10 Oct

robber barons

Who taught: Anonymous

Rockefeller (source: wikipedia.org)

Last weekend, I went to the Niagara Falls with my parents-in-law and Jessy. This was my sixth time to see the falls and I was still amazed by its size and the amount of water that is falling continuously. Every time I see this type of amazing nature, I once again realize that there are a lot of evidences of God’s existence, surrounding me.

To remember God, we all went to a local church on Sunday with my friends, Jason and Ashley. Since we are visitors, many of the church members asked me some questions like where I am from and what I am doing, etc. So, as you know, my answer is pretty simple. I am from Pittsburgh, PA and teach at Carnegie Mellon University. I said the same to an old person who asked the questions. Here is another thing that kind of surprised me again. He asked this question, “Carnegie Mellon University? Who established it?” He basically does not know CMU. Well, I’ve always thought that everybody in the U.S. would and should know CMU. Well, I was wrong.

So, I told him that CMU is established by Andrew Carnegie in 1900. Guess what? Do you know what was the first word that I heard from him? He said, “Oh! One of those robber barons!”  When I first heard, I was thinking like, “Wait. What? Is he now talking about Barone family of Everybody Loves Raymond show? Why is he saying that they are robbers?”

As usual, I asked him. He then kindly explained it to me using an example of Rockefeller who made a lot of fortune by selling oil at an extremely lower price than his competitors back in late 1800s.

We all know what robber is. The real sarcasm of this expression comes from this word, baron. Baron means a member of the lowest order of the British nobility. They sort of got into this nobility by making a lot of money but the way of making money was a robbery. Do you know how much wealth Rockefeller was able to accumulate? According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that his personal fortune was equal to 1.53% of the total U.S. economy in his day. Wow. That is an unbelievable figure!

Now I know there have been a few robber barons in history. But, can I use this expression in any other cases?


07 Apr

peter out and peter principle

Who taught: Jeff

Peter Principle (source: http://www.buzzflash.com/)

Today, Jeff, one of my friends at CMU, and I had meetings with students. The meetings were for testing an application done by students and reviewing source code. As we talked about work, we got into a conversation about his previous works and how much he had to travel. He said, at one point in his past, he went to the airport to go to Chicago or New York in the morning and had meetings during the lunch time and, after the meetings, came back to be with family for dinner. This all happend in one day. Pretty intense, isn’t it? Anyway, as we talked about this work stuff, we had the following conversation.

Jeff : “So, Terry, have you ever heard of Peter Principle?”

me: “I have no idea what that is. What is it?”

Jeff: “It basically means that everyone in an organization tends to rise, or be promoted, to the level of incompetence.”

me: “Huh! So, do you think someone whose name is Peter came up with the expression?”

Jeff: “I believe it is from another expression, ‘petered out’.”

Then, he started to google it. We, of course, found a wikipedia page. To save your time for reading the page, my initial impression was right. The principle was made by Dr. Laurence J. Peter in 1969.

me: “Looks like ‘petered out’ expression is from ‘Peter Principle’.”

Jeff: “I do not know. Sometimes, native English speakers use expressions without knowing their origins.”

So, at this point, let me ask you a question? What do you think ‘petered out’ or ‘peter out’ means? Assuming that it is from Peter Principle, it should have something to do with incompetence, right? I would say it has to a certain extent. If something is petered out, that means it is not as it used to be anymore. And, sometimes, if you peter out on someone, that means you kind of give up on him/her. Another time you can use ‘peter out’ is when you run. Suppose that you run a marathon, you would peter out after the first 2-3 miles if you are not good at running. Don’t you agree? Now, can you feel the expression?

Hope you would not peter out on my blog!

Have a great day, my friends! Peace out, not peter out! 🙂 Pun intended!

By the way, did we find out where this ‘peter out’ expression is from? I do not think we did. How about you tell me? Can you?

14 Mar

manicure and well-manicured

Who taught: Patty

Well-manicured (source: http://www.designelegant.com/)

It has been more than a week since my last post. Sorry about that! Last week, I went on a business trip to the bay area, specifically San Jose and San Francisco, and came back yesterday. I had a chance to meet my friends there. It was great to see some friends that I have not seen for almost 4 years. Cannot believe that it has been that long. Time really flies. It was funny because I enjoyed talking with them but Jessy said we all talked about something most people would not understand at all. Well, what can I say? All of my friends are CMU alumni and they are software engineers. I mean, literally, every single one of them is software engineer. How cool is it? It is awesome.

Anyway, during the  trip, we either drove or took a train to get to meeting places. One of the things I noticed was that house style of the west coast is very different from that of the east. In Pittsburgh, houses are built mainly of bricks. But, I did not see any houses that are built of bricks there. They are usually one-story house that are painted with very different colors. It is actually very beautiful to see them. Along the bay, there are hills that have houses with different styles and colors. It was even more beautiful because of sunny sky and blue ocean. As we were passing by those houses, Patty said, “Some of the houses are really well-manicured. Don’t you think?” That’s an easy expression to understand but I did not know that we can use the verb, manicure, to describe houses that are painted. My feeling with the expression is that the color of a house should matter. It seems like the house should be painted with a vivid color like yellow or multiple colors. What do you think, my friends? Does my feeling sound correct? What if the inside of a house is painted well? Can I say also that the house is well-manicured?

I need to admit that the bay area is very beautiful but my heart is in Pittsburgh. It is my home. 🙂

Oh, for your future trip to the bay area, I would like recommend you to visit Los Gatos downtown. It is a small but very lovely place to walk around and there are nice restaurants too. Speaking of restaurant, I went to this French restaurant called Le Garage in Sausalito. The food was amazing. You should check it out too.

31 Jan

Is it in the bag?

Who taught: Kim

Money in the bag (source: http://cicmusic.wordpress.com/)

As you know, I teach at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). A few days ago, I stumbled upon a youtube video that is about the stereotypes of CMU. Typically, the workload at CMU is intense and heavy. Students spend a lot of hours in libraries and meeting rooms. From the comments on the video, I found one very funny saying among CMU students. They say that the campus was made up of two types of people “the fruits” (drama, fine arts) and “the vegetables” (science, engineering). Sadly (??!!), I was one of the vegetables because I graduated from the School of Computer Science (SCS). Consequently, I am now a vegetable grower since I teach computer science students. Well… vegetables are well known as healthy food. I will do my best to grow nice organic ones so that they can help people.

About two weeks ago, I heard a very happy news from my friend, Kim. She applied for the Fulbright scholarship program a few months ago. She changed her status on Facebook, saying that she passed the first round. I do not know how many people know the program but it is actually a huge one to get as a student in the U.S. I was so happy that I commented saying that, “Awesome! So happy to hear that!” Of course, there were her other friends who added comments. She replied, saying, “It is not in the bag yet. But I will keep you posted.”

Not in the bag… That was a new one to me. I am sure you guys can also understand what it means, right? So, I replied to her, “That is a new one and it will be going into my blog.” That is what is happening now.

If you know the etymology of the expression, you will definitely be able to feel the expression. Based on my research, this expression is from the 16th century. At that time, bird hunting was famous and hunters go out with a bag. When they finally retrieve a bird and put it in the bag, they now can declare that they catch a bird for sure.

Can you feel it? This is the question Jean asked me when I say that “In the bag is the new one to me!” I now feel the expression a lot better after knowing the etymology. How about you? Don’t you like to know etymology of new expressions? Here is today’s homework! Why don’t you ask your American friends whether they know the etymology of this expression? I bet many of them would not know which is not surprising at all. We just use many expressions of our mother tongue without thinking about their origins, don’t we?

26 Oct

Really? vs for real?

Who taught : Jessy

Carnegie Mellon University (source: scholarpreps.com)

Walking around the CMU campus, I hear various languages, including English, Korean, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Japanese, etc. Not a surprise at all because there are so many international students here at CMU! But, there is also a very interesting thing I noticed among English speakers. As you all know, there are different races, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc, in the U.S. When I was in Korea, I had barely seen any other races other than Asian. In this case, it is of course Korean.

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. population’s distribution by races in 2009 is as follows;

1. White : 75%

2. Hispanic : 16%

3. Black : 12.5%

4. Asian : 4.5%

As I mentioned, there is a difference between black people and white people when it comes to English. I am sure there are so many things. (If you know any, feel free to add a comment.) But, today, I would like to talk about one very simple expression.

When a person says something that is hard to believe, what would you say? I usually say, “Really?” And, most of my white American friends say the same thing. But, black people almost never use that expression. They say, “For real?” Well, there is not much difference in terms of meaning. Either way, you should be fine. But, it is very interesting to see this kind of difference. This morning, I went to a convenience store where the clerk was a black guy. He was having a conversation with a black woman and she said something hard to believe, then he quickly responded to her, saying “For real?”

This event reminded me of a conversation I had with Jessy a few days ago. Jessy and I was watching a TV show and I noticed that a black guy on the show said the expression, “For real?” As I heard that, I said to Jessy, “Did you notice that black people use ‘for real’ instead of ‘really’?” Jessy told me, “That is always the case with them. Didn’t you know that?” (FYI, Jessy has many black friends so that she knows a lot of expressions they use.)

Jessy also has a Korean friend who runs a business for which he hired a lot of black employees. As a result, he speaks English with the black people all the time. Now, he always says “For real?” instead of “Really?” So, where or with whom you speak English matters. Interesting, huh? (Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with ‘for real’ or ‘really’. It is just a difference and I think it is interesting.)