Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim Fathers & the Spanish

Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim Fathers & the Spanish

Did you know that there would be no Thanksgiving if it weren’t for[1] Spaniards[2]?

Most people think that the Pilgrim Fathers[3] went to Massachusetts directly from England. In fact, they settled in[4] the Netherlands[5] for a decade first. Specifically, they lived in Leiden. However, by 1618 there was a threat[6] of a Spanish invasion of the Netherlands to restore Catholicism[7], so the Pilgrim Fathers decided to look for[8] religious freedom in the New World.

However, the Spanish were not only indirectly responsible for the first permanent English colony in North America but they were also responsible for the most quintessentially American holiday.

The First Thanksgiving was a harvest festival[9] to celebrate with the local Wampanoag Indians the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest[10] in 1621 (after half of the Pilgrims had died in the previous months). But where did the settlers[11] get the idea for a celebratory banquet? Well, every year on 3rd October the people of Leiden celebrated – and still celebrate – a special feast to thank God for the defeat of[12] the Spanish in the siege[13] of 1574. The Pilgrim Fathers adopted the idea of a thanksgiving feast to celebrate deliverance[14] from adversity and turned it to their own purposes[15]; thus[16] was born Thanksgiving.

[1] if it weren’t for – without the intervention of

[2] SpaniardsSpanish people

[3] Pilgrim Fathers – a group of 102 Puritan pioneers from England who went to Massachusetts and founded the first permanent English-speaking colony in North America in 1620

[4] to settle ingo to live in

[5] the NetherlandsHolland

[6] threatdanger

[7] because of Dutch interference in Bohemia

[8] to look fortry to find

[9] harvest festival – celebration of the annual harvest

[10] harvest – collection of crops (= agricultural produce)

[11] settlercolonist

[12] defeat oftriumph against, victory over

[13] siege – encirclement, situation in which a town is surrounded and attacked

[14] deliverancesalvation

[15] to turn sth. to one’s own purposesuse sth. in a different way

[16] thus – in this way

Are We Nearly There Yet?[1]

Are We Nearly There Yet?[1]


photo by Max Alexander

In the not too distant future I will be able to say that I have been teaching English in Spain for 30 years. There is nothing particularly[2] special about that; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Anglos in exactly the same situation. However, it does give me an excuse to take stock[3]: how much impact have people like me had on the level of English in this country? From one point of view, a lot. When I came here in the late 1980s most people spoke no English and the majority of those who did[4] spoke very broken English[5]; most were even ashamed[6] to try to speak English outside the classroom. It was a decade before I met my first Spaniard who could speak my language at a level similar to an Anglo.

Now the linguistic landscape[7] is very different. Most people – at least in larger[8] towns and cities – have a smattering of[9] English and many young people use English to a level we could only have dreamed of a generation ago. I regularly hear young Spanish people chatting to[10] foreign acquaintances[11] in English on the streets! Moreover, English is more ‘popular’ than ever. There are half a dozen English academies within a few hundred metres of my home in Madrid. And it’s not just[12] the capital; I recently visited Mairena del Aljarafe, a middle-class suburb of Seville, and there were – or at least there seemed to be – more English schools than bars! CLIL[13] programmes mean that English is present in schoolchildren’s lives as never before in Spain.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which the progress has been painfully slow – what one might call ‘official English’. I took the AVE high-speed train to Mairena (and may I just say that no trains in the UK are as clean, as efficient, as fast as the AVE). However, I was annoyed[14] the entire round-trip[15]. Why? Well, the LED[16] sign stated[17] every 20 seconds “Train with destination Seville” on the way there, and “Train with destination Madrid” on the way back. This is what I call the Spanish habit of half-translating – finding the English equivalent for each word and repeating them in the same order as in Spanish. No doubt the LED16 sign has been saying that for 20 years; who cares if it sounds completely unnatural?[18] I do. You make a tremendous effort to get everything about the on-board service[19] right, and then you spoil[20] it with lower-intermediate English!

I tried to look away from the LED16 sign but that only brought the label[21] on the window to my notice[22]. For example:

“Action for opening the emergency window” (it should be “How to open the window as an emergency exit”),

“Breaking with the hammer[23] the first and second glasses[24] of the window” (it should be “smash[25] both panes of glass[26] using the hammer provided”),

Remove[27] the broken glasses with the crossbar” (it should be “Use the crossbar to dislodge[28] any remaining shards[29]”), though I’m still not sure what they are referring to as a ‘crossbar’.

You may already know that one of my bugbears[30] is the deplorable English on the websites of many Spanish universities. Their stated aim[31] is to attract more foreign students but this simply isn’t going to happen[32] if they say so in woefully[33] deficient English.

The same is true for many official texts in English. Ironically, they are not strictly necessary; Spanish is a tall-building language[34] spoken by 400 million people. However, if you are going to translate, do it properly[35]. The problem is that when Anglos see something written in English, the quality of the English affects their perception of the quality of the goods[36] or services on offer. If you can’t see it yet, imagine translating “Are we nearly there yet?” verbatim[37]. It would sound awful compared to the correct idiomatic translation (¿Falta mucho?).

In answer to the question “Are we nearly there yet?” I will quote a British Rail advertisement from the 1980s which used to say, “We’re getting there” (= Hemos hecho progresos pero aun falta).

[1] are we nearly there yet? – (typical question asked by a bored child on a long trip) will we arrive soon?

[2] particularly – especially, very

[3] to tale stock (take-took-taken) – evaluate the progress that has been made

[4] who did – (in this case) who did speak English

[5] broken Englishpidgin English, pre-intermediate English

[6] ashamed – embarrassed, reluctant, uncomfortable

[7] linguistic landscape – panorama as regards language

[8] largerbigger, more significant

[9] a smattering of – a little

[10] to chat totalk in a relaxed way to

[11] acquaintance – sb. one knows

[12] just – (in this case) only

[13] CLILcontent and language integrated learning

[14] annoyedirritated

[15] the entire tripall the way there and all the way back

[16] LEDlight-emitting display

[17] to state – declare

[18] it should be “train to Seville”, “train to Madrid”

[19] the on-board service – (in this case) the service on the train

[20] to spoil sth.ruin sth.

[21] labelsticker, sign

[22] to my notice – to my attention

[23] hammer – utensil for hitting things

[24] glassesspectacles, eyeglasses

[25] to smashbreak forcefully

[26] pane of glass – the sheet of glass that forms a window

[27] to remove – (false friend) take out, eliminate

[28] to dislodge – displace, remove28

[29] any remaining shardsany pieces of broken glass that are left

[30] bugbear – pet peeve, cause of obsessive irritation

[31] stated aim – explicit objective

[32] to happen – occur

[33] woefullyvery, depressingly

[34] tallbuilding language – one of a few global languages that eclipse smaller languages

[35] properly – appropriately, correctly

[36] goodsproducts

[37] verbatimword for word

Closure: Looking Forward[1] & Thank You

Closure: Looking Forward[1] & Thank You


As you will have read, we are finally shutting up shop[2] after 18 years of Think in English and Your English supplement. If you are reading this you almost certainly know I have written thousands of articles over that period and planned and participated in something like[3] 180 hours of recordings. To accompany that, I’ve also written around[4] 300 pages of exercises. That’s enough material to keep you practising[5] your English for years to come[6]! If I re-read an article I wrote several years ago, it’s as if it’s completely new to me, so I’m sure – unless you are blessed with[7] a perfect memory – you will have a similar experience.

I plan to keep on teaching English at the UNED and hopefully I will still have something to say regularly on this blog. However, given my work habit, I certainly have too much time on my hands[8] and need more work. I think I have quite an impressive CV but the truth is that at 50 it’s proving quite difficult to redirect my career[9]. So, if you feel you have benefitted from the last 18 years of our interaction, please bear me in mind[10] if you can think of an institution or company that might profitably make use of my skill set[11]. You can see my qualifications and references on LinkedIn (Nicholas John Franklin). If you are a member of LinkedIn, I’d appreciate your endorsements and would be truly[12] grateful for your recommendations (in whatever language you prefer to write in).

Finally, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all our readers and subscribers. The truth is that nobody has benefitted more from Think and Yes than I have – not only in the vast amount[13] of subjects[14] I’ve had to research[15] but in my own knowledge of English. If you have learned a fraction of what I’ve learned, then the process has been worthwhile[16].

All the best and stay in touch[17]!


[1] looking forwardlooking to the future

[2] to shut up shop (shut-shut-shut) – close a business

[3] something like – approximately

[4] around – about, approximately

[5] to keep you practising (keep-kept-kept) – permit you to continue practising

[6] to come – (in this case) into the future

[7] to be blessed with – have the benefit of, be fortunate enough to have

[8] on one’s hands – available

[9] career – (false friend) professional trajectory

[10] to bear sb. in mind (bear-bore-borne) – remember

[11] skill set – combination of abilities

[12] trulyreally, genuinely

[13] amount – (in this case) number

[14] subject – (in this case) topic, theme

[15] to research – investigate, find out about

[16] worthwhileuseful, of value

[17] to stay in touchkeep in touch, remain in contact

The Pershing Bullet Myth

The Pershing Bullet Myth

Last week I wrote on US history according to Trump before hearing about the President’s “Pershing bullet[1] myth”, which obviously should have been included in that post. For those who aren’t aware[2], in the wake of[3] the Barcelona massacre Donald Trump tweeted about how General Pershing had executed Muslim rebels in the Philippines using bullets dipped[4] in pig fat[5] and that this ended Islamic insurgency there for decades. There is absolutely no historical evidence that the US general ever dipped bullets in pig fat and in any case the Muslim insurgency was not ended by Pershing’s activities. Pershing notes in his memoir – but does not condone[6] – the US practice of burying[7] the dead bodies of Muslim insurgents who had killed Americans with dead pigs because this meant that they would be excluded from paradise.

It seems that the bullet myth probably has its origins in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (previously known as The Indian Mutiny). However, the conclusions drawn[8] by Trump are the exact opposite from those suggested by this historical event. The spark[9] that led to[10] the uprising[11] against the British was that Indian troops[12] employed by the British East India Company were expected to bite open[13] cartridges[14] that were lubricated either with pigs’ fat or with cows’ fat. The first was of course offensive to Muslims, the second to Hindus. Incredibly, the officials of the East India Company mixed up the two types of cartridges, so the obvious solution of giving pigs’ fat-coated[15] cartridges to the Hindus and cows’ fat cartridges to the Muslims wasn’t an option. Rather than[16] bringing peace, the “pigs’ fat bullets” caused the death of 800,000 people, Mr Trump.

However, there is one idea that comes out of all this. Why not have a law that says that the corpse[17] of anybody killed perpetrating a terrorist act, as determined by a judge, should automatically be cremated? Cremation is forbidden[18] in Islam and is generally believed to deny[19] access to paradise. It would be non-discriminatory, would not affect the lives of peace-loving Muslims and might be a deterrent[20] against suicide bombers.

[1] bullet – projectile used in a rifle or a pistol

[2] to be aware – be conscious (of a fact)

[3] in the wake ofafter, following

[4] to dip – immerse, cover

[5] pig fatporcine grease

[6] to condone – approve of

[7] to bury – inter, put underground

[8] to draw a conclusion (draw-drew-drawn) – reach a conclusion, come to a conclusion

[9] spark – immediate cause

[10] to lead to (lead-led-led) – cause, provoke

[11] uprising – rebellion

[12] troopssoldiers

[13] to bite open (bite-bit-bitten) – open with one’s mouth/teeth

[14] cartridge – (in this case) a packet containing a bullet and an explosive charge for a musket

[15] coatedcovered

[16] rather than – instead of, in contrast to

[17] corpse – cadaver, dead body

[18] forbidden – prohibited

[19] to deny – prevent, impede

[20] deterrent – dissuasive factor

What Message Are You Sending?

What Message Are You Sending?

In the last week we have seen two young men use a vehicle to kill and maim[1] as many people as possible. Both had failed in the both basic aspects of their lives – they had each committed domestic violence. James Fields has physically attacked his mother on several occasions. Driss Oukabir has been in trouble with the law for violence against his wife. Andreas Lubitz was another misfit[2]. He was the German Wings pilot who used his vehicle to kill as many innocent people as possible. Lubitz had no cause – he was simply crazy. Three young men who would all be defined as ‘losers’ in popular parlance[3].

So, my point is this:

Dear neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Alt-Righters, presumably you think that Islamic terrorists are the scum of the earth[4]. However, if you act just like them, then we will equate you with them. People who act like they are crazy can be dismissed[5] as mad. Please stop killing us. If you have concerns[6] that positive discrimination and political correctness have gone too far, we can talk about that. But you don’t convince anybody by acting like nutters[7].

Dear Islamists, presumably you think that Nazis are the scum of the earth. However, if you act just like them, then we will equate you with them. People who act like they are crazy can be dismissed as mad. Please stop killing us. If you have concerns about Western imperialism and Zionism, we can talk about that. But you don’t convince anyone by acting as if you have a mental illness.

If you follow an exemplary life in which you love, care for[8] and help those around you, you may convince us of the legitimacy of your cause. If you can’t even have healthy relations with your loved-ones, you probably have little to teach us. Violent hatred[9] will never convince the rest of us that you are right. Please grow up[10].

[1] to maimmutilate

[2] misfit – sb. who does not form part of a community

[3] parlance – speech, language

[4] the scum of the earth – the worst people possible

[5] to dismiss – ignore

[6] concernsworries, preoccupations

[7] nuttercrazy person, demented person

[8] to care for sb.look after sb., take care of sb.

[9] hatred – hate, abhorrence, hostility

[10] to grow up (grow-grew-grown) –act like a mature, emotionally balanced person

The Trump Guide to American History

The Trump Guide to American History

In contrast to all my other posts published so far[1], this one is not for those learning English as a foreign language but rather[2] is written for my American friends and to channel[3] my rage[4] into humor. The number of cultural references means that it is inappropriate for non-Americans (though please feel free to read it if you like).

American history started in 1620 with the Pilgrim Mothers and Fathers. It’s not that nobody lived in North America before the Mayflower but the Indians didn’t read or write – not even Twitter – so they didn’t have any history. Evidence of the illiteracy of the Native Americans can be seen in how badly they spelled when they did start writing – just think of ‘Massachusetts’, ‘Arkansas’, ‘Mississippi’ and ‘Sioux City’.

Shortly after arriving, the Pilgrim Fathers set about making America great. They did this by celebrating Thanksgiving. Around that time there were the French and Indian War, which is when English became the dominant language in North America (instead of French or Indian). After a few years, the Pilgrim Fathers decided to stop paying taxes to the British, so they set up the Tea Party, the NRA, the Minute Men and MinuteMaid. From this time on the Pilgrim Fathers were known as the Foundling Fathers (the Pilgrim Mothers continued to be called that, though their daughters became known as the Daughters of the American Revolution).

Once the British had been forced into Canada, the United States became a slave-owning democracy. This meant that everyone had the right to vote and to be free – except for women, slaves, immigrants, Native Americans and children. This was the first time America was great. In fact, the USA was so great that it had a civil war. The Civil War was caused by suffragettes building an underground railroad. Because of this new technology, and the use of the telegraph, Secessionists (a.k.a. history buffs) began putting up statues across the South. The Secessionists were led by the last Foundling Father, Robert E. Li, whose father was from China. The leader of the history buffs was Stonewall Jackson. Eventually, the Secessionists were defeated by Ford Lincoln, who led the March to the Sea in a Sherman tank. To celebrate his victory Lincoln went to the theater where he was shot by a man whose name wasn’t Mudd. Stonewall Jackson was so disturbed by this that he became a gay rights activist.

Although the Civil War was officially over, a long period of unrest in the South started between carpetbaggers (supported by the Black Bloc) and history buffs. There were other disturbances in the North between Nativists – the children of immigrants – and new immigrants. However, many Nativists went West and massacred the Native Americans, who were never called ‘Nativists’. Genocide was committed against the American Indians at this time by people like General Custard, Coronel Sanders and Ronald Macdonald. Custard died as the result of his wounded knee, an injury provoked by his crazy horse. During this time America was great again. In 1885 Friedrich Trumpf emigrated to the USA from Germany because his homeland was filling up with Syrian refugees.

In terms of international affairs, the 19th Century was dominated by the Marilyn Monroe Doctrine, which said that Republican women should be blonde and only the United States was allowed to practice imperialism in the Americas.

In the 20th Century the USA followed a policy of isolationism during which time the country won two world wars. Between the wars the US suffered from depression. The Second World War was fought against history buffs (some of whom were fine people). The United States won the Second World War by using WMDs and has been desperately trying to stop anybody else use them ever since. After World War Two the States promoted peace through the Martial Plan.

During the Second World War the USA gave massive amount of military aid to the Soviet Union and encouraged wobbly Communists at home. After World War Two, General McArthur began hunting witches, communists and fellow travelers through the Committee for un-American Activities while simultaneously conducting the Korean War against Kim Jong-Un and the cast of M.A.S.H. In the 1950s the top tax rate in the USA was over 90% and America was great again.

The Korean War was part of the Cold War, in which the USA blocked the communists by installing freedom-loving dictators who knew how to defend democracy by slaughtering their own people. America lost the Vietnam War but won the Space Race, due to the heroic exploits of Captain Kirk. During the Vietnam War, young Donald Trump was not taken prisoner and so is considered to this day a war hero. Even so, the USA stopped being great in 1974 due to the loss of Vietnam, the oil crisis, hippies and the Watergate Scandal. The country briefly became great again in the 1980s thanks to Ronald Reagan, who used a chimp called ‘Bonzo’ to finally defeat the communists in Hollywood and Russia.

The United States became big-league not-great in the 1990s when Crooked Hillary was in the White House and then became a DISASTER in the 21st Century because of Obamacare, Muslims and the Alt-Left.

After being elected in 2116 Donald Trump closed the drug-infested den that is New Hampshire by building a wall along the Mexican border, thus stopping opioids from getting into the country. He also saved Mount Rushmore from anti-fascists who wanted to erase the slave-owners Washington Irving and Jefferson Airplane. Today America is great again.

[1] so far up until now

[2] but rather – instead it, by contrast it

[3] to channel – redirect

[4] ragefury

The Meaning of Life: Mediaeval vs. Modern Perspectives

The Meaning of Life: Mediaeval vs. Modern Perspectives

If today we examine the mediaeval worldview[1] – and we rarely do – we find it utterly[2] alien[3]. Church and society were coterminous[4] and the social structure was ordained by God. The place into which each individual was born within[5] the hierarchy was his or her rightful[6] place and the best thing to do was to submit[7] and conform to one’s preordained role in society. The aristocracy[8] were better people than the rest of the population; nobility meant being aristocratic and being a (noble (= good) person. Fortunately, the nobles practised gentilesse[9]; they knew their role was to protect those who were weaker than them. Meanwhile[10], members of the clergy prayed[11] for everyone and the majority – the peasants[12] – worked for everyone. It was a coherent system in which everybody contributed to society and everyone knew his or her place.

Within this rigid system private hopes and fears were insignificant, the individual was only important as part of society as a whole. In any case the individual didn’t control who he or she was. Character was determined by a complex interplay of class, horoscopy, physiognomy and humours[13]. One’s social role was God-given; nuances[14] were added to the individual as a result of when he or she was born. Moreover, physical deformities were a consequence of spiritual deformities. Finally, imbalances in the basic fluids that ran through[15] the body explained other personal idiosyncrasies. You – your essential being – were predetermined, not self-determined.

The Modern View

Now compare that to the modern Western worldview. The individual is centre-stage today. According to modern individualism, we are each responsible for our own success[16]. We teach children that anyone can do anything with sufficient effort and intelligence and luck. Nobody believes (I hope!) that aristocrats are better people than everybody else.

Yet[17] this worldview is as hollow[18] and nonsensical[19] as the mediaeval one. Society values fame, wealth[20] and status. But the idea that everyone has the opportunity to become a millionaire, a surgeon[21] or a political leader is myth in its purest form. We don’t believe that aristocrats inherit[22] noblesse[23] from their ancestors but we know that the rich, the famous and the socially advantaged inherit unassailable[24] privileges from their parents.

Today we tend to express our individualism by obsessing about a highly[25] specific aspect of life: a sports team, a sport, a hobby. We fuel[26] our individualism by focusing on this one pastime as a way of ignoring the meaninglessness[27] of our existence.

Today we don’t follow a rigid dogma as they did in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the nearest we have to a societal value system is an arbitrary series of trite[28] internet memes – hardly[29] an all-encompassing[30] philosophical framework[31].

At least we no longer believe in physiognomy, right? Except that being considered physically attractive is probably more important today than at any time in history. Being tall for men and being beautiful for women are more important that qualifications in determining success.

But what is success? Ironically given our ‘individualism’, on a day-to-day basis, most of us value ourselves in terms of society’s appraisal[32]. In our day-to-day lives being ‘liked’ on social media is our primary form of self-validation.[33] In the longer term for most people success is working in jobs of increasingly high status and accumulating capital. However, we measure success in terms of consumption[34]. We are considered successful because of the car we drive or where we holiday.

We are complacent in our patronizing[35] attitude to the mediaeval worldview. However, does a society driven by ‘likes’, one that values people because they have bought the very latest iPad, really have a right to feel superior? Moreover, given social trends[36], our model will become untenable[37] soon. Self-fulfilment cannot come through one’s career[38] in a society in which work is increasingly scarce[39]. For instance[40], we are told that we will all have to work till at least 70 – in a labour market in which job opportunities begin to decrease rapidly after 50. When the majority have slid back[41] into mere subsistence because of lack of[42] opportunities, will we submit[43] to a permanent state of depression because we have failed according to all modern society’s values? Will our sports team’s occasional victory be enough to give meaning to our lives?


[1] worldview – philosophy of life

[2] utterly – completely, totally

[3] alien (adj.) – unfamiliar, bizarre

[4] coterminousone and the same

[5] within – in

[6] rightful – appropriate, legitimate

[7] to submit – capitulate

[8] aristocracy – (literally) rule of the best

[9] gentilesse – magnanimity

[10] meanwhile – at the same time, simultaneously

[11] to pray – intercede with God

[12] peasantsrural workers in a feudal system

[13] humours – (in this case) bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile that supposedly made people sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic or choleric, respectively

[14] nuancessubtle differences

[15] to run through (run-ran-run) – flow through, flow around

[16] successtriumph, prosperity

[17] yet – however, nevertheless

[18] hollowempty

[19] nonsensical – ridiculous, meaningless

[20] wealthaffluence, financial prosperity

[21] surgeonmedical specialist who performs operations

[22] to inherit – acquire genetically

[23] noblesse – nobility, magnanimity

[24] unassailable – impregnable, absolute

[25] highlyvery

[26] to fuel – assert, stimulate, confirm

[27] meaninglessness – futility, purposelessness, triviality

[28] trite – banal, vapid, clichéd

[29] hardlynot really, not exactly

[30] all-encompassing – universal, comprehensive

[31] frameworkstructure, system

[32] appraisal – evaluation, judgement

[33] studies suggest that most people check their phones over 80 times a day and touch their phones over 2,600 times a day. If that’s not fetishism…

[34] consumptionwhat we consume/buy

[35] patronizing – disdainful, superior

[36] trendstendencies

[37] untenable – unsustainable

[38] career – (false friend) professional trajectory

[39] scarce – insufficient, (opposite of ‘abundant’)

[40] for instance – for example

[41] to slide back (slide-slid-slid) – descend, decline

[42] lack ofabsence of, deficient

[43] to submit – acquiesce, accept, tolerate