English Words I Learned in 2011 (1/2)

A year ago, I tricked Andrew, an English teacher from the school where I teach French, into becoming my friend. I didn’t know many people in Zürich back then and he looked like a fun person. Everytime I bumped into him at the school, he always came up with a silly line that would make me laugh. And I certainly seek the company of people who bother making me laugh. However, I was too cool to just tell him: “Hey, you seem fun, do you want to be my friend?” So instead, I asked him to help me with my English.

I offered to teach him French in exchange, but since English people think their language is above all other languages, he refused. He asked why I didn’t get my English-speaking boyfriend to help me, and I told him that it often led to arguments. To my amazement, not only did Andrew agree to help, but looking back on 2011, I realise my English really is better. Here’s some words I learned (I found the definitions in oxford online dictionary; I copied them in red.).


To stifle

Restrain (a reaction) or stop oneself acting on (an emotion): she stifled a giggle.

After Andrew made yet another joke about dwarves, he blamed me for laughing: “Why are you laughing at this sick joke?! You’re such a bad person!”

“I am not laughing!” I protested.

“Yes you are! I saw how you stifled your laugh. How dare you mock dwarves! They are real people, they deserve your respect like anyone else!”

To flounce

Go or move in an exaggeratedly impatient or angry manner: he stood up in a fury and flounced out.

I did flounce out on Andrew many times. But I do it even better virtually. Chatting with him ultimately leads to some kind of pointless argument. When I am tired of it, I just tell him I have to go. That’s when “FLOUNCE! FLOUNCE! FLOUNCE!” appears on my chat window.

To elope

Run away secretly in order to get married.

On a hot summer day, Andrew and I were whining about the heat. “I don’t want to go to work”, I said.

“Yeah, me neither,” he replied, “I just want to elope with Kim, the school’s hot secretary.”

To simper at someone

Smile in an affectedly coquettish, coy, or ingratiating manner.

Just because I politely smiled to some good-looking waiter didn’t mean I was flirting with him! But Andrew is insanely jealous. So he accused me of simpering at the waiter.

To fidget

Make small movements, especially of the hands and feet, through nervousness or impatience: the audience began to fidget and whisper.

One day, Andrew forced me go watch the movie X-Men at the theater. I knew I would hate it but he was so insistent that I finally caved in. As expected, the movie was of paralysing stupidity. To soothe my boredom, everytime the audience was laughing at yet another bad joke from the movie, I would turn to Andrew and tell him: “It’s not funny!” When there was not even a bad joke to make fun of, I would make faces at him to show my disapproval of the movie. It annoyed him greatly. At the break, the four men seated next to me left the theater. Andrew told me off: “Oh my god! I can’t believe it! You were so annoying and noisy during the movie that you made those FOUR men leave the room! Stop fidgeting and talking the whole time! You’re annoying everyone!”

Every day the following week, he told me off again for making those four men leave the theater. It turned out that one of those men was my student. He told me he’d seen me at the movies but didn’t have time to say ‘Hi’. He and his three friends had found the movie so bad that they’d decided to leave the theater right at the break.


Show or feel barely suppressed anger, hatred, or another powerful emotion.

I learned this one on Andrew’s blog. He wrote a post called a trillion and one ways to score points with girls. Here is one of his laughable tips:

Let your eyes do the talking. You verbalize too much. An hour of being clever and witty won’t get you as many points as just one smouldering glance. Once every twenty minutes or so, stop talking and just stare at the girl you’re dating.  If you do it right she’ll get self-conscious and say ‘what?’ Don’t explain what you’re thinking. 

Now, what he does, having personally experienced it, is not really what I would call smouldering. But the look I give him back really is a smouldering look (of barely suppressed impatience.)

To chuckle

Laugh quietly or inwardly.

Like in “I chuckle every time you try to say the words ‘bubble‘ or ‘water‘.”


Sometimes, my students ask me for tips to learn new words. I advise them to be curious about words they don’t know. When they hear or read one, they can ask right away what it means or just look it up. Of course it works better if the word is associated with a fun memory.

The second step is to use the new words you’ve learned as much as possible until they become part of your active vocabulary. I wrote all the words I learned in Andrew’s company on some blog post shortly after learning them and used them repeatedly until they were no longer new words for me. The key is to treat it like a fun and interesting quest. Every new word is like a little gem you find.


Next: More English Words I learned in 2011


3 thoughts on “English Words I Learned in 2011 (1/2)

  1. Oh my god thank you for putting the last word! as I was reading your post, I realised that I didn’t know any of those words!! until chuckle arrived :))
    I feel so releived now hahahah

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