Saturday, February 18, 2012

13. Wishful Thinking (I)

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Surely there are quite a few things we wish they changed for the better, but maybe the time is not ripe to see them come true, or – if truth be told – perhaps it is part of the human nature to expect a lot more from the others, when in fact we should begin by remodelling our inner selves.

We all expect to be told the truth – always definite, always ‘the one and only’ (while we could tell a lie, or lies), even more so from the media. We do want to be well informed, even if the ebb and flow of our existence prevents us more often than not form streaming facts and becoming aware of events in all their development; if this were systematic, we would easily be entitled to draw conclusions which clearly separate fact from fiction, or fiction (=lies) from non-fiction.

A journalist’s job is therefore, by definition, to inform; indeed, tens of thousands of reporters worldwide testify to this challenging profession and strive to keep the public updated on the developments of issues that may have just emerged, or other, older conflicts that have gathered momentum.

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Something along these lines must have happened to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two reporters who, while relying heavily on anonymous sources, uncovered information suggesting knowledge of the break-in at the headquarters of the Watergate office complex, and of the attempts on behalf of the president’s men to cover-up the latter’s implication: the reporters’ dedication led deep into the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the White House and finally to the president’s compliance to step down.

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One of the photos that went round the world some thirty years ago, it’s true: but then again it is no simple matter, for he was the only US president to resign in almost two hundred and fifty years of history.

Here is a first set of questions for reflection:

What expressions, or gestures, tell you what the people are thinking?
Can you think of a situation when it might not be a good idea to say exactly what you think?
What kind of people could be described as dishonest?
Does Honesty Always Pay?
[adapted from Success at First Certificate, by Robert O’Neill, Michael Duckworth & Kathy Gude]

What exactly is a lie? Is it anything we say which we know is untrue? Or is it something more than that? For example, suppose a friend wants to borrow some money from you. You say, 'I wish I could help you but I'm short of money myself.' In fact, you are not short of money but your friend is in the habit of not paying his debts and you don't want to hurt his feelings by reminding him of this. Is this really a lie?

Professor Jerald Jellison of the University of Southern California has made a scientific study of lying. According to him, women are better liars than men, particularly when telling a 'white lie', such as when a woman at a party tells another woman that she likes her dress when she really thinks it looks awful. However, this is only one side of the story. Other researchers say that men are more likely to tell more serious lies, such as making a promise which they have no intention of fulfilling. This is the kind of lie politicians and businessmen are supposed to be particularly skilled at: the lie from which the liar hopes to profit or gain in some way.
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Research has also been done into the way people's behaviour changes in a number of small, apparently unimportant ways when they lie. It has been found that if they are sitting down at the time, they tend to move about in their chairs more than usual. To the trained observer, they are saying, 'I wish I were somewhere else now.' They also tend to touch certain parts of the face more often, in particular the nose. One explanation of this may be that lying causes a slight increase in blood pressure. The tip of the nose is very sensitive to such changes and the increased pressure makes it itch.

Another gesture which gives liars away is what the writer Desmond Morris in his book Manwatching calls ‘the mouth cover’. He says there are several typical forms of this, such as covering part of the mouth with the fingers, touching the upper-lip or putting a finger of the hand at one side of the mouth. Such a gesture can be interpreted as an unconscious attempt on the part of the liar to stop him or herself from lying.

Of course, such gestures as rubbing the nose or covering the mouth, or squirming about in a chair cannot be taken as proof that the speaker is lying. They simply tend to occur more frequently in this situation. It is not one gesture alone that gives the liar away but a whole number of things, and in particular the context in which the lie is told.

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Choose the best answer.
(1)According to the passage, a 'white lie' seems to be a lie
A that other people believe.
B that other people don't believe.
C told in order to avoid offending someone.
D told in order to gain some advantage.

(2)Research suggests that women
A are better at telling less serious lies than men are.
B generally lie far more than men do.
C make promises they intend to break more often than men do.      
D lie at parties more often than men do.

(3)One reason people sometimes rub their noses when they lie is that
A they wish they were somewhere else.
B the nose is sensitive to physical changes caused by lying.
C they want to cover their mouths.
D they are trying to stop themselves from telling lies.

(4)It would appear from the passage that
A there is no simple way of finding out if someone is lying.
B certain gestures are proof that the speaker is lying.
C certain gestures are proof of lying only if they are repeated frequently.
D people lie in some situations more often than in others.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

12. The inside story of words

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In anticipation of other such texts with more complex rephrasing, and in the hope that it has whetted your appetite for dictionary work – which is essential for someone who wants to capture meanings – here is the full text on plastic surgery:

[Adapted from "The Secret of Life", in Distinction by Mark Foley and Diane Hall]

The Californian obsession with physical perfection is no longer confined to middle-aged women. Across the United States teenagers are going under the knife, financed and encouraged by doting parents who believe bodily perfection to be a more desirable birthday present than a stereo or a car. And in Beverley Hills surgeons have developed a technique by which men no longer have to spend hours in gyms to achieve bulging muscles.
  Tiffany White, a schoolgirl aged seventeen from suburban Los Angeles, never liked her ' chubby cheeks. ‘A lot of people said I looked like Bette Midler and that really bothered me,’ she said. In the old days she would have had to lump it. But this year she joined thousands of other American teenagers in opting for surgery and had the fat vacuumed out and her nose remodelled while she was at it. Once the domain of the rich and vain, aesthetic surgery, as the practitioners prefer to call it, is doing wonders for adolescent self-esteem and making millions for doctors, at the same time prompting qualms among professional bodies.
Teenagers have become a big market for plastic surgery,’ said Dr Martin Sullivan, an Illinois surgeon who says between eight and ten teenagers consult him every month. Some surgeons estimate that teenagers account for 25 per cent of their business. According to the latest figures, last year 117,000 teenagers under eighteen had rhinoplasty (or ‘nose-jobs’). Almost as many had ear-pinning, followed by chin augmentation and then dermabrasion - a sort of sandpapering technique which removes acne scars from the skin. A small but increasing number of Asian teenagers are having blepharoplasty, an eyelid operation which produces a more rounded Caucasian look. The use of silicone muscle to correct deformities has been widespread for some time, but plastic surgeons now report that 20 per cent of their clients are males seeking decorative muscles. In Beverley Hills Dr Mel Bircoll has turned more than fifty puny thoraxes into brawny specimens using a technique which inserts two or three lumps of silicone into the chest through a small nick in the armpit. Aside from chest muscles, surgeons report that the next most popular operation is to the cheeks and jaw. ‘People want the square-featured Schwarzenegger look,’ said Dr Darryl Hodgkinson. While many surgeons do not believe artificial muscles for males will ever catch on in a big way, they are optimistic about the growth prospects for teenage cosmetic surgery. They argue that surgery can help cure the insecurity and the self-consciousness that comes from a lack of self-esteem. >> 
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Undoubtedly, this is only one of the many articles which tackle the subject of physical perfection. There are also some very good ideas that came up in your posts, among them the importance of the genetic factor; these will be the basis for future posts, and – it goes without saying –aren’t meant to talk you out of posting your comments to any of the articles published so far, on the contrary! Feel free to express your opinion for as many of them as you wish, as many times you like: they will all become threads for future comments. 

But let’s take a little break, shall we? This goes to all those linguists who patiently gather the meaning of words and phrases and foster language along the years so that we, restless consumers of information, may render our ideas more clearly and precisely.

There is at least one hidden story behind each word – well, not really, there are some words with such a long and winding history that it would be practically impossible to keep track of their adventure.

This one goes in memoriam to John Lennon and George Harrison on behalf of Paul McCartney – a song with <simple> lyrics, re-mastered and offered to audiences all over the world: Blackbird, which came as a revelation of what the spirit of togetherness may create in an artist’s rich and powerful inspiration.   
There are two meanings to this song: there’s the actual bird, which may mean something only for those who live close to open spaces (a lot more could be said about the British use of bird for what is known as chick in General American). There’s another, hidden meaning emerging form what inspired Paul to write the song. While on a tour across America, McCartney heard a woman screaming and saw a lot of police cars pulling up. The police had her handcuffed and beaten. An enormous crowd had gathered, and Paul thought the black woman had committed a crime. It turned out that all she did was to sit in the whites’ section. You can notice Paul’s shock in the adjectives he used: dead, dark, sunken, broken, black; they all speak of unfairness. So also, the verbs are powerful vehicles evoking the common history of black people: fly, singing, free, arise, waiting, see. There is also the sound of a foot beating in the background: at McCartney’s insistence, a metronome had to be used, and so evoke footsteps – the marching of all the African Americans along their history.