling them names and calling them racists. For the boys, at that moment, all white people were racists.

The MP who witnessed the shouting told the boys to stop shouting. I imagine his words more or less as follows:

"You should not insult people who are trying to help you. That is unfair. If you insult the police, they will not feel like helping you in future. You will make the police dislike you. Perhaps they will even dislike all Bangladeshis if this happens to them repeatedly. And if you behave too badly to the police, they might even arrest you. You wouldn't like that, would you?"

That, I suppose, might have been the MP's arguments.

Today his diary was broadcast on the radio. In the diary he described the incident as follows: "The boys were abusing the police. I went up to them and told them that this was not a good idea."

This is a very useful phrase when you want to stop person A from doing something, especially if what A is planning to do will harm person A more than person B (the person to whom he is doing it).

"This is not a good idea" is an understatement. It means: "This is a bad idea, a very bad idea, something very stupid to do, something ridiculously stupid to do, something very dangerous to do".

It does NOT normally mean: "This is wrong, immoral or illegal to do", it means: "It is stupid because you will get hurt by doing that".

In blunt speech (plain English), the phrase means: "You blithering idiot! What are you doing? Are you out of your mind?"

But an English gentleman will not use such language. He is more likely to say: "That's not a good idea". Another English gentleman (or lady) will understand him and perhaps take his advice, but an angry teenager may not listen to such restrained talk.

Examples of bad ideas

When Saddam Hussein discussed with his advisers whether or not to invade Kuwait, one of them might have said: "Uncle, do you really think that's such a good idea?", a very subtle (restrained, understated) way of saying: "That's not a good idea" ( = That's a bad idea).

When Bush and Blair discussed the question whether or not to attack Iraq, or Afghanistan, Blair might have said to Bush: "I don't think that is a good idea".

A teenage boy will have an important examination tomorrow morning. In the evening he says to his parents: "I have done enough revision. I will go to a party tonight and have some fun before the exam tomorrow." The parents might say: "Listen, George, I don't think that's a good idea. You will come home late, and tomorrow morning you will be tired. It would be much better for you to go to bed now and have a good night's sleep so that you are fresh for the exam tomorrow."

Scottish petrol station in the middle of nowhereTwo friends are stopping at a petrol station. The driver gets out of the car to fill the tank. The passenger says: "I'll come with you, I need a smoke. Do you have a light?" The driver says: "I don't think that is a good idea. You will blow both of us sky-high."

I googled "not a good idea", and over 29 million hits came up. There seem to be many bad ideas in the world, and Google has all of them. If you look them up now and carry out one bad idea per day, it will take you 79,452 years to realise them all. So you have to work faster!

If you want to spend your whole life carrying out bad ideas, say a hundred years, starting with your first cry as a baby (presumably being born was your first bad idea), you will have 784 such jobs per day, 33 per hour, and 1 every other minute.

I googled "a bad idea", and 48 million hits came up.

I have so many bad ideas every day that I don't need Google to get more of them.

If a person does something by which he unexpectedly harms himself, we say: "He shot himself in the foot". There are many variants of this, and we will discuss them some other time.


If you want to benefit from these new English expressions, you have to use them in your own life. Even if you are not speaking English in your daily life, which probably you aren't, watch out for situations where "I don't think this is a good idea" could be usefully said. So if you are speaking Chinese, Spanish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Tagalog or whatever, and recognise such a situation, interrupt your native speech, switch to English, and throw in that English phrase, to keep it alive in your mind.

Bertold BrechtSome people have so many bad ideas that they cannot possibly carry out all of them. Therefore they go to great lengths to find the worst ones and put only these into practice. German playwright Bertold Brecht had a friend called Mr Keuner (Herr Keuner). Someone who had not met him for a while asked: "What are you doing nowadays?" Mr Keuner replied: "I am preparing my next mistake".


Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it