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When Is Something 'Ancient History'?

FILE - People gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, near Salisbury, England, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
FILE - People gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, near Salisbury, England, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
When Is Something 'Ancient History'?
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

Do you like to learn about ancient history? If you do, you could call yourself a history buff. If you are a “buff,” you have a strong interest in a subject and want to learn all about it.

History buffs can have a special interest in a particular historical period in the past. For example, they might read a lot about ancient Greek or Roman history. History buffs might be interested in ancient Mesopotamia or Carthage. Or perhaps the ancient Mayans or Incas would be up their alley. If something is up your alley, it goes along with your interests. It is something you want to know more about.

However, English speakers use the expression ancient history in other ways. And many have nothing to do with exploring cultures from long ago.

For example, if something is ancient history, it is no longer meaningful or relevant. It is outdated or totally forgotten. Something that is ancient history is old news.

Let’s say a business owner wants to modernize and update her workspace. She says she wants to get a new fax machine. But then, her young son tells her fax machines are ancient history.

Ancient history can describe events in a person’s past. Let’s say a co-worker always talks about his time in high school. When he asks about yours, you might say that your high school days are ancient history. You barely remember them.

Sometimes we use ancient history to mean something has been completely forgotten – even if it is a fairly recent event. It just feels like it happened a long time ago.

For example, two friends of yours want to start a business together. Last month, it was a café. Now, their latest idea is offering storage units for rent. When you ask about the café idea, they might say, “Oh, that idea is ancient history. We’ve moved on from that.”

We also use ancient history in another way. Sometimes ancient history means an issue has been resolved and is no longer a problem. It is water under the bridge. Water under the bridge is another idiom that means a problem no longer exists.

For example, let’s say you had an unpleasant experience with a good friend, but it happened years ago. You both value your friendship and choose to forgive and forget. The problem is no longer an issue between the two of you. It is ancient history.

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

relevant –adj. something that is important to the current situation

rent –n. paying the owner of property like a home, car or machine for its temporary use

We want to hear from you. Do you have similar expressions in your language? In the Comments section, you can also practice using any of the expressions from the story. Our comment policy is here.