• Morgan Fagg

POLES APART_____(an English Lesson)

Updated: May 28, 2019

Why don't Polar Bears eat Penguins?

When I teach English, I will casually explain that it is normal to make mistakes, native English speakers make mistakes all the time without people realising it but when we are communicating it is very important that we don’t make serious mistakes that mean the exact opposite of what we are talking about. Hot or Cold, Up or Down, Left or Right, what I would describe as being Poles Apart.

For example: In one of my recent classes a person was describing her athletic husband who has a disability and a world record from the Guinness Book of Records. She said that, “he can’t do anything” when clearly she meant, he can do anything. That “t” in can’t changes the sentence completely.

In another recent class a person looking to train as a pilot described being on a flight when he was very young and he experienced some turbulence. He said the plane went “upside down” when he meant to say up and down. A simple mistake but nobody wants to be on a plane if a pilot described the situation as,

“We are experiencing some mild turbulence and might go upside down.”

Always keep your head up when flying.


This morning a person told me that he was going for papers before the start of our class and I had to wonder if he meant the newspapers that are kept on a nearby table or some papers from the printer or photocopier so that he could take some notes. It was the latter and he apologised for the confusion but in this case, I knew exactly what he meant when he returned a minute later with some blank pieces of paper and not the newspapers.

Even “the papers” is not necessarily clear anymore as teenagers born with tablets in their hands, will have no idea of what "the papers" means to a person over 30. Words matter, what do we want to say and more importantly what do we want or not want to say or imply?

It should be clear from the context, what someone is talking about but it might not be and I always give my students the example of the word bike. Bike is short for both bicycle and motorbike and in the context of “taking my bike to work” I know exactly what someone means depending if they are dressed in lycra or leather and if their helmet is made of plastic or completely covers their head.

Why don't Polar Bears eat Penguins?

There are 10,000 nautical miles between them so Polar Bears are really going to have to migrate to pick up a Penguin.

They are poles apart but to the average person the Artic and Antarctica seem indistinguishable. North Pole and South Pole, 20,004 kilometres away from each other but all we see is snow.

If you said, it is very cold in Antarctica, you would be right even if you meant the Artic. No big difference but if you wanted to organise a trip to the Artic and told everyone Antarctica by mistake than you will not see the Artic, Santa Claus or the North Pole no matter how much walking you do there.

If you said the Artic is melting because of global warming than most scientists would agree with you but the jury is out on Antarctica as it is melting at the edge but cooling in the centre.

When someone says something, it must be said clearly and understood clearly.

When I talk about Donald J Trump you expect me to be talking about President Trump and not Don Junior but such confusing definitions exist. Barrack Obama is understood as President Obama and not his father Dr Barrack Obama and even when someone says President George Bush you have to ask which Bush, H.W. Bush or his son Dubya (W) Bush. Bush 41 or 43 as they are sometimes disguised as. Even in England you find two Queen Elizabeths and May is a former Prime Minister and month.

May resigned in May and may stay till July.

How many women's first names are named after months? April, May and June. Then there are names like Dawn and Summer quranteed to confuse people before we look at surnames.

Morgan is a good name but it gets confusing in Germany especially early in the morning.

Let's clarify what the other person said

President Trump was once interviewed on Fox news and described dropping 59 bombs on Iraq, the interviewer quickly corrected him and said, “You mean Syria.”

With wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it is an easy slip-of-the-tongue, even if a troubling statement but what happens when a president orders a strike on the wrong country? Iraq, Iran, Ireland?

We need to constantly clarify what someone is saying especially if there is any confusion and last month my girlfriend and I had a laugh when she heard a presenter talking about a Twitter account which I said I was following. She heard me say “A Cow” as in, I am following that “cow” and then realised it must be “Account” when in reality it was a cow’s Twitter account even if the cow is just a satirical account which is now being sued by Republican, Devin Nunes. https://www.nohemingway.com/blog/devincow

Speaking about republicans, how do we explain the Republican Party in America when republicans can mean very different things in many different countries. You wouldn’t say republicans were very conservative in Spain for example yet the Republicans are generally understood to be very right-wing and conservative. In the context of America or talking about American issues, I think it is rather clear but in Ireland, for example, who is the Republican party? The Republic of Ireland has many different political parties and both Fianna Fail and Sein Fein are often referred to as the republican party.

However when Trump addresses the “Republic of Spain” he is actually insulting the monarchy.

You are going to make mistakes communicating in English just make sure they are not serious ones.

Recently an 81 year old business man with no political experience was being questioned by US Senators after being selected as the Ambassador to Ireland. When quizzed about Brexit, he said that, "the currencies were changing all around Europe" and Brexit would effect this.

Nobody told me that the currencies were changing again so I have to wonder does he know something I don’t or is this amadán (idiot) ready for the challenges and changes in Europe?

Currencies changed in 2001 and they changed to one collective currency in central Europe. No more Francs or Punts or Pesetas; No more Deutschmarks or Lira or Portugese Escudos.

American senators might not hear the fault with what this man said but Europeans who have lived through the Euro currency change should be more familiar with the change (coins in our pockets).

While an ambassador should be an expert on both his or her own country and have a good understanding of his or her new home, this guy sounds plain crazy.

PLANE CRAZY: Leonardo di Caprio above playing Howard Hughes in the Aviator.

There is a big difference of course between plain crazy and saying someone is plane crazy even if the sound is identical. Like the student preparing for a life as a pilot, being plane crazy is quite normal where as someone who is plain crazy should never be allowed in a cockpit.

If you are clear on Plane Crazy and Plain Crazy than imagine if I described Howard Hughes for fun as Plain Crazy. The billionaire pilot had his ups and downs and I’m sure some of his ideas and plans were absolutely crazy but the pun Plain Crazy really works in this situation even if it sounds like a horrible insult when translated directly.

Have fun learning English, make mistakes with a smile but learn more about Europe if you want to be an ambassador there and always try to avoid being poles apart.

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