Phrase of the day: nothing if not

Listening to a Radio 4 review programme the other day, I was struck by the description of quirky Icelandic singer Björk‘s new LP – Vulnicura – as “nothing if not honest”.

Björk_by_Hello,_I_am_Bruce_at_Nature_Awareness_Nattura_concert_Reykjavik_2008

The chunk is a subtle and interesting way of saying that something has one particular quality that is more noticeable or important than any other, though perhaps there’s also a slight implied criticism hiding within it – take away the honesty from the new recording, and there’s not much else to it!

In classroom terms, the chunk may, of course, crop up in a reading or listening text you’re looking at. If it does, you could point out the whole chunk, give an explanation that’s similar to mine above, say it’s usually followed by an adjective, and then maybe give one or two more examples.

I don’t really get on with him very well, but I’ll say one thing for him. He’s nothing if not determined!

Her taste in music is nothing if not eclectic / varied!

It may also be the case that whilst students are talking, someone tries to emphasise a particular point, and this presents you with an opportunity to feed the chunk in. For instance:

Student: Most Hollywood films . . . I always know the end . . . it’s very easy to predict them.

Teacher: I know what you mean. They’re nothing if not predictable!

If you then wanted to expand slightly on this, you could ask the class to shout out five famous figures that divide public opinion. These could be singers, athletes, politicians, actors, etc. They then choose one or two that they don’t like and think of how to complete the following frame for each:

I’m not a huge fan of . . . , but I’ll say one thing for him / her. He’s / She’s nothing if not . . .

Students could then compare their ideas in groups, see if they agree or disagree and explain why – and the teacher could listen and get a few of the best examples up on the baord at the end of the brief chat. You may well end up with something like this:

I’m not a huge fan of Ronaldo, but I’ll say one thing for him. He’s nothing if not confident!

I’ll say one thing for Angela Merkel. She’s nothing if not pragmatic / a pragmatist.

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