For those of you who have no idea who Tommy Emmanuel is, shame on you. His fame is so long-standing in Australia that it’s gone stale, which might be the very reason why I’m writing about him in my life-in-Moscow rag: I caught his show this weekend. I’d never heard of him before either, but a friend, one who is determined to have us leave Russia feeling positive about the place, gave us tickets to his concert this past Saturday.
Tommy performed at the very modern Moscow International House of Music, which overlooks a quay of the Moscow River and is likened to a “crystal palace”. I had but one negative: Though there are several floors inside, hosting as many levels of balcony seating, none have toilets (Often in need of relief, it’s an attribute I’ve noticed in many of the buildings here, new and old). But, as buildings go, it was nice: The main hall is covered from ceiling to floor to balcony rails in a sandy-colored wood that just screams no-expenses-spared.
Perhaps more entertaining for us was the crowd, ranging from dreadlocked university students (link doesn’t apply) in t-shirts to half-lost grandparents to people dressed to the nines and out from a proper theatre experience. Being ushered to our seats about ten minutes into the opening act, we were sat betwixt an entire row of collegiates and a young guy who was translating the English stage talk for his parents, all somehow fans of this rather aged Australian guitar player past his prime and lacking any top-of-the-charts hits.
How were they so in the know and we weren’t? We’d had to look Tommy up on the internet, watch some of his YouTube performances to get some idea of what we were in for, but somehow he’d packed the house. Admittedly, he’s pretty badass (watch the YouTube clip if you haven’t), but it still seemed a bit like going to see David Crosby, i.e. someone who maybe should’ve stopped when the getting was gone. In Moscow, the crowd was bursting into mistimed applause every time a stage door opened and they thought Tommy was finally making his entrance.
Then, he tore the stage up. I have never seen anything like it. The man came out onto a stage clearly more intended for orchestras than guitar soloist, and he rocked the international house, my friends. He left me with little choice but to include him in a blog, give praise where praise is due. Slapping, drumming, hitting, shaking, whatever it took—that old dude sometimes made his guitar sound like a freaking full band was playing. At one point, on one guitar, he seemed to be playing all the parts to “Day Tripper” and “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles.
I’m not sure how an Australian guitarist translates into the Moscow experience, but it was certainly worthy of note and unlike any show I’ve ever attended, as is Moscow, Dasha: You needn’t buy us anymore surprise tickets. We’ll say nice things. I promise.
Some of us just keep that candle burning.
Some people love idioms, maybe even use them occasionally. Some people love teaching them, delight in watching students uncover the mystery, how “ants in your pants” doesn’t literally denote that tiny creatures are crawling all over your legs, only that you’re wiggling around as if it were the case. Some teachers just love to reveal these secrets of native language, “to let the cat out of the bag” on what people really say. It probably comes as little surprise that I don’t.
First of all, I don’t really like when native speakers use idioms too much, all those bulls in china shops, held horses, cows waiting to come home: It’s animal cruelty if you ask me. Furthermore, we are taught not to play with our food, so why don’t we dispense with buttering people up, catching flies with honey rather than vinegar (what the hell), and for the love of good, eat the damned nutty fruitcake and leave the crazies alone.
Secondly, some of them just make you sound lame. If I’m burning the midnight oil, then I don’t need you coming around pointing out my misery with some catchy turn of phrase: Take your 19th century lighting and bug off. Bug off?—who says that besides a 1950s geek (imagine Marty McFly). F*** off will suit me just fine and seems more effective. Such witticism, then, often goes over like a lead balloon and has you skating on thin ice before a conversation even gets started. Heavens to Betsy, other than angry parents and comic book villains, who talks like this?
Of course, I can’t dismiss them all. “Kiss my anything” just seems to work, and I can accept fingers-crossed and the like, which actually have physical gags to go along with them. And, who can resist a well-placed facetious idiom, something of the-bee-in-your-bonnet variety or, say, “blind leading the blind”, where the phrasing humor is more about timing than showing off your new English skill. But, that’s where issue three comes in: When most EFL/ESL speakers try to execute most idioms, they come off all-thumbs.
Admittedly, idioms are idioms because they do crop up into everyday conversations readily enough to be noted as special, to be blacklisted for writers, who have to come up with original moustache-twisters…jelly-rollers…ball-ticklers to keep audiences happy. However, that’s not to say that we use them every chance we get. I know how to use “pay through the nose”, but I’ve never felt moved to say it. Nor have I found myself in a bad situation and thought, hmm, let me use this chance to say “up a creek without a paddle.”
Nothing is sadder than an otherwise fantastic speaker who has recently learned some ridiculously antiquated phrase and is trying at every chance to include “like finding hens’ teeth” into a 21st century conversation with someone who grew listening to Nirvana. I respect the effort, but I loathe the teacher—that wolf in sheep’s clothing—who introduced this drivel to an impressionable mind. It’s not the student's fault.
Come to think of it: Why can I recall having used “on egg shells” multiple times in my life? What the hell is wrong with us? Where the hell did I learn that? Who taught me to talk like a farmer’s wife? Why can’t I just say you make me really uncomfortable or go suck an egg you grumpy bastard? Mostly though, why should walking on egg shells be disconcerting? Try laying an egg, MF.
Can I see a frozen tear?
The weather has broken, cracked those positive temperatures across winter’s stubborn cranium, and the streets of Moscow have for days runneth forth with the mercifully melted snow. I, for one, am happy to see it go, though in its wake disappears the enchanted white-capped forests of not-so-yore and the long-delayed chance to go sledding one last time. At the risk of sounding frigid to Grandfather Frost, the novelty of snowfall has long since worn off.
In my heart of hearts, I knew the cold would never win me over, that regardless of how nice hot chocolate or brandy or snuggling might be, I will forever prefer the sun, a beer from a cooler (here, we put beer on the balcony to get colder quicker—than in the freezer), and, most of all, flip-flops. I came to Russia wanting to get my ass frozen, to walk away able to say I survived a Russian winter, even if many would suggest it wasn’t a particularly harsh one.
The worst month was February, the worst week the one in which Emma’s father arrived. (Until then, we just more or less stayed inside.) He’d tried to come before the bottom fell out of the thermometer, but the enigmatic visa process landed him here just as temperatures troughed: -27 degrees Celsius (-17 F). Sightseeing was a bitter affair as we dutifully, begrudgingly wrapped up to our icy eyeballs in layers for quick, wincing glances at the architecture, happier to just sit in a café and see what we could see, let our toes thaw. It took him a month to recover when he got home. We had to stay.
In March, it seemed to snow every day. The temperatures teetered near the zero mark in the day and bottomed-out at around minus ten during the nights. It was as if the snow had been waiting, and this strange new game of trickle and tease began. The stacks of shoveled snow, of dirty chopped ice chunks, would begin to melt a little in the afternoon, moistening the sidewalk into muddy puddles, and overnight, the sky would open up in blizzard form, dousing the place in powder again, melting away in the afternoon, keeping the sidewalks swampy.
This past week, the second of April, the pavements began to reemerge, the grassy knolls to once again be grassy, small moats of winter runoff forming at their bases. Today it feels like spring: The window open to allow a cool drift to fill the apartment, the sun punching through the curtain in defiance, a different and livelier noise coming up from the intersection. Yesterday, I looked from my classroom and thought how much more I’d rather be outside. Sure, no teacher wants to be in school, but it was the first time in ages, the exterior didn’t seem just as threatening.
So, I’ll say it now, relatively reassured that my yak-hair coat has been closeted for good this time: I came here; I survived a Russian winter.
Damn it, I got here and hated those freaking SMART boards, all that technology-in-the-classroom load of bollocks, ridiculous schemes dreamed up by industry to throw another load of books on the fire. I didn’t want to use them. I didn’t want any part. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t just throw that hunk of touch screen crap out in the hall and give me a white board, some markers, and a few minds to tweak. I’d come to teach, not learn about computer programs.
At first, I refused to do anything more than use the thing as if were only a hugely overpriced whiteboard. I wrote and erased. I bitched when the tip of the faux marker didn’t dictate where the writing would appear, creating the weird effect of trying to scribble something and having it be four inches above my hand. Dotting an “i” was so difficult it made me sick. The pens would erase when I tried to write, or I would destroy entire words instead of make little cosmetic improvements, say shorten the tail of a “u” so that it didn’t look like a “y”.
Then, there was all the other computer crap that goes along with computer… crap. I waited a month for a techie to hook the thing up. Sometimes, I’d be in the middle of the lesson and crash, the screen would freeze, the children mocking me as scramble to get the system rebooted all so I could write ten colors. For two months, I showed my age, sure that SMART boards were the dumbest idea smart people had ever come up with, citing how when I was a boy, teachers only needed chalk and a surface.
However, when I’m wrong, and I was severely wrong this time, I’ll own up to it. As the months progressed, even if by accident, I began to understand it more. The Christmas came, and I was able to broadcast free YouTube holiday cartoons to my classes, which was miraculous, both in that they were available in Russia and didn’t require carting an ancient tv-video system from a weird-smelling storage closet. Like any responsible teacher, I started incorporating cartoons into just about every lesson.
The YouTube discovery only fueled more exploration. So, I learned how to freeze projections of worksheets, the same my students had done for homework, on the board so that we could complete them together, for all to see. I learned to make fifty colors with one marker, found a built-in timer with sound effects, and utilized an endless plethora of children’s EFL themed songs and lessons and stuff from YouTube. I remembered how much I hated refilling ink in markers for the old white boards.
The best was yet to come: interactive touch screen games, namely a little website called Barry Fun English. Gone are the days of having to copy, cut, and paste a dozen individual game boards and pieces. Online there are all manner of educational games (environmentally-friendly and for free no less), such that whatever grammar, vocabulary, or contextual drivel I am bestowing that day can be taught via the bells, whistles, and graphics of a computer game. My job got a whole lot easier.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I use SMART features in every lesson of every class I teach now. We watch a cartoon weekly (with accompanying vocabulary lesson and quiz questions), we play Barry Fun English every lesson, and we use our books as sparingly as possible. In any given class, we spend about twenty-five percent of the time studying the old fashion way and the other seventy-five getting SMART. So, I guess the conclusion would be that I endorse this product.
(Sincere thanks to Dasha for the opportunity and Diana for sitting next to two dirty hippies.)
I must admit that, though traveling is a passion of mine, and in some sense, I do wish to experience the culture of the places I visit, the opera never really even made a blip on my radar of things in which to partake, regardless of how a certain population felt about it. In addition to this admission, I also confess to feeling slightly uncultured (in the upper-crust, monocle-d sense of the world) for not wanting to see, or more specifically, hear one, for thinking that costumed swooners belting out three hours worth of melodic insert foreign language of choice might not be my cup of tea.
Hey, I’ll be frank: I’ve tried many a cup of tea in my travel days. There is green tea and milky tea and jasmine tea and Earl Grey tea and apple tea, green tea with honey, green tea with ginseng, ginseng tea…(You see what I was doing there. Ha, ha. Forrest Gump.) Anyway, you put a cup of tea in front of me, I’ll give a swig. However, there have always been certain experiences I’ve done without: I never went a Turkish bath while in Istanbul, never attended a Semana Santa parade while in Guatemala, never tried dog while living in Korea (I was going to but mysteriously turned vegetarian). So, how in the hell did I end up at an opera in Moscow?
It began by agreeing to go to a ballet, something that is no more macho, but somehow, by virtue of leotards and instrumental music, seemed palatable for my differently-refined (let’s not say unrefined) Louisiana taste buds. We bought tickets to Swan Lake, which I hear is a big one and which I know a little about via the recent film Black Swan, which in turn I own up to having enjoyied, despite the repercussions that may follow from my more manly fan-base (It has girls kissing, guys. Be cool.). Then, Emma got sick, and we didn’t go. For a while, it seemed we would forgo the Russian theatre experience all together.
The Russian theatre ranks pretty freaking high on the “things to do while in Moscow” list. It’s the equivalent of New York and a Broadway show, or an Off-Broadway show, or at the very least, an Off-Off-Broadway show. It’s the equivalent to Bourbon Street and exposed breasts: Some things just have to happen to say you’ve really been somewhere. So, when Dasha, our Russian confidant and guide to the theatre scene, surprised us with two tickets to L’elisir d’Amore, ensuring that we would in fact experience the theatre in Moscow, I could only say thank you, and despite the recoil of my ear canal, somehow I meant it.
Last night, I saw my first opera, and it was…pretty okay. It was what some things should be and should be done for: The right to say I’ve been there. Truthfully, I’ve attempted watching silent films, the old black-and-whites, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton type affairs, and I got it, even enjoyed them, but just didn’t care to participate like the true aficionado. The opera was much the same: I can appreciate the talent, both of the orchestra and the singers, and the ambience created by…the orchestra and the singers, the theatre itself, the old world charm and the drapery. I’m just never going to be a regular supporter of this particular performing art.
And, that’s okay. And, I’m glad to have gone. And, I still mean my thank you to Dasha, especially if and when she reads this. And, I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore because I’ve been there and saw/heard that, which gives me the right to continue my quest of watching every episode of The Family Guy, still feeling sufficiently cultured (in that upper-crust, monocle-d way). And, it gives me the right to not go to another one or, at the very least, protest should the situation ever arise. And, I can say that I liked it, kind of, in an I-was-able-to-follow-the-story-line,-isn’t-that-good? sort of declaration. And, I can honestly say that I don’t feel any more worldly than before. Close curtains.
One certainty, hypothetically speaking, is that conditionals haunt every person who attempts to learn, teach, or master the English language, anyone in need of proposing some factual or imaginary. This one is going to make your head hurt. Ah, my chops are wet now, my temperature elevated to a simmering blood-bubble, so let’s get started good grammar geeks of the blog world: What is a conditional?
Typically, conditionals come in the form of “if blah-blah, blah blah”, which when looking at it in this blah-blah form seems rather simple. However, if you look more closely, the whole sorted world of proposition sentence making will blow your skillet. There are rules galore, codes of conduct, and a dizzying array of verb tenses. Generally, however, conditionals come in four varieties: the zero, the first, the second, and the (hmm…What should we call it?) third.
The zero conditional is used for statements of general knowledge or fact, often rather scientific-sounding declarations (If water reaches zero degrees Celcius, it freezes.) and sometimes rather stupid observations (If it is raining outside, this grass is getting wet.) It can also be used to claim truths about yourself: If I don’t bath, I stink. If I eat beans, I make the bath stink. In the case of the zero condition, both the dependent clause (the if-statement) and the independent clause (the consequence) should be in either present simple or present continuous/progressive tense. This one is the easiest, as well as the least used, conditional.
The first conditional references the future results of hypothetical proclamations: If something happens, the result will be this. The first conditional also utilizes the present simple or continuous tenses (happens), only now these are used to express possible or theoretical events in the future. Thus, the main clause, the result, should occur in the future, so we utilize “will” or “be going to” to express that (will be). Now, If I don’t bath, I will stink becomes grammatically correct, but the future tense in the result makes it supposed rather than factual. The plot thickens when we consider other modals, like can and may, that can be used instead of future tense: If I eat beans, I can make the bath stink—sounds like fun.
If the first conditional left you a little bewildered, I wouldn’t fret about it, as we are now moving on to the second conditional, also known as the unreal conditional. In its simplest form, the second conditional expresses sort of dream-like musings (If I had a million dollars, I would never teach conditionals again.) or offerings of advice (If I were you, I would continue reading this. It’s important stuff, or is it?). Of course, with a new conditional comes a new ration of verb tenses, the if-clause now befriending the past simple or past continuous tense, where as the main clause utilizes would rather than will. If I didn’t bath regularly (meaning that I do—making the statement, “I don’t bath regularly”, unreal), I would stink (meaning that I don’t—making the statement, “I stink”, untrue.) Go on, look at it again. Have a think.
*Note that, for exceptions and giggles, the grammar gods made a special rule that the past tense “be” verb should always be were in second conditionals, despite the painstaking efforts of English teachers to make students use was when speaking in the first-person (I) or the third-person (he/she/it). So, we say, If I were (not was) to eat beans (meaning I haven’t yet), I could make the bath stink.
We’ve finally arrived at the third conditional, again delving into the unreal, this time with special attention to things that I didn’t do and the results that did not happen: If you had known how long this would take, you wouldn’t have bothered, but now there is only one more paragraph—can’t stop with only one paragraph left. For the sake of expedience: If + past perfect verb tense, could/would/might + have + past participle. If I had eaten beans last night, I might have avoided this whole article by entertaining myself in the bathtub, meaning that I didn’t eat beans last night and, as you are well aware by now, this article has not been avoided.
The real tragedy of teaching conditionals is that students eventually get to the point of having learned the four I’ve just presented you, labored over memorizing the formulas to create each one and when to use them—they get to this point, as you have now, only to find out that with mixed conditionals (hidden in the back of the advanced books) all bets are off, that basically conditionals are not above participating in a big orgy where no one knows whose verb tense is going into which clause of whatever conditional. As with any key party, things start to get really complicated. So, there we have it, a tragic orgy, something I never thought I’d say.
Just a Tad Too Comfortable for Old Jonnie Boy
I remember it like it was just over fifteen years ago, me preparing to graduate high school, ready to fly the coop and get started on the grand adventure of college. Then, for about four and a half years, I remember not really adventuring, longing to finally be free from the responsibility, out in the world with no history essays to write, no language courses to take, all those goddamn verb conjugations tossed away like goodbye party confetti. Then, I remember a brief and lonely ramble to Memphis, graduate school, spending another several years creatively writing myself into another degree, wondering exactly when it was I was going to get down to some real living, the big adventure of life.
I left Memphis in 2005, a bit of a broken man, recently bachelor-ed, recently master’s accredited, consequently unemployed (having lost my position, due to graduation, at the university), and with nowhere much to go to feel like I had a purpose, no real desire to get a job or have a family or study more. It was the first time I had to look for something to identify as life, the first time there wasn’t a clear next step that I wanted to take, except to take that first step to get as far away as possible from everything I’d been doing, everything it seemed I should be doing next, and anything that felt comfortable. Like any great adventure, mine started with an escape.
A summer in the Czech Republic, the next two-and-half years in Korea, eight months in Guatemala, ten months in Turkey, three in Palestine, a year back in Guatemala, and now seven months into Moscow; a fantastically kooky and foreign wife, an overstuffed passport which has had to have extra pages sewn into it, a fluctuating bank account (Korea, Turkey, Moscow up; Guatemala, Palestine down), a ticket to fly me out of here in two months; no children, no pets, no career-track position, no PhD, no home, no car; my oversized MFA diploma has been folded in half since Korea and stuck into a plastic folder in order to a. get the next teaching gig when necessary (the diploma) and b. to prevent that fabled document from getting water damaged while in my backpack (the plastic folder)—all of that and nothing’s changed: I can’t wait to start the grand adventure.
It happened in 1996 when I finished high school. It happened in 2000 when I finished at LSU. It happened in 2005 when I finished at the University of Memphis. It happened after my first year in Korea. It happened after my second year in Korea. It has happened every year since. I get fed up, too comfortable, wondering when I’m actually going to get out and do something risky, to start living, stop working. A part of me has managed to keep my head in the Kerouac’s hobo dream, unwilling to accept that home is a part of life. Every year, for months, I work hard to create a comfortable environment, something predictable and steady and safe, enough money coming in, a regular beer in the evening. Every year I shock my adventure into mundane life, routine and real and something I’m dying to leave again.
Emma and I end up working six days a week, eating a rotating menu of dishes we’ve created from the ingredients of a place, watching this year’s downloaded series of network TV as we fall asleep at around so-and-so time so that we can get up at around such-and-such time. Writing, crocheting, guitar-playing—various things creep in and weave the experiences into rather distorted versions of one another, and rather refracted versions of the further past, until we become teenagers again, unwilling to succumb to the thought of being in this place any longer than necessary. We plot ourselves into a new destination, discuss how it’ll all be a little different this time, perhaps that right mix of spontaneity and finding a well-worn pair of pajama pants. We count down the days until we go, again, and the adventure runs its course.
I was taught to hate it, abhor it, detest it to the very depth of my need-to-put-it-on-paper soul. If I saw an adverb creep into my writing, I had been instructed to remove it immediately rub it out as if it were a prose snitch, informing everyone that a lazy bastard, a writer too inept to locate a powerful verb, was selling them crap composition. Faulkner forbid an adverb made it into my writing workshop, every budding sentence builder in the house would note the folly, giving the offender a pitying shun, something that suggested “fucking amateur”.
It’s been seven years since I was last in an MFA program, but still, every time I write a word ending with –ly, I gag a little—a little out of self-loathing, more so from a fear that some knowing soul will see it. It’s a hardship every aspiring wordsmith must endure: Finding out what you’re doing is all wrong. I would like to say it dissipates as the years progress, but I recently read an article citing ten words or phrases that should no longer appear in travel writing, at least three of which I knew were in recent pieces I’d sent out. What can you do but find-and-replace”, repent for your word choice, and vow never to see a “bustling thoroughfare” again.
Alas, despite whatever dreams I once had, I’m not a writing professor, still don’t have a well-received collection of short stories that were snapped up and anthologized, but what’s worse is that, as an EFL teacher, I push my students to—readily, regularly, proudly—make use of the dreaded adverb. Rather than teaching them to spit in the face of action descriptors, to learn, as my mentors had taught me, to seek the correct verb, I show my students the right place to put their adverb. I make them practice using –ly words to add life to their speech, how to know when to say tragically instead of tragic.
Ironically, it’s laboriously dragged me lumbering into a new phase with my own writing, and I’m not sure how I feel or, even, how to feel about it. I’ve been forced to spend time with adverbs, to really consider them as words, just like any other word: with purpose, semantics, and Latin-Saxon roots like those others we cherish so lovingly. My life, my craft, my somewhat fictional profession has somehow managed to become an afterschool special: If I just give Suzie Q. Interestingly a chance, I might see she’s no better or worse than my other friends, made of letters, in need of good, healthy relationships.
Then, god, like everything else, once I gave old Suzie Adverb some respect, regardless of what my professors or workshop compatriots had to say about it, I began to, at the very least, appreciate that she had her own verbose identity. She increasingly began to crop up in my paragraph parties, not bothering anyone, still not exactly blending in. She’s become that kooky acquaintance who my friends (adjectives) and family (nouns) are smugly waiting to see prove them right: Adverbs are bad. For me, however, I must admit that sometimes I prefer running quickly to darting, dashing, or scurrying because, often, those other verbs just seem pretentious, working too hard to get attention from the in-crowd.
For those of you who don’t know, OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US. I learned this because, for a short period of my life, between January and April of 2000, I worked construction. I was a pipefitter’s helper, a professional much less sexual than it sounds and one which lacks in glory. However, in my few short months, all spent building a toilet paper factory in Oklahoma, I managed to get my first taste of what it might feel like to piss on OSHA safety standards: I was the only natural-born US citizen on the all Mexican crew.
Only three of us (including me) spoke English; however, it wasn’t the language that indicated our Mexican-ness, Mexican-ity—it was the efficiency, the pace at which all tasks got done, and especially the way they were done with little-to-no regard for health or safety. In the world of construction, “tying off” (attaching a rope from your harness to something stable in case you fall) is of paramount importance, not only for your own well-being but more so to avoid OSHA violations, fines, and being fired. No one must have translated those standards to our crew.
It happened all the time, but on one particular day, we were working on a rack of pipes running along a high ceiling, fifteen to twenty feet up, when we hit a snag and were unable to get a pipe where it needed to be. We were using scissor lifts to raise us to working level, and the rules stated that, when on a scissor lift, a one must be tied off and b at least one foot had to be on the standing platform. However, one guy, the foreman’s little brother, actually untied himself so that he could climb on the top rail of the scissor lift in order to shake, yank, and all things unbalanced the offending pipe until it moved. Meanwhile, the other guys looked out for OSHA. Pipe fitted!
Living abroad feels much like being on the Mexican crew: The rules of safety are generally based on knowing (and probably not acting) better, and at best, they are disregarded as logical guidelines. Look at traffic for a clear example—the movies depict it fairly well as a sort of free-for-all in which one-way streets, stop signs, and crosswalks are more video game obstacles than steadfast laws. Over the past few years, since living the safe umbrella of OSHA, I’ve maintained a sort of mental tally of health and safety violations that either provided laughter or concern, usually both.
Korea, in particular, amazed. Of course, in a world where motorcycles legally zip along pedestrian walkways, the same thoroughfares where small children (barely walking) toddle around under “community” supervision, regulations are bound to be different. I remember sitting under a makeshift tent outside a Korean bar, watching a soccer game on a half-covered big screen TV in the middle of a rainstorm, only to notice the electrical power strip in a puddle on the ground had been daftly protected by being inserted into a plastic cola bottle. The air conditioner in the kindergarten classroom dripped for months (all summer) onto an electrical socket just about perfect height for the children to stick one of their metal chopsticks into.
I’ve seen things that would twist an OSHA man’s well-groomed, safety-measured moustache into a handlebar flamethrower. However, I’ve recently witnessed the most blatant undermining of personal and public safety that, perhaps, has ever graced this former pipefitter’s helper’s eyes: Looking out of our apartment window, on the roof of the building across the street, outside the guard rails, a man was standing on the slanted, icy overhang, sweeping newly fallen snow onto the sidewalk some five stories below, nothing—no rope, cord, or out-reached hand—more than balance and luck to keep the man from plummeting to his peril, no caution to prevent pedestrians from walking under debris falling from above. Enjoy these pictures:
Emma doesn’t get it because she isn’t from the Deep South, like me, where we’d just as soon do away with the word, live a life in which well never existed. Instead, she comes from the-Queen’s-English England, where people readily use well as an adverb, which, yes, is correct, but not when done so as a synonym for very, as seen in specimen such as, “That’s well good, mate.” However, as presumably good teachers, international agents of well-spoken English, we strive to do use our words good well and to be well very good examples, and so should you.
So, here we go, once again, this time without the tisking of a mother, grandma, or teacher, who probably corrected your error without any further explanation. The initial breakdown is as such, simply: Good is an adjective, as you may recall, whereas well is an adverb. Adjectives are used to describe nouns, i.e. people, places, and things. Adverbs, the trickier of the two parts of speech, can be used to describe verbs (as the name suggests) but, also, frequently accentuate adjectives or other adverbs.
For good, there are essentially two options. The easier option is when the adjective good precedes the noun its modifying, such as in that makes good sense or I have a good comprehension of what that means. Things get a tiny bit stickier when good doesn’t sit next to its noun like a good, little adjective but goes off gallivanting with a copular verb. Don’t get too concerned: A copular verb has nothing to do with copulation. Copular verbs are verbs that aren’t necessarily actions, like look or seem or feel, but rather link a subject to an idea.
So, let’s use the first of our three examples to further explain the copular verb-good combo pack: Look. There, of course, is look the action, like I looked at the hot chic over there, in which the “I” is looking; however, there is look the copulae, as seen in The chic over there looks hot, in which “the chic” isn’t doing or looking at all but is merely alluring to those who are. In the later case, we’d use good: That chic looks good. That chic looks well would be commenting on her ability to see or find things rather than her sultry appearance*.
*As with all English grammar, there is the exception: Well can be used as an adjective when referring to health, such as I don’t feel well, meaning I am sick. So, in actuality, That chic looks well would more likely be mistaken as commenting on her medical situation, as if perhaps she’d recently been ill.
So, that brings us to well, which can get a bit problematic due to its friendlier nature, that willingness to jump in the sack with both verbs and adjectives. (Luckily, and this is no homophobic slander, this adverb doesn’t bunk up with its own kind. That’s only for word sluts like very and really, as in He moved on to the next point very slowly.) The verb seems easy enough: If there is an action happening, we use well. Perhaps the hot chic struts her stuff well, which is what makes her hot, or I can’t see her well, so let’s get closer.
In the case of the well-adjective marriage, it’s usually hyphenated or a very familiar combination: This expression is well-known. To further expound, consider the example A well-endowed widower makes a good friend. It seems a bit counter to previous statements in this week’s blog because well seems part of the description of widower, which is certainly a person and, therefore, a noun. However, it is important to realize that, in this case, well is describing the adjective “endowed” and not widower, who, if poorly endowed, might not be as good a friend.
This most common mistake, at least for Americans, probably occurs when we do something good or can’t do something good, or we are asked how we are doing and respond with I’m doing good. Technically, in this instance, we are reporting being in the midst of doing good (deeds), as if we involved with some charitable act, say, helping an old lady cross the street. It’s more likely that we feel good and are doing well. It’s so fussy and minute, I know, but this is the very thing that teachers and moms and so on were so keen to correct not so long ago. I remember it well.
Well, that just about sums it up. Go forth, be well (in good health), and please be good (I’m not exactly sure what this good means—Well-behaved? Ethically sound? Talented? —Oh, damn.)