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This is the blog of the Perfect English NYC website. If you are looking for private 1:1 ESL/English lessons/tutoring, please go to the HOME page to get started. If you are looking for FREE resources to help you learn English, please check out the links to your right. Posts below may contain short lessons, ideas for self-study, and/or stories about American culture, holidays, traditions, etc — and especially about life in New York City for newcomers!

Words We Use: Skimp and Scrimp

Photo of Barbara Eden in costume as Jeannie
This costume from a 1960s comedy was considered too “skimpy” for television.

Recently, “skimp”  was the winning word on the popular online game Wordle.  “Skimp” is a commonly used five letter word, but you might not  know how to use it, so just for fun, I turned to my new bff, ChatGPT for help. I asked ChatGPT to write a paragraph using “skimp.”  Here’s the ChatGPT-generated story:

When it comes to quality, I never like to skimp. Whether it’s purchasing a new laptop or preparing a gourmet meal, I believe in investing time and resources to ensure the best outcome. Skimping on essential components often leads to disappointment and regret. Instead, I prefer to be thorough and meticulous in my approach, knowing that the extra effort will pay off in the long run. It’s important to recognize that cutting corners can compromise the overall experience and end up costing more in the end. Therefore, I choose to prioritize excellence and avoid the temptation to skimp on what truly matters.

Can you guess the meaning of “skimp” from the above paragraph?  

Let’s try an easier version, also written by ChatGPT. The simpler version mighthelp you decipher some of the words I put in bold above:

When it comes to quality, I always avoid skimping. Whether it’s buying a new laptop or cooking a fancy meal, I think it’s important to invest time and resources to get the best result. If you try to save on important parts, you’ll often end up disappointed and regretful. Instead, I prefer to be careful and thorough in what I do, knowing that the extra effort will be worth it in the long term. It’s important to understand that taking shortcuts can affect the overall experience and end up being more expensive. That’s why I choose to focus on excellence and resist the temptation to skimp on what really matters. 

Are you ready to take a guess?

Great!  To “skimp” means to do something without using adequate resources. These resources could be time, money, effort, etc. When you “skimp” you don’t use enough resources and the results could be disappointing.  

Note that in the first sentence of GPT’s paragraph, the word “skimping” is used. This is the gerund/noun form of the verb. This is how we often name activities in English. You have seen this form before in sentences such as: “I like swimming” or “Running is good exercise.”

“Skimp” also has an adjective form: “skimpy.”   We only use “skimpy” to describe certain things.  Small, inadequate portions of food are often called “skimpy.” If we see someone wearing clothing, such as a bathing suit, that doesn’t cover as much as it should, we might refer to that as a “skimpy bikini.”  Here are a couple of quick examples:

The restaurant was overpriced and the portions were skimpy.

It takes guts for a woman her age to wear a skimpy bikini. 

Sometimes people —  including native speakers — confuse the word “skimp” with the word “scrimp.” “Scrimp” rhymes with “skimp,” but these two words have different meanings.  They are not interchangeable. We often use “scrimp” as part of the expression: “to scrimp and save,”  but you can also use it alone. Here is a paragraph by my assistant, ChatGPT, using that expression:

In the early years of their marriage, Emily and Mark had to scrimp and save to make ends meet. With limited incomes and mounting expenses, they adopted a frugal lifestyle. They diligently tracked their spending, cut back on unnecessary luxuries, and constantly sought ways to save money. They skipped dining out, packed their lunches, and made their coffee at home. Every dollar saved was carefully earmarked for their dream of owning a home. Their dedication and perseverance paid off as they finally managed to accumulate enough savings for a down payment, and they joyfully moved into their own house, knowing that their years of scrimping and saving had been worthwhile.

The above  paragraph also contains several words, phrasal verbs, and expressions that you might not know, so I asked ChatGPT to give me a simpler version of the story. Comparing both versions will help you understand the vocabulary:

During the early years of their marriage, Emily and Mark had to be very careful with their money to make sure they had enough. They didn’t have much income, and their expenses kept increasing. So, they lived a simple life and didn’t spend money on things they didn’t really need. They scrimped and saved, watching how much they spent, avoiding going out to eat, bringing their own lunches, and making their coffee at home. They saved every dollar they could because they had a dream of buying their own house. Their hard work and determination paid off, and eventually, they had enough money saved to make a down payment on a house. They were very happy and felt that all the effort they had put into scrimping and saving had been worth it.

After reading both paragraphs, can you explain the meaning of “scrimp”? 

Great! To “scrimp” means to economize, usually in order to save enough money for a particular purpose. It implies that there is a need to “cut back” on expenses and/or to  be careful with spending, to live frugally in order to have enough for this future purpose. 

What do you think of ChatGPT’s sample paragraphs?  Do you think they provide good context and examples that help make these words easy to understand? Do you think ChatGPT will soon replace your humble English teacher?  

Homework:  Look up any words in the paragraph you don’t know.  You can ask ChatGPT to generate sentences if you need more examples!

Here is a very short quiz to help you remember how to use skimp and scrimp. (I created this myself with no help from ChatGPT!)

  1. When they said it was a luxury resort they meant it! The rooms were beautiful and had every amenity you could imagine. They didn’t  ___________________ (scrimp) (skimp) on anything.
  2.  Debbie was asked to change when she showed up at school wearing a ________ pair of shorts that violated the dress code. (scrimpy) (skimpy)
  3. They must have ____________ (scrimped) (skimped) (skipped) for years to pay for that wedding! 

Click to check answers: (more…)

Words that Work: 7 words and expressions in 5 minutes!


Burning Bridge. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dewey_Bridge_Fire_4-06-2008.jpg

Today, I want to go over 3 expressions that came up this week in my classes, and briefly explain how and why we might use each of them. Each of these are used in both business and personal conversations. There are sample dialogues that also contain a few bonus expressions that will be explained at the end of this post. But wait there’s more! Look for four bonus words and expressions used in this post and explained at the end. There is a brief quiz you can take to practice the new vocabulary.

I. “No good can come of it.” or “Nothing good can come of it.”
Either of these collocations can be used to mean that if a particular action is taken, the outcome will probably be terrible. You can use this to give advice (if asked) when someone presents what sounds like a disastrous plan. Let’s see this in a dialogue:

Anna: I’m so mad at my old boss for firing me. Now that I have a new job, I’m going to write her a letter and tell her exactly what I think of her!

John: Anna, why would you do that? You got four months of severance pay and an excellent reference. You left on good terms. You might still need her as a contact in the future. Why burn bridges?

Anna: But John, she hurt my feelings! I feel so betrayed. I want her to know what I really think of her and her stupid company!

John: Please Anna. Do not do this thing! No good can come of it.

II. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
This expression is a bit of a cliche, so it is best to avoid it, but you might hear someone use it. Sometimes people just say the first part, “You can lead a horse….” People are so familiar with the expression that you don’t need to say the whole thing for them to understand! It means you can lead someone in the right direction, but you can’t force someone to take the right action.

Joe: I’ve tried to give Roger good advice and mentorship on the project, but he doesn’t seem interested in my help.

Beth: That sounds frustrating. I know you’ve tried. Some of your tips could really help him, but you know what they say: You can lead a horse to water…

Joe: So true! But I wish there was something more I could do!

Beth: Some people have to learn the hard way!

III. “They’re going through something.” or “They’re going through a lot.”
The word “through” can be difficult for nonnative speakers! To begin with, the spelling is not phonetic! The meaning of “through” is to pass from one side to another, as in this example: “I had to go through Vermont to get to New Hampshire.” However, we use the word in many different ways. When we use it as part of a phrasal (two word) verb with “go” or “going” the meaning changes. When people say, “I’m going through a lot” or “I’m going through something” they usually mean that some change or changes are happening in their lives, which are difficult. It is possible to use “going through” for positive changes as well, but usually we use it when someone is in the middle of a difficult period.

Sarah: I just wanted to check in with you about the barbecue. Are you coming?
Robert; I’m sorry, Sarah. We can’t make it. My mom is going through a lot right now and we’re going to be visiting her.
Sarah: I’m so sorry to hear that! It’s so great you’re going to see her. Maybe you and Dana can come over for dinner after you get back.
Robert: We’d love that! Thanks for understanding!

Notice in the above example, Robert does not need to be specific about what his mother is going through. Is she ill? Bereaved? Having financial difficulties? We don’t know, and it’s not necessary for Sarah to ask. Sarah understands that whatever she is going through is serious enough for Robert to go see her instead of going to his friend’s barbecue.

Bonus phrases used in this post:

Came up is a phrasal verb. It has a few meanings.
The most common meaning is “to be mentioned. Example: “Your name came up at the meeting! The boss wants you to be part of the team on this!”
Another meaning is “to invent” or “to find a solution.” Example: “The team came up with a quick fix for the bug in the software.”
A third meaning is when some unexpected issue happens, and plans might need to be changed. Often this is used without explaining the full nature of the issue. Example: “Hi Jane. This is Julie, Ted’s assistant. He asked me to message you that he can’t make it to the 2:00 meeting today. Something came up. He’s really sorry and will call you himself to reschedule.”

Burn bridges: When someone “burns bridges” or “burns a bridge” they engage in behavior that breaks off the possibility of future good relations with an individual, group, organization, or community. This might involve an action such as ending a relationship on terms that are so harsh and bitter that one can never ask the other person for anything ever again.

To learn the hard way is used when one learns a lesson through a negative experience, often after warnings or opportunities to learn through the experience of others. Example: “We tried to warn Mike that Melissa is easily offended and you have to be really careful around her, but he didn’t listen, and now he’s learning the hard way.”

Come over: This is a phrasal verb that is often used to mean visit or stop by a person’s home, office, etc. Example: “John is coming over for dinner.” Note: the word “over” isn’t actually necessary for the sentence to make sense. It is also correct to say, “John is coming for dinner.”

Take a Quick Quiz to help you remember these phrases:

Choose the word or phrase that fits:

The topic didn’t (come up) (come over) at the meeting.
The topic didn’t ______________ at the meeting.

You can lead a (cow) (pig) (horse) to water but you can’t make him (swim) (drink).
You can lead a _________ to water but you can’t make him _______.

It’s always a good idea to leave a job on good terms, and not burn (houses down) (cars) (bridges).
It’s always a good idea to leave a job on good terms and not burn _____________.

Martha is (passing through) (coming through) (going through) a lot right now, so let’s try to be supportive.
Martha is _________________ a lot right now, so let’s try to be supportive.

To see the answers click below

Words in the news: Hush Money

A short explanation of a word you newsnerds are sure to be seeing a lot in the news: hush money.

You will see this word in news articles about an upcoming case. Soon the Manhattan district attorney’s office will begin presenting evidence to a grand jury about Donald Trump’s role in paying “hush money” to a porn star. (more…)

Words That Work: Blowout, Blowback, Feedback, and Fallout

Let’s look at four words you might hear in conversation, in the news, or more likely — at work.

Blowout, blowback, feedback, and fallout are easy to confuse terms that aren’t always easy to translate.  They each have different meanings and they are all commonly used.  (more…)

Don’t Louse This Up! Using Lousy in Everyday Speech

Pearson Scott Foresman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lousy is a simple two syllable word that almost all native-English speaking Americans use. It’s not an “SAT word “ or a word you’re likely to encounter on the TOEFL. It probably won’t appear on your medical licensing test if you’re a doctor or a nurse, but it’s a word that your patients are likely to use. If you want to sound more natural and more like a native speaker, this is one to add to your everyday English. (more…)

Eight Idioms You Can Learn In a New York Minute

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_york_times_square-terabass.jpg

Here are some idioms with the word “minute.”  All of these are fun to learn and used frequently in conversation, on the news, and in the workplace. (more…)

It’s Elementary: How we talk about school in the United States.

Courtesy wikipedia commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/75th_St-Elderts_Ln_45b_-_FK_Lane_HS.jpg

Some of my students are immigrants who’ve started families in the United States or brought their children here. Others might be here for a few years for work. If they have children, they are going to have to navigate the educational system, so here’s a primer for parents with some basic information.  (I’ll do this as a blog series with more to come.) (more…)