Monthly Archives: October 2009

History and Rituals of Halloween

Halloween is almost upon us!

I would like to take this opportunity to remind all the readers of this blog that even though the category is called ‘Speak English Better’, the blogs’ focus is also on learning and understanding culture.  Why?  Because as I have said a hundred million ka-billion times – English language cannot be used solely as a tool of grammar and spelling.  To truly ‘speak English better’ you must understand the history and culture of English-speaking lands, especially if you are living in one now, permanently or temporarily.

I love Halloween.  As kids we got to make our own costumes (with the help of Mom and Dad of course) and go out ‘trick or treating’ to get a bag full of candy!  What more could a North American kid want?  (All that sugar is soooo bad for you though….but we didn’t care!)

Now as adults we might dress up in costume and go to bars or house-parties to drink instead, or we might stay at home and give out candy to little trick-or-treaters who visit our homes.  It’s still fun!  And we MUST watch scary horror movies as well!

In the olden days, the costumes were ‘evil’ creatures, like devils, goblins, vampires, ghosts, and any of the other Silver Screen Matinee classic monsters.  In the olden-olden days, when Halloween was first being ‘developed’ as a practice, the idea was to dress yourself up as an evil spirit in order to fool the real evil spirits around, so that they would leave you alone.  In fact, did you know that one of the reasons why we have the custom of covering our mouths while we yawn is not just out of politeness, but to avoid ‘spirits’ entering our bodies?  Yes, we humans were very superstitious many years ago!

Anyway, if you would like to learn more about the history of Halloween, including the name, the colours, the costumes, the religious influences and the jack-O-lantern (carved pumpkin) please do a little more reading at or start asking folks around you about their experience with Halloween.

Enjoy this rather odd but fun celebration, and do not get sick on too much candy! (or ‘sweets’ as my British friends would say!)

Happy Halloween!

Idioms from Farm Animals

“Horsing around” – means to be fooling around, wrestling or playing physical games.  Little kids are often told to stop this by parents. E.g. “You boys stop horsing around outside and come eat your dinner!”
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” – means to be so hungry that you can eat a lot of food.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” – means that you can guide someone to the answer or to a good solution to their problem/situation, but you cannot force them to do the thing that you recommend.  E.g. John:  “Did Jimmy quit smoking yet?”   Barb:  “No.  I showed him pictures of cancer victims and everything, but you know what they say, you can lead  a horse to water…”
“Work like a horse” – means to work hard.

“Dog-tired” – means to be very tired, just like a panting dog.
“Dogging me”: – to ‘dog’ is to pursue.  Just like a hound dog chasing a deer, we can say that a person or issue is dogging us or hounding us.  E.g. “The boss keeps dogging/hounding me about that report that’s due at 5pm, so please help me out and give me your notes!”
“Sick as a dog” – means to be very ill.  We get a wet nose, just like a dog!
“Lazy as a dog” – means to be lazy.
“Work like a dog” – means to work hard, like a sheep dog.

“You’re (a) chicken” – means to be afraid or to be a coward.  E.g. “You won’t go into that old haunted house because you’re (a) chicken!”  Notice that you can use this word as a noun or adjective.
“Cocky” – from the British English name ‘cock’ or what the North Americans call a rooster.  The attitude displayed by the male chicken on a farm is ‘cocky’ because he walks around as if he owns the place!  Calling someone cocky usually means that they are over-confident or arrogant.

“Pig out” – means to eat like a pig, and consume a lot of food in a short amount of time.
“Pig-tails” – the cute hairstyle that girls wear when their hair is separated into two ‘pony-tails’ on each side of their head, thus looking like two bouncy curled-up pig-tails.
“Pig-headed” – means to be stubborn.  We can also say ‘bull-headed’ to mean the same thing.

These idioms are up-to-date and ready to use in everyday life, or in the office.  They are the same idioms I teach my clients and students.  Enjoy!

Positive Competitive Behaviour

“There are two types of competitive behavior. One is a sense of competition because you want to be at the top. You create obstacles and harm someone. That competition is negative. But there is a positive kind of competition, which benefits the individual, the competitors, and the economy. Let your competitors also grow, without any sense of harming them.”
— Oct. 11 2009 — Insight From the Dalai Lama

Origins of Canadian Thanksgiving (this weekend!)

Canadian Thanksgiving – How It Began

The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely connected to the traditions of Europe than of the United States. Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe in the month of October. The very first Thanksgiving celebration in North America took place in Canada when Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England, arrived in Newfoundland in 1578. He wanted to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World

. That means the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts!

Canadian Thanksgiving – Official Holiday

For a few hundred years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday in 1879. It was then, that November 6th was set aside as the official Thanksgiving holiday. But then on January 31, 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that on the second Monday in October, Thanksgiving would be “a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” Thanksgiving was moved to the second Monday in October because after the World Wars, Remembrance Day (November 11th) and Thanksgiving kept falling in the same week.

Canadian Thanksgiving – The 49th Parallel

Another reason for Canadian Thanksgiving arriving earlier than its American counterpart is that Canada is geographically further north than the United States, causing the Canadian harvest season to arrive earlier than the American harvest season. And since Thanksgiving for Canadians is more about giving thanks for the harvest season than the arrival of pilgrims, it makes sense to celebrate the holiday in October. So what are the differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving, other than the date? Not much! Both Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with parades, family gatherings, pumpkin pie and a whole lot of turkey!

What will you be doing to celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Do you have any family traditions that you’re looking forward to? Let us know all about your Thanksgiving plans!
(This post is from KidzWorld – original post: )

For more information on Canadian Thanksgiving: 

What am I doing?
I will eat Turkey with tons of side dishes, complete with lots of wine, with my close family tonight.
I am going to gain 5 pounds in 3 hours!

Clink, Then Drink! Do Not Put Down That Glass!


Here is a tradition that I have always known and obeyed, yet I cannot say for sure if it is a Canadian-only tradition. I suspect not.

When someone ‘toasts’ you (proposing a toast means to say something nice about you or your personal/business relationship before drinking) it is polite to listen attentively, make eye contact, smile of course, and then ‘clink’ or touch glasses (or bottles or cans) together once before drinking. You have probably seen this on countless movies and TV shows. However, the small point that is crucial to remember is this: do NOT clink then put your glass/bottle/can down! Ever! It is an insult. When you touch glasses it is important that you have at least a sip of your beverage before replacing your glass. This honours your friend/business partner/family member, and the words that were spoken, even if they were meant in jest (that means joking, having fun).

So the simple way to remember this rule, whether you or your partner have spoken the toast, is, as the title says, Clink, then Drink!

Here’s to you!
Here’s to us!
Here’s to long health and happiness!
Healthy, Wealthy and Wise!
Here Here!