If you haven’t read Part I of this post, you should. No, I mean you really should. Cause if you don’t, this part won’t make much sense. But if you do, you’ll find this post enthralling and informative. The choice is yours (but I urge you to go and read Part I now).

Okay, I’ve done my part. If you’ve chosen to ignore my advice, that’s on you.

So, in Part II, I will examine more examples like the one at the end of Part I. During my initial scan of the script, I came up with +30 examples of common words used in ways that could cause comprehension problems for EEL/EFL students. Relax! I’m not going to present all 30. 

I’ve chosen expressions containing the most common words, as well as some of the more interesting words. I’ve included a few examples of words that don’t appear on the Top 2000 Vocabulary Words list. These are not tricky words. But you’ll see that the way they’re used, figuring out what they mean can indeed be a challenge.

A quick reminder for those who didn’t read Part 1—and those with lousy memories:

A life of its own—my pen had a life of its own, writing vocabulary word after vocabulary word

A picture of several hands restraining another hand, representing "My hand had a mind of its own."

life (151)  a life of its own

MW: Something that takes on a life of its own becomes very large, important, or hard to control.
OX: (of an object) seeming to move or function by itself without a person touching or working it
CAM: A machine or other object can be said to have a mind of its own if it seems to be controlling the way it behaves or moves, independently of the person using it:
TFD: (of an object) seeming to move or function by itself without a person touching or working it

Ex: It’s like my hand had a life of its own.

Again, all but MW got this one correct. Though the MW definition is one accurate definition of the phrase, it doesn’t apply in this context. Further complicating matters, we can also change the expression to “a mind of its own” to convey the same meaning. But MW doesn’t have a definition for that either.

So when the character here says, “It’s like my hand had a life of its own,” she means that it felt like she wasn’t controlling her own hand. It felt like her hand was being controlled by its own mind, not her mind.

Here goes nothing—I’m going to do my best to explain this

A picture of very early flight, representing the phrase "Here goes nothing!"

here (230) here goes nothing

MW: used when you are about to try doing something new, difficult, or unpleasant
OX: here goes: used when you are telling people that you are just going to do something exciting, dangerous, etc.
CAM: said just before you do something brave or something that you have never done before:
TFD: said before you begin to do something that you do not think will be successful:

Ex. 1: Here goes nothing. 
Ex. 2: There goes the fire chief, the police chief and the one paramedic with a valid license.

Another interesting example. It can be shortened to “here goes,” which is the definition from OX and CAM. The definitions from MW and TFD are closer to the intended meaning. Here it means, “I’m going to try this, but I don’t think it’ll work.” “Here goes” doesn’t quite carry the extra meaning of “I don’t think it’ll work.” 

I also noticed that in the same episode, we have “There goes,” which has a very different meaning. “There someone goes” means, “See that person over there, going in a certain direction?” So in Ex. 2, the meaning is, “If you look over there, you’ll see the fire chief, the police chief, and a paramedic moving in the same direction.” I found it interesting that changing “here” to “there” changed the meaning drastically.

The deal—what’s the deal with English, anyways?

A picture of a man whose body language represents the phase "What's the deal with...?"

deal (508) the deal

MW: basic information about a person, thing, or situation
OX: what is happening in the present situation?
CAM: No entry
TFD: What’s the big deal? (but not “What’s the deal?”)

Ex. 1: What’s the deal? 
Ex. 2: Yeah, and I wanna hear the rest of the teacher on the couch incident. /  Deal.

Here’s another “simple” word, again used in two different ways. OX has the closest definition. MW has a slightly different usage, as in, “What’s his deal?” = tell me more about him. TFD has a definition for “What’s the big deal?” which is a different expression altogether.

“Big deal” on its own is usually a sarcastic reply meaning, “So what?” “What’s the big deal?” means “Why do you think this is so important?”—“Yeah, I kissed her. What’s the big deal?” It’s interesting how adding the word “big” changes the meaning completely.

Ex. 2 uses “deal” in one of its more common usages—but in a much-shortened form. When two people agree on something, like a business venture, they reach a deal. In this case, you’d say something like, “It’s a deal” or “You have a deal.” But here, the entire phrase is shortened to “deal,” as in, I agree to your proposal.

Run—study English long enough, and you’re likely to run into this problem

A picture of a man running with a case, representing the phrase "To run a business."

run (611) businesses to run

MW: to direct the business or activities of (something)
OX: run something to be in charge of a business, campaign, etc.
CAM: to organize or control something:
TFD: to manage or conduct:

Ex. 1: Some of us have businesses to run… 
Ex. 2: View this as a trial run for really grownup humiliation. 
Ex. 3: The kitchen has nothing in it but running water if you get thirsty…

In my previous post about not learning more words to increase your understanding, I used the word run as an example. In this episode, we have three examples, and none of them means to move faster than walking.

To “run a business”  means to organize or control a business—be in charge. Ex. 2 is part of the phrase “trial run.” A trial run means practice or a rehearsal. So in Ex. 2, the meaning is, “Consider this teenage humiliation as practice for when you become really humiliated as an adult.”

Finally, Ex.3 refers to running water. Running water means water that comes from a tap or faucet. So, we have three different uses of run, in three different forms, with three different meanings. But if you don’t know these different meanings and uses of run, you’re going to run into comprehension troubles. 😉

Stick—sticking your head in the sand won’t solve your problems with English

A picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand, representing the phrase "To stick/bury your head in the sand."

stick (1071) stick one’s head

MW: If you bury/have/hide (etc.) your head in the sand, you ignore something unpleasant that you should be dealing with.
OX: bury/hide your head in the sand
CAM: to refuse to think about unpleasant facts, although they will have an influence on your situation:
TFD: To avoid, or try to avoid, a particular situation by pretending that it does not exist. The phrase refers to the common but mistaken belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when frightened, so as to avoid being seen.

Ex: Allows people to stick their head in the sand.

We have a couple of challenges here. First of all, the word “stick” is used in an informal sense to mean “put” or “place.” But not one of the four sources contains the phrase “stick your head in the sand.” All the entries use “bury” or “hide” your head in the sand.

The phrase usually appears as, “Bury your head in the sand.” But a native English speaker would have no trouble understanding, “Stick your head in the sand.” But an ESL/EFL student might struggle to find the expression since no entries use “stick your head.” Furthermore, they may be unfamiliar with the usage of “stick,” meaning “put” or “place.”

Another note of interest comes from the TFD definition. This expression comes from the mistaken belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to ignore or hide from something. They don’t. But we still use the expression to describe people who pretend a problem or situation doesn’t exist—when it clearly does.

Lost on—I hope the importance of what I’m explaining here isn’t lost on you

A picture of a woman who appears to be lost in a snowstorm, representing the phrase "Getting lost in a blizzard..."

lost (1212) lost on

MW: not appreciated or understood by (someone)
OX: to be not understood or noticed by somebody
CAM: If a joke or remark is lost on someone, they do not understand it.
TFD: Unappreciated or not understood, as of an idea.

Ex. 1: The thrilling sensation of getting lost in a blizzard, of freezing to death in the woods, and having to eat your friend’s buttocks to stay alive,…
Ex. 2: …that is lost on many people.

Ex.1 and Ex.2 are part of the same sentence, where the word “lost” appears twice. And guess what? Yup—two different meanings.

Most ESL/EFL learners would be familiar with the most common definition of lost; “To not know where you are, or how to get where you want to go.” That’s the meaning behind “..lost in a blizzard” (a huge snowstorm).

But when something is “lost on” someone, it means they don’t understand or appreciate it. Coincidentally, I remember in the next episode, one character says, “I’m lost,” but it doesn’t have the same meaning as above—well, not exactly. In this case, when the character says, “I’m lost,” he means that he isn’t following the other person’s logic. He’s saying he didn’t understand the story or the situation, so he was lost mentally, not physically.

Crash somewhere—writing is hard work…think I’m gonna crash for 20 minutes

A picture of a bed, representing the phrase "I'm going to crash here."

crash (1846) crash somewhere

MW: to stay or live for a short time with someone
OX: crash (out) (informal) to go to sleep, especially suddenly or in a place where you do not usually sleep
CAM: to sleep, or to stay at a place to sleep temporarily:
TFD: to spend the night

Ex: And she needs to crash someplace sympathetic.

Most ESL/EFL students are likely familiar with the common usage—to hit something or make a loud noise. It is in the top 2,000 most frequently used words, after all. But its usage here, which all four sources have an appropriate definition for, may be unfamiliar.

In this usage, “crash” means to sleep somewhere other than your own home, usually temporarily. Another related meaning of crash is to fall asleep from exhaustion. Neither of these uses refers to accidents or loud noises, so you can see why they may cause confusion.

Mad about—if I were an EFL student, I’d be mad about how difficult English is, but I’d also be mad about DC CopyPro

A picture of a woman lying on some grass, with a man lying next to her, looking at her lovingly, representing the phrase "I'm mad about you."

mad (2175)—mad about

MW: liking someone or something very much : very fond of or enthusiastic about someone or something
OX: very angry /  liking something/somebody very much; very interested in something
CAM: to love someone or something:
TFD: Very enthusiastically fond of someone or something. /  Upset or angry about something.

Ex: She was mad about him.

Even though we’ve left the top 2,000 words, all four sources have acceptable definitions for this phrase in this context. The problem is, this phrase can be used in its more common usage—to be angry about something. This is the first part of the definition from OX and the last part of the definition from TFD.

What are you so mad about? = Why are you so angry? But in this context, “She was mad about him” means she was very interested or fond of him. This usage is so common, there was an early–90s sitcom called Mad About You.

Whip up—it can be challenging, but I manage to whip up a blog post every week

An image of a man holding a whip over his shoulders, representing the phrase "I'll whip up something."

whip (not in top 2,000) whip up

MW: to produce or prepare (a meal) very quickly
OX: to quickly make a meal or something to eat
CAM: to make food or a meal very quickly and easily:
TFD: to prepare, create, or put something together

Ex: I’m sure there’s something in there we could whip up.

We’ve finally left the top 2,265 most frequently used words. I wouldn’t expect an EFL/ESL student to know the word whip. But I would expect them to have trouble understanding the phrase whip up—if they only looked up the word whip.

A whip is a long, flexible tool, usually made from cowhide or buckskin. As a verb, it means to use one of these tools to hit an animal or person, usually as a form of corporal punishment. The word whip doesn’t have a very positive connotation (feeling), does it?

Unless you’re going to whip up something! Then it has the very light, carefree meaning of creating something, usually food, with very little preparation. That’s how it’s used here. Yet you can also “whip up a crowd,” which means to arouse or excite. You can also “whip someone into shape,” which means to help them become fit in a short period of time. What’s confusing about that?

Disposal—DC CopyPro is at your disposal for all your English copywriting needs

A picture of a hand dropping some garbage into a trash can, representing the phrase "At your disposal."

disposal (not in top 2,000) at your disposal

MW: available for someone to use
OX: available for use as you prefer/somebody prefers
CAM: available to be used by someone:
TFD: Ready and available to help or serve one.

Ex: 24 hours a day at your disposal.

Finally, the last example—another one from outside the top 2,000. This one confused my former student. She looked it up in the dictionary, and based on that, she determined that it meant to throw away or get rid of. She was right (sort of). But she was also confused.

She was unaware that the whole expression, “at your disposal,” has a special meaning. All four sources provided correct definitions for the usage in this context. If you are at someone’s disposal, you are available to them at all times. But my student didn’t think to search for the whole phrase. She got stuck trying to figure out what “Throwing you away 24 hours a day” could’ve meant. I’m sure you can understand her confusion.

I hope you’ve figured out the deal with comprehension—don’t just stick your head in the sand

So there you have it. Other than the last two words and a few others in the examples, they were in the 2,000 most frequently used words list. But I’m willing to bet, if you’re an EFL/ESL student, you learned a new expression or two from these two posts.

In some examples, I also showed how the same phrase (not just words) can have different meanings. If you want to improve your English comprehension, stop expanding your vocabulary. Focus on learning different expressions using the words you already know. Discover different meanings of words you may already be familiar with.

And if you have any questions about tricky phrases or expressions you encounter, feel free to reach out to me. And if English is your native language, I hope you appreciate how lucky you are!

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