Shell phrases … in a nutshell

2nd February 2023

Last night, my wonderful co-teacher, Ms H, was speaking about a student in our class who has really blossomed. The student used to be very shy and speak in a barely-audible whisper; now the student is a Top Cat.

Ms H referred to the transition mistakenly as, “In a nutshell,” when the correct expression is to ‘come out of his or her shell.’ Thus, today’s blog will focus on the use of the word ‘shell’ in common phrases.

a word in your shell-like

This means that someone wants to speak to you about something serious. Ears are shaped a little like shells, so here ‘shell-like’ comes from ‘shell-like ear.’ We often hear this on UK TV police dramas when an inspector wants to speak to a suspect.

The phrase is used by people in positions of power, so don’t use this when speaking to your manager or parents !

coming out of her shell

If someone is very quiet or shy, they are said to be ‘in their shell’, like a tortoise. When someone starts to be more sociable, speaking more, showing their potential, we say they are ‘coming out of their shell.’

ghost in the shell

A phrase taken from ‘ghost in the machine’. The French philosopher Rene Descartes wrote about the separation between the mind and the physical body. The mind is not physical, but could be compared to a ghost.

Basically, it is the difference between the mind and the body even though they co-exist.

Ghost in the shell refers to what is the true essence of a person, what someone is really like, no matter how they look.

Today, the phrase is linked to the Japanese manga series, cyberpunk and video games. The main character has a robotic body but still has enough of her brain (mind) to be her real self.

in a nutshell

When you have a lot of information to tell, but not much time, you just say the main points. The idea is that there is not much space inside a nutshell, so only the most important things can be included.

A popular range of computer books use this idiom, as well as this title below:

People may be interested in astronomy but may be put off by the maths and equations. This book will explain all the important facts in a way that is understandable.

The phrase is an alternative for ‘to cut a long story short,’ or ‘long story short.’

shell of his former self

In the classic Martin Scorsese film ‘Raging Bull’, Robert De Niro plays a boxer who changes from a powerful athlete into an overweight nightclub owner.

When someone changes so dramatically, we say they are ‘a shell of their former self,’ and yes, De Niro really did gain all the extra weight to play this role.

shell out

This means to pay for something, usually something unexpected and unwanted, for example:

“My laptop broke. I had to shell out £200 to get it fixed.”

shell shock or shellshock

A term used to describe the psychological effects on soldiers during the First World War, with constant bombs or shells exploding. Many soldiers suffered serious mental problems.

Today the phrase has been replaced by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

shell voicing

In music, chords are formed by playing two or more notes simultaneously. In shell voicing, often used in Jazz or Math Rock, only three notes are played: the root (or first), the 3rd and the 7th.

Let’s take the C Major scale


The root, or first note is C, the 3rd is E and the 7th is B. To play a Cmaj7 chord, the C, E & B are played together.

walking on eggshells

Being very careful about what you say or do, in case you make someone angry or sad.

“Our manager was in a bad mood. We were walking on eggshells all day.”

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

Kim Ki-duk 1960 – 2020

2nd February 2023

Another belated obituary, this time for the Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk.

One of the few Korean films I have seen at the cinema is his ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring‘ from 2003, which tells the life of a Buddhist monk in a secluded temple.

The film uses long takes to convey the slow passage of time, while the scenic lake and mountains add to the tranquility despite worldly temptations and intrusions into the retreat.

His first international success was his fourth film, ‘The Isle‘ from 2000. Hee-jin is a mute who operates a floating resort where people can live alone. One day a man wanted by the police arrives, and hides out at the isle.

The two become close although, typically in art house movies, the ending is open; we see them floating away but have to decide for ourselves what their future holds.

3-Iron‘ was released in 2004, telling about the unconventional relationship between a housebreaker, Tae-suk, and an abused housewife, Sun-hwa.

The film can be taken literally, or interpreted in several ways. A popular theory is that Sun-hwa invents Tae-suk as a way of protecting herself from her violent husband. The fact that the two never exchange even one word during the film could support that view.

The beauty of such works, what distinguishes a work of art is the very fact that the viewer has to be personally involved, almost to be a co-writer. Any theory is valid provided it can be supported by evidence from within the film.

Kim Ki-duk won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Best Director with this film.

Kim ki-duk made over thirty films, but my favourite is 2004’s ‘Samaritan Girl‘ which was one of the first films I watched when I began to seriously explore Korean Cinema.

The subject of ‘subsidised dating’ is the theme, where a male client will have a date with a girl, knowing that they will end up in a love motel. The girl is paid for her time, as opposed to sexual services, so it is not seen as outright prostitution. I shall not spoil the plot in case you want to see the film.

At the Berlin Film Festival, the film won the Silver Bear, the second-place award.

Kim Ki-duk’s films are controversial, not just for subject matter, sex and violence, but some films show animal cruelty, which brought him into conflict with various censor boards.

I didn’t know too much about Kim’s personal life until I began to look online after I heard about his passing.

I discovered that he had been accused of physical and sexual violence. From what I have read, Kim was charged and fined for physical violence against an actress, but due to lack of evidence, there were no further charges. More details can easily be accessed online.

One has to state that these are allegations, and I have no way of knowing the truth. Nevertheless, it is very disturbing and distressing. As such, I felt I couldn’t call this a tribute. Instead, I wanted to highlight some Korean films that I have enjoyed, challenging films from a controversial director.

A website rating Kim Ki-duk’s films may be accessed here:

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

David Crosby  R.I.P.

22nd January 2023

Less than two weeks ago we lost legendary British guitarist Jeff Beck. Today, we mourn the passing of another 60s icon, David Crosby, who passed away aged 81.

David was a member of the Byrds, playing on their first five LPs, before forming the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash. Famous for their vocal harmonies, the group, frequently augmented by the addition of Neil Young, eptitomise the ‘California sound’ of the late 60s and early 70s.

Graham Nash said of David, “He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy.”

Crosby (bottom left) in the Byrds.

The debut album of the supergroup.

David Crosby August 14th 1941 – January 18th 2023

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

Don’t get mad … get even !

17th January 2023

I was recently reading a report in an English-language Vietnamese newspaper, bemoaning the lack of tourists.

Tourism accounts for a significant portion of Thailand’s GDP and Vietnam, with beaches, historic towns and cities, should be able to significantly boost their economy by attracting foreign visitors.

To an extant, they do (tourism is increasing). The problem, according to some reports, is the lack of return visitors; people add Vietnam to their bucket list, then never return, a case of, “been there, done that,” whereas many tourists return again and again to Thailand. The following website lists ten common factors that deter or spoil the experience of visiting Viet Nam:

Many are based around petty crime: overcharging, thief, poor service, fraud and bad manners.

I have my own litany of complaints, and then some ! However, the focus today in on one major problem in Vietnam … the (add expletive of choice) NOISE. The following is an extract from VNExpress, an English-language newspaper:

Noise pollution can be said to be a fact of life and a headache in many urban areas, but in Vietnam, it gets taken to levels unheard of.

A study by the Institute of Occupational Health and the Environment of 12 main traffic routes and intersections in Hanoi found the average noise level during the day to be 77.8-78.1 dBA, about 7.8-8.1 dBA higher than the standard. The level is 10-20 dBA higher than normal night-time standards at 65.3-75.7 dBA.

The worse offenders, for my sensitive ears, are street hawkers (motorbike riders who have loudspeakers, and often park outside my window for hours, playing their noise on a loop … sometimes for nearly four hours).

I know, they are just trying make a living and support their families, but if you are constantly woken up at 5:10 am by a guy driving past blaring out that he is selling bread (without stopping for anyone to actually buy said item), or you want to enjoy your balcony and read some Shakespeare, but a knife-grinder is under your window playing a three-sentence phrase over and over … and over, you may have more sympathy for my plight.

Now for the worst offender; Vietnam seems to positively encourage the right for ANYONE to buy a karaoke machine and use it, outdoors, all day, every day. Increasingly, the use of such machines has caused anger, violence and even deaths:

A man in the northern province of Hai Duong was singing karaoke at home earlier this month and his neighbor complained about the noise. He went over to the neighbor’s to express his anger, only to be stabbed to death.

The whole article may be read here:

I myself have been driven to near insanity by wedding parties on my free day (five hours of karaoke just across the street) and used all my English insults to get my point across. Pretty damn stupid in retrospect, and the fact that I was a foreigner probably saved me from a severe beating, or worse.

So … intelligence is more powerful than strength. Don’t get mad … get even. I have an electric guitar which, of course, is nigh useless without an amplifier. Hence, I reveal my Fender Champion 20W amp.

The amp has four different setting, a range of built-in effects and a Gain button … to increase noise.

We are approaching Tet Holiday, so we can expect a lot of parties, Karaoke and NOISE.

As you can see, I hooked up my laptop to the speaker today around 11.00 am because … already … some local gentleman and his good lady wife (or sister or whomever) began screaming through a microphone. A lot of these ‘performers’ just copy TV stars and make whooping noises or scream. Take it from me, a Vietnamese with a mic is one of the world’s worst tortures.

So, I chose some pretty inoffensive K-Pop, and covered up the caterwauling from the great beyond.

You can see, the Gain is only set to 4 and the volume was on 2. The switch goes up to 10 ! I also used some delay and reverb. Furthermore, thanks to the internet; YouTube, Spotify plus my own files, I own a LOT of loud music … a LOT. And if that wasn’t bad enough, just wait until you hear me murder ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

The gauntlet is thrown down. After several hours, your voices will crack, you will sleep from that nasty cheap beer but I will only just be warming up. Rock ‘n’ Roll will never die … but don’t take my word for it. Here’s Mr Neil Young

Young Learners: tell me about Tet

16th January 2023

Today you will need pens, pencils, crayons, notebooks and paper.

You are going to tell me about Tet Holiday.

I want to know what you do that is special, what you eat and what you wear.

Do you like Tet ? Explain why … or why not !

First, we need a vocabulary bank. Here are a list of adjectives you should try to use.

Write these words in your notebook next to the meaning in Vietnamese

traditional // lucky // fun // funny

delicious // beautiful // colourful

loud // terrible //

What is happening here ?

What is in the red envelope ?

Tell me about the food.

What are the ladies doing ?

What are the men doing ?

Write and draw about Tet Holiday.

At Tet I … (my family) …

I eat …

I see …

If I have lucky money, I will buy …

My family go to …

My Mummy …

My Daddy …

I like (don’t like) Tet Holiday because …

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

Young Learners: Time Travellers

9th January 2023

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent,” 1559 Kunsthistorisches Museum

Today we travel back in time to see how people lived 400 or 500 years ago. What was different ? What games did children play ?

First, we need a modern avatar. Team captains can choose from the following:

FBI Agent, Dale Cooper // Black Panther // Mulan

James Bond 007 // Reva // Lady Penelope

Sinbad the Sailor // The Minotaur


What do we have now that children did not have in the 1500s ? I want 3 things.

LEVEL UP: score 50 points


Tell me what you see in this picture. Remember to use adjectives.

Start with, “I can see …

LEVEL UP: score 100 points


The paintings are by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Read about his life:

Pieter Bruegel was born in Holland in 1529.

In the 1550s, he lived in Italy to study art. Bruegel liked to paint landscapes, and life in villages.

Many of his pictures tell a story. He had two sons who became painters. Their names were Jan and Pieter.

Bruegel died in 1569 in Belgium.


Where was Bruegel born ?

When was Bruegel born ?

What country did he visit in the 1550s ?

What did he like to paint ?

When and where did he die ?

What were the names of his two painter sons ?

LEVEL UP: score 200 points


Many of Bruegel’s painting are in the Art Museum in Vienna, Austria. Have a look at this virtual tour:,course%2C%20The%20Tower%20of%20Babel.

Look at the first picture at the top of this page.

Can you see it on the virtual tour ?

Look at the picture of the boys playing.

What is the name of this painting ?

Can you find this part of the painting ?

What other games can you see ?

LEVEL UP: score 500 points


Look at the painting ‘Children’s Games’ from 1560. In your teams, write a short story about what you see. Some people can draw, others can write. When you are finished, you may present to the class.

LEVEL UP: score 1000 points



Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

Absolutely about adjectives

6th January 2023

Margaret Hale, the protagonist in the novel ‘North and South’ returns to her childhood home, and revisits her old school. The new school mistress, who has made drastic changes, cajoles Margaret into giving an impromptu lesson.

One student is having difficulty with the ‘a’ sound.

“A, an indefinite article,” said Margaret mildly.

“I beg your pardon,” said the Vicar’s wife … “ (the new teacher).

The children had been taught to refer to ‘a’ as an adjective absolute. Margaret sat down “abashed.”

“The children knew more than she did. Mr Bell turned away, and smiled.”

(Chapter XLVI Once and Now)

Mr Bell, who is a fellow at Oxford and therefore very educated, passes no comment, yet his body language sufficiently expresses his opinion.

I had not come across an adjective absolute before. I could have taken the blue pill and kept on reading, or taken the red pill; I switched over to Google and began my descent into the rabbit hole of grammar taxonomy.

Others word forms have subdivisions; nouns can be proper, concrete, collective etc, verbs can be transitive or intransitive, and there are several types of adverbs.

Fortunately, the nomenclature is more frightening than the definition. So, without further ado let’s have a rabbit about adjectives (1), starting with the adjective absolute.

Most adjectives can be modified, e.g.

London is very expensive.

The book is extremely confusing.

Studying Vietnamese is quite difficult.

However, some adjectives do not need to be modified; they are superlatives (the biggest, the tallest) or binary (either yes or no). An old joke cracks that a woman phones her mother and tells her that she is a little bit pregnant. Of course, a woman is or is not pregnant.

Show, don’t tell:

A mark of 25% is unacceptable.

The building was destroyed in the fire.

Dinosaurs are dead.

The hostages were set free.

Modifiers such as absolutely, completely, totally may be used for emphasis.

The holiday was totally perfect.

My shirt is completely ruined.

I’m afraid it is absolutely impossible for you to get into Cambridge with those grades.

Now we know why Mr Bell “turned away, and smiled.”

I mentioned the rabbit hole because there are over a dozen types of adjective. Should you be interested, here’s some links to enlighten you:


(1) Rabbit is London slang for talk or talking

Grammarians of the Galaxy for Young Learners, levels 1 & 2.

28th December 2022

A version of the Grammarians game but this time aimed at younger students.

The teacher could give points for individual answers or use the Monopoly board template. Place students in teams, and make sure every member takes part, writing and speaking.

Without further ado … the game:


What is the correct grammar ?


I to be sad … NO !

I am sad.

I to be hungry

You am happy

He to be tired

She are angry

ms huong am beautiful

WE is to be quiet

They to be loud

Adjectives: What is the opposite ?

EXAMPLE: hot and cold

fast and ______

young and _______

big and ______

tall and ______

beautiful and ______


Tell me two animals that are fast

Tell me two animals that are slow

Tell me two animals that are big

Tell me two animals that are small

Tell me three animals that can fly

Tell me three animals that can swim



I like dogs but I don’t like cats.

I like cats but I __________________

I like dolphins but I __________________

I like birds but I __________________

I like cats but I __________________

I like cake but I __________________

I like pizza but I __________________

I like chicken but I __________________

I like tomatoes but I __________________


Who can dance like Starlord ?

Happy New Year one and all

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.