Thursday, August 11, 2022

Get Your Ducks In A Row (#MY Eng 58)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lie', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel', 'trial and error', 'look before you leap', 'lightning in a bottle', 'on the same page', don't judge a book its cover', 'reinvent the wheel', 'shifting gears', 'throwing in the towel', 'jump on the bandwagon', 'passing the buck', 'breaking the ice', 'cracking the code', 'when it rains it pours', 'bigger fish to fry'm 'ball is in your court', 'back to the drawing board', 'square peg in a round hole', 'don't rock the boat', 'a whole new ball game', 'never say never' and 'burning the midnight oil'.

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Monday, August 1, 2022

Never Say Never (#MY Eng 57)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lie', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel', 'trial and error', 'look before you leap', 'lightning in a bottle', 'on the same page', don't judge a book its cover', 'reinvent the wheel', 'shifting gears', 'throwing in the towel', 'jump on the bandwagon', 'passing the buck', 'breaking the ice', 'cracking the code', 'when it rains it pours', 'bigger fish to fry'm 'ball is in your court', 'back to the drawing board', 'square peg in a round hole', 'don't rock the boat', 'a whole new ball game' and 'burning the midnight oil'.

Ever made a promise that you swore that you'd never ever break? Don't drink and drive, don't an entire roll of Oreos in a single go, don't date bad boys - that sort of thing?

Well, the thing is, absolute ultimatums are hard to keep. Even the ones - or rather especially the ones - about food.

It's normal to take on bad habits, regret about taking them, not repeat them for a couple of weeks, and then only to lapse back to our old routine. Yes, bad habits are easy to build but hard to lose...

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Sorry, but that's digressing a bit from today's idiom. Which is really about making promises, rather than breaking habits. Promises tend to start with the words "I'll never again...". Hah! Fanciful thinking. You and I know that we should never say never...

Hey, but isn't that a contradiction? To never say never itself is an impossible feat. That's somewhat true. But let's not get dragged into semantical logic, shall we?

Ultimately, the point is that the word 'never' doesn't quite work in real life (I had to stop myself from saying 'never' a second time and settle with "doesn't" instead - happy now, linguists and logicians?). That's because the word is an absolute, and there are very few (if any) absolute rules in this universe. Even time and gravity gets all wonky inside a black hole.

But more importantly, the word 'never' doesn't quite work for human experiences. We're fond of thinking that we are capable of powerful change. That we can be so sure about where our choices in life leads to. That we can predict every step in the way of life's journey from credle to the grave.

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But truth is, we can't really keep to all our promises, can we? Whether it's framed in negative terms of 'never', or more positively, 'always'. Our promises will be subject to a long list of exceptions to the point that the promise itself turns out more like a flexible guideline rather than a hard rule.

And true enough, I'm gradually discovering how hollow the word 'never' really is, especially when it comes to important life decisions. There's never been a time where I told myself that I would never do this or that. This is despite me almost knowing for a certainty that there are lines in the world that I will never cross.

I just said a bunch of 'never's' in that last paragraph alone. But I never said that I'm with the idea of 'never say never', did I? Which leaves me in a margin of ambiguity of where I stand on the using the word 'never'.

Was that all very confusing? Perhaps. Well, allow me to maneuver a way out of this conundrum with two simpler and more powerful words: never mind...

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Burning The Midnight Oil (#MY Eng 56)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lie', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel', 'trial and error', 'look before you leap', 'lightning in a bottle', 'on the same page', don't judge a book its cover', 'reinvent the wheel', 'shifting gears', 'throwing in the towel', 'jump on the bandwagon', 'passing the buck', 'breaking the ice', 'cracking the code', 'when it rains it pours', 'bigger fish to fry'm 'ball is in your court', 'back to the drawing board', 'square peg in a round hole', 'don't rock the boat' and 'a whole new ball game'.

We've all been through this since the earliest days of childhood. Feverishly flipping through pages after pages of books, furiously scribbling down shorthand notes - the eve of the dreaded day of examination.

Some of us gather in a group to study. Exchanging ideas. Or merely finding solace in the company of equally panicky and miserable souls.

For those still in school, don't grumble too hard. Trust me, things get even tougher once you're out in the working world. Deadlines are shorter. Expectations are higher. And everyone's fighting to save their own skin and that very often we're all left alone shouldering the load that only grows heavier by the minute...

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Welcome to reality, people. Rest is a luxury. Everyday is a labourious journey - whether out toiling in the field, or typing away on a keyboard in a tiny cubivle in an office tower. For many of us, life is a constant cycle of burning the midnight oil

Do we work harder than our ancestors? Maybe, maybe not. Without the marvels of modern technology, people are left to attend to painstaking chores that can now be easily taken care of by machines. Like washing clothes or the dishes. Or writing a letter with a quill and inkblot on a parchment - one mistake, and you have to redo everything (there is no delete or edit button)!

Yet, technology also creates new work. Coders didn't exist in our grandparents' time. Digital influencers operate in a whole different level than medieval courtesans or stage artists.

So there's no more oil to burn simply because technology is capable of discovering - or even creating - new fields of oil. Figuratively speaking, of course. In this new century, the world is moving away from fossil fuels to renewables, which include stuff like solar, nuclear, lithium batteries, and so on.

Anyway, point is, there's no end to work. Even we're resting, we can't help but thinking of new forms of work to do (or rather, managers thinking of new forms of work to delegate. Human ingenuity (and cruelty) has no bounds.

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But is there any better alternative? Cut down work to the bare minimum so that we can enjoy life to the maximum?

Sounds tempting, but what will come to our us when our minds are filled with fluff or vacuum? As an old saying goes: idle hands are the devil's playground. Which is another way of saying that an unfocused mind makes a dangerous mind. Or that we simply tend to get naughty when we have too much free time.

But most of us aren't privileged enough to have the choice and control over the work that we do. Same for me. That's why if any of my post appear rather late, the reason is that I'm knee-deep in a deep pool of oil that's too slippery to get out from...