Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References

That escalated quickly • Have a history • Burn bridges • Borrow trouble • UNICEF • NIMBY • WYSIWYG • Extra resources

Hi, everyone! In today’s newsletter, I have a short story about an argument at work, some acronyms, and some resources for continuing your English practice! Look below for the links to the video and podcast version of today’s newsletter.


You and a couple of colleagues are discussing a dramatic work meeting that just happened. Two executives were arguing loudly about the company’s strategy.

Your one colleague says to you, “What was that all about? We were getting an update on the strategy, then they started shouting!”

“Yeah, that escalated quickly,” you say. “But I’ve heard that the two of them have a history.”

“Oh, really?” your other colleague asks. “Do you know what it is?”

“No, I don’t, but I’m not going to choose sides, if I can avoid it. I don’t want to burn any bridges,” you say.

“Absolutely,” you first colleague says. “There’s no reason to borrow trouble!”


“That escalated quickly” is a way to describe situations that seemed calm, but quickly and unexpectedly became angry or even violent. It’s often said in a slightly humorous way in order to calm people down again.

When two people “have a history”, it means that they have disagreed or fought in the past, and they have never liked one another since then. Usually people who “have a history” have arguments again in the future.

If you burn a bridge after you cross it, you can never go back. It’s the same with people and companies. When you leave a job, it’s tempting to tell the people you didn’t like everything that you hated about them. But often that’s not wise because you might need those people some day. You don’t want “to burn bridges” and be stuck.

Finally, when you “borrow trouble”, you do something to cause difficulties for yourself when you could have easily avoided it.


In a past issue of Winning English, I discussed acronyms and initialisms. These words are made up out of the first letter of each word of a phrase or title.

Acronyms are pronounced like a word. For example, ASAP (pronounced ay-sap) means “as soon as possible”. Initialisms pronounce each letter. For example, FYI (pronounced f-y-i) is a shortened form of “for your information”.

Here are three more acronyms for you:

  • UNICEF (pronounced yoo-nih-seff) is the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. It has been in the news lately because it is coordinating the distribution of covid vaccines to developing countries through its COVAX program.

  • NIMBY (pronounced nimm-bee) stands for “not in my backyard”. This word is used to criticize people who want changes in their community, but don’t want it near them. For example, suppose some people want a new manufacturing plant in their city. But they don’t want it near them because of the noise and pollution. They can be labeled as “NIMYBY’s”.

  • WYSIWYG stands for “what you see is what you get”. This word comes word processing programs on computers. If the program displays exactly how a document will print, then it is a WYSIWYG display. This saying is now used in many settings.


Winning English Videocast

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Winning English Podcast

Head to the Winning English Podbean site for the podcast version of today’s newsletter or look up “Winning English” in your favorite listening app.


Other helpful learning resources

I try to make Winning English as good as possible, but I know you need other sources for practicing your English listening and comprehension. Here are three I think upper intermediate and advanced learners should consider:

  • TED Talks - TED Talks are excellent, short presentations by recognized experts on a variety of topics. Best of all, the videos have subtitles in a variety of languages so you can read, listen, and watch all at the same time.

  • The Great Courses - Want to try something even more challenging? The Great Courses are university lectures recorded by professors on a variety of topics. I enjoy these a lot.

  • Voice of America - This is a worldwide news service funded and operated by the United States government. But it also has a lot of educational content for English learners! Since it’s the news, it’s always fresh.


One last note

In last week’s newsletter, I discussed the saying “silver lining”. This week I found an example in a Wall Street Journal headline: “The Silver Linings of Pandemic-Era Air Travel”.


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Thanks, and talk soon!

Bill