Category Archives: good words

Good Words: Stress Relief Phrases

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Here are some phrasal verbs/idioms that are often used when we’re talking about relieving (reducing) stress.

  • “I’m going to treat myself to a piece of chocolate.”
  • “Tonight, I’m treating myself to a hot bath and a novel. I haven’t had time to read in two weeks!”
  • To “treat yourself (herself/etc.) to something” is to do something that you don’t usually do. Maybe you don’t usually do it for time, money, or health reasons.

  • “I’m taking a break from the news. I think I’ll go to the gym or take a walk in the park.”
  • “My friend’s coming over so I can take a break from watching my daughter.”
  • “Playing with my dog lets me take a break from worrying about what is happening.”
  • To “take a break from something” or “take a break from doing something” means to stop doing it for a while.

  • “My son decided to play video games for a while to take his mind off the bad news.”
  • “I’m going to bake some cookies to take my mind off things. Do you want to come over and help?”
  • “I got my mind off everything by going to the gym yesterday. It was good.”
  • To “take [your/my/etc.] mind off something” means to make yourself think about something else by doing another activity.

    Get [your/my/etc.] mind off something” is basically the same. Sometimes “of” is used (“take your mind off of something”/”get your mind off of something”).

  • “My boss decided to give everyone a break by letting us work from home We still have to work, but we don’t have to go to the office.”
  • Give yourself a break and don’t worry about what other people think right now.”
  • I’m giving myself a break by cooking easy things for dinner.”
  • There are two patterns here: 1) “give someone a break by doing something” 2) “give someone a break and do something

    Both basically mean the same thing: to make life a little easier by doing something (working from home, not worrying about what other people thing, cooking easy things for dinner).

    “Give yourself a break and” may actually mean “both relax a little and do this thing” or “first relax a little, and then immediately do this thing to continue relaxing.” All three ways of understanding the meaning of this phrase are so close that it doesn’t really matter.

  • “She’s relaxing with a cup of tea and a book now. Don’t bother her!”
  • “I’m so stressed out–I’m going to go relax with some music.”
  • “You’ve been working on that for hours. Why don’t you go relax with a video game for a while?”
  • To relax with something is to relax while you are using/drinking/reading/etc. that thing.

    If you’d like to use a verb, use “relax and” instead: “I’m going to relax and watch a DVD.

If you’re stressed out right now, but not in an emergency situation, I hope you can give yourself a break from the stress.

Any questions about how to use these phrases? Just leave a comment!

Good Words: Genre

Genre: The online Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines this as

a particular type or style of literature, art, film or music that you can recognize because of its special features

This is a pretty good definition. Check the linked word entry for its pronunciation, because this word is still pronounced in a somewhat French way.

The usefulness of this word in ordinary conversations is when you’re talking about your favorite kinds of books and movies. Different cultures have different genres, so it’s useful to know what the categories you like are called in English. In addition, it can be confusing if you don’t realize that what you think of as “romance” is not what someone else thinks of as “romance.”

My favorite fiction genres include science fiction and fantasy. Other common genres include romance, mystery, Western, horror, and historical fiction. My favorite movie genres include historical drama, comedy, and science fiction. Action, romance, horror, fantasy, and thriller are some other film genres. (I’ve linked each genre’s name to its Wikipedia page so that you can see several examples of each genre.)

There are also “sub-genres” (or “subgenres”), which are smaller categories. For example, my favorite sub-genres of fantasy are historical fantasy and contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy. For science fiction, my favorite sub-genre is cyberpunk.

I really don’t like the entire genre of horror books or movies, with a few exceptions. I also don’t like romance books or movies very much, but I have enjoyed a few romantic comedies (that’s another sub-genre). Even though I like some fantasy novels, I find that fantasy movies are often too silly to enjoy. Some exceptions include the film versions of Harry Potter (contemporary fantasy), The Lord of the Rings (high fantasy), and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (a mix of high and contemporary fantasy). I thought all of those were well done.

Genres are interesting because they are different in different countries. For example, Japan has both women’s romance and men’s romance genres within comic books, but the US doesn’t (because there are not enough romance comics in the US to even have such a category). The US has a genre of Western novels (set in the Old West, with cowboys), whereas China has wuxia novels (set in earlier China, with martial artists). When I was writing this post, I found out that in British bookstores, there is a “Crime Fiction” section, which would be called the “Mystery” or “Mystery/Suspense” section in the US.

People within one culture often argue about genres, too. For example, is Star Wars science fiction? Most people agree that science fiction should include speculation about the future, but Star Wars is set in the past and doesn’t really involve thinking about how our society could change. However, it does have high technology and space travel. Because of this, some people place it in the science fiction/fantasy sub-genre of space opera. Some fans will argue about this kind of thing for a long time. Because genres are not officially defined, it sometimes means that a book or movie is not in the section I expect to find it in at the store, and I have to ask.

Sometimes people use the phrase “genre fiction” to refer to books that are highly identified with their genre, such as science fiction and horror. This is to set apart those kinds of books from, mainstream or literary books. Mainstream and literary books are not thought of as being part of a special category. For example, at a Borders bookstore, you’ll find genre sections including Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery/Thriller. These are all genre fiction. The books found in the Borders Literature/Fiction sections are considered not to be genre fiction.

What about you? What are your favorite genres? What genres do you avoid? Are there any genres that you like but can’t find in English?

Good words: Hole in the wall

A hole in the wall, in current American English at least, usually refers to a small restaurant that may be dark, not well decorated, and otherwise not fancy. Most people use it in an affectionate way to refer to a place that is small and may not look nice, but has tasty food.

When I search for the phrase “hole in the wall” on Yelp.com, a reviewing website, I get restaurant reviews like “a great hole-in-the-wall kind of place” and “a hole-in-the-wall gem.” As you can see, most people use it positively. At Chowhound, a very popular international food discussion website, there are countless posts looking for good “holes in the wall” all over the world. This is probably because many people think of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant as being authentic, not very crowded, and inexpensive.

If you want to take your friend to your favorite restaurant but you’re afraid it’s a little too old and small, you can say something like “The food is good, but the place is really a hole in the wall. Is that okay?” If your friend loves food, he or she should be happy to go. (But it might not be a good choice for a first date…)

In addition, it’s not a good phrase to use when you talk to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant’s owner. After all, no restaurant owner likes to think of his or her place as small or shabby, even if you mean it as a compliment.

What’s your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant? Mine might be the Chinese deli near my apartment. My husband likes the bittermelon, and I like the sesame balls.

Good Words: Comfort food

“There is nothing, absolutely nothing that pleasures me more than a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce. When I want to reach out with all my love to my husband, a dish of pasta and tomatoes is almost always in my hands. When I am worn out and the world isn’t such a nice place to be in, I make tomato sauce and pasta. When time is short but dear friends must be fed with joy and not pressure, I make pasta with tomato sauce.”

–Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Host of “The Splendid Table”),
speaking about comfort food for PBS’ The Meaning of Food

“Comfort food” is a great phrase! Can you guess what kind of food it is?

It’s not any one special food, because it’s different for everyone. It’s the food that comforts you. It might not be your #1 favorite food or the food that you think tastes best in the world. Instead, it’s something that makes you feel better when you are tired, sad, lonely, or sick.

For many people, their comfort foods are things they ate when they were small children, or that were treats when they were growing up. I asked five other Americans what their comfort foods are. Here’s what they said:

Me: macaroni and cheese, biscuits and gravy, flapjacks, hot French bread, royal milk tea, hot chocolate, warm homemade chocolate pudding, warm cinnamon rolls
My husband, Clint: macaroni and cheese, vanilla milk, spaghetti with meat sauce, pecan pie, hot links sausage, rice pudding, sushi (yes, really!)
My roommate and friend, Jenn: apple pie, chicken soup, split pea soup, fresh hot white bread, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, chicken pot pie, peach cobbler, barbecued ribs
My roommate and friend, Cory: pizza, lasagna, steak, ice cream, spinach and artichoke heart souffle
Cory’s friend, Jesse: meatloaf with twice-baked potatoes and brown gravy, fried okra
My friend, Paul: homemade (not microwaved) popcorn, homemade chocolate chip cookies

As you can see, there’s a variety of answers, but most of the answers aren’t healthy! These are the foods that you eat when you don’t care about the calories. Comfort foods are the ones that you miss when you go overseas for the first time. Sometimes people miss their comfort foods so much that they’ll pay lots of money at an international grocery store to get it, or they’ll ask their family members to mail it to them if possible.

(It’s also possible to gain a new comfort food during your life. When Clint started eating sushi after he moved to California, he just loved it, and he always felt like he was in a better mood after he ate sushi. So now it’s a comfort food for him. Royal milk tea is something I had for the first time in Japan, on the first day of our honeymoon, standing on a bullet train platform in Tokyo.)

If you want to read more about comfort food, visit PBS’ The Meaning of Food: Comfort Food. They asked some famous chefs and others to talk about their own comfort foods. Recipes are even included!

What is one of your comfort foods? Is it healthy or unhealthy? Do you make it or buy it? (Or do you ask a family member to make it?) Why do you think it makes you feel better?


The Complete Idiot's Guide to Comfort Food (Complete Idiot's Guide to)The Big Book of Breakfast: Serious Comfort Food for Any Time of the DayComfort Food (Step-by-step)Betty Crocker Comfort Food: 100 Recipes for the Way You Really Cook (100 Recipes/Way You Cook Today)

(After the health-food craze of the 1980s and 1990s, comfort food became a popular subject for cookbooks in the USA. Some people think it’s because Americans became more stressed out in the late 1990s. I don’t know, but the cookbooks are fun to look at! Please note: clicking on these images takes you away from this page, to the Amazon.com page about each book)


Good Words: Authentic

Authentic (adj.): Most dictionaries will tell you that this word basically means “real, not copied; true.” Examples of this usage include “an authentic Van Gogh painting” and “an authentic account of the war, written by a survivor.” English teachers sometimes use the word to mean that something was created in English, by English speakers, for English speakers, and not created just for a textbook.

However, when people talk, they usually use it in reference to a culture. For example:

“Authentic Chinese food is hard to find in Arkansas. If it’s covered in a bright pink sauce and there are no vegetables, it’s not authentic Chinese food!”
“My friend, Nao, said that most of the costumes in Memoirs of a Geisha were not authentic at all. The dances weren’t authentic, either. The director just made everything up!”
“Where could I find some authentic Vietnamese silk dresses?”
“Sometimes I cook a stew that I call ‘fake feijoada,’ because it’s not an authentic version of the famous Brazilian dish.”
“My favorite Japanese restaurant has a Japanese chef and serves totally authentic Japanese food, but they mix different kinds of dishes on the menu. That part might not be authentic, but I don’t care because the food is so good!”

In these examples, the word “authentic” refers to whether something fits the expectations of the culture it is supposed to be from. Does most Arkansas Chinese food look and taste like Chinese food from China? Do the costumes look like something a Japanese person from that time would wear? Are the dances real geisha dances? Are the dresses made in the real Vietnamese style? Is my stew the same as Brazilian feijoada? Is my favorite restaurant exactly like a Japanese restaurant in Japan?

Basically, it’s whether something looks like or is done the same way as the original (in the culture that the thing is supposed to be from).

It’s a useful word in conversation, especially if you’re homesick (“I miss authentic ____!”) or if you want to introduce a new friend to something (“Have you ever tried authentic ____?”). Or, for that matter, if you want to warn someone about something (“Don’t go there! They don’t have authentic _____”).

I hope you find a way to use this word soon!

Noun: authenticity.
Opposite: inauthentic. (In conversation, people usually say “not authentic” instead.)