Episode 16

Hello everyone, and welcome back to No Word Is An Island Advanced English, the podcast for advanced English learners and those who teach them.

First of all, I want to remind you to use the interactive transcript at BetterLanguageLearning.com/podcast while listening to the show. You’ll find an embedded audio player along with annotations on all key words and chunks as well as a Quizlet set to review this vocabulary. Whenever I mention an article or other resource there will be a link in the transcript. When I use challenging vocabulary I often paraphrase myself, that is, I express the word or chunk in a different way that is easier to understand. However, this isn’t always possible, and this is why the show has an interactive transcript. As you’re listening, follow along with the text. When you come across any words or chunks highlighted in pink click on them or tap them with your fingertip to see an explanation or definition. What’s more, from now on I’m going to read out a summary of the key vocabulary along with definitions at the end of the episode. On the podcast page you’ll also find a Quizlet set with these words and chunks in new contexts to help you learn them by heart.

To ease myself back into the podcast after a two-week absence, I’ve decided to do an odds and ends episode. Up until now I’ve built the episodes around a topic, and I thought it would be interesting to try out a different format. Odds and ends is a chunk, more specifically what we call a binomial, defined by Longman as “small things of various kinds without much value”. Most homes have an odds and ends drawer, that is, a drawer for keeping small, random objects that don’t belong anywhere in particular. I bet you have one in your home. Some examples of odds and ends might be old batteries that you’ve been meaning to dispose of or old phone charger cables that you probably don’t need anymore but would rather not get rid of, just in case.

The Cambridge online English dictionary provides the following definition and example of how to use odds and ends:

Various things of different types, usually small and not important, or of little value.

I took most of the big things to the new house, but there are a few odds and ends left to pick up.

Whenever I come across a word, a chunk or a grammar structure that I think might be of interest to my students I make a mental note of it, and if I can I jot it down on a flashcard. So today’s episode is a kind of odds and ends episode because there’s some language that I’ve been meaning to cover with you and I just didn’t know where else to fit it in. So if today’s episode feels a bit more random, well, that’s why. We’re going through my metaphorical odds and ends drawer for interesting bits of language that I’ve accumulated over the past few months. And speaking of “bits”, in British English you’ll also hear the binomial “bits and bobs” and it’s basically another way of saying odds and ends.

We call these binomials because they are two words joined together by “and” and basically function as a chunk, that is, one unit of meaning. Notice how “and” is pronounced simply as “n”. Odds ’n ends, bits ’n bobs. Also notice how these binomials contain sound repetition. The “ds” in odDS and enDS and the initial “b” in Bits and Bobs. This is very typical of binomials, which are incredibly common in English.

What I’ve got right now in my odds and ends drawer for you are the adjectives “human” and “humane”. The Longman dictionary defines “human” as “belonging to or relating to people, especially as opposed to machines or animals” and a sentence provided to illustrate this is
“The accident was the result of human error.” So pretty clear, right? Here human error refers to a mistake made by a person. That’s quite straightforward.

Now here’s the definition of “humane” from Longman: Treating people or animals in a way that is not cruel and causes them as little suffering as possible. Cambridge defines it in this way: showing kindness, care and sympathy towards others, especially those who are suffering. And here’s the model sentence provided by way of illustration: The humane way of dealing with a suffering animal is to kill it quickly.

According to Sketch Engine, nouns that typically collocate with, that is, go with, humane include euthanasia, treatment, alternative, manner, method, approach, conditions, world and society. We often talk about how important it is to strive for a more humane society, that is to make an effort to build a society with less suffering. What’s more, a humane society is also the name given to an organisation devoted to protecting animal welfare.

Now the reason I find the words human and humane so interesting, is that human beings are capable of treating each other in profoundly inhumane ways. It’s surprising that we even thought of using the word humane to describe a noble concern for others’ suffering. It seems like a bit of a contradiction doesn’t it?

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that inhumane behaviour is not hard to find, especially if you read the news. Take the recent example of the United Kingdom’s plan to send all asylum seekers to Rwanda. The aim is to make the UK an undesirable destination for refugees and seems to be inspired by Australia’s use of refugee detention centres in Papua New Guinea. Interestingly, Australia recently abandoned this system after 13 deaths from violence, lack of medical treatment and suicide over a span of eight years.

We’re all born human, but we have to choose to be humane.

When some friends of mine first told me about the Tories’ plan to ship refugees off to Rwanda I thought they were pulling my leg. I mean sure, the Conservative party seems intent on destroying the fabric of British society, be it through Brexit, the deregulation of university tuition fees or the de facto privatisation of education through the academy school model. And yeah, it was their leader Margaret Thatcher who famously said “There’s no such thing as society.”, but surely deporting refugees to Rwanda was beyond the pale even for them? Well, apparently not.

I am somewhat heartened though by a recent article from The Guardian about civil servants, that is, government employees, working for the UK Home Office, who are threatening to go on strike over this Rwanda plan. Apparently they are drawing comparisons with Nazi Germany, and suggesting that if they carry out orders to make this plan a reality they will be complicit in human rights violations. Whether this plan amounts to Nazi-like behaviour is beside the point. If it amounts to inhumane treatment of refugees that should be enough for civil servants to oppose it.

I’m also struck by the deeply jingoistic way in which this issue is being presented. Jingoism is a form of nationalism based on the assumption that one’s own culture is superior to others. Why is it we need to refer to Nazi Germany as our only example of an inhumane society, as if our own national histories weren’t full of examples closer to home? I highly recommend The British Empire Was Much Worse Than You Realize, a recent review of Harvard historian Caroline Elkin’s book Legacy of Violence. In the opening paragraphs Sunil Khilnani discusses the example of Henry Hugh Tudor, who became friends with the future prime minister Winston Churchill while they served together in the British army in India. Tudor would later be in charge of troops in British colonies such as Ireland and Palestine where he was responsible for the deaths of many civilians. When Churchill was Secretary of State for the Colonies he appointed Tudor to train the police, knowing full well how violent he was. In a letter to Churchill Tudor openly admitted to having his troops murder Adwan Bedouins because they were protesting high taxes, despite admitting that these very same Bedouins had been steadfast allies of the British.

Why is this so important? Because critics of the current British government under Boris Johnson are likely to get nostalgic for the good old days when Britain stood for decency and may even bring up Churchill in hopes that Johnson’s flaws become more obvious in the comparison.

Nowadays, with all the pandemic doom and gloom – ah, there’s another binomial – notice how it rhymes – more and more people are looking for ways to rebuild their hope and faith in humanity. We deeply desire a more humane world and it’s not obvious how we can bring it about. Think of how popular mindfulness, meditation and self-help are becoming. The humanities are being neglected, even in our universities, and in an increasingly technological world we’re giving up on our own imagination.

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for the humanities:

The humanities use methods that are primarily critical or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences, yet, unlike the sciences, it has no central discipline. The humanities include the study of ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, history, archaeology, anthropology, human geography, law, religion and art.

What’s interesting is that, according to this entry at least, history is especially important to the humanities. And if you read to the end of the article I mentioned on the British Empire, it is careful to point out examples of how liberal thought contributed not only to imperialism but also to people’s ability to resist it. So maybe what the world needs more of isn’t positive thinking or mindfulness, but a willingness to learn from the past.

Now, here’s a summary of the vocabulary from today’s episode with definitions and examples. (The Quizlet sets are appear below.)

  1. ease yourself back into something: if you ease yourself or someone else into a new job etc, you start doing it gradually or help them to start.  After the baby, she eased herself back into work.
  2. odds and ends / bits and bobs: various things of different types, usually small and not important, or of little value. I took most of the big things to the new house, but there are a few odds and ends left to pick up.
  3. jot something down: write a short piece of information quickly. Let me jot down your number and I’ll call you tomorrow.
  4. I’ve been meaning to: intend or want to do something, when used in the continuous it’s used to say that there’s something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time and haven’t been able to do
  5. humane: showing kindness, care and sympathy towards others, especially those who are suffering. The humane way of dealing with a suffering animal is to kill it quickly.
  6. strive for a more humane society: make an effort to have a more caring society. Martin Luther King strove for a more humane society.
  7. come as no surprise: not be surprising. He always hated school so it came as no surprise when he told us he wouldn’t be going to university.
  8. ship someone off: send someone away because they are unwanted or troublesome. Eliza was shipped off to boarding school in London.
  9. de facto: really existing although not legally stated to exist, often contrasted with de jure. Although in theory a democracy, the country was a de facto one-party state.
  10. be beyond the pale: be offensive or unacceptable. It has helped establish a social norm in Britain, rendering the once acceptable racism of the 1970s beyond the pale today.
  11. be heartened: be happier, more hopeful. I was heartened to see her looking so well.
  12. a civil servant: someone employed in the civil service, that is, the government departments that manage the affairs of the country. Who chooses the judges, army and police, or the senior civil servants who do a lot of actual policy making?
  13. draw a comparison between: In written English, people often use draw a comparison rather than make a comparison, as it sounds more formal. The writer draws a comparison between the 1950s and the present day.
  14. be complicit in: be involved with others in an activity that is illegal or morally wrong. The careers of officers complicit in the cover-up were ruined.
  15. amount to: if an attitude, remark, situation, etc. amounts to something, it has the same effect. He gave what amounted to an apology on behalf of his company.
  16. jingoism: a strong belief that your own country is better than others – used to show disapproval. Patriotism can turn into jingoism and intolerance very quickly.
  17. know something full-well: used to say that someone does know something even though they are behaving as if they do not. You know full well what I mean.
  18. be a steadfast ally: a faithful, loyal ally
  19. stand for something: represent or support a particular set of ideas, values or principles. It’s hard to tell what the party stands for these days.
  20. in hopes that: hoping that. We train elite athletes in hopes that they will make it to the Olympics.

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