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Idiomatic English Day by Day
Index page and Introduction

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

Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL

© 2010-2012 Klaus Bung

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Klaus Bung:
Idiomatic English Day by Day


On this page I am planning to list (and explain) from time to time examples of British English heard or seen during that day which I find particularly delightful or particularly horrible, use and abuse of the language which makes my heart beat faster (joy) or makes my heart sink (disappointment, dismay).

They are intended especially for those of my friends (and visitors to this website) who are learning English as a second language but do not have the pleasure of living in this country (God's own country?).

I cannot promise to add to this page every day, but I will try (insha Allah, God willing, Deo volente, Ishvara anugraha, So Gott will, Si Dios quiere, Si Deus queser, &c) to do so at least once or twice a week.

So, please visit this website regularly to see if there is anything new.

If you like what you see, copy it into your vocabularly (etc) notebook and try to apply it as often as possible during the next few days, in your English classes, in conversations with English and other chat friends (Internet), to see if it works, if it will be understood, to test whether you are using it correctly, and simply to make sure you remember it and to anchor it firmly in your memory and activate it in your repertory of English language expressions

I am at present particularly interested in the following features of English and delight in them when I hear them and often think of my English-learning friends and wonder what they would think of them:

  • Allusions to literature, the Bible, Shakespeare, etc
  • Understatements
  • Figurative expressions
  • Proverbs, often only partly quoted
  • Popular and uneducated use of the language, often used by politicians during radio interviews, but also by uneducated and semi-educated people.
  • What people say about the weather

If you detect any mistakes or inadequacies or have suggestions for improvements, please e-mail us. We will always be grateful for such information.


2012-06-09 Spelling of English names

Somebody asked how to handle English names which he hears on audio-recordings. He knows some by ear but cannot spell them and he has not heard some ever before. Without knowing the spelling he cannot look them up in a dictionary, even if a dictionary existed.  There is no fool-proof method for solving this problem of the independent learner (learner without a teacher or informant). So what follows are not recipes, but just some suggestions to make progress in the learning of names. When an ideal solution is not available, we must be satisfied with a clumsy one. This is the case here.

2012-04-14 Equal goes it loose, or: How to get rid of interference mistakes

In an Arabic-English language forum, an Arabic speaking member asked the English members for examples of errors caused by the learner's native language and for advice how to eliminate them. English members of this group eliminate such mistakes entirely by not learning and writing Arabic. That is a patented and very effective method. Read more about other methods

2012-03-24 The meaning of "may"

The word "may" can have many meanings. One of them indicates that something is possible but you are not sure, the possibility-may: "I do not know what happened to my cat. She may be dead by now." Another meaning of "may" has to do with "permission": "May I go to the theatre tonight?", the permission-may. This essay explores the possibility-may. Just for fun, watch this: my + a, may + n, many


2012-03-18 Using punctuation to avoid ambiguities

Some half-educated native speakers of English have argued that punctation (e.g. use of commas) does not matter, or that there are no reliable rules for English punctuation.Neither of these assertions is true. Punctuation does matter, there are reliable rules of correct and incorrect punctuation, but these can be overridden in specific cases (so specific that they cannot be covered by purely formal rules), when commas are used specifically to avoid ambiguities or to control intonation (spoken presentation). This essay investigates one such case in detail..


2012-03-08 Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me, or: How universal are "Please" and "Thank you"?

A visitor to England was so astonished by the frequent use of "Please" and "Thank you" that he enquired whether a general has to say "Please" when he requests his soldiers to fire. In this essay we explore the use of these words in English and in other cultures. You will also learn why it is sometimes a good idea to hold hands with the policeman who arrests you (but not if you are a woman), where to kiss your girlfriend in peace and quiet when it is forbidden by the religious police (or the inquisition) and why 350 words of Arabic can be immensely useful.

2012-03-01 She has the bit between her teeth

This is an article about women who can't be stopped talking, like the Shrew in Shakespeare's play "The Taming of a Shrew", about men who are sure of victory, about Chaucer's "Wife of Bath" who had all her five (consecutive) husbands under her thumb, of armies who scent victory and cannot be stopped by their thoughtful generals from attacking, of horses who are scared and bolt, of run-away trains and run-away toboggans, of mobs which are out of control, of daughters who get married against their fathers' wishes. What do they all have in common - the self-confident women, the horses who run away in fear, and the armies which fearlessly charge to victory, the trains and toboggans which cannot be stopped? They all have the bit between their teeth. This essay explains how such an absurdity is possible, at least in English.

2012-02-28 Mad dogs and Eglishmen: a story about the sad end of an English dog

This essay introduces the story of an Englishman who was bitten by a mad dog. The dog must have been mad, otherwise he would not have bitten a pious and God-fearing man. The essay explores many uses of the words bite, bit, bitten, bits, bytes, etc.

2012-02-11 Sexism and Watergate - Fashionable Suffixes

There are a fair number of new words in circulation which end in -ism and suggest that righteous people do not like what they denote, e.g. "sexism", "raceism", "ageism", "elitism", etc. The history of the suffix -ism is well documented and the recent examples appear to be fairly kosher. This essay considers the history of "gate", as in Watergate or Camilla-Gate, a fashionable and overused "suffix", which has moved so far away from its original meaning that it must be utterly puzzling to the foreign learner of English.

Read more

2012-02-08 What's in store for me tonight?

"tonight" is a strange expression in English because it usually means "in the evening" and not "during the night". "What's in store" usually means "what is going to happen" and not "What goods are in stock in a certain shop". This essay explores, with the help of many examples, how these expressions are used and discusses many other English idioms besides.

Read more


2012-01-13 Lots of examples and a lot to think about

This article discusses the difference, if any, between "lots of" and "a lot of": "I have lots of money" vs "I have a lot of money", and "I have got lots of money" vs "I have lots of money", and "Have you a book" vs "Do you have a book", and related expressions.

Read more


2011-10-04 If you are pleased, I am satisfied

Which expression conveys the greater praise: (1) "I'm satisfied with your work", or (2) "I'm pleased with your work."? The answer is not obvious, not even for native speakers of English. The value of these expressions depends on context. who speaks or writes, and to whom, how do these experessions fit into the whole range of expressions available for approval and disapproval. This essay examines some of these possibilities and gives examples from English literature, in which it is easy to examine the context and therefore the varying meaning of these expressions.

Read more

2011-09-26 You make my mouth water, qalbi

f you want food very badly because you like it very much or because you are hungry, then saliva starts running in your mouth, your mouth "waters", you salivate. So when we say "something makes your mouth water", it means that you like or want it very much. In this article you find a more detailed explanation of mouth watering and a large number of examples of this expression from English literature so that you see it used in context and imitate these examples in your own use of the language.

Read more ...

2010-12-06 Berkshire Hunt invades BBC Radio 4

Millions of listeners to BBC Radio 4 were surprised when, on Monday, 6 Dec 2010, at 7.58 a.m., they heard radio presenter James Naughtie inadvertently introduce his guest, Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, as Jeremy Cunt. How one letter can make such an enormous difference! Vive la petite differénce (Long live the little difference!). Some listeners laughed it off. Others e-mailed: "We are not amused." For non-English users of the IDYLL® website, Klaus Bung has written an essay exploring the background of this incident, uses of this and related four-letter words. Attempts of rehabilitating the offensive word by D H Lawrence and Germaine Greer, and a host of related topics which put the radio incident into perspective and give learners of English further insights into English swearing and English taboos. In the essay, you will find links to hilarious YouTube recordings of the incident. This essay is crammed with four-letter words (= slang, vulgar words). If you are likely to be upset by a frank discussion of such topics, we suggest that you do NOT read this essay.

Read more ...

2010-11-06 Contempt of court

On 2010-10-12 I published an article ("Last words: Expletive deleted") giving examples of robust language in English. Among the expressions discussed were "take your finger out", "get off your arse" and "get off your backside". About four weeks later, a member of the British Royal Family used one such expression when he criticised, in forthright language, the bosses at the Ministry of Defence by saying: "...regrettably they will not get off their fat backsides". This reminds me of a case in 1973 when a German Social-Democrat member of parliament referred to the eight judges of the German Constituional Court (the highest court in Germany) as "the eight arseholes" and that word was splashed in huge print over the front pages of most newspapers in the country.

I will keep this article here for 10 days. Then I will incorporate it into my article of 2010-10-12, where it belongs.

Read more ...

2010-11-01 From chat-up line to parting shot

Nowadays parting shots are not bullets but words, for example at the end of an argument. The last report an Ambassador sends before he leaves his post can be called his parting shot. We also discuss people who always want to have the last word (win an argument), what people said immediately before they die (famous last words) and "first words", chat-up lines with which a young man tries to start a conversation with a girl or, nowadays equally likely, the other way round (a girl trying to chat up a boy). Nietzsche said: "God is dead". Forty years later, God said: "Nietzsche is dead". God had the last word. But then came Richard Dawkins and said ... Read more ...

2010-10-12 Last words: Expletive deleted

Agony Aunt Claire Rayner, who died on 11 Oct 2010, carefully planned and wrote down her "last words" well before she died She told the Prime Minister not to "screw up" (fuck up) the National Health Service, and if he did, she would come back from the grave and BLOODY haunt him. She made sure there was an expletive (swear word) in her last words. Swear words, or some of them, in English are also called expletives, foul language, profanities, obscenities, four-letter words, strong language, "choice words" (= well chosen and unrepeatable, unprintable words), words not suitable for broadcasting, etc. Sometimes euphemisms are used, e.g. "effing" or " f***ing "for "fucking", etc. When things go wrong in an organisation (army, government, office) people say that everything is messed up, fucked up, screwed up, and when this happens most of the time, you say SNAFU (systems normal, all fucked up). "not bloody likely" was shocking in 1916 (in Shaw's play Pygmalion), but in 1964, in the musical "My Fair Lady", "bloody" was no longer shocking enough, and the shocking exclamation in the musical was "Move your bloody arse!". Learn also about euphemisms and unparliamentary language. Read more ...

2010-09-28 Your guess is as good as mine

There are many things you can say when you do not know the answer, depending on whether you ought to know the answer or you cannot possibly know it. For example: I don't know. How am *** I *** supposed to know. Haven't got a clue. No idea. That's anybody's guess. Your guess is as good as mine. You tell ME. Only God knows. Well? I wouldn't bet on it. Future will tell. Read more.

2010-09-19 Technical terms in ordinary English
Part 3: input, output, program, programme, light relief

Most technical terms in English are derived from ordinary English. You can use technical terms more competently if you know their basic meanings and how they are used in ordinary language. Today we will explore input and ouput, program and programme, and you will find some anekdotes about Norbert Wieder, father of cybernetics, for light relief. Read more.

2010-09-16 Technical terms in ordinary English
Part 2: source, target, sourcing, outsourcing, stimulus, response

Most technical terms in English are derived from ordinary English. You can use technical terms more competently if you know their basic meanings and how they are used in ordinary language. Today we will explore some terms which are used in several disciplines, including in the discussion of techniques for learning foreign languages: source and target, aiming and targeting, targets in studying, business, shooting, source of water, information, supplies, sourcing and outsourcing, and more about stimulus and response psychology. Read more.

2010-09-11 Technical terms in ordinary English
Part 1: pair, question, answer, stimulus, response

Most technical terms in English are derived from ordinary English. You can use technical terms more competently if you know their basic meanings and how they are used in ordinary language. Today we will explore some terms which are used in several disciplines, including in the discussion of techniques for learning foreign languages: question, answers; pairs in mathematics, language learning and ordinary language; stimulus and response in learning psychology. Read more.

2010-09-09 My late father

When you speak about a person who is dead, you often use expressions like "my late father", or "the late Iris Murdoch". We discuss this and other uses of "late" in this article and the difference between "late" and "too late". Examples of uneducated English, like "my Mom, My Dad, all Mums and Dads", the expression "to pay tribute to", William the Conquerer (known in France as William the Bastard), and the Irish expression "my sainted mother" are all explored in this article. Read more.

2010-09-05 My Egyptian dentist

"Amor vincit omnia": Love conquers everything, especially in Egypt, where beautiful Cleopatra conquered the hearts of her Roman conquerors, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius). Klaus also fell prey to an extraordinary Egyptian woman, Aya, and he did so happily, eyes wide shut. Aya is the lover of crocodiles, sharks and asps (don't ask me about the offspring of these dangerous and unnatural liaisons!). She fixed Klaus's teeth but broke his heart. No amount of amalgam and superglue can ever repair the damage. Like the enamoured violet, he, with his last dying breath, kisses the feet of the beautiful desert shepherdess who steps on, and crushes, him. Click here to read the extraordinary story in full

2010-09-04 Why only Muslims can have "breakfast" at night

It is useful to look closely at words you are trying to learn and check whether they consist of components which you already know or which are used as parts of other words, which are then easier to learn. In this article, we look at English "breakfast" (which literally is the meal with which you BREAK your FAST. French, Spanish, Romanian and Latin words also mean "breaking of fast", whereas the Chinese and German words simply mean "early meal". We also look at the Arabic, Farsi and Urdu words for breakfast and at the customs of Muslims during Ramadan.And last, but not least, there is a fantastic story about my Egyptian dentist, something that will have you rolling on the floor laughing - ROFL. Read more.

2010-09-02 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.

2010-08-30 A famine of almost Biblical proportions

Large, world-wide famines were described in the Bible, for example in the story of Joseph (Yusuf) and his brothers. Therefore it makes sense to speak of a famine of Biblical proportions if it was a very big one. One can also talk of a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. On their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites did not march in a straight line but made a detour of Biblical proportions, which cost them 40 years before they reached the "Gaza strip". Apart from this, the expression "of Biblical proportions" is often loosely used, simply to indicate that something is very big. Sometimes this is a misuse and overuse of the expression, just like the word "tragedy" or "hero" tends to be overused by the press. Not every sad event is a "tragedy" (check Hegel, Sophocles and Antigone for a good definition), and not every soldier who gets killed is a hero. Read more.

2010-08-29 You can't say fairer than that

"You can't say fairer than that" is an expression which tends to be used by less educated people and in the pub or on the football ground. Therefore the learner should use it with caution (avoid it), unless he knows he is in the right environment. Read more.

2010-08-28 If a job's worth doing

The full proverb is "If a job's worth doing, it is worth doing well". It is customary in England to quote only the first half of a proverb and let the listener remember the other half. That is good native style. Similarly it is good and necessary for the language student to know many proverbs and to get used to recognising their abbreviated form. Otherwise there will be many remarks (and newspaper headlines) which he will not understand. Read more.

2010-08-27 Accounts were "less transparent than they should be"

A company went bust because of fraudulant accounting. The radio news stated that their accounts were "less transparent that they should be". This is a form of understatement. Understatement is something that is second nature to English (but not American) people and that is often misunderstood by foreigners. English people know that much more is meant than is said. If the foreigner expresses himself without understatement, i.e. if he is as frank as he can be in his own language, i.e. if he says all that he means, this can sound brutal to sensitive English ears. Ear drums are a very delicate part of the body. Do not pierce them. Do not shout too loudly, at least not in England. Read more.

2010-08-26 Turkish delight, "English Delight"

Turkish delight is a popular sweet in England but, with different names, also enjoyed in many Eastern countries. In a figurative sense, derived from "Turkish delight", the word "delight" is also combined with names of many other nationalities: English Delight, German Delight, Scottish Delight, Welsh, French, Spanish delight, to say nothing of an escort girl describing herself as Indian delight. Read more:

2010-08-25 Not exactly flavour of the month

"Not exactly flavour of the month" is an understatement and a metaphor. It was originally used for varieties of ice cream or other foods. Now it is also applied to people who have made themselves unpopular because of mistakes or foolishness. It could be applied to politicians who have upset other politicians, or the voters, employees who have upset their bosses, companies which have upset their customers by a bad product, or children who have upset their parents, etc. Read more.

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