Intermediate word of the day: struggle

Today’s word is struggle. Struggle is all to do with difficulty, and with fighting or working hard to get what you want. Struggle is a verb: you can struggle with a problem (find a problem difficult or work hard to solve it). Struggle is also a noun – learning English can be a struggle sometimes! It can be difficult. It’s often quite hard work. So if you say ‘I’m struggling’ to a teacher, it means you’re finding things difficult and want help with an exercise. Kids sometimes struggle at school – they find it difficult and they fail exams. We might say a business is struggling, especially during a recession when it’s hard to make a profit.

Personally, I’m not a morning person. I don’t like getting out of bed. When the alarm goes off, I always hit the snooze button and when I do finally get up, I find it difficult to start doing things. I often say I struggled to get up this morning or it was a struggle to get going this morning. We often use the pattern struggle to do something. What might a teacher struggle to do and why? What other things might be a struggle for people and businesses in a recession? Pause for a moment and think about that.


Well, a teacher might struggle to control the class, because the students are naughty and talk all the time or because the teacher is inexperienced.

It might be a struggle to motivate the students because they’re not interested in learning or it’s not relevant to what they want to do.

I sometimes struggle to keep all the paperwork up to date because I spend too much time on other things.

In some countries, I’m very sad to say teachers struggle to make a living.

That’s also true for lots of people when there’s a recession. In Britain a lot of people are complaining about the cost of living. They struggle to make ends meet – in other words, they find it a struggle to pay for all their basic needs like housing, food, and electricity. They might struggle to keep up with their mortgage payments. Some people might struggle to find work. Businesses often find it a struggle to borrow money from the bank, or they might struggle to find new business.

Frustrated businessman at desk with head in hands

Struggle is often used to talk about a fight – working hard to overcome an opponent or a problem in society. For example, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela led the struggle against apartheid. The black population had to struggle for freedom, they had to struggle for their right to vote. Most of this struggle was conducted peacefully. People outside the country supported the struggle by boycotting South African goods (they didn’t buy them) or by going on demonstrations. A few people engaged in an armed struggle. In other words, they fought with guns or planted bombs to get what they wanted and to further their cause.


In a similar way, over many years, women have had to struggle for equal rights. Some took non-violent action like chaining themselves to fences, disrupting public events, and demonstrating against unfair treatment. In Britain, women have gone on strike to fight for equal pay. Many have even died in the struggle because of their beliefs. Other struggles are sometimes described as movements: the civil rights movement, the gay liberation movement, the independence movement and so on.


Of course, whenever you struggle there are two ways it can finish. Some people struggle and give up. Others struggle to begin with and eventually succeed. Try to remember some of the language in this post. It might be a struggle, but don’t  give up!

Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say three different times when you might struggle.
  • Say three struggles teachers might have.
  • What might happen if you struggle to make ends meet?
  • Say three things that happened as part of the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
  • Say three things that happened as part of women’s struggle for sexual equality.
  • Say three movements and explain what they’re struggling for.

Related stories in the news

Six months after the terrible fire that left 71 people dead, life is still a real struggle for many survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. Many people are still living in temporary accommodation and haven’t yet been rehoused. Only 42 of the 208 households affected have so far been moved to permanent new homes. The struggle for justice continues too, as no-one has yet been arrested and charged with any crimes in relation to the tragedy.


Elsewhere, Zimbabwe, now no longer controlled by Robert Mugabe, is facing an incredibly tough economic struggle. Huge amounts of money were stolen from the people by the former dictator, and many banks in the country are struggling to survive. On top of all that, there’s also an ongoing power struggle at the heart of government there, as leading politicians all try to get good positions.

Finally,  a cricket match in Delhi, India was stopped this week after players said they were struggling to breathe. The pollution in the city is now so bad that play had to be stopped after layers started to vomit on the side of the field!


  • What do you struggle to do? Why?
  • Do you know anyone who’s struggling at the moment? Why?
  • Can you think of anything that you managed to do even though it was a real struggle for you?
  • How strong are the movements mentioned above where you live?
  • Can you think of any other examples of people who have struggled for freedom or struggled for their rights? How did they do it?

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Phrase of the day: cut your teeth

I usually try and avoid central London at this time of year. Streets like Tottenham Court Road are jam-packed at the best of times, but in the run-up to Christmas, they start to resemble the ninth circle of hell! Desperate dead-eyed shoppers elbow their way past each other, frantically searching for bargains; the pavements are so full that at any second the weakest person could end up muscled into the road – and under a passing bus. Add to this the seasonal hazard of pre-Christmas drinkers and you have a truly toxic brew. Unless your idea of fun involves dodging thirty drunk office workers in Santa costumes and novelty jumpers or wrestling your way past the hordes pouring in and out of the chain stores that are all blasting competing Christmas CDs at you, then it really is a place you’d want to steer clear of.


I mention all of this not just because I like moaning – although, being English, I do, of course, love a good moan . . . especially at this time of year! No, I mention it all because last Friday I broke my own golden rule and did actually venture into the West End – the area in the centre of the city where many of the main tourist attractions, shops and entertainment venues are.I was meeting an old friend for a drink and because we live in completely different parts of the city, we usually try to meet somewhere central. However, the dread I was feeling at having to face my demons and walk down Oxford Street melted away when I found myself walking down a little side street five minutes from the main drag, a street I’d not been down for many a long year! On passing one of the larger buildings there, I was suddenly hit by a wave of memories and emotions . . . for this was the site of the first language school I ever worked in, back in the early 1990s. Yes, THIS was where I cut my teeth!


My very first job in language teaching was at a private school called St. Giles and it was there that I got my first professional experience. I learned how to plan lessons, how to deal with difficult students – and colleagues (!), and I learned how to survive as a classroom practitioner. If you cut your teeth in a particular place,  doing a particular thing, at a particular time, you mean that’s where, how, or when you began your career and learned the basic skills that set you on your way. We may – as I found myself doing the other night – look back nostalgically and reminisce about the place where we cut our teeth. Musicians talking together will compare stories about the venues they cut their teeth in and the kind of music they cut their teeth playing; chefs will talk about the kitchens they cut their teeth in before setting up on their own; and footballers may dream of returning to the club they first cut their teeth at for one last season before they retire.


Of course, I don’t miss the wages I was earning back in the 1990s, or the boss who ran the old place with an iron fist, but I am grateful to the place for letting me get my foot in the door. And I do have fond memories of my time there. So many memories, in fact, that I barely noticed I was in central London until long after I’d got past the hell that is Oxford Street!

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  • Where did you cut your professional teeth? What were the most important things you learned there?
  • Have you cut your teeth in any other areas of your life – playing a sport or an instrument or doing a hobby of some kind? Where? When? Doing what?
  • Have you ever been anywhere that felt like the ninth circle of hell?
  • Can you think of other seasonal hazards? Which is the worst?
  • When was the last time you were hit by a wave of memories? Why?

Intermediate word of the day: agenda

Today’s word is agenda. The main meaning of agenda is a list of all the things that need to be discussed and considered at a meeting – or all the things that need to be done or considered in general. Anyone who works in an office or works for a company that holds regular meetings will know all about agendas. So what kind of things do people say around agendas?

Well, usually before any big meeting, the agenda goes round – it’s circulated – and staff are encouraged to add things to the agenda, if there’s anything in particular that they want to talk about at the meeting. You might mention to your boss that you need to discuss toilets, for example, only to be told that it’s on the agenda. When you’re actually in the meeting, the chair of the meeting – the person who controls the meeting – might stop a discussion that’s not really connected to what’s on the agenda by saying something like We’re getting a bit off the topic here. Can we please get back to the point? And anyone who tries to go back and continue a discussion that’s been stopped may well be told Can we please all just stick to the point! The chair will also keep things on track by signposting the discussion with phrases like:

First on the agenda is . .

The next item on the agenda is . . .

Finally, the last thing on the agenda is . . .

DR_1780_TX_ Cong.IMG 1629 jpg

As you go through all the items on the agenda, someone usually has to take minutes – write down a summary of what was said and what needs to be done after the meeting – and usually after the meeting, the secretary will circulate the minutes so that everyone is clear about what’s happening.

Agenda is also a word that politicians use a lot when they’re talking about the things that they think are most important for them to do – or about things that aren’t important for them to do – in the near future, so they might tell potential voters that solving the housing crisis, tackling the housing shortage is high on their agenda – it’s one of the things they really really want to do. Or maybe protecting the environment is high on their agenda – their party is promising to do more to protect the environment.


There are other similar expressions that politicians or business leaders use to talk about what they think is important to focus on at a particular time. The Prime Minister might say that Europe is at the top of her agenda, while someone working for a charity in an area hit by a natural disaster might say that getting food to the people worst affected has to be top of the agenda.

Sometimes people in power try to make those under them feel better by promising that something bad or scary, something that people worry might happen, actually ISN’T on the agenda at all. So bosses will promise that job losses are not on the agenda . . . they’re not going to happen – yet; in the same way, government ministers might promise the public that further spending cuts are not on the agenda.

If a group or a newspaper has their own particular political opinion that they want other people to agree with and that they want to spread more widely, we may talk about the fact that certain groups have their own extreme right-wing agendas or note that they have a fairly progressive, liberal agenda.


In a similar way, if we think someone – or some group – has their own secret plan, or that they secretly want to achieve something, we say they have a hidden agenda – it’s not yet clear exactly what they want, but we’re sure they want SOMETHING! Or perhaps I don’t trust her because I’m sure she has her own agenda – she’s mainly interested in getting what SHE wants, and she isn’t a team-player or interested in working together properly.

If a person or a party has a big influence on what other political parties or people are talking about, and if they are changing the policies of others, then we can say that they are setting the agenda. For example, in Britain, there’s a political party called UKIP, which is very anti-European and has only ever really had one policy – they want Britain to leave the European Union. Now, even though they’re really only a fairly small party, UKIP have set the political agenda for all the main parties over recent years and the decision to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union was really made because of their growing influence. UKIP knew this and their former leader, a guy called Nigel Farage, very enthusiastically pursued his own agenda – or promoted his own agenda – working hard to get what he wanted from the situation his party were in.


Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say two things that happen to an agenda before a meeting?
  • Can you remember five things the chair might say during a meeting?
  • Say two promised politicians might make about what’s on their agenda.
  • Say two promises that might be made to make people feel better when they’re worried something bad might happen.
  • What kind of agendas might newspapers / groups have?
  • What’s the problem if someone has a hidden agenda?

Related stories in the news.

Top of the agenda at the moment in UK politics is Brexit – and in particular the question of how much the divorce bill will be and how the border situation between Northern Ireland and Ireland can be resolved in a way that makes everyone happy. It’s really not looking like an easy solution is going to be found, and part of the problem is that all the different parties involved have their own agendas and want different things from the situation. On top of that, there’s a growing feeling that many people who pushed for Brexit – like Nigel Farage – actually have a hidden agenda that’s less to do with social justice and more money for the National Health Service, and more to do with cutting workers’ rights and cutting tax for big businesses.

On the other side of the Atlantic, there are increasing concerns about the fact that President Trump’s enthusiasm for tweeting is actually setting the political agenda for not only the country, but also the world. This surely marks a new kind of politics! Of course, the anger and outrage that many of his tweets generate feeds into Trumps’ agenda, which is to dominate what is sometimes called the ‘mindshare’ – the level of awareness in the minds of voters that he commands!

Stitched Panorama

Finally, there has recently been an increased awareness of the level of problem gambling in the UK. There are thousands of betting shops – sometimes called ‘bookies’ – in many of the poorest parts of the country, and gambling on horses, dog racing and sports in general is a huge – and growing – problem. The number of people who lose everything and end up homeless because of their gambling problems has forced gambling-related issues onto the public health agenda and there’s hope that maybe something will finally be done to tackle things.

Want to improve your English with Lexical Lab? Take our English Boost course in 2018.


  • Do you ever have meetings where you can ask for things to be put on the agenda?
  • What was on the agenda in the last meeting you attended?
  • What’s high on the political agenda in your country at the moment?
  • Do you know anyone you don’t trust because they have a hidden agenda?
  • Which newspapers / groups have strong agendas in your country? What kind of agendas do they have?

Phrase of the day: all the trimmings

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over twenty years of teaching foreign students here in the UK it’s that English food is misunderstood and much-maligned. The usual comments I’ve heard revolve around the idea that there’s no such thing as English food; it simply doesn’t exist! Students point to the fact that so few restaurants seem to offer English food, while so many seem to offer Indian or Chinese or Turkish or Ethiopian or Italian or whatever. I usually try to explain that this is partly down to the fact that many of us are quite open-minded when it comes to food and happy to try new things, and partly down to the fact that running restaurants is seriously hard work and so not something many people will choose to do if they feel they have other options. In other words, there’s a real gap in the market that many immigrants into the UK can fill – and we’re happy for them to try and do so!


Where you can still find English cuisine is at both the high end of the market – and the low. On the one hand, there are expensive places such as the rather wonderful St. John, which offers “nose to tail eating” and serves some dishes that date back to the time of Henry the Eighth!  On the other, there are numerous caffs (also known as greasy spoons) that offer all-day breakfasts – often for under a fiver (= for less than five pounds!)!


However, the two places where English cuisine is really alive and well are pubs – and in particular the new breed of gastropubs (pubs that serve high-quality food) – and people’s homes. After a long-winded introduction, this almost brings us to our word for the day. Yesterday I spent the afternoon round at the house of one of my oldest friends in English language teaching, Andy Fairhurst, and his wife, Tatiana. When I had one of my very first teaching jobs – at St. Giles Central in London, back in the early 90s – Andy was already fairly experienced and so he was assigned as my mentor. In other words, he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I learned a lot from him and we’ve been friends ever since.


Anyway, we had a roast with all the trimmings. I know there’s a stereotype that we eat roast beef every single Sunday, but the reality is that roasts are a real faff – they take ages to cook, it’s hard to get the timing of all the different dishes right, and there’s usually a mountain of washing-up to slog through afterwards! The best ways to sample a real roast are either to go to a decent pub or else get invited to someone’s house and have them cook for you! We actually had slow-cooked roast pork, which was amazing, and all the trimmings. The trimmings are the extra parts added to a meal to make it more traditional (or interesting), and in this particular case, they included homemade apple sauce, roast potatoes and parsnips, mashed swede, and excellent gravy!


Of course, the other reason for choosing this phrase for the blog today is that as Christmas draws ever nearer, families up and down the country will be debating exactly what trimmings they want to go for on Christmas Day. Do we really have to have Brussels sprouts? Homemade Yorkshire puddings or shop-bought ones? and so on. Everyone always has an opinion!

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Work in groups. Discuss these questions.

  • What kind of stereotypes do you have of English food?
  • What have you tried? When? What was it like?
  • What dishes in your country usually come with all the trimmings? Which trimmings do you personally prefer with each dish?
  • Did anyone mentor you and show you the ropes when you started work?
  • How open-minded are you when it comes to food?
  • How often do you cook? What’s your best dish?

Intermediate word of the day: restore

When you restore something, you make it good again or make it exist again after a time when it was bad, damaged or not in use. So you can restore an old building or an old machine. You can restore public confidence, or restore calm or peace or restore order. Doctors might also restore someone’s sight or hearing. Democracy might be restored to a country. Usually the thing which is restored is a good thing and we often use a passive – we say something is restored or has been restored. The noun is restoration.

Building Restoration Athens Athena Ancient

When you think about how to use the word restore, it’s useful to think about why something had to be restored. What happened before? You might also think about what was done to restore the building, peace, confidence, etc.? For example, maybe someone had an accident or was ill or they lost their hearing. You can have an operation to restore your hearing where they put a tiny computer chip in the ear. In the same way, some people have laser surgery to restore their sight. Alternatively, you might need to restore the settings on your computer because it’s been attacked by a virus – or because you want to sell it. So you might need to save all your files to an external hard drive and then run a programme to restore the default system and re-install applications.


Next, think about buildings that have been restored. Why? What happened – and how?

Well, when you go on a tour of an old building like a church or a castle, you might be told that the roof or rooms are not original. They were restored in the 19th century or the 1820s or whenever after being damaged in a fire or after being damaged in an earthquake. Sometimes the buildings have been neglected – people haven’t looked after them – or they were completely abandoned – people left them or stopped using them.


An example of this are some gardens I visited recently in the south of England. In 1914, the people who worked there went to fight in the First World War. The gardens  were neglected and became overgrown and were totally abandoned for over 70 years until they were rediscovered in the 1990s. Since then, they have been restored to their former glory. The weeds were cleared, some walls were rebuilt. They restored the old greenhouses to their original conditionrepainting the wood and replacing the broken glass. They have also repaired the paths for visitors to walk round. It’s an amazing place.


Now think about why peace or law and order might need to be restored. What happened? How was it restored?

Many countries have experienced civil war. Sometimes peace was restored by one side winning and because the other side surrendered – they accepted that they had lost and stopped fighting. More often, both sides agree to stop fighting and negotiate an end to the war. In other cases, order has to be restored, because there have been riots – lots of people fighting and breaking things in the street. For example, in 2011 there were riots in London and other parts of the UK. The riot started in North London following a demonstration against the police. The police had been accused of shooting an innocent man in the area. A lot of people were angry about other things like unemployment and the demonstration turned violent. The police couldn’t control the crowd and the crowd started attacking the police and smashing up shops and cars. The rioting spread to other places in London. It took several days for the government to restore order. They had to bring in extra police from other parts of Britain and call for calm.


Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say five things that can be restored.
  • What’s the noun connected to restore?
  • How could you restore someone’s hearing / sight?
  • Why might a building need to be restored?
  • What might you need to do if you wanted to restore some historic gardens?
  • When might peace / law and order need to be restored? How can it be done?

Related stories in the news

A £2.4m scheme to help restore buildings in Aberdeen’s Union Street has been launched. The five-year scheme is aimed at restoring one of the the city’s main streets to its former glory. It will provide grants to property owners, allowing them to carry out improvement works. These works may range from shop front improvements to the reinstatement of architectural features. It has funding support from Historic Environment Scotland and Aberdeen Inspired. At the moment, around 10% of the street’s retail space is sitting empty, a problem many other towns and cities around the UK also suffer from.


In Egypt, the President has given the military three months to restore security and stability to the Sinai peninsula, following the terrible attack on a mosque last Friday, which left 305 people dead. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has told troops they can use “all brute force” necessary.

Finally, Japan has announced that it plans to send gardening experts around the world to restore Japanese-style gardens that have fallen into a state of neglect. The gardens have unique features such as stone bridges, ponds, moss-covered paths, stone lanterns and carefully tended miniature trees. There are about 500 Japanese gardens around the world of which 40 are in disrepair, with local gardeners generally struggling to maintain them. Officials say the plan is a way of promoting Japanese culture abroad.

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Take our English Boost course next summer.


  • Do you know any places that have been restored to their former glory?
  • Can you think of any buildings / streets where you live that need to be restored?
  • Can you think of any other times when security / peace / law and order needed to be restored? What happened?
  • Have there heard of any riots recently? When? Why?
  • Do you know any countries that have been through a civil war? What happened?

Phrase of the day: smash it

Every now and then, a phrase comes along that makes you feel really old. I’m not talking about things like the use of the adjective bare, which you hear teenagers and young adults using all the time on the streets of London. In case you’re wondering, by the way, in sentences like I was bare tired and We had bare laughs, the word bare has come to mean very or a lot of, but this use still remains very much a working-class street thing here. The kind of phrases I’m talking about are those which suddenly go viral and explode into the popular consciousness. One minute they’re used by a tiny minority of people, the next they seem to be everywhere, being used by almost every person out there who is younger than you are! And so it’s been with smash it.


Up until perhaps a couple of years ago, I was blissfully ignorant of the phrase and don’t recall ever really hearing it used. Then suddenly sports commentators are telling me that the diver Tom Daley absolutely smashed it with a series of excellent dives, customs officials at airports are suddenly high-fiving each other and shouting “Smashed it!” as they celebrate confiscating a large pair of scissors from a suitcase and after a charity walk, slimming groups who’ve been encouraging their members to exercise more send round an email saying that they’re very proud of all their members “who set themselves the challenge of walking more – and absolutely smashed it!


Smashing it seems to involve going for it, beating someone, winning, achieving something good, doing a lot better than you’d expected, destroying the opposition, becoming a legend in your own lunchtime, and beating your own personal best. The phrase combines a strange mixture of ultra-competitive sports speak and self-congratulatory job interview ultra-confidence, which perhaps explains why young candidates on the TV show The Apprentice are so keen on using it to describe how well they feel they performed in the weekly tasks! It also somehow manages to contain suggestions of other meanings of smash: you can smash a world record if you do something much better, faster, etc. than anyone has ever done it before; a very successful film or song or book can be a smash hit; and the police can smash a criminal gang if they find it and completely destroy it! All of which makes smashing it such a perfect expression!


Not that I’ll be using it myself, of course.

I’m far too old – and self-deprecating!

  • Can you think of a time when you totally smashed it?
  • Can you think of any performances you’ve seen recently where someone totally smashed it?
  • Can you think of any recent books, films or songs that were smash hits?
  • Can you think of any other phrases that have only become popular very recently?
  • Have you heard any words or expressions in your own first language that lots of young people use, but you don’t?

Intermediate word of the day: anniversary

An anniversary is a date when you celebrate something good that happened on the same date in a previous year – or when you mark something more serious or sad. The most obvious kind of anniversary is a wedding anniversary, and many wedding anniversaries have particular names, so if you’ve been married for twenty-five years, you celebrate your silver wedding anniversary – and manage fifty years together and you reach your golden wedding anniversary. You can celebrate your wedding anniversary in lots of different ways. You could:

  • go away for the weekend – or for a long weekend. You might decide to take your wife to Venice or take your husband to Paris for a few days.
  • go out for a romantic dinner. You might have a special place that you go to every year or you might Google and find somewhere you like the look of.
  • throw a big party for your close friends and families.
  • give each other presents.
  • organise a special ceremony where you repeat the original vows you both made on your wedding day

Of course, sometimes people completely forget their anniversary! Maybe they have too much on at work and so it completely slips their mind.If you’re luck, your partner may also forget and so it’s no big deal. However, you could find yourself in hot waterin real trouble – if you forget the following year as well!


All kinds of other events also have anniversaries. This summer, for instance, the TV was full of programmes celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Summer of Love, and the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. 2017 was also the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his ideas to the door of the castle chapel in the German town of Wittenberg, an event which led to the Reformation and the creation of the Protestant Church. On top of that, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and the tenth anniversary of the ban on smoking in public places.


To mark anniversaries of this kind, there may a series of TV shows, exhibitions in big museums and galleries, special coffee-table books that come out, reunions of people who were involved, or just big public get-togethers. And if it’s the anniversary of a battle or a terrible accident, then there may be a special ceremony to commemorate those who died. There may also be protests too, of course, if people are still unhappy with the government’s response to things.


Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say three verbs that go with anniversary.
  • Say four ways you could celebrate a wedding anniversary.
  • What might happen if you forget your wedding anniversary?
  • Say three things that 2017 was the anniversary of.
  • How might these kinds of anniversaries be marked?

Related stories in the news

Queen Elizabeth the Second and her husband, Prince Philip celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this week, and whatever your feelings about the royal family, it’s still quite a remarkable achievement. To mark their platinum anniversary, a series of portraits of the couple were released and they also threw a huge party at Windsor Castle to celebrate. Amazingly, a couple from Derby also celebrated their 70th anniversary in the same week!

This month was also the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s remarkable victory in last year’s presidential elections, and he is now far less popular than previous presidents at this stage of his presidency, with approval ratings of only 38%. To make matters worse, on the night of the anniversary, the Democrats won big in lots of local county elections across the country.


Finally, we’ve recently seen the 10th anniversary of Kindle, and of the iPhone. Oh, and legendary progressive rock band Yes have announced a ten-date tour to mark the fact that 2018 will be their 50th anniversary, much to the delight of many ageing hippies!

Letters Screen E-ink E-book Reading Kindle

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Take our English Boost course next summer.


  • Which anniversaries do you celebrate or mark every year? How? Why?
  • Have you ever forgotten any important anniversaries? What happened?
  • Have there been any big anniversaries in your town / country recently? How were they marked?

Word of the day: bling

When I was in the last two years of secondary school, I did History A-level, and spent quite a lot of time reading about the English Civil War, the execution of King Charles the First, the eleven-year Interregnum – the period of time when the country had no king or queen, and was instead ruled by various forms of republican governments – and the subsequent Restoration, when Charles the Second was restored to the throne.

I’d always thought I knew a fair bit about Charles II, who had a reputation for being a bit decadent, a bit of a playboy king! I knew that he had many mistresses over the years, that he was largely responsible for the creation of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and that even though he lived his whole life as a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.


What I didn’t know, though, is that in the series of Horrible Histories books and videos that my kids are currently obsessed with, he’s known as the King of bling, because of his enthusiasm for throwing lavish parties, buying lots of expensive clothes and jewellery, and generally flaunting his wealth. Bling – also sometimes called bling bling – can just refer to expensive (and unnecessary!) jewellery or shiny objects that people wear to remind you of how much money they have spent, so you might comment on the fact that someone turns up at a bar or club draped / covered in bling . . . or flashing the bling. Such observations are rarely a sign of approval, by the way, as they suggest that these public displays of wealth are vulgar, and that anyone who’s impressed by them is simple-minded! In other words, they mark someone out as a member of the nouveau riche, that group of people who have only recently made lots of money and are busy spending it on expensive and flashy rubbish in the hope that it will win friends and influence people. We also talk about such people being blingy or blinged-up, by the way, so it can be an adjective as well.

Voodoo Music Experience

However, bling can have the wider meaning of any activity or possession aimed at showing how rich you are, so bling-related activity might include driving a car with shiny platinum rims, arriving at a film premiere in a hat covered in glittering diamonds, or sailing around the Greek islands in a ridiculously oversized yacht that could house a thousand people! Pure bling bling!


Recently, a gang of criminals targeting celebrities in Los Angeles and specialising in stealing jewels has been dubbed a bling ring by the media, a ten-pound jewellery advent calendar being sold in the supermarket ALDI has been described as bling-tastic and finally, in a piece of celebrity news that may make some of you feel we are truly reaching the end of civilization, some Hollywood stars are apparently forking out thousands of dollars to bling out their teeth with real diamonds! It’s a sick world!

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  • Are there any celebrities (ore other people you kn0w) who regularly flash the bling? How do you feel about it?
  • Do you own anything that’s a bit blingy? What?
  • Can you think of any other historical figures who have a reputation for being a bit decadent or for having mistresses?
  • How are public displays of wealth generally viewed in your country? Are they OK or are they seen as a bit vulgar?
  • What’s the most you’ve ever forked out on something you didn’t really need?

Intermediate word of the day: resignation

When someone resigns from a job, they publicly say they are going to stop doing it. The noun is resignation.  With most jobs in normal everyday life, people don’t actually use the word resign that much; instead, they decide to quit or leave their job. They might have to hand in a resignation letter to formally say they are leaving, but more commonly they’d say ‘I’ve handed in my notice’. That’s because in most jobs you have to give (at least) two weeks’ notice to your company (= you have to tell them your plan at least two weeks before you leave) so that they have time to find a replacement.

Resigning and resignations are more usually associated with important ‘public’ jobs: people who are in charge of something, like the director of a company or a government minister or a football manager. Most of the time, it’s not something the person wanted to do, so we might say she was forced to resign over the issue. This may be after the press or the public or company shareholders have called for her resignation or even demanded her resignation. The director may initially refuse to resign, but then the pressure builds and eventually they have to agree to step down and announce their resignation. Unlike with most jobs, resignations can happen with immediate effect.


In some cases, the calls for someone’s resignation are the result of a failure: the person has been useless at their job. For example, maybe sales fell sharply and a company lost market share or the policy that the minister was responsible for didn’t work and it wasted millions of pounds. In other cases, resignation may because a  manager or minister was involved in a scandal, such as allegations of sexual harassment or corruption, or perhaps they committed a serious error or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour (e.g. being drunk on official business) which caused embarrassment or caused damage to the reputation of the company. In a few cases, people resign voluntarily, perhaps because they have had enough and want to spend more time with their family or just need a change. Sometimes they may resign in protest because they disagree with a government policy. It might be described as a sudden resignation, which came as a shock. These cases can cause problems because the resignation leaves a big gap to fill and it may be difficult to find an adequate replacement.


Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Who might call for someone’s resignation?
  • Say three other verbs that go with resignation.
  • What do most people say / do instead of ‘resign’?
  • Say two things that might show a company director is useless at their job?
  • What might inappropriate behaviour cause to a company?
  • What happens after the resignation?
  • What adjectives go with resignation, replacement, gap, error, and effect?

Related stories in the news

The newspapers are always full of stories about resignations. In recent weeks, there has been the sudden resignation of the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, which he announced in Riyadh. Some suggest he was forced to resign by the Saudi Arabian government who support his party and that he will be replaced by someone more in favour of Saudi Arabia. The situation is very complicated!


The director of the emergency operation in Puerto Rico resigned because of the failure to restore order after the hurricane. Apparently, he started facing calls for his resignation after he took a two week-holiday not long after the disaster.

In the UK there two ministers have resigned recently. The first was Michael Fallon, who resigned over allegations of sexual harassment, which has become a big issue in the UK parliament. Apparently, he had a history of touching women inappropriately (called ‘groping’) and of saying inappropriate things.  The other minister was Priti Patel, who was forced to resign because she’d had a series meetings with Israeli officials – including the prime minister – without informing the UK foreign office or government. She then initially lied about it.


There is also pressure building on the foreign secretary to resign, because of various inappropriate things he’s said which have caused embarrassment to the government. The latest has been a failure to properly support a British woman who is in prison in Iran.


  • Have there been any resignations in your country recently? What over?
  • Is there anyone who you think should resign? Why?
  • Have there been any calls for their resignation? Who by? Why hasn’t it happened yet?

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Take our ENGLISH BOOST course next summer.

Word of the day: bolshie

Last Wednesday marked the centenary (the 100th anniversary) of the 1917 Russian revolution. In March that year, Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, abdicated. The First World War had been disastrous for the country and food shortages and rampant inflation proved to be the last straw. In Petrograd (now known as Saint Petersburg), soldiers joined forces with striking workers and forced the tsar to stand down. The old regime was replaced by a provisional government, alongside which arose grassroots community assemblies – known as ‘soviets’ – which competed for authority. In November, the provisional government was toppled and power was seized by the soviets.

The dominant soviet group were the Bolsheviks (‘ones of the majority’), led by Vladimir Lenin, who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land for the people and bread for the masses, demands which proved popular with the downtrodden millions. On taking power, the capital was moved to Moscow, Russian participation in the war was ended …. and civil war soon broke out, with the Bolsheviks (‘the Reds’) fighting all those who opposed their revolution (‘the Whites’). Five years – and around ten million deaths – later, the Reds finally prevailed and in 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) was created.

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News of the Bolsheviks and their extreme tactics quickly spread around the world and before long, the adjective bolshie (or bolshy) came to be used to describe people perceived as stubborn, combative and aggressive. Bolshie people were very assertive in their pursuit of their goals and frequently hostile to authority. A bolshie person would get cross when confronted and may well resort to responses such as “What’s it got to do with you?” and “Keep your nose out of my business!”  Bolshie people relish heated discussion and arguments and may even be quite handy with their fists. In other words, you wouldn’t mess around with them because they mean business!

Bad drunks may get a bit bolshy after a few pints; bad workers may have a bolshy attitude at work and may make themselves a real pain in the neck; and you be bolshy when you answer back, demand something or simply get verbally aggressive with a person you’re debating with. Finally, people sometimes look back and realise they deserved whatever bad things may have happened to them because they were a bit too bolshie at the time and probably needed bringing down a peg or two!

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Why not take our ADVANCED LANGUAGE AND CULTURE course next summer?

  • Do you know anyone who can get a bit bolshie sometimes? IN what way?
  • Do you know any other countries that have had revolutions? When? What happened?
  • Has you ever marked the centenary of a particular event? Which one? When? Why?
  • Can you think of any politicians who have been forced to stand down? Why?
  • Can you remember the last time you had a heated discussion? Who was it with? Why were you arguing?
  • Can you think of anyone you wouldn’t mess around with? Why not?