Don’t Louse This Up! Using Lousy in Everyday Speech

Posted on Posted in American English Grammar and Usage, American words used in media, English lessons in New York, Online English lessons, Phrasal Verbs
Pearson Scott Foresman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lousy is a simple two syllable word that almost all native-English speaking Americans use. It’s not an “SAT word “ or a word you’re likely to encounter on the TOEFL. It probably won’t appear on your medical licensing test if you’re a doctor or a nurse, but it’s a word that your patients are likely to use. If you want to sound more natural and more like a native speaker, this is one to add to your everyday English.

You can go to google to hear the word. Here is a breakdown for easy pronunciation:

First syllable spelled “lou” rhymes with “cow.”

Second syllable: “sy” sounds like the way we say the letter “Z.” 

Here are a few examples:

“I’m happy with my new car, but I think I got a lousy deal. My cousin paid $2000 less for the same make and model.”

Doctor: Are you in pain?  Patient: Not exactly. I’m just tired and I feel lousy all the time.

“The painters did a lousy job.  They left paint on the windows, and you can see old stains.”

“The weather has been lousy all week. Even on the days when it hasn’t rained, it’s been too windy and cold to enjoy being outside.”

“My son had a lousy time on the school trip. He got car sick on the bus, another kid stole his lunch, and the teacher yelled at him because she thought he was trying to start a fight.”

“I feel lousy about what I said last week. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

Can you guess the meaning of lousy?

Lousy means bad, but in context it implies many things: incompetent, disappointing, unwell, not enjoyable, and more. The parameters of lousy are a bit vague, and may vary depending on context and the speaker.  For instance, a parent telling a child, “You are a lousy son,” sounds devastating, but “lousy” can also be used when you call in sick to work because you still haven’t recovered completely from your flu: “I don’t have fever today, but I’m still feeling lousy.” You can feel “lousy” as in physically not well, or you can feel “lousy” (bad) about something that happened because it was your fault. You could substitute other words such as guilty, terrible, bad, etc.

We can use the comparative: lousier or the superlative lousiest. Lousier would mean not as a good as someone who is probably already not very good at something:  Sally is a lousy bowler, but I’m even lousier at it than she is.

Lousiest, the superlative form, is sometimes used similarly to “worst.”  Here’s an example:

“I’ve seen a lot of lousy movies. But that was the lousiest movie I’ve seen in years!”

Where does “lousy” come from?

More than one of my students thought “lousy” was related to “lazy” because they sound somewhat similar.  It is not! 

“Lousy” literally means “to be infested with lice.”  Lice are the tiny insects that sometimes lay eggs in hair.  Those lice are called “head lice.” There are other kinds of lice as well that are even more disgusting. Usually an infestation involves hundreds of lice, so we generally use the plural form “lice.”  However, the singular form is “louse.” If you find one louse, you probably have an infestation of lice. 

Having head lice is a lousy experience! 

Sometimes we use the noun  “louse” as a pejorative to describe a person who behaves badly. Louse is usually used to describe someone with inconsiderate and/or unethical behavior.  Here are two examples:

“My boss is such a louse. He seems to take real pleasure in firing people and insulting the people who work for him.”

“I can’t believe Doris is back with Charley! He constantly cheats on her. What a louse!”

We would NOT use “louse” to describe a person who had done a lousy or incompetent job. For instance, you might fire someone for doing a lousy or incompetent job, but it doesn’t mean the person is a louse. Louse as an insult retains the quality of being a parasite.

We use the verb “delouse” to describe the action of getting rid of  lice:

“The adults  spent Thanksgiving weekend delousing the kids. Jane had picked up head lice at school, and gave it to all her cousins. Lousiest Thanksgiving ever, uh literally!” 

We don’t use “delouse” very much as a metaphor. It’s usually used literally.

We don’t use “louse” alone as a verb. However, we do use the phrasal verb “louse up” in a similar way to “mess up.”  “Louse up” sounds stronger than “mess up” and more serious. Here are some examples:

“This is our biggest client. We can’t afford to do anything that would louse up this deal.”

“Joe apologized for lousing up, but Meredith told him that he was a louse for cheating on her, and she would never forgive him.”

“I’m very proud you got the job. Now don’t do anything to louse this up!”

Can you think of a sentence using lousy, louse,  or louse up?  Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.  If you’re looking for English lessons, check this out.

 

Eight Idioms You Can Learn In a New York Minute

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, American English Grammar and Usage, American words used in media, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture, Online English lessons, Tutoring
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_york_times_square-terabass.jpg

Here are some idioms with the word “minute.”  All of these are fun to learn and used frequently in conversation, on the news, and in the workplace.

I. “Gimme a minute!” 

You walk into a pharmacy. There’s no line for the pharmacist, but she’s the only one behind the counter and she’s busy preparing prescriptions and answering the phone. Finally, you tell her you are there to pick up a prescription your doctor called in.  

Gimme a minute,” she says as she looks it up on her computer. “Okay. It’s going to take about twenty minutes. Can you wait?

In English we “take time.”  How much time will it take? How long will it take? These are common questions we ask when we need to know how long we will need to wait.

“Gimme a minute” is the smashed up way we say “Give me a minute.” Many people will use this pronunciation when speaking informally.

You might hear “Gimme a minute” when you are on the phone and someone needs to quickly take another call or find some information. You might hear it when you are paying for merchandise in a store and the cashier needs to look up a price.  People often say this when they feel someone is forcing them to hurry, as in this example below:

“Are you ready?” Jack asked. “The taxi is waiting. We need to leave for the airport.”

Gimme a minute!” Susan answered. “I need to double-check to make sure I turned off the stove.”

To “double-check” is a commonly used expression. It means to check something again.  Here’s an example:  

 “Did you remember to pack your reading glasses?

“Yes. I think so. Gimme a minute. Let me double-check.”

 

II. “Wait a minute.

“Wait a minute” is sometimes used in a similar way to “gimme a minute.”  Person A is telling Person B that he or she needs to “wait” a short period of time for something.  However, usually “wait a minute” is used in a different way.  It is often used as an interjection. It can be used to indicate that you are questioning something someone just told you. You are demanding a brief pause or “wait” while you process what you just heard. Often this is something that is upsetting or that doesn’t seem correct.  

Here are some examples:

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that all the money is gone?”

“Wait a minute.  Are you serious?”

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that Nancy isn’t inviting me to her wedding?”

“Wait a minute. Are you firing me?”

 

III. “A New York Minute”

New York has a reputation as a fast-paced city. “A New York Minute” is an expression used to indicate that something will be done very quickly.  

“I’d like a coffee to go.”

“I’ll have it for you in a New York minute.”

 

IV. “Just a minute.”

Sometimes “just a minute” has the interjectional quality of “wait a minute.” Like “wait a minute” It can be used to tell someone to stop, to explain what they mean, especially when you suspect something isn’t right. 

“Just a minute. I think you forgot to give me my change.”

However, usually it is similar to “gimme a minute,” but it sounds less like a demand and more like a courteous reply. It’s short for “I’ll just be a minute,” indicating that one is trying to get to your request as quickly as possible. In short, while both  “gimme a minute” and “just a minute” are used in the same way, “just a minute” sounds a little more polite, and indicates that the request will be taken care of within a very short period.

Customer (on phone): “Hi. It’s Jenna Smith. I’m returning Ms. Bishop’s call.”

Receptionist: “Just a minute, please. I’ll put you through.”

Customer to sales clerk: Excuse me. Could you help me? I’m looking for something in size 6.”

Sales clerk: Just a minute. I’ll be right there.”

 

V. “last minute”

Think of the “last minute” as being the minute before an event starts.  Imagine that at that “last minute” you are told that the order of the speakers has changed. That would be what we call “a last minute change.” Usually the phrase is used more figuratively. The time period for the change is usually before the literal last minute, but it is late to be making changes.

We use this quite often in a number of contexts. Here are two examples:

John’s brother was going to act as his “best man” at the wedding, but he tested positive for COVID the day before the wedding, so John’s best friend stepped in at the last minute.

When I found out there was an emergency with my mother, I went to the airport hoping there would be a last-minute cancellation and I’d be able to get a flight home.

 

VI. “Up to the minute.”

“Up to the minute” is an expression you are likely to hear in a news report or an update. An “up to the minute” report goes “up to” the present moment.  

“In a moment, we’ll be bringing you an up to the minute report on the hurricane’s progress.”

“Here is our latest up to the minute reporting on today’s election.”

 

VII. “It’s been a minute.”

“It’s been a minute” is an expression that has gained popularity in recent years. It’s usually used as an understatement. When we say, “It’s been a minute,” we don’t mean it’s been 60-seconds or even that it’s been a short time. We actually mean it’s been  an unspecified long time. It’s similar to the phrase: “It’s been a while.” We might continue the thought with “since.” Here are some examples:

Tommy:  Mark, is that you?

Mark: Tommy! I’d recognize you anywhere. You haven’t changed!

Tommy: Well, it’s been a minute, but I knew who you were too.

From context, we can see in the above example that it has probably been several years since Mark and Tommy have seen each other.

“How long has it been since you left?”

“I don’t remember exactly, but it’s been a minute. 

I’ve been on this diet for months, but I think I’m going to order dessert. It’s been a minute, and I deserve something sweet!

 

VIII. “When you get a minute…” 

“When you get a minute” is similar to the phrase “When you get a chance.” Both phrases are used when we want someone to do something, but it doesn’t have to be done immediately.  Here are some examples:

“When you get a minute, I’d like you to look at those resumes for Pete’s old position and tell me what you think.”

“When you get a minute, could you drop my office? We need to talk about something in person.”

Just remember: If someone uses the phrase “When you get a minute…” it does NOT mean that the request is unimportant and can be ignored.  It means that you don’t need to stop what you are doing at the moment. You can wait until you have a minute. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you have questions about English lessons, please go here. I’d love to hear from you. 

 

Word of The Day: Spiel

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

Sometimes, teaching advanced students can be more challenging than teaching beginners, so it’s always fun for me when I come across a commonly used word that I think might stump my advanced English language learners.

Today’s word is spiel. Spiel can be pronounced with either an “sp” as in “spot” or an “shp” which is a little unusual in English. (You can hear it here.)  The word’s origin is German and Yiddish. It’s a borrowed word, and the way we use it is a little different than how it is used in those languages.

I ran across it in a recent article in The New Yorker. The distributor of plant-based sandwiches is explaining his approach to selling these products to bodega owners in New York City:

 “In the beginning, we were doing a lot of explaining,” he said. “We used to give people a whole spiel about why you should eat these products. And we realized that just wasn’t the right approach…”

Can you guess the meaning from the context?

A “spiel” is a long elaborate story. It is often used to persuade someone. The meaning in German is game or play, but that’s not how we use it in English.

Here are two more examples:

The salesman gave me some spiel about how I really didn’t want the car I came in there to buy, and how this other more expensive car would make so much more sense for me.

His mother sent the priest to talk to him about changing his ways. The priest gave him a long spiel about how he was heading for hell, but of course it made no difference.

Notice in both these examples the “spiel” is used for persuasion. Hence, a spiel can also be used to describe a long “pitch.” It is not a “bad” word, but “pitch” sounds more neutral and professional. “Spiel” sounds like someone is trying to sell you something. In the above excerpt from the article, the use of “pitch” wouldn’t convey how much effort went into the story that the distributor was making and how detailed the pitch was.  We understand from the phrase “a whole spiel” that this was an elaborate, long pitch and he probably lost the bodega owner’s  attention at some point, which is why he needed to change his approach.

Here are some quick definitions and explanations for some other words used in this post:

To stump (someone): To ask someone a question that they don’t know the answer to. This is an informal but common usage. We also use this often as an adjective, to be stumped by something means to have no answer or explanation. Here are some examples:

The contestant knew all the answers during the main part of the game, but the final question stumped him. He left his answer card blank and lost everything.

The teacher asked me the question, but I had no idea how to answer. I was stumped. I was silent until he moved on to another student. It was so embarrassing. 

To run across something or someone:  to find something or someone incidentally. We also use “come across” in the same idiomatic way. Here are some examples:

I had given up on ever finding the right birthday gift for my brother, but then I was cleaning the house, and ran across some old childhood photos, and I decided to make a collage for him. 

I know you have an interest in gardening. I ran across this interesting article I think you should read. 

Bodega: Bodega is borrowed from Spanish. Like many borrowed words, the meaning is a little different in English. It was probably brought to New York by people who came from Puerto Rico. It was used in Puerto Rican neighborhoods to describe small grocery stores that sold a variety of goods. Eventually, all New Yorkers started to use the term to describe small grocery stores. It is now used in other parts of the United States as well. We also use it as an adjective to describe the things you find or buy in a bodega. For example: a bodega sandwich. There are Instagram feeds devoted to the cats that live in bodegas and are known as “bodega cats. Here’s a picture of one:

(If you found this post interesting, check back for more content! If you are interested in taking English lessons with me, please drop me a line.

 

Welcome to the Perfect English NYC Blog

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture, Tutoring

This is the blog of the Perfect English NYC website. If you are looking for private 1:1 ESL/English lessons/tutoring, please go to the HOME page to get started. If you are looking for FREE resources to help you learn English, please check out the links to your right. Posts below may contain short lessons, ideas for self-study, and/or stories about American culture, holidays, traditions, etc — and especially about life in New York City for newcomers!