culture


“She’s expecting.” This is what I call a hidden idiom. The full phrase is so common that it has been shortened into an idiom. The full phrase is “She’s expecting a baby.” In other words, she’s pregnant. In fact, the title of a very famous book about pregnancy is, “What to Expect When You Are Expecting”.

This idiom is especially confusing to ESL students because it appears ungrammatical! In normal usage, the verb expect must be followed by an object.

She is expecting a phone call.

He was expecting his friend to meet him.

The dog expects you to throw the ball.

The only time expect(ing) is used without an object is when it is used as an idiom. Additionally, this idiom is often used when talking about a woman’s weight.

Sarah looks like she’s gained some weight. Is she expecting? (Is she pregnant?)

Also, when talking about pregnancy, “child” is often used instead of “baby”.

The happy couple was expecting their first child. (not baby)

They’re expecting a child in June.

Finally, a common euphemism for a miscarriage is “lost the baby” (“child” is not used).

She was expecting, but she lost the baby. (not child)

After she lost the baby, she became very depressed.

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The addition of -gate to a word is a reference to the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Nixon. Watergate is the name of the hotel complex where 5 men tried to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Ever since this scandal, the suffix -gate has been added by the media to a keyword or topic to refer to a related scandal or controversy.

The most recent “-gate” controversy is Spygate in which the New England Patriots football team was caught videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets during their game on Sept. 9, 2007.

In English, we often say “catch a cold.” For other illnesses we often use the phrase “come down with.”

I caught a cold from my sister.

If you catch a cold, you should drink lots of liquids and get lots of rest.

He came down with the flu.

I haven’t been feeling well lately, I think I’m coming down with something.

When we don’t know the reason for the sickness, it is very common to say, “I’m coming down with something.

If you catch a cold or come down with any minor sickness in Korea, many Koreans will ask you if you have gone to the hospital! This sounds very strange to Americans. First, for colds and other minor sicknesses, many Americans do not see a doctor. They will take some medicine and stay home. Second, in America, it’s very common for a doctor to work in an office apart from the hospital. So, it’s much more common to say:

Have you been to the doctor? (CORRECT)

Have you been to the hospital? (WRONG!)

You should go to the doctor. (CORRECT)

You should go to the hospital. (WRONG!)

The only time we go directly to the hospital is for an emergency. Any other time, we go to the doctor first. If we need a test that the doctor cannot perform in his office or if we need to have surgery or another serious treatment, then we will go to the hospital.

I have had to explain this to several of my friends here. Apparently, they don’t have family reunions in Korea.

As you know, the United States is much bigger than Korea. Also, families are usually bigger in America than Korea. It is also more common for people to move away from their families for school or work. Since families are bigger and family members often live far away from each other, they can not always meet together during the holidays. As a result, many families often have a family reunion.

A family reunion is a big party for all of the family to meet. Family reunions are usually held in the summer. The family will usually rent a park pavilion for the day. All of the family members meet to eat (usually a barbecue or a potluck), talk, and play games.

One idiom that can be very confusing for ESL students learning English is OK. Specifically, does OK mean “yes” or “no”?

Most of the time OK means “yes” or that something is acceptable:

Do you want to watch a movie tonight? OK (yes, that’s acceptable)

Would you like chicken or beef for dinner? Chicken is OK. (I choose chicken. Chicken is acceptable.)

Sometimes OK is used to mean that something is good enough or average.

Did you like the movie? It could have been better, but it was OK. (The movie was not great, but also not bad.)

How did you do on the test? I thought the exam was very hard, but I did OK. (I did not do well on the exam, but I did not fail it either.)

Sometimes OK is used to mean safe or healthy.

Last week she was very sick, but she is OK now. (She is feeling healthy again.)

I heard you were in a car accident. Are you OK? (Did you get hurt?)

Finally, “That’s OK” is often used to politely refuse a request. It means the same thing, as “No, thank you.” This is the only time that OK has a negative meaning. “That’s all right” is also used this way.

Do you want to watch a movie tonight? OK. (Yes, accepting)

Do you want to watch a movie tonight? That’s OK. (No, polite refusal)

Can I help you carry your luggage? All right. (Yes, accepting)

Can I help you carry your luggage? That’s all right, it’s not heavy. (No, polite refusal)

There are a few other situations when we use OK, but that’s all for now.

Many students make mistakes when they ask and answer questions about their families.

Common questions, answers, and mistakes

  • Question: Do you have any brothers (and/or) sisters?
    • Answers: I’m an only child (no brothers or sisters).
    • A: I’m the youngest child. I have 1 older brother and 1 older sister.
    • A: I’m a middle child. I have 1 younger sister and 1 older sister.
    • A: I have one younger sister.
  • Q: How many people are in your family? (NOT: How many is your family?)
  • Q: How big is your family?
    • NOT: My family is 4.
    • NOT: The people in my family is 4.
    • A: There are 4 people in my family: my parents, my sister, and myself.
    • A: My family has 4 members: my parents, my sister, and myself.
    • A: I have 2 sisters.

Siblings is a common word used to talk about families. It means “brothers or sisters”

  • How many siblings do you have?
    • I have 2 siblings: 1 brother and 1 sister.
    • I have 2 siblings: 2 older brothers.

When asking people about their family, it is safest to ask about their brothers or sisters. This will avoid any awkwardness if the person’s parents are divorced or possibly dead. Also, when talking about your family, it is often not necessary to talk about your parents. People will assume that you have 2 parents unless you tell them differently.

A crush is a strong, temporary romantic attraction to someone. Crush is a noun which is almost always used with the verbs have or have got:

I have a crush on our new teacher. OR I’ve got a crush on our new teacher.

Some other notes:

  • Crush is usually used in a dating context (not marriage)
  • Crush is often used for a relationship that is not mutual (only 1 person likes the other, not both) [My friend has a crush on her co-worker, but he’s not interested in her.]
  • A crush does not have to be practical. For example, many young people have crushes on celebrities who are much too old for them (though Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage would disagree).

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