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March 13, 2003 - Listener Mail - 2003-03-13

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": March 13, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- questions and more questions!

RS: Listener Ahmed Mustaque sends this question by e-mail from somewhere in cyberspace: "Could you please tell me about the word 'being.'"

AA: "Being" is used as a verb when you talk about a continuous situation. For instance, the Irish-born playwright Oscar Wilde wrote a comedy called "The Importance of Being Earnest."

RS: It can also mean something that exists -- like a human being. There it's used as a noun. And it can modify a noun. When people say "for the time being," "being" serves as an adjective.

AA: "For the time being" means "for now," the present time -- in other words, until something changes. Some people also use "being" in place of "because" or "since," as in the phrase "being as how ... "

RS: Now, being as how we don't have much time, we move on to a question that should resound with teachers everywhere. It's from Dianne Gray in Moscow. She's new to English teaching, and we've answered some of her questions before.

AA: Recently Dianne was invited to help a group of four new students. Her question: "How can these students be corrected as a group (if so) without embarrassing anyone?"

RS: Well, as it turned out, Dianne answered her own question this time. She wrote back to say: "What I did with my new group of students was to ask them how they feel comfortable about being corrected as a group. They said I should just correct them and they would not get upset. So, we're trying that."

AA: Next a question from a listener in Bangladesh who's also written us before. Azmul Haque in Dhaka asks us to explain what’s called an oxymoron.

RS That word -- which comes to us from Greek -- is a combination of words that seem to make no sense being together, yet, despite the contradiction people use them.

AA: Here are some examples: "healthy tan," "jumbo shrimp," "working vacation," "peace force" and "pretty ugly."

RS: These examples come from the "Top 20" at Number 20, by the way, is "government organization."

MUSIC: "Mister Ed"/Theme from 1960s TV show

AA: And now, the most unusual question we've ever gotten. A listener in China would like to know what we Americans say to a horse to urge it to move faster.

RS: "In my country,” writes Pan Runzhou in Shanghai, “people utter the sound like jar~jar~jar~".

AA: Well, for an answer we turn to a horse expert, Nancy Smart at Longevity Farm in Maryland:

SMART: "Actually this is kind of an interesting question, because we don't say much. If we say anything, we cluck at them [sound] -- you know, click, click, click, click. But really mostly the way we ask our horses to go faster is with our legs and our seats and our hands, non-verbal aids. If I'm asking my horse to move from a walk to a trot, I'll just squeeze gently with my calves, and he will move into a trot."

AA: "Do you ever use the expression 'whoa Nelly!'"

SMART: "Never. Never. I know what it means -- it means 'stop horse.' But it's not something that I've ever in my life used."

RS: Nancy Smart, accomplished equestrian and -- until she retired from VOA last year -- our editor on Wordmaster. But while serious riders like Nancy may bridle at the term "whoa Nelly!" it is used as slang ... to tell a PERSON to slow down, like if someone is talking too fast or coming on too strong.

AA: And while you're talking like a make-believe cowboy, you might also say that you've got to "giddy up and go!" And that's what we've got to do. Catch us on the Web at, and our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Back in the Saddle Again"/Gene Autry (first recorded in 1939)