And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.
Have you ever gone to a farm or an orchard to pick fruit? Was all of the fruit easy to pick, or were some pieces easier to reach than others? Perhaps there were some apples in a tree that were too high for you to reach. And maybe you saw that others had picked the easiest fruit to reach before you.
Today’s Words and Their Stories, however, is not about fruit, but about ideas.
If you are the first person to arrive at an apple tree during harvest time, you can easily find some low-hanging fruit. These are the apples that are on the branches closest to the ground. Low-hanging fruit describes the most obvious or easiest things to do to help you reach a goal.
The problem with low-hanging fruit is that it is easy for others to get there first, too.
People who try to create new music, TV shows, or movies sometimes face this problem. They might believe that the best melodies and story ideas have already been taken.
Some songwriters or scriptwriters might say that the creative low-hanging fruit has already been picked.
When most of the fruit, ideas, or things that we desire have already been taken, we can say that the remains are slim pickings. This means there are only a few useful things left to choose from.
And, when almost nothing of value remains, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. That means we are trying to get the last little bits. There is nothing but scraps left.
“Scraps” are small, unwanted pieces that remain at the end of a process, like bits of food remaining after making or eating a meal. The scraps are often given to animals or thrown away. So, if you have nothing but scraps, it means you have the least valuable things, worth almost nothing to most people.
When there is nothing left of something we need, like water, we must solve the problem. One answer is to dig a well to reach water underground. Some wells can last for many years, but others run dry. When the well has run dry, there is nothing left.
Paul Simon is a famous American songwriter. In 2007, he told a reporter, “I think there’s a certain reservoir of melody that you are born with, and in the beginning, you draw on that. And then after a while, a relatively short while, you use it up.”
A reservoir is a place where water is stored, such as a pool, a pond, or a lake. Simon added that when the artist has used all that is in the reservoir, he or she needs to expand their skills. Otherwise, their creative well is going to run dry.
So far, we have talked about running out of ideas. But what happens if you get lucky and find a lot of something valuable, like oil or gold?
In those cases, you have hit the mother lode. The term mother lode came from California after gold was discovered there in 1848. It describes a narrow area of rock in the state about 190 kilometers in length. This rock was the source, or “mother,” of the gold found in rivers and streams in the area.
Is VOA Learning English your mother lode for learning new idioms and expressions? Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to keep reading Words and Their Stories!
I'm Andrew Smith.
Andrew Smith wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
pick -v. to select and take something
orchard -n. an area of land on which fruit trees are grown
branches -n. the parts of a tree that grow from its trunk and have leaves, fruit, or flowers on them.
obvious -adj. easily seen or understood
melody -n. the main notes that make a song or tune
draw on -v. (phrasal) to utilize or to take from a quantity or source
pond -n. a small body of water
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