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[00:00:00] Welcome to you.
Intro/Owain [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the English Waffle podcast aimed at
advanced English language learners who want to improve their listening skills by listening
to real conversations. My name's Owain. And in each episode, Mike and I do a bit of
waffling about a particular topic. In this episode. Mike and I are talking about two idioms.
These are expressions that we cannot understand by separating them into their
component parts. For example, if I say you're barking up the wrong tree, you may think I'm
talking about the noise that dogs make barking and identifying a tree incorrectly. It's not
the big tree with the green leaves, it's the small one with the yellow flowers on it. But you
would be wrong because the meaning of the words is not literal. In fact, YOU would be
barking up the wrong tree if you interpreted those words literally, you would be interpreting
my words incorrectly, because when they are used together as an expression, they mean
something different. In this case, they mean wrong or mistaken, barking up the wrong tree.
That's not one of the expressions in the episode by the way. We also mentioned some
important news regarding the English Waffle podcast. I won't spill the beans on that just
yet. You can find out more about that in the episode and at the end of the episode. So let's
go to the theme music and get waffling.
Jingle [00:01:23] Welcome to the English waffle where we'll talk about random stuff, we'll
take you on a journey where you'll find out soon enough that listening to the Waffle is an
entertaining way to sharing with you foreigners the things that british people say. So join
us on the Waffle and strap yourselves in for 10 whole earthling minutes of english listening
Mike [00:01:52] The expression is to spill the beans. To spill the beans, which, if I just
explain what that means, if you.. If you spill the beans, you reveal a secret. Quite simply,
and you reveal a secret normally, in a way that's kinda..it can be malicious can't it or can
be just. It can be clumsy. But either way, you don't want to reveal the b.. the secret if you
say spill the beans. So, for example, I might say I've.. I've organised a surprise party for
Owains.. Owains fortysomething and a late one, a belated surprise party only only I told
Sandra by mistake. I told his wife. She then she then spilt the beans over breakfast that
day. Yeah. Yeah.
Mike [00:02:54] So, yeah. I mean, the question is. Yeah, where, where.. where's it all
come from? Why do we say spill the beans?
Owain [00:03:00] Well that's it, I mean why beans exactly cause I mean you could spill
anything couldn't you really? I mean, beans are they are they specially related to secrets
by any chance? I mean, is there is there something about a bean that represents a secret?
Owain/Mike [00:03:20] I wonder, because, I mean, what kind of bean? Because there's
lots.. . Oh, well, yeah. I mean, why not why not peas, for example? Ooh, now I've gone
and spilt the peas havent i?! They're all over the place!
Owain [00:03:35] And just as awkward to pick up right?
Mike [00:03:36] The peas would be awkward to pick up. I'll give you a clue. The term
comes from ancient Greece.
Owain [00:03:48] Ooh oK. Now I'm going to test my knowledge of ancient Greece.
Mike [00:03:56] What do you think they might have done with beans in ancient Greece?
Owain [00:04:01] Well, as as as an educated guy, I thinking back to my extensive studies
of ancient Greece, I would say it has something to do with counting. Something to do with
Owain/Mike [00:04:20] I don't know why, but ... no im gonna get the bzzz bzzz! Quite the
reverse. You're gonna get a. You're gonna get a whoa, you're near. Oh. Okay, great. Very
close, in fact. So what do you think they were counting?
Owain [00:04:37] Right, so this could be something to do with trade, I suppose. And
maybe the beans were some kind of.. I mean I'm thinking along the lines of an abacus.
You know, you have an abacus which has kind of not beans but has beads on and you
move them across to kind of keep track of of numbers. Maybe the beans are the same.
The.. You.. have a pocketful of beans because they're dry ... just to clarify, often people
think of of baked beans and you know,.
Mike [00:05:10] I don't think they had baked beans in ancient Greece.
Mike [00:05:16] I'm going to say that.
Owain [00:05:16] No, no. I think that unfortunately. Unfortunately for them.
Mike [00:05:21] Yeah. Yeah, we know the effects...
Owain [00:05:28] Okay. Yeah. Just just keeping track of trade, how much people are ....
Or maybe they used it for gambling, they had a hand of poker. And they used them as the
stakes instead of betting with money they betted with beans and then.
Mike [00:05:43] These are both these, they were both very good guesses. Very, very good
guesses indeed. But the truth of it is that it is believed anyway that the phrase came from a
time where people cast their votes for a councillor, for somebody on the council, a
politician by putting white beans for YES. And black beans in a NO. So if someone
accidentally knocked over the jar, the beans would pour out and the secret would be
revealed .... early.. what the vote was. Yeah. Hey, let's see. See where the vote was. And
they'd say, you've spilt the beans. Julius!
Owain/Mike [00:06:29] That's brilliant, it's good isn't it?
Owain [00:06:33] And we and we still use it today don't we. I mean, how often you would
would you say use that.
Mike [00:06:39] Yes. An interesting one isn't it. So I'd say to listeners who come across
these pages in the Internet that say idioms in common usage in English. There's a.. You
need to take some of them a little bit with a pinch of salt. In other words, some of them we
don't really use very much these days. They're quite archaic. They're quite old fashioned.
And to give you an example would be something like raining cats and dogs. Do you say
Owain [00:07:08] Mm mm. No, i'd say that it's pissing it down.
Mike [00:07:11] Exactly. Chucking it down. It's pissing it down exactly. So.. But yeah, I'd
say to spill the beans is something that is quite frequently frequently used.
Owain/Mike [00:07:23] Yeah. Okay. Yeah. That's a good one. I like that because. er....
Yeah, uh, it's a nice story (go on what's yours mate?) there was a nice story behind it.
Owain [00:07:32] Well, mine's a good one because I'm I'm living with my dad at the
moment obviously, we come across each other quite, quite frequently in the in the house
going to get coffee and things like that during the day. And, um, um, he we often discuss
things and then and then and then he, he's got into the habit of kind of reflecting on kind of
the language we use because I always bring stuff up and say, oh, that's interesting. And
you know, I think sometimes he finds it quite annoying. Uh. And... And then sometimes he
thinks, oh. Oh yeah. That's that's really interesting, isn't it. And so it actually happened the
other day um, as it happens. And he said something along the lines of. Er.. There were
more people than you can shake a stick at. And he said himself oh, oh, that's a good one.
And I said, oh yeah, well, that's that's a that's a that's a good one. And we stopped for a
moment and thought.. Okay. It's quite clear what it means. So let's say you go into the into
the city centre and especially at the moment during the current situation, you think, well, it
should be too many people there. But he was surprised to see lots of people so there were
more people than he could shake a stick at. So it's basically what it means that there were
lots of people, aha, erm, and so neither of us had any idea where it came from. You know,
we drew a complete blank as as you would with a.. and then basically discovered.. Oh
let,, sorry i'm supposd to give you a chance to to guess arent i first?
Mike [00:09:13] Yeah. Yeah. I'm a must I must admit I've not heard of this expression
Owain/Mike [00:09:18] Oh really? Yeah. First time now. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Mike [00:09:22] Yeah. so in terms of everyday usage, maybe not up there with spilt the
beans which doesn't matter. It's just, just the fact that it's probably not as well known erm...
I'm guessing it might have been something to do with animals and herding kind of sheep
or something. (Interesting). You have sticks, the animals.
Owain [00:09:47] I'm, I havent got a machine to go ting
Mike [00:09:50] All right. Okay, sounds effects will do oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Our
Owain [00:10:04] So no, no, that's wrong. I mean. Well, it could be right.
Mike [00:10:10] Was it to do with a magician who bit like Merlin, who would have a stick,
which is was also the magic powers. And he would shake his stick at people.
Owain [00:10:22] Well, like he'd open. he'd open his cloak, and stick?
Mike/Owain [00:10:28] And then he would say there's too many people here to shake my
stick at. Oh sorry. I didn't realise everybody was here. I put my stick away. Exactly! Am i
close?. No !
Owain [00:10:50] Actually Mike you... It's a bit unfair, really, because I've researched a
little bit. And even the people who who actually do the research, I've researched the
people who did the research. (oh right, oh right) they say that people actually do the
research...don't really know.
Owain [00:11:09] Shall i go through that again?. Is that so... The people I researched who
are the people who research the people who actually do the research say that the people
who do the research don't actually know. We don't know.
Mike [00:11:25] Right. That's about as clear as mud for me.
Owain [00:11:29] But but there are some ideas. So one of the the most important ones is
that it's not actually originally... which would surprise some people.. it's not originally, uh, a
British expression. It comes from North America. Originally. And appears to have come..
well, then nobody really knows exactly there are quite a lot of examples of it all the way
back to kind of like the 18th century. But they're kind of.. They think it may be some to do
with either counting. So hang on we've got a theme going here.. counting. Um, um. With a
stick. Yeah. So maybe to shake a stick kind of was related to counting, but it is also the
idea that it may be related to threatening someone with a stick.
Owain [00:12:24] And I'm not quite sure why that means. I mean, I suppose if you if you're
confronted with a lot of people who are hostile and they want to attack you, then, you
know, you can you have your stick. And you think, well, there are too many people. So
there are too many people for me to fight. Yeah, you could kind of be the the origin, but we
don't really know....!!
Owain [00:12:53] So there you go. I hope that helps.
Mike/Owain [00:12:57] I'm none the wiser, but I am curious than i was before I'm definitely
more curious. Sticks and beans. There we go. Indeed, indeed.
Owain [00:13:09] I mean I mean, would it be a good idea just to clarify what a stick is?
And what a bean is?.
Mike [00:13:16] Yeah, yeah, Can do. Yeah. You go ahead with the stick.
Owain [00:13:19] A stick is a long thin... Piece of wood or metal or something that you can
use for lots of different things. I mean, I wonder how long this stick has been around.
Yeah. It could be for walking. It could be for poking things.
Mike/Owain [00:13:35] Throwing to the dog. Yeah. Throw a stick to the dog, I suppose.
Mike [00:13:41] And then beans are we get different kinds of beans. In English you get
your beans that are the vegetables, you get green beans and you get broad beans and
you get runner beans, so green beans are runner beans as well. And then you get jelly
beans for sweets for kids.
Mike/Owain [00:14:00] And and then baked beans, which are food, which is you eat when
you're sick. Traditionally for me anyway, I eat baked beans when I'm a bit.. baked beans,
really? When I'm not feeling too great that and Heinz tomato soup. Those are my those my
comfort foods when I'm sick. Interesting. So this is probably a good time to tell our listeners
that we are going to take a little break for the summer, erm, to get off the computer. To be
honest, for a while. Go and, go and and go do stuff outside. Play with our children. In your
case, Oast. Just have a nice summer break, but we'll be back.
Owain [00:14:45] Yeah. And it also gives a chance to a look at what what we've created
so far and then think about what was working and what what else we need to do, really.
We were quite aware that there's a lot more to do after the first year of English waffle. So
hopefully we'll be back with a new, improved version of the English waffle.
Mike [00:15:05] Absolutely. And we just thank you for your support. Thanks for listening. It
was super to have the messages that we've got from from you suggesting new topics and
to keep us motivated. It's really great that you're writing into us so really, honestly thank
you for that. Brilliant. It keeps us going.
Owain [00:15:23] Yes. Don't stop. In fact, I keep listening to the episodes if you haven't
listened to through some of them for a while. Go back, listen to them again and we will be
around to answer messages. So get in touch. Tell us what you think and we will get back
to you. So we are we are taking a break, but not completely.
[00:15:44] Absolutely. In the meantime, happy waffling. Cheers, mate. Bye bye.