Author’s Note: I’m going to mainly focus on student experiences in India for this. But I think at least some of these examples might apply to the rest of the world too. If not, you have my apologies (and my envy.)
It starts at school.
As they get to higher and higher grades, here’s how students are instructed to write exams: “Write a lot. If it’s 5 marks, write more than a page; maybe more than two. By-heart the headings; don’t write your own. And, if possible, by-heart the textbook too.”
Basically, students are told to cram facts into their heads in as short a time as possible, and to write sheafs worth of papers in as short a time as possible.
In fact (at least, it was true when I was a student) I don’t think a single student escaped the experience of — at least once — having his or her answer sheet snatched away from them while they were still in mid-write at the end of an exam.
Well. Then came college.
Here, students aren’t limited to textbooks. Instead, they get reference books — which may only cover half the topics they really need to learn (if they’re lucky, that is). For the rest, they must scour the college library or the Internet for notes.
Plus, they still need to write as much as possible during exams, regardless of whether the questions only facilitate short answers or not.
So again — like a video game that has the same steps but gets more intense when you reach a higher level — in college, students have to cram in at least 3 times more information than they ever did in high school; and in a much shorter time too (there are only 6 months in a semester).
As a consequence, to accommodate this new need, students pick up skills like speed-reading and skimming content at top speeds. They figure out that watching a video will let them cover more ground than reading a book. They learn to browse a number of books at once and a number of online sources at once. They learn to pile their daily schedules and just run.
Finally, they just get used to doing things fast; to fill in their time all the time, and to produce and do and learn a lot in increasingly short amounts of time.
(A lot of the time, they also get used to quantity over quality too.)
And then, when they finally graduate . . . those habits stay.
The fact that technology and video games are a normal part of everyday life for them has contributed a little, yes. But honestly, with this kind of study-lifestyle, a student’s capacity for “patience” and “focus” was already dying anyway. And it’s not fair to blame their short attention spans on technology or impatience — (granted, there are those kinds of students/graduates too, but they’re not the only kinds) — when they were only encouraged to be so with their work when they were still students.
(Oh, and a comment from a friend made me realize I should mention this:
I wasn’t a poor student in my student-days, and this is not a rant to justify how warped the education system is simply because I couldn’t cut it.
I was actually a very good student who scored pretty well, maintained a rank, and always submitted assignments on time. And I’m a teacher myself now too.
It’s rather because I’m a teacher now, remember what it was like to be a student like that, and still see students being affected this way — and then later being blamed for their short attention spans and lack of focus — that I wanted to write this.
Because success at being a student doesn’t take away from the fact that this kind of study-lifestyle actually messes with your ability to concentrate on one thing for a long time and forces you to get used to constantly shifting your focus. ‘Cause if a student doesn’t adapt this way, it shows in their scores.)
Author’s Note: Since I teach English, this idea has been knocking around in my head for a while. And now I’ve finally gotten it down.
This particular post is going to discuss some common idioms and sayings in the English language. And, since they originated in a time long before science could fact-check them, they’ve given us some very wrong ideas about certain animals in general.
The English language is a funny thing. And many common English idioms, expressions, and phrases use animal-inspired comparisons to better emphasize a particular trait or situation.
An “eager beaver” is someone eager or excited to start or do something. When a person is doing something “fishy”, we mean that their actions are suspicious. To get a “lion’s share” of something means that we got the largest portion (of that something). And when we “let the cat out of the bag”, we mean that we have finally revealed something or told a secret.
For the most part, these common expressions are fun and great at getting our point across. However, many of these phrases have also given us factually wrong impressions about the animals that inspired them. And this list tackles some of the most blatant misconceptions we have about certain animals thanks to these common sayings.
#1) The Busy Bee
The “busy bee” refers to a person who is busy and hard working. So, for a long time, the “bee” has also been considered a perfect comparison for someone busy, industrious, or hardworking. This, in turn, paints a picture of all bees being hardworking and industrious creatures themselves, forever working together for the betterment of their colony.
Well, it turns out that all bees are not so diligent. For one thing, the workload is not distributed evenly among the bees in a hive. So some bees actually work more while other bees work less. Plus, there is a subspecies of bees called cuckoo bees that do not even bother building a hive for themselves. Instead, these bees – like the cuckoo bird they were named after – break into other bees’ hives and lay their own eggs there.
Sometimes, these bees even eat the host hive’s eggs! And the host bees are none the wiser about the switch.
We call someone a “bird brain” when we want to say they’re dumb or unintelligent. The comparison started because of the small size of a bird’s brain, which should logically mean that birds are dumb, right?
Well, that is apparently wrong. For, while a bird’s brain is small, it is only small in comparison to other animals’ brain sizes. However, if you consider their brain and body size ratio, birds have perfectly healthy brain sizes.
In fact, birds are actually very intelligent creatures, capable of responding to social cues, learning, and even using tools. Of course, a bird’s level of intelligence varies from species to species, but they are intelligent.
Also fun fact: Scientifically, the idea that “bird brains” meant birds were unintelligent was only supported by the discovery that birds had a small cerebral cortex (the brain region related to intelligence). However, even though this is true, it actually proves little about a bird’s intelligence. Because songbirds actually have another brain region that only exists in avian species: The HVC region. And this is the part of the brain that is related to song production and (possibly) intelligence in birds.
#3) A Catnap
A “catnap” refers to taking a short nap in the middle of the day. However – as any cat owner will agree – how a catnap came to mean such is anyone’s guess.
For, the only thing the expression got right was that it is a nap taken at any time during the day. However, applying the concept to the animal it was modeled after, there is nothing short about a “catnap”. Rather, cats easily sleep for as long as 12, 16 or 20 hours a day!
Of course, a cat might not sleep for 12 or 16 hours at a stretch. But a cat certainly sleeps for much longer than the “short” time a “catnap” implies. And, considering that cats have been domesticated for centuries, one can only guess how “catnap” came to mean such a thing.
#4) A Leopard Doesn’t Change Its Spots
“A leopard does not change its spots” means that someone cannot change their basic nature, or that someone is incapable of change.
In other words, a leopard cannot change its spots, so it cannot change itself either.
Well – putting aside the existential questions a leopard might face in its life – it is a fact that leopards actually do change their spots. In fact, every leopard changes its spots during its lifetime: A leopard kitten begins with dark baby spots, and those change into rosette-like spots or markings by the time it matures into an adult.
So, connecting the figurative meaning to the literal phenomenon of a leopard’s changing spots, does that mean a leopard’s spots must change in order for it to mature? (Philosophical discussion, anyone?)
#5) Monkeying Around
Monkeys have always been related to all things fun and foolish. Because what could be “more fun than a barrel full of monkeys”? We even use the phrase “Monkeying around”, which refers to someone fooling around, or fiddling with something, or even just wasting time when they are supposed to be doing more important things.
So, of course, we all picture monkeys as nothing more than happy, frivolous animals who do nothing but swing around on vines and chatter nonsensically.
In truth, though, monkeys have complex social structures with intricate rules and dynamics within their societies. They are immensely social creatures. And the hierarchies and dynamics between different members differ from species to species.
They “farm” food and get affected by stress, which in turn affects their behavior. And they also use various forms of touch for social bonding. Plus, their seemingly nonsensical noises (to human ears) are actually various kinds of verbal communication cues within their society.
So, “monkeying around”? That may apply to fooling around when the expression is applied to a human. But for actual monkeys, it refers to a serious and socially complex way of living.
#6) A Slimy Snake
“Slimy snake” is an adjective you assign to someone when you find them unpleasant and-or unscrupulously sneaky. (If there are any Harry Potter fans reading this, then you probably didn’t need that explanation.) This has already given our slithering neighbors a bad reputation. But, aside from the sentiment, this common expression has also supported the belief that snakes are slimy to the touch.
However, in reality, snakes are not slimy at all. In fact, their scales are perfectly dry and their outer skin’s texture is more akin to soft, dry leather. The only reason snakes even look slimy at all is because their scales shine in the light, giving them a slime-shiny look.
#7) A Dumb Cluck
If you had not already guessed, this phrase relates to the chicken. And calling a person a “dumb cluck” is like calling that person a big dummy. For, what could be dumber than a chicken? A living bird that does nothing more than peck, cluck, and strut?
For ages, chickens have been thought to be unintelligent, unaware creatures that barely even feel basic emotions. However, new research shows that not only is there a chance that chickens feel empathy with other creatures, but also that they might be quite intelligent. In fact, this new research shows that even chicks could have the potential to understand basic arithmetic.
Further research on the behavior and intelligence of the chicken is being conducted at the moment. And if the current results are supported and proved, “dumb cluck” could very well turn into an oxymoron.
#8) Slow as a Turtle
The turtle has forever been the paragon of “slowness”. “Slow as a turtle” is probably only contested by “slow as a snail” when it comes to describing slow speeds and slow progress. And, okay, this simile is true too.
At least when the turtle is on land.
However, in the sea, a turtle sheds its title of universal slowpoke and takes off!
Depending on the species of sea turtle, it can swim at speeds up to more than 5 miles per hour (9.3 kilometers per hour). And this difference in speed makes sense too. For, the sea turtle’s body has actually evolved and adapted to fit aquatic life more than terrestrial life. So it only makes sense that turtles will be faster and more adept at moving underwater. Besides, sea turtles usually only come ashore in the first place to lay their eggs. So their “slow” reputation is circumstantial and one-sided at best.
#9) Filthy as a Pig; Fat as a Pig; Sweating like a Pig (Poor pigs. How they’ve been abused.)
The pig is one animal that has been especially bullied by the common comparisons we assign to it: “Sweating like a pig”, “as filthy as a pig”, and “fat pig” are common expressions that we have all heard (and even used) at one time or another.
For one thing, pigs do not have sweat glands in the first place. So that completely invalidates the “sweaty pig” stereotype. And since they are biologically incapable of sweating, they roll around in the mud in order to keep cool. It helps that the moisture in mud takes longer to evaporate than water alone. So that muddy look is actually healthy for them, not “filthy”.
As for the “fat pig” comparison, pigs in the wild are healthily proportioned. Only the ones in captivity are usually overweight. In fact, it is only pigs in captivity that roll around in their own filth too. Wild pigs are pretty clean creatures who have even been seen to clean their food in water before they eat it.
#10) Blind as a Bat
Blindness has forever been compared to the natural eyesight of bats. But guess what? Bats being blind is a myth!
As for their echolocation abilities, yes, bats do have that ability. But it is an additional ability. It’s not a replacement ability to make up for their lack of eyesight. In fact, most fruit bats simply rely on their vision to find food rather than on their echolocation abilities.
The more interesting point here, though, is that this list is in no way exhaustive. So, most likely, in time, we’ll probably find out even more stuff that we’ve completely misunderstood.
Oh, and just to clarify: Yes, we do still use these idioms and phrases in exactly the same way (even if the comparisons are not always true).
You are waiting in a building for a friend. However, you’re on the ground floor and waiting at the elevator (or “lift”) for your friend to arrive. You also plan to stay in the city for a month this time.
So yes: A pain.
However, there’s an easy way to remember which preposition to use when you’re mentioning a location:
You are always “in” a room (like a classroom or bedroom, for example), a building, a town, a state, or a country (or a continent).
Whereas, you use “at” when you are mentioning
a more specific place – such as, [“at”] a desk, a table, a museum, a park, etc.
events – such as, [“at”] a party, a concert, a conference, a meeting, etc.
You also say that one is “at” work or “at” school. Always.
As for “on”, you use this preposition when you’re on a floor or on the ground (or a grounds).
You’re on the first floor.
You’re standing on the ground.
You can be found waiting on the school grounds.
But, coming back to “in” and “at” (which is more confusing), here’s the general idea: You use “in” when you mention general or large locations (a city, a state, a country, etc.) and spaces (a garden, a building, a room, etc.). And when you refer to specific places and events as the location, you use “at” (which is why you’re “at” a park, “at” a hockey stadium, “at” school, or “at” a party).
This means that you may say, “My sister is in the garden,” when you’re talking about the garden behind your house or a general garden space, but that you will say, “My sister is at Picket Gardens,” when you’re talking about a well-known public or private garden (that usually has a specific name). The difference here is that the first location is a general garden and that the second location is a specific place/location that you’re referring to.
When mentioning specific and relatively small locations, use the preposition “at”.
When mentioning a room, a building, or a large place or space (like a country, state, town, room, or building), use the preposition “in”.
Let me first address the group that wants to aim pitchforks at me.
To those wishing to throw outraged protests about the fact that I’m dissing a time-honored tradition of reading the newspaper to improve one’s English, just answer a few questions for me first:
Do you enjoy reading the newspaper?
Has reading the newspaper in English print actually helped you improve your English vocabulary and speaking skills?
Would you continue reading newspapers even if you did not do it as an English language training exercise?
Well, if your answers to all three was a definite “Yes”, then lovely! Don’t change a thing! Keep reading the newspaper as a language exercise – or even just for enjoyment – and don’t worry about this post. ‘Cause you’re doing just fine! 🙂
But, for those of you who aren’t so sure about the answer being “Yes”, who have even answered “No” to one or more of the above questions, and for those of you who struggle with this exercise or come off with a headache each time you read a newspaper in English, this post is for you.
Now, first of all, understand that I’m not telling you to give up reading the newspaper entirely. That’s completely up to you, and nothing I or anyone else says should make you give up an enjoyable and harmless pastime.
But, the truth is, reading the newspaper is not an English learning exercise that benefits everyone. Some will thrive on it, and others just won’t. And that’s perfectly fine. People are just made differently.
What is not fine, though, is doing the same thing over and over again when it obviously doesn’t work for you. Don’t do that. What you should do is find another way that suits you.
And that’s where watching movies and TV shows (as the replacement exercise) comes in.
For one thing, there are a wide variety of genres out there when it comes to movies and TV shows, so you can actually pick the type that you like to watch. And it doesn’t matter whether you pick comedy, drama, action, or anything else. Just make sure that the movie is in English, and that you have English subtitles for them.
(Do note: The subtitles are mainly necessary so that you don’t miss anything while the movie is playing. Because it’s easy to mishear something when you’re watching a movie, especially when it’s in a language you are not completely familiar with. Don’t skip them.)
Coming back to reading newspapers, do remember that you can also do both (that is, read and watch). It all depends on what works better for you. 🙂
So, the next time you hear that you “must read newspapers” in order to learn English properly, know that it’s not true. English is a language. It is a mode of communication. And it is not limited to newspapers.
Remember, just pick learning exercises that are right for you. And if you better understand images and sounds (like a good majority of people today do), then it’s likely that you’ll learn better with movies.
We use “your” when we are talking about something belonging to “you”.
Situation 1 (for using “your”):
Maybe you have a pencil? Then that pencil is “yourpencil” because that pencil belongsto you.
Situation 2 (for using “your”):
Maybe you find a pen on the floor of your classroom. You pick it up, and turn around to the nearest person and ask, “Is this your pen?” because you want to know if that pen belongs to him.
“You’re” is just a contraction (shortened form) of “you are”. See, all you do here is join “you” and “are” together into one contracted word with an apostrophe(‘) to show that it is a contracted word. And hence, you get “you’re”.
Generally, “you are” and “you’re” can be used interchangeably. Because both versions mean the same thing.
You’re going to the party with me, right?
You are going to the party with me, right?
You’re a great friend.
You are a great friend.
You are pretty well-known around here.
You’re pretty well-known around here.
So, referring back to the above image, “Your dinner!” is something a chef or waiter would say when serving you your dinner.
Whereas, “You’re dinner!” means the same as “You are dinner!” (And that means you should probably run away fast.)