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Does a Good Luck Charm 'Work Like a Charm'?

FILE - Many cultures have good luck charms or activities. In this photo, a woman offers flowers to Yemanja, goddess of the sea, for good luck in the coming year during New Year's Eve festivities on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Does a Good Luck Charm 'Work Like a Charm'?
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On today’s program we talk about the word “charm.”

“Charm” has several meanings.

It can be a word, action, or thing believed to have magic power, to keep away evil, or to bring good luck.

It can be a small item worn on a chain or bracelet. Charm bracelets are popular because you can add charms that show things you like, your hobbies, or your interests.

“Charm” is also a quality that attracts and pleases people. If you are charming, you charm people or you make them like you. In the story of Cinderella, the prince is called… Prince Charming.

Works like a charm

Now, let’s talk about our first expression. If something works like a charm it works perfectly. Something that works like a charm does exactly want it is supposed to do. This expression can describe an approach, a method, a tactic, or even a device. Whatever it is works so well, that it seems like magic!

Let’s hear two friends use it. One friend invites another to go boating for the weekend. But before that can happen, the invitee must find a dog watcher for the weekend. Let’s hear how they use the expression to work like a charm.

A: So, can you go boating with me this weekend?

B: Yes! My roommate agreed to watch my dog Milo.

A: She did? I thought she didn’t like Milo… at all.

B: Me too. She complains about my dog all the time. Milo is too big. Milo is too playful. Milo is too… whatever!

A: So, why did she agree to watch him?

B: Well, I told her that when I take Milo to the dog park lots of men want to play with such a big, friendly dog. And I added that some of these men are very good-looking.

A: Oh, that is too funny!

B: It might be funny, but it worked like a charm.

The third time is the charm

Now, for our next expression. Let’s say a person tries to do something but fails at it two times, or twice. But they want to try again for a third time. They hope that on the third attempt, it will work.

In this situation, we can say the third time is the charm. However, when we use this expression we usually say it quickly – like this “third time’s the charm.”

We often use this expression to encourage someone to do something that they have tried a couple of times. Sometimes we use it to describe our own efforts. We try to convince ourselves that our efforts, whatever they are, will finally work out.

Here is another conversation using the expression third time’s the charm.

A: Where are you going with all those boxes?

B: I’m helping James open his new business.

A: James is opening another business? Didn’t his past two businesses fail?

B: They did. He lost a lot of money on both of them.

A: Wow, he is brave for starting another business. You'd think he would have learned his lesson.

B: He said the third time’s the charm! He really believes this one will work out.

A: What is the business anyway?

B: He is opening a dog summer camp.

A: A summer camp … for dogs?

B: Yep. Those boxes are filled with dog treats and toys.

A: But people love spending time with their dogs in the summer.

B: Look, I’m just helping him out.

A: Well, in this case, I don’t think third time’s the charm is the best expression to use. I’d use … don’t quit your day job.

The expression may have its roots in old superstitions. It means that the third time will be lucky and therefore successful. Word experts say that some cultures throughout history viewed three as a lucky number.

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories. Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

tactic – n. a planned action for a particular purpose

complain – v. to express grief, pain, or discontent : find fault

encourage – v. to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope

root – n. an original cause or source

superstition – n. a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic


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