Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References

The month of March • Stormy sayings • Pronouncing "tr" • Weird words

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The month of March has arrived, and that got me thinking about a couple of famous sayings about March.

First, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” This old-fashioned saying indicates that March often starts with winter weather, but finishes with spring. The idea is lions are fierce and dangerous, but lambs are gentle and soft. This weather forecast is not always accurate, of course. Where I live in the US, we often get a bit of snow in April. Regardless, it’s nice to know that spring is coming.

Another famous saying about March is, “Beware the Ides of March.” This is a famous line from the play “Julius Caesar” by the famous English playwright William Shakespeare. (A “playwright”, by the way, is someone who writes plays.) “Ides” is a very old-fashioned word for the middle of a month. In the play, a fortune teller warns Caesar that he will be in danger in the middle of March, and in fact, that’s when he is assassinated. It’s a dark, violent story, but also a commonly understood reference in Western culture.

Again, spring is on the way, and that has me thinking about rain and thunderstorms. Here are some more common English sayings involving storms.

First, “the calm before the storm”. This means that a situation is calm now, but a lot of difficult or bad things are about to happen. Here’s an example referring to the stock market: “It feels like the calm before the storm. I think this market, the stock market, is setting up for potentially a pretty big downdraft”.

Second, “when it rains, it pours”. This saying actually doesn’t make a lot of sense. When it rains, of course it is pouring water down from the sky. So, what’s the point of this saying? People actually mean that, when bad things happen, it often gets worse and worse. Usually people say this after a second bad thing has happened to them in short period of time, like a day or week.

Finally, “every cloud has a silver lining”. This saying actually doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. But it’s a hopeful message. Picture a thick, gray storm cloud with the sun behind it. The edges of the cloud glow with sunshine. Those bright edges are the “lining” in this saying. The idea is, no matter how bad things look now, there’s always hope somewhere.

Time for a special new feature of the newsletter - various tips and tricks of the English language! This time, some advice on pronouncing the letter combination “tr”. Many times “tr” is actually pronounced like “ch”.

And another new section, fun English-related links as I find them. A student texted me the other day to ask about the word “cromulent”. I had to admit - I have never heard of this word. It turns out it was made up by a famous American TV show called “The Simpsons”. Find out more about that word and others in this article from Merriam-Webster.

Did you know that Merriam-Webster is considered the main, authoritative dictionary for American English? For British English, it’s the Oxford English Dictionary.

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