Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Last Straw: An Expression That's In the News

Do you have a Facebook account? Do you use Facebook? Did you ever use the "Download Your Information" function?

Several scandals have occurred recently over Facebook: but more recently the very serious The Cambridge Analytica misuse of user information had global repercussions.

Many of the over 6 million worldwide Facebook users consider this Cambridge Analytica data breach to be "the last straw."  The expression is as widespread as it is old.

For Many Facebook Users, a ‘Last Straw’ That Led Them to Quit

 In this article, Dan Clark, a retired Navy veteran from Maine, is quoted as saying, “But you have to stand for something, so I just put my foot down and said enough is enough.”

What did Ben Greenzweig, from Westchester, New York, decided to do?

"The final straw" is another version of this expression.

Roy Moore is the last straw, you can now call me a Democrat

USA Today piece is an OPINION piece, but it expresses the writer's own "last straw." What happened, how did he feel about it, and what did he do about that?

This expression comes from a larger expression, "the straw that broke the camel's back." 

But enough for politics. The expression can be used in ones personal life too.

19 Divorced People Answer 'What Was the Final Straw?'

Some of these "final straw" or "last straw" moments are pretty shocking.

The earliest known expression dates from 1677. And it uses feathers, which appear to be light and weightless: "It is the last feather that breaks the horse's back" is from Archbishop Bramhall, Works 4:59. 

Why are feathers, and straw, and appropriate expression for this sentiment?

Have you ever had a personal "last straw" moment, a moment that makes the situation impossible to tolerate and go along with any longer? A moment that calls for change?

Meanwhile, go easy on your horses and camels! 

1 as quoted in George Latimer Apperson, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases: A Historical Dictionary (1929), reissued as The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs

Photo of camel By Bart de Goeij (IMG_1725) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 22, 2017

Presidential Politics: (to) COME UP


That's what everybody wants to know.

This two-word verb is very hot right now in presidential politics. It's in conversation and in the written news.

Former Trump adviser on discussing sanctions with the Russians: 'I can't definitively say' it never came up

We can visit this same topic viewing the following video:

"Good Morning, America" with George Stephanopolous

After listening to the video of the interview, do you believe the topic of sanctions ever came up? Take our poll. 


Let's look at another example from the news. Here is a sentence from a New York Times news article:

"The White House says this account is not correct. And Mr. Trump, in an interview on Thursday with NBC, described a far different dinner conversation with Mr. Comey in which the director asked to have the meeting and the question of loyalty never came up."

Reading that article, do you believe the topic of loyalty came up to Mr. Trump during that dinner?

Finally, let's visit this same word but in a different article.

"Previously, Flynn had flat out denied that the topic of sanctions came up during the phone call — answering “no” twice when directly asked about the matter — but presented with Thursday’s Post report, a spokesperson changed his tune. “While he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up,” the spokesperson said, which is odd, considering we’re talking about a conversation that happened a month and a half ago."

Keep your eyes peeled on the news.  We're likely to hear and see this two-word verb used again and again!


Friday, May 5, 2017

World News: (to) TAKE OFF

This idiom can be used in many contexts.

First, let's show it in its most common context, dealing with air flight, in an article which might interest many of you.

China’s home-grown C919 passenger jet takes off on maiden flight

Here, this intransitive verb is used with reference to air flight.

What does this event mean to the people of China? What does this mean to the rest of the world?

You also don't have to be an airplane and leave the ground in order to take off!

Runners take off in first-ever space station 5K race

Can you express that sentence in simple past tense?   

This flexible transitive verb can also be used in other contexts, often financial:

US: Existing-home sales took off in March to their highest pace in over 10 years

 In the above article, which verb can be used in place of "took off"?

Finally, Chrysler Pacifica Sales Took Off In September 2016

The people at Chrysler Pacifica are bound to be happy about that news.

Remember - this is a two-word verb and this verb is intransitive. It does NOT take an object. See the headline below:

3 Energy Stocks We Missed That Took Off

This is NOT to be confused with the verb (to) take and the preposition "off" as in "he took off his wrist watch" or "She took off her ring."

And for our final news headline: Here's the best use of this verb:

Romance took off after flight of fancy

Helping seriously-ill children take the trip of a lifetime with the Dreamflight charity became a life- changing experience for Simon and Suzanne when they met and fell in love, reveals Catherine Welford.

And I think that's a pretty good note on which to end this blog post! 


Photo, Permission Granted by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Jonathan Chandler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo, AHAVA  by Robert Indiana, American, born 1928 עברית: רוברט אידניאנה, נולד ב-1928 (Talmoryair) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Presidential Politics: (to STAND) ON (an ISSUE)

Issues, issues issues.  You might not pay much attention to this two-word (verb + preposition) transitive verb but no democratic election or policy debate can occur without using this verb.

See, for example, the following headline:

First 100 days: Where President Trump stands on key issues

These words, stand on, are always together; they are not separable. They follow the pattern: 

question form:  where does (somebody) stand on (name of the issue)
statement form: where (somebody) stands on (name of issue)

Let's look at the article above. What are the issues that are explored?  Practice using this expression:

1.  Where does President Trump stand on the issue of _____?

2.  Where does President Trump stand on the issue of _____?

Choose five (5) issues that interest you. Where does President Trump stand on that issue?

Here's our next headline: 

While Obama did not intend to directly confront or take swipes at Trump on Monday, an adviser said he wanted to be forthcoming -- if asked -- about where he stands on specific policy matters, including areas where he and Trump clearly disagree, a source said. 

What one political issue did Obama briefly discuss?

But enough of other people's positions. Where do YOU stand on man of the issues facing our country and world today?  

This next headline gives you an opportunity to find out!

Quiz: Where do you stand on the issues with the candidates?

Take the quiz and find out which candidate matches your positions most closely.  Where do you stand on immigration?  Climate change? Taxes?  Take the quiz and find out which candidate most closely matches where you stand on issues that are important to you.

What did you find out?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Presidential Politics: (to) STEP DOWN (from)

Can you keep up with all the changes in the Trump administration?

Many people, myself included, are having difficulty doing this. News analysts are also having trouble.

Let's see why!

In the sentence above, we can see it as an intransitive verb. There is no object, and the verb + preposition always remain together.

Reading the news article, who was this chief digital officer? What was his role in the White House? Why did he step down?

When the sentence includes the job or responsibility of importance that the person formerly had, we use the preposition from, as in the sentence "A source familiar with Lansing’s departure said the former Hill employee stepped down from the office in mid-February. But Lansing isn't the only person who has stepped down so far.

Let's see what others we can find:

Why did Nunes, who is now under investigation himself, step down?  Who took his place?

Here's one more headline and this was very big news on TV and in the print media:

Why did Michael Flynn step down?\ o far we\x27ve seen this used in regard to political office. But the expression can be used for business positions as well. And it doesn't always refer to a scandal. Here are some examples:

Why did this headline say 'step down as" and not 'step down from..."?

If you can say "He stepped down from his position as Chairman" or "She will step down from her job as Advisor" but "She stepped down as Advisor to the President." Notice that Howard Schultz took a different position in the same company.

What position at Starbucks did he take?

These are but a few of the people who are stepping down. No wonder the news is difficult to keep up with!

If that's not enough for you, here is one more headline:

The day Paul Manafort stepped down, he received $13 million from Donald Trump's associates

Let's see who else steps down from the Trump adminstration by the time of our next blog post! Any guesses?


Wednesday, April 5, 2017


This phrase can make or sink candidates for president.

In the 1980 race between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan famously asked this question:

Are You Better Off Than You Were . . .

In 2004, this was the headline:

Bush: America (is) better off with his leadership

In 2012, this was the headline:

Are you better off?

It's the single most important question in an election.

During the election of 2016, this was the headline:

Are you better off than eight years ago?

The expression to be better off  has been in the English lexicon for ages.  But it took on new life with President Reagan during his campaign for president and has been asked by candidates since then.  They want you to compare NOW with FOUR YEARS AGO, the prior presidential campaign season.

Its use is not limited to politics.

Try this headline:

Filling a prescription? You might be better off paying cash

Why, according to the article, would you be better off paying cash than using a credit or debit card?

During political elections, candidates don't ask about your happiness; they ask about money and finances. Take the CNN poll.

What did you find out?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Presidential Politics: Flip Flop

File:Havaianas Tradicional.jpg 

These are flip flops. They're called that because they're not very firm. Flip flops have been worn since at least 1500 BCE.

The word "flip flop" is used in politics because so many politicians say one thing one time and say another contradictory thing later.  Politicians have probably been flip flopping since 1500 BCE as well.

Let's look at some current headlines:

President Trump, the king of flip-flops

This headlines uses the word as a noun. 

Here we see it as a verb in the same news article:

After Trump won the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote, he flip-flopped on the unique American system of electing presidents. 

Reading the articles, what are three issues that President Trump has flip flopped on? What was the position he took before and what is the position he takes now?

When is the first time that the term "flip flop" was used in English to refer to politics and politicians?  This Wikipedia article has an interesting history of the political nature of this word.

12 Huge Presidential Campaign Flip-Flops

Of the 12 huge presidential compaign flip flops, which surprises you the most?