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Funky town! Words of the day: Funk and Funky

Posted on Posted in American English Grammar and Usage, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, Online English lessons, Tutoring

Are you tired of being cooped up? Has lockdown put you into a funk? Do you feel like you are under house arrest?  If so, maybe it’s time for a little English vocabulary lesson focusing on the words funk and funky. If you are having trouble with any other words in this post, don’t worry! There’s a short glossary at the bottom of the page! 

The noun funk is commonly used to describe a bad mood, or a sad feeling, even a slight depression. Often we use it when that mood is the result of following the same boring routine day after day. That is why it may be the perfect expression for how many of us are feeling during this endless quarantine!  You might hear this a lot!

Here are some examples in sentences:

I wouldn’t go into Bob’s office this morning. He got some bad news, and he’s in a bit of a funk.

I am okay, really. I’m just in a funk. It’s so tiring doing the same thing every day!

Sarah has been in a funk for a while. I’m starting to get worried. 

Notice in the above examples, funk is used almost as though it were a location.  A person is  “in a funk” in the same way one might be “in a closet.”

Funk also has some other completely different meanings. It is used to describe a type of music that is anything but  depressing.  Here is the definition of funk from Wikipedia:

Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B).”

Funk can be used as an adjective to describe this genre of music. For example:

James Brown is one of the best known practitioners of funk music though clearly funk influenced the music of other well-known performers such as Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone. 

Notice in the above example, funk is used as both an adjective to describe the genre: funk music, and a noun — the name of the genre. 

Now let’s move on to the adjective funky. Here is where things might get a little confusing. Remember how we use “funk” as a noun to describe a depressed mood? The confusing part is that we don’t usually use “funky” as an adjective to mean depressed!. We might  be in a funk, but we would describe our feeling as sad. For example:

I’ve been in a funk for days. I feel so terribly sad and I don’t have the energy to do anything that would help me feel better.

The adjective funky does NOT describe being in a funk.The adjective funky usually means off-beat or eccentric (in a good way) but  it can also mean weird, strange, or peculiar — not in a good way.  Funky can be used in either a positive or negative way. 

You can be in a “funky mood” but this indicates a “strange mood” not necessarily a “depressed mood.”  Someone can have a “funky sense of style,” which indicates a distinct, probably original sense of style. However, a “funky odor” is almost always peculiar or weird and NOT in a good way. Our use of funky is idiomatic, and you have to pay attention to context. 

Here are various examples of funky. In each case, funky has a slightly different meaning. I’ll give you some context clues. Can you think of replacement words for funky in each sentence?

My sister likes wearing lots of bright colors and different patterns. She has a funky sense of style.

I’ve got to clean out my refrigerator. Something in there smells funky!

Let’s not make a plan to do anything outdoors tomorrow. The weather has been really funky, and I don’t want to have to cancel.

Jenna loves wearing funky costume jewelry. The bigger and shinier the better!

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I don’t know what I want to do later, but I wouldn’t mind doing something a little different, maybe even a little dangerous.

Let’s take a deep dive into those sentences. Shall we?

My sister likes wearing lots of bright colors and different patterns. She has a funky sense of style.  An easy replacement for funky  here  off-beat or eccentric. Other possibilities that might require more context include: unique, brilliant, interesting, etc.

I’ve got to clean out my refrigerator. Something in there smells funky!  Here funky means peculiar in a bad way! You could also use “spoiled” or “rotten.”

Let’s not make a plan to do anything outdoors tomorrow. The weather has been really funky, and I don’t want to have to cancel.  We don’t have a lot of context here, but we can guess that the weather has either been bad or frequently changing so that it might be bad and therefore planning an outdoor activity would not be wise. “Strange” can substitute for funky.

Jenna loves wearing funky costume jewelry. The bigger and shinier the better! Strange would be an easy substitute here. Based on context we could use other adjectives: gauche, loud, gaudy, etc.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I don’t know what I want to do later, but I wouldn’t mind doing something a little different, maybe even a little dangerous.  Good replacement choices include: strange, peculiar, weird.

Funky can also refer to funk music. There is a difference between using “funk” and “funky” as adjectives to describe this  type of music.  When we use “funk” as an adjective we are describing the genre of music. For example:

James Brown practically invented funk music

Stevie Wonder’s music shows both funk and jazz influences.

Funky music” can simply mean “cool” music, though this usage is a little out of date . It can also describe music that has some funk elements but isn’t pure funk. It’s more about describing a funk-like attribute or quality of the music rather than the genre. For example:

The band that played at Ella’s wedding had a good funky beat that made it fun to dance.

Some people might argue that the song Play that Funky Music is not an authentic example of funk music, but more a funky rock and roll song. 

I hope that clears up how to use both funk and funky in conversation or when talking about a type of music.  If you have any questions or comments, you are welcome to post a comment! If you are interested in taking private one to one lessons, please contact me! Here is the glossary with some other words and phrases that might be new to you:

Cooped up: a coop is a pen or “house” for domesticated birds such as chickens. To feel “cooped up” is to feel as though you are stuck in a cage. Example: After being cooped up in the house for two weeks, due to the quarantine, Bob was thrilled to go outside for a walk.

Lockdown: To be “under lockdown” or “in lockdown” means you are under orders not to leave your facility or home either as a punishment or because of dangers inside or outside of the facility. Nobody can get in or out of a facility while it is under lockdown.  Examples:  (1) The elementary school was placed under lockdown after the prisoners in the nearby jail escaped. The authorities thought that the children would be in danger if they left the building. (2) The prisoners were in lockdown because someone had stolen some supplies and the guards wanted to check each cell. 

Under house arrest: To be “under house arrest” is when you have been accused or convicted of a crime, but instead of being in jail or prison, you are able to reside in your home under restrictions. Example:  Because of his illness, John was able to leave prison and serve his sentence under house arrest.

Deep dive:  This is an expression using the verb or noun dive. It means to explore something deeply.

Anything but: The phrase “anything but” means “not at all.” Example: His business was anything but successful and closed within months of opening. 

Out of date: In its most literal sense, “out of date” can mean expired in the sense of something no longer being valid. For example: My passport is out of date. I need to get it renewed before I can leave the country. We also use “out of date” in general to mean something old-fashioned. For example: I understand our customs might seem out of date to you, but we don’t use that kind of vulgar language in my house.

 

 

The Most Confusing Phrasal Verb in English!

Posted on Posted in American English Grammar and Usage, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, Online English lessons, Phrasal Verbs, Tutoring

English has tons of idioms and phrasal verbs which are difficult for non-native speakers to master. Phrasal verbs are especially tough because they often have more than one meeting, or the meaning is idiomatic and difficult to explain. I love to teach the difficult ones! One of my favorites is “set off.” “Set off” seems to mean the opposite of what we think it should mean. 

Take a look at the examples below. Can you guess the meaning from the context clues provided?

My house guests forgot to turn off the burglar alarm, and accidentally set it off when they entered through the back door. The sound was very loud and woke the neighbors, who called the police.

Adding the new chemical to the formula set off a chain reaction that led to an explosion. Fortunately, no one in the lab was injured.

The terrorist tried to set off a bomb in his vest by pulling on a cord. Many people would have been killed or injured, but fortunately the bomb’s fuse didn’t ignite, and no one was hurt.

Something must have set Bill off.  When he came in this morning he seemed normal, but later that day he suddenly became upset and yelled at his assistant. Then he announced he left the office abruptly. Did he get some bad news or something?

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t set off fireworks in their backyard. Fireworks are loud and dangerous, not to mention illegal. 

Try this: If you think you understand the meaning of “set off” in the above examples,  substitute another word or phrase for set off:

My house guests accidentally ________________________  the burglar alarm.

Adding the new chemical to the formula ________________ a chain reaction that led to an explosion.

The terrorist tried to ________________ a bomb in his vest by pulling on a cord. 

Something must have ____________  Bill.  

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t  ____________fireworks in their backyard. 

Okay, now that you’ve tried it, I’ll give you an explanation with some possible substitutions

My house guests forgot to turn off the burglar alarm, and accidentally set it off when they entered through the back door.

The burglar alarm STARTED when they entered..

Adding the new chemical set off a chain reaction that led to an explosion.

The new chemical STARTED or CAUSED  a chain reaction.

The terrorist tried to set off a bomb 

The terrorist tried to START the process to make the bomb explode. He tried to IGNITE the bomb.

Something must have set Bill off. 

Something must have CAUSED  Bill TO BECOME ANGRY or upset. Something must have STARTED or IGNITED his anger.

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t set off fireworks in their backyard. 

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t IGNITE fireworks. I wish my neighbors wouldn’t CAUSE fireworks TO EXPLODE.

In all of the above examples to “set off” means to “start” something in the sense of  “ignite” or “spark.”

This can seem counterintuitive because we think of the word “off” as stopping a reaction, not starting one. For example: We turn off the light. We shut off the oven. We complete a journey and get off the bus. However, “off” is a word that can be used in many ways and with different meanings. Context is everything in English.

In all of the examples above “set off” has a similar “explosive” meaning. However, sometimes we use “set off” in a less explosive way. We can use it simply in the sense of starting a journey or trip. Here are some examples:

We set off early in the morning because we wanted to arrive with enough time to enjoy the day.

I’m setting off for Mexico later in the week. The ship sails on Thursday.

When I set off  for work that day, I had no idea that everything in my life was about to change. 

In the examples above, the phrasal verb “head off” could be substituted, as that also means to start a journey.  However, we cannot use “head off” in the previous examples where “set off” means to start in the sense of ignite or spark. “Head off” also has a second meaning. We use “head off” to mean to avoid something by going in a different direction. Let’s look at an example of both of these phrases in the same paragraph:

Bob and John seemed to set each other off. Their personalities were just very different and they didn’t get along with each other or work well together. In order to head off problems, their supervisor placed them on different teams so they never worked directly with each other.

In the above example “set off” is used in the negative sense of igniting some kind of friction. The men didn’t get along. Therefore, the supervisor wanted to “head off” or “avoid” problems, and kept the men separated. The words cannot be used interchangeably. 

There is also a third common use of “set off.” We use “set off” to describe the way one element brings attention to or shows a contrast with another element. We use it in descriptions of people, decorations, designs, etc. Here are two examples:

Jenna looks great in that blue shirt. The light blue color sets off the deep blue of her eyes. It’s a fantastic color for her. You really notice her eyes when she wears it!

There are several lamps in the painting. The light from the lamps is set off against the otherwise bleak scene of war and destruction.The light symbolizes hope and contrasts with the chaos surrounding it.

You are likely to encounter “set off” in everyday speech, as well as in books, movies, and television shows.

I hope you found this lesson on “set off” useful. Feel free to leave comments or questions. If you are interested in taking English lessons with me, please get in touch!