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Dan Smith
A surprisingly difficulty in what I thought would be easy English

I'm working with a language companion who's learning English. Both of us have a weakness in listening and understanding the spoken language we are learning. I thought it would be helpful to her to listen to me read aloud from a children's book. I don't have an age rating but it seems to me that this is the kind of book you'd read to, let's say, a nine-year-old child.

What amazed me is just how difficult things become when there is even a trace of humor or irony in the language. Below is the passage that was difficult to explain. I think any native speaker would understand this effortlessly and not even realize it could be a problem.

I'm curious to know how it seems to people who are learning English. It's from The Big World and the Little House, by Ruth Krauss, best known for The Carrot Seed. The problem is the situation--the author is inviting the reader to be mischievous and contrary--and, specifically,  the last sentence.

The father put down a little blue rug with a black sheep on it that was made by a lady in Canada. And he put in two kinds of clock, one that did keep time and one that didn't keep time. When someone said, "Hurry! It's nearly nine o'clock," you could answer, "Oh, but my clock says two o'clock. And it's always two o'clock someplace." Which is a fact. You could even add, "What's good enough for SOMEPLACE is good enough for me."

What would you call the pattern "What's good enough for X is good enough for me?" Not a saying, not an idiom, not a colocation. We can mean it seriously--"The White House uses Lenox china, and what's good enough for the White House is good enough for me"--or, as she does, it can be a joke.

(It's a transatlantic usage, too. I know an old British music-hall song, told from the point of view of a homeless man who lives in Trafalgar Square and pretends to like it: "I'll own it's a trifle drafty/But I look at it this way, you see:/If it's good enough for Nelson,/It's quite good enough for me.")

Sep 22, 2016 1:49 AM
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Dan Smith
Language Skills
English, Spanish
Learning Language
Spanish