January 18, 2013


Posted in verb at 1:26 am by Feng

catatonic – having catatonia, a syndrome characterized by muscular rigidity and mental stupor [dictionary]

On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon mocks at Raj: “You are afraid of women and bugs, so a ladybug must render you catatonic“.


January 11, 2013


Posted in verb at 1:24 am by Feng

wimp – a weak, ineffectual, timid person. [reference.com]

Sometimes, people opened the window in the kitchen to let in fresh air, but a lady sitting near the kitch couldn’t stand the freezing temperature, so she left a note, warning people not to do it. A colleague added a “wimp” to the note. When I first saw this note, I didn’t know what “wimp” meant. After looking it up, I found it a hilarious joke. The lady has been wanting to find out who wrote it. It feels to me that the sense of humor is pretty English; that might help narrow down the suspects 🙂


January 9, 2011


Posted in verb at 8:18 pm by Feng

also-ran – to refer to a loser in a competition [answers]

As the European and USA universities are feeling the pinch from the government funding cut, Brazil is steadily increasing the investment on education and research. From the economist, “Brazil is no longer a scientific also-ran“. This phrase came from horse racing, and it refers to a horse that didn’t make it to the first three winning positions. The names of those horses are usually published alongside the winners, but in a block under the heading “Also Ran”.

December 22, 2010


Posted in verb at 11:01 pm by Feng

gelivable – being cool and impressive, and “ungelivable” means the opposite  [yahoo]

This is a newly invented Chinglish word, but is getting increasingly popular across Internet in China. This word is derived from “geili”, which is used in the dialect in the northern part of China and literally means to “give power”. Some “smart” person invented the “gelivable” adjective that combines the Chinese native “geili” and also the English “-able” suffix in a strange way. Suddenly, the word appears everywhere on Chinese websites.

I don’t think native English speakers can understand this. Even for me, it took me a while to figure out what’s going on. Whoever came up with this word has reasons to brag about his/her mastering Chinese and English. But, to me, the word looks rather silly – or maybe, that’s exactly why it becomes the vogue.

December 17, 2010


Posted in verb at 9:49 pm by Feng

taterhead – Someone who is either mentally handicapped or just plain dumb [urbandict]

On “Two and a Half Men”, Berta couldn’t believe Jake had a girlfriend: “That taterhead has a girlfriend?” It makes sense if you know that “tater” refers to “potato”.

December 16, 2010


Posted in verb at 12:57 am by Feng

stickler – a person who insists on something unyieldingly [dict]

On “Two and a Half Men”, Alan saw two girls sneaking out of Jake’s room. He was paranoid about Jake hosting an orgy. “Not to be a stickler,” Charlie tried to correct Alan, “It takes more than three to be an orgy.”

May 16, 2010


Posted in verb at 4:22 pm by Feng

wrongheaded – stubborn in adherence to wrong opinion or principles [W-M]. Can also be spelt as wrong-headed.

In an academic debate, I pointed out some problems of a cryptographic algorithm. Some people agree with me, but some don’t. One person described me as “wrong-headed” in my opinions.  I found it funny because I never heard of this phrase before.

April 23, 2010

sharpen up

Posted in verb at 10:57 pm by Feng

sharpen up – to become sharp (see sharpen)

To sharpen up your skills is to improve the skills. Sometimes, this phrase is also used to prod someone to be smarter. This funny video clip tells a story about needing to “sharpen up“. I almost fell on the floor when watching it.

April 19, 2010

be zapped of energy

Posted in verb at 11:08 pm by Feng

be zapped of energy – be very tired (see zap)

Lately, I’ve been engaging in a boring project. I feel zapped of energy.

April 8, 2009

wade through treacle

Posted in verb at 8:15 pm by Feng

wade through treacle – to make one’s way slowly or laboriously. See [wade through] and [treacle]

A colleague used it as an example to explain English is such a tricky language. He was once talking to some non-native English speakers and used the expression “wade through treacle” , but found no one understood it.  In fact, once you know what treacle is, the meaning of this phrase is very intuitive – Just think of yourself walking in syrup.

April 3, 2009

gaz factory

Posted in verb at 4:36 pm by Feng

gaz factory – literally translaited from a French phrase “usine a gaz” which refers to a system or machine that is super-complex

Our software build system has a lot of external dependencies and is so complex that whoever works on it must get confused. A French colleague says there is a French term to descibe it –  literally translated as “Gaz Factory“. I don’t speak French, but I like this expression. It is easy to picture such a factory where machines are messed around and with all the noise, gas, smoke in the background. However, he doesn’t know the English equivalent; neither do I (In fact, I don’t know if there is a Chinese equivalent that is as vivid as this). Does anyone know if there is a similar expression in English? Apparently, I’m not the first one who asks this question.

March 26, 2009


Posted in verb at 10:21 am by Feng

whinge – to complain, especially in an annoying and persistent manner [dict]

A colleague was not happy with an arrangment, and he said: “I’ve whinged to the department, but so far no news.” This word is chiefly used in British English.

March 19, 2009

OKie Dokie

Posted in verb at 2:40 pm by Feng

Okie Dokie – a playful way to say OK [urban]

My British colleagues often like to say “Okie Dokie” instead of “OK”. Perhaps the word “OK” has been so commonly used that it becomes mundane. On the other hand, “OKie Dokie” sounds cheerful and crispy! Sometimes, you may hear “Okie Do” (where -kie is silenced).

December 11, 2008

ts and cs

Posted in verb at 11:52 am by Feng

ts and cs – terms and conditions

In a meeting, a manager talked about changing the “ts and cs” of our software product license. I was quite puzzled by that and didn’t find this phrase from the dictionary. After the meeting, a guy taught me that it was a common abbreviation for “terms and conditions”.

October 14, 2007


Posted in verb at 6:12 pm by Feng

attaboy — (informal) from common pronunciation of “that’s the boy!”; used as a cheer of encouragement or approval. [dict]

On “Two and a half man”, this phrase is used frequently in conversations. For example, Charlie’s Mum tends to say “Attaboy” whenever Charlie does something that pleases her. I didn’t get the spelling of this word until today.

June 8, 2007

give someone a nudge

Posted in verb at 12:17 pm by Feng

nudge — a gentle push [dict]

I always bear high appreciation on how efficiently things work in universities. My office desks had recently been replaced with new ones. Bravo! But hold on …

After the contractors fixed up the new furniture, they didn’t bother to take away the junk. They simply stacked the old desks and deserted them in the center of the room. Perhaps, understandably, they had no idea where to throw. I contacted the department store man, who promised to collect those woods immediately. But despite the constant reminder, it has been nearly 3 weeks now — nothing changed. Someone noticed the funny desk “hill” in my office. He said: “I will give the store man a nudge.”

May 4, 2007


Posted in verb at 3:01 pm by Feng

scooch — to move the buttocks over, around or up and down [ODE]

On ‘Friends’, Ross asks people sitting on a bench to move a bit to make a room for his ex-wife. He says: “People, scooch down please?” This is a word primarily used in America, and English people here generally claim that they never heard of this word. “In that situation,” an English lady explains, “we usually say: scoot over or move along.”

April 26, 2007


Posted in verb at 12:12 pm by Feng

squirm — To feel or exhibit signs of humiliation or embarrassment [dict]

The global warming is real. When I spent the winter holiday in China a few months ago, I felt it was apparently warmer than before. Something must be done, but the real question is “How”.

The “Kyoto protocol” is an attempt in that direction, but I fail to see that it will work. Leaders are elected by their people to act in the best interest of their nations. When it comes to the choice of doing good for the country or for the rest of the world, the former is just a natural choice. The incentives from rich/poor countries and environmentalists are misaligned — which is the inherent problem with the “Kyoto protocol”. There ought to be a better solution. I was not surprised when reading the below from Economist:

“America and others recognize that climate change is one of the world’s hottest topics, but still squirm when talking about doing something painful to tackle it.”

November 9, 2006

booby trap

Posted in verb at 11:47 am by Feng

booby trap — a hidden bomb or mine that could be set off by an unsuspecting person [dict]

Wikipedia is great; it allows anyone to edit the pages and contribute. Over the past few years, its popularity has been rising fast. However, what happens when someone inserts links in a page, leading to malicious virus downloads? From the article, “The message directed people to the booby-trapped page and the fake fix”.

September 13, 2006

not mean squat

Posted in verb at 9:55 am by Feng

squat — A small or worthless amount; diddlysquat [see squat]

On ‘Two and a half men’, Alan makes a decision on behalf of Charlie to let the maid live in the house. This pisses Charlie off as he owns the house but is not consulted. He angrily says to Alan: “This is my house. You stay in my house. Whatever you say does not mean squat.”

September 8, 2006


Posted in verb at 10:01 am by Feng

keeper — a woman with the good-wife material [urbandict]

On ‘Two and a half men’, Charlie has a new girlfriend, but no intention to marry her. Alan questions him: “Why not? She is a keeper. She is smart; she is pretty, and she cares about me.”

August 18, 2006

jog one’s memory

Posted in verb at 10:05 am by Feng

jog one’s memory — To rouse or stimulate one’s memory [dict]

On ‘Friends’, on the wall of a dry-cleaning store hang the pictures of TV celebrities. Joey told the store owner that his picture had been be on the wall, before he got fired from a popular TV show. But the owner couldn’t remember. So Joey held up his photo and said: “Maybe this will jog your memory.”

August 3, 2006


Posted in verb at 10:01 am by Feng

tip-top — to the highest extent [dict]

A guy in our group passed his PhD viva, and was about to leave us. Someone asked him to clean up his desk, and said: “You need to make sure the desk is tip-top clean.”

July 28, 2006


Posted in verb at 10:28 am by Feng

heyday — The period of greatest popularity, success, or power; prime. [dict]

A guy is very good at playing table tennis. He once played for his college and was one of the key players. “We used to have a strong college team in the heyday,” he said with pride.

July 14, 2006

just a hunch

Posted in verb at 9:49 am by Feng

hunch — An intuitive feeling or a premonition [dict]

On ‘Monk’, Sharona was attracted to a handsome guy who claimed to be an Australian journalist. But she didn’t know that the guy was actually involved in a conspired murder and that his intention was to destroy the murder evidence left in her phone messages. Monk didn’t have any good feelings about this guy from the beginning. He told Sharona’s younger sister that the guy was stranger. When asked why, he said: “Just a hunch.”

July 10, 2006


Posted in verb at 10:34 am by Feng

graphic — describing nudity or sexual activity in graphic detail [dict]

I have been busy writing up a paper these days. I told someone in the group that I had a few colorful plots to display the experimental results, so the paper would look “graphic“. He was a bit hesitant at start, but then couldn’t help laughing. To explain this, he gave me an example that he had a friend doing the research on auto-detecting pornographic pictures for Internet filtering. “I read that guy’s dissertation,” he said, “That was really graphic.” The word “graphic” can literally mean “pictorial”, according to dictionary.com. However, in real-life, its connotation is usually negative. A similar example is on the use of “sketchy“.

July 3, 2006

make a career out of doing something

Posted in verb at 11:08 am by Feng

make a career out of doing something — to choose something to be one’s career

The world-cup quarter-final match played between England and Portugal last weekend will be remembered by all England fans. Though England finally lost out in the penalty shoot-out — as if under jinx, they had never won any shoot-out in big games — the players had presented their best performance on the stage (except Wayne Rooney, maybe). Alexandre Ricardo, the Portugal goalkeeper, is meant to be the England team’s nemesis — his unbelievable saves had ruthlessly thrashed the England’s hope of crowning championship in this world-cup, as well as in the Euro 2004. After this legendary goalie blocked three penalty shoots during the shoot-out, being the first player who had done so in the world-cup history, the English commentator said in despair: “He makes a career out of doing this.”

May 25, 2006


Posted in verb at 9:47 am by Feng

catch — trick [dict]

On 'Desperate Housewives', Carl never did things without ulterior motives. After he saw the ring that Mike would use to propose to Susan, he immediately bought Susan a house with a nice swimming pool. Susan was hesitant to accept the offer. She asked: "What's the catch?" Carl assured her: "There is no catch. No strings attached."

May 23, 2006

toss oneself off the roof

Posted in verb at 10:24 am by Feng

toss oneself off the roof — self-explanatory

In a movie, when a guy said he couldn't stand his girlfriend talking ceaselessly to him. He said to his brother, "I want to toss myself off the roof." This may not be an idiom, but I find this expression more vivid than "I want to kill myself".

May 22, 2006

soft money

Posted in verb at 9:55 am by Feng

soft money — Political donations made in such a way as to avoid federal regulations or limits, as by donating to a party organization rather than to a particular candidate or campaign [dict]

On 'Prison break', the vice-president told her finance supporter that she couldn't run for presidency without campaign funds. She said: "Soft money makes the world go around."

May 18, 2006


Posted in verb at 9:58 am by Feng

powwow — meeting or conference [dict] [wiki]

When describing the meeting with his fellow worker on a project, someone said: "We had a powwow this morning." The root of this word could be traced to American Indians, meeting at a particular place at a particular time to sing, dance and socialize. It is then naturally extended to refer to gatherings in general. While picturing a ritual event with people hopping around, chanting and playing loud and exotic music, you may realize that it is a fun word to refer to a friendly discussion.

April 7, 2006


Posted in verb at 9:23 am by Feng

shakeup — A thorough, often drastic reorganization [dict]

In 24, Karen, sent by the vice president to assist the reconstruction of the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), was involved in a conspiracy to absorb the whole CTU into the Homeland Security Department. However, she told her boss that she couldn't take over CTU when it was still effectively functioning in searching for a runaway terrorist. She said, "A shakeup right now will hamper that search."

March 21, 2006

trash one’s reputation

Posted in verb at 9:44 am by Feng

trash one’s reputation — harm one’s reputation

I often use the phrase: “don’t harm one’s reputation”. In Desperate Housewives, Bree said, “Don’t trash my reputation.” It sounds more native.

March 20, 2006


Posted in verb at 5:36 pm by Feng

pun — A play on words [dict]

A friend told me that he had a wonderful (super-spicy) meal in Wok And Grill, Cambridge. The name of the restaurant sounds like “walk (in) and grill”. “It’s a pun,” he told me. I asked him for other examples of a pun. However, he couldn’t think of one under the pressure, “It’s difficult to recall a pun on-demand.”

March 17, 2006


Posted in verb at 5:23 pm by Feng

overblown — exaggerated [dict]

Referring to an exaggerated statement, a guy commented, “It’s overblown.” An alternative expression is “It’s blown out of proportion“.


Posted in verb at 10:11 am by Feng

FUD — acronym for fear, uncertainty and doubt [wiki] [whatis]

I was discussing with someone on a recently published paper about computer security. Both of us think that the paper first tries to instill an unfounded fear to the readers by over-exaggerating the threats and then make them accept the work emotionally. “It’s FUD“, he told me. I find this phrase very useful, not only in research but also in many other areas — for example, IBM used this trick by claiming “no one got fired for buying IBM”. In politics, unethical politicians manoeuvre this strategy all the time especially during elections.

March 16, 2006

belt up

Posted in verb at 5:27 pm by Feng

belt up — to wear a seat belt

I had a one-day trip to London today. On the way back, the coach driver reminded us that the passengers in the first four rows behind him must wear the seat belts. “Please belt up,” the driver said. I think this expression is more concise than “please wear your seat belts”. Interestingly, when I looked up this phrase in several dictionaries, the only listed definition I found is: “shut up” (see [m-w] and [dict]). The definition is incomplete in the dictionaries.

March 14, 2006


Posted in verb at 10:14 pm by Feng

gotcha — Got it. I understand you. [urban]

In Friends, two people are in a conversation:

— Please sit and make yourself comfortable.

March 10, 2006

you smug

Posted in verb at 11:00 am by Feng

smug — someone who is very happy with oneself [urban]

Charlie told his maid that he and his girlfriend were through. The maid scolded him, “You smug. She is the best thing that ever happened to you.” Later, Charlie’s mother called him and also reproached him as a “smug“. Jake asked Charlie what this word meant. Charlie said, “Anyone who is not whipped.”


Posted in verb at 10:07 am by Feng

whipped — being completely controlled by a woman [urban]

In “Two and a Half Man”, Charlie was dating a gorgeous dance teacher. Unhappy with Charlie’s bad habits in life, his girlfriend urged him to change to a new life — no smoking, no drinking, doing exercise regularly and eating healthy. Finally Charlie couldn’t take it any more and broke up with her. He explained, “I felt I was whipped“.

March 9, 2006

in limbo

Posted in verb at 12:30 pm by Feng

in limbo — In a condition of oblivion or neglect [dict]

(From BBC news) A foreign company, based in the United Arab Emirates, proposes to take over a UK-based company on controlling the US ports operations. However, because of the security concerns, “the deal is currently in limbo while the US conducts a review”.

February 24, 2006

over easy

Posted in verb at 6:04 pm by Feng

over easy — adj. pertaining to eggs fried on both sides [dict]

“Miss, two fried eggs, over easy.” or
“Miss, two fried eggs, sunny side up” (fried on only one side).

February 23, 2006


Posted in verb at 9:57 am by Feng

sugarcoat — to make more appealing or pleasant [dict]

In “Desperate housewives”, Edie and Susan went to Bree’s house. Edie told Bree in a direct manner that she saw Bree’s daughter making out with another guy in the park. Susan quickly interrupted her, “can can’t you sugarcoat it?”

February 22, 2006

pissed-off face

Posted in verb at 10:07 am by Feng

pissed-off face — angry face

I know a person who is not a native English speaker. However, he has the natural talent to make his English speaking fun and vivid. Here is one example — when he described the difficulty that the TESCO cashiers couldn’t scan the barcode printed on the food package, he said, “they scan this way … that way… couldn’t read the barcode, and you can see their pissed-off faces.”

February 16, 2006


Posted in verb at 10:01 am by Feng

mind-boggling — intellectually or emotionally overwhelming (see dictionary)

I attended one seminar delivered by a visiting professor from Israel. He did quite a lot of work on odor identification, classification and mixing. It was an entertaining talk. The professor said, “Nowadays, you see pictures and hear sounds from a computer. Imagine in a few years, you can smell odors as well. It’s mind-boggling.”

February 10, 2006

scrap it

Posted in verb at 10:10 am by Feng

scrap it — stop talking about something

We often say “stop it” or “drop it”, if we don’t want somebody to continue talking about something. In the “lost” show, When Sawyer couldn’t stand Charlie’s talking, he said “scrap it“. (the phrase is often used to drop an idea or a plan, see comments)