02 January, 2016
Hello! Welcome to the VOA Learning English program, Words and Their Stories, where every word has a story.
And Happy New Year!
The start of a new year is a time of reflection, or deep thinking. Many people plan for the future and, at the same time, feel nostalgic for the past. In other words, they think about the past in a dreamy way – a little happy and a little sad.
One popular New Year's song is especially nostalgic.
Dan Fogelberg was a popular U.S. singer-songwriter during the 1970s. His song "Same Old Lang Syne" is set around the New Year.
When two former lovers – high school sweethearts, perhaps? – meet in a grocery store, they talk about old times and wonder what might have been.
"Lang syne" means at a distant time in the past.
In the first part of the song, Fogleberg writes, "I stole behind her in the frozen foods, and I touched her on the sleeve."
Met my old lover in the grocery store,
The snow was falling, Christmas Eve,
I stole behind her in the frozen foods,
And I touched her on the sleeve.
Fogelberg did not actually steal anything from the store. Stealing would get him arrested. And that would make the song very different.
No, in this case, "to steal" means to do something secretly. You can steal a glance at your secret love from across a crowded room. If someone steals a kiss from you, they sneak up and surprise you with a kiss. If someone steals your heart, they cause you to fall deeply in love with them. And if two lovers steal away into the night, they escape secretly to be together.
Who knew stealing could be so romantic!
Moving on to the next selection from the song, we find two common expressions.
We took her groceries to the checkout stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation dragged
Let's talk about "to be lost in embarrassment."
If you lose yourself in something, an event or emotion takes over your mind and body. For example, I love getting lost in a good book. Lovers get lost in each others' eyes. You can also lose yourself in your work and forget to see family and friends.
Next, what happens when a conversation drags? It does not move smoothly. If two people are embarrassed, their conversation can be slow and awkward. You can also say a book or movie drags if the story lines move too slowly.
Conversations with a former lover can be embarrassing. It can be even more embarrassing if you are still attracted to that person.
Later in the song, Fogelberg writes about his former lover's appearance. He says the "years had been a friend to her, and that her eyes were still as blue."
I said the years had been a friend to her
And that her eyes were still as blue
But in those eyes I wasn't sure
If I saw doubt or gratitude
When you say the years had been a friend to someone, you are saying that they look younger than their age. You can also say that the years have been kind to someone. It is a nice thing to say.
But you can also change this expression around and say the years have not been kind to someone, meaning they look older than they really are.
And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.
Steal away by yourself to practice these expressions. Perfecting them will ensure your English conversations won't drag. Or perhaps just lose yourself in this song!
I'm Anna Matteo, wishing everyone a happy New Year!
We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to time.
Reliving in our eloquence,
Another old lang syne.
Anna Matteo wrote this for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
reflection – n. consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose
nostalgia – n. pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again <A wave of nostalgia swept over me when I saw my childhood home.>
embarrassing – adj. to make (someone) feel confused and foolish in front of other people
awkward – n. causing embarrassment <an awkward moment>