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American English Phrases


United States

Will someone please tell the students in the Relaxation Lounge to return to class for Mini Lesson No. 18; here we go! Playing hardball / Go for broke / In cahoots / Trial balloon A. Playing hardball- Returning aggressive behavior to someone who is displaying aggressive behavior. Origin/background of the phrase: It’s difficult to determine when exactly the phrase started; I was able to confirm a documented use of the phrase in a 1983 Wall Street Journal article but I presume it goes back farther. Origin/background of the phrase:The phrase is from the game of baseball where a hard ball is thrown at a high rate of speed.  By contrast, the game of softball is when a softball is used and pitched at a slow rate of speed.  There is a greater chance of being hurt from playing baseball (hardball) than softball. When used as a phrase, the speaker is indicating that the activity being engaged is one where someone is being aggressive about something.  Here are some examples: 1. During the political campaign, the two candidates were campaigning in a civil manner, however, when one of the candidates began to inform the public about some negative information in his opponent’s background, the other opponent started playing hardball and did the same thing. 2. When you start playing hardball, you can expect others to do the same. 3. When the company started firing workers, the remaining workers started playing hardball and went on strike. B. Go for broke- To risk all you have to achieve your goal. Origin/background of the phrase: This phrase was coined by the 442nd Infantry Regiment of the United States Army during World War II.  Their motto was: “Go for broke” which they meant “put it all on the line” to win the battle, or in other words, use all of your resources, including yourself, to win the battle. Later, it came to be used as a gambling phrase to use all of the remaining money of the gambler to try to win back the money that was lost through gambling.  Here are some examples: 1. The store manager had a small amount of money remaining in his purchasing budget and decided to go for broke and order new stock to sell. 2. Sometimes you have to go for broke to achieve your goal. 3. During the home basketball team’s last game, they had to go for broke and use their best players for most of the game. C. In cahoots- When two or more parties (individuals) have a secret partnership or collaborate to engage in wrongful activity. Origin/background of the phrase: The first known use of this phrase was back in 1829 and was in the singular form “cahoot” which may have been from the French cahoot cabin or hut.  I couldn’t pen down any specific details but it came to mean what it means, that is, people coming together to be in agreement to do wrong.  Here are some examples: 1. The construction company owner was in cahoots with the city building inspector to get more business from the city. 2. The Department Manager and the Human Resources Manager was in cahoots to hire the Vice-President’s son for the new job position even though other job applicants had more experience and qualifications for the job. 3. The sales department was in cahoots with the loan department to approve loans for their friends. D. Trial balloon- Using a plan or idea to judge the thoughts of the public on a given subject by leaking the information to the media. Origin/background of the phrase: This phrase may be from a 1930’s translation of French ballon d’essai inwhich a tentative experiment is made to discover what the fate of an action would be. Literally, a trial balloon could be likened to a weather balloon which is sent up into the atmosphere to measure the wind currents.  The phrase also is used in a sense of testing a person’s reaction, for example: Husband says to his wife: “The employer across town is hiring and paying a good wage!”  Notice, the husband didn’t say he was quitting his job, he just informed his wife what was happening on the other side of town concerning another employer paying a good wage.  His hope would be to hear her say, “why don’t you apply for a job there!”  Here are some additional examples: 1. The city officials wanted to send up a trial balloon to determine if the public is strongly against increasing property taxes to build a new school. 2. The state government was contemplating changing the voting method from a punch card type to an electronic method.  As a result, a trial balloon was sent up through a newspaper article promoting the advantages of electronic voting. 3. A wife sent up a trial balloon to determine if her husband would be receptive to the idea of moving to a new location. Well, there you have it, now for the new section of the mini lesson. English lessons from within: Here are some tips to observe concerning understanding phrases, idioms, and slang. 1. When you hear a phrase, write it down and look it up in the dictionary.  If it’s not there, type the phrase in a search engine such as Google and look for the meaning and find an example of how it’s used. 2. You usually cannot translate word-for-word and put the meaning together, therefore, try to find a native speaker or English teacher and ask them.  If you do not have anyone, you can ask me in the forum or send an email through the contact feature. 3. If there’s any resemblance of a pattern to phrases, it would be this: native speakers will coin a phrase to describe something of a negative sentiment or something they’re dissatisfied about.  For example, consider the phrases in this lesson: Playing hardball, Go for broke, and in cahoots.  These phrases are used to express things that are negative sentiments, Trial balloon would be neutral, not necessarily negative but on the borderline. This pattern is not rigid; there are good things where a phrase or slang is used to commend it, it’s just that there seems to be more phrases to express negative sentiments than positive ones. If the day is nice, warm, and sunny  then the expression would be just that, however, if the day is cold and rainy, someone may say, “it’s cold as all get out and raining cats and dogs!” For those of you interested in the book I’m writing on “Understanding American English Phrases,” I plan to devote more time to completing it.  Well, that’s all I have for you this time, if you get tired of studying, take a break and head over to the “Relaxation Lounge: on my profile page (click on my name to get there) and listen to some smooth jazz music (I’m preparing to add more tunes.) The phrases for Mini Lesson No. 19 are: All she wrote / Playing for keeps / We’re good to go! Remember, if you want to advance in English, read, write, speak, and think in English!

05:35 PM Jun 23 2011 |

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United States

This is a test because the formatting is not being applied after editing. Mini Lesson No. 18

05:38 PM Jun 23 2011 |



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07:08 AM Jul 02 2011 |