If every meal were just desserts…

Do you hear what I hear?

I got an email from an old friend, someone I consider an English speaker, and he made what I thought was a pretty common mistake in English.
He wrote: just deserves.
I always thought that it was just desserts, referring to the fact that if you do something lousy, you get something appropriately lousy in return. (I imagined that if you acted badly, you deserved really awful dessert in return, like really soggy tiramisu. Ach – I can’t stand tiramisu.)

After spending a few elated minutes congratulating myself on my superior English, I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and look it up.

It turns out that we were both wrong, but he was actually closer than I was.

The real phrase is “just deserts.”  It’s a phrase we say in English when we want to say that someone got what they deserve – sometimes we say it in a nice way, and sometimes we don’t.
But it’s pronounced like desserts (קינוחים) not deserts (מדבר).

The original Latin term was “deservire” and apparently deserts once meant something you deserve, not just dry sandy land where cacti grow. Go figure.

However it’s spelled and pronounced, it’s a really useful idiom which actually does mean getting the rotten recompense you deserve.

  • After yelling at her employees all day, Sandra got her just deserts when her throat was so sore that she couldn’t speak at all the next morning.
  • John had cut corners and taken the cheap route throughout the project and got his just deserts when the final product fell to pieces in front of the customer.
  • After making an obnoxious, sexist comment about women drivers, Raviv got his just deserts when he spent twenty minutes wandering around the parking lot and still couldn’t remember where he’d parked. (Yep, this is the one from the email, and as a feminist, I should’ve replied to the email with some soggy tiramisu.)

Just remember, no matter how it’s spelled, it’s pronounced like warm chocolate soufflé covered with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with fudge sauce.
Now that’s a worthy dessert.



I just got back from a really long vacation with a lot of juicy stories. People are always accusing me of exaggerating. And though I won’t admit it to anyone, they’re probably right; I just like to think of it as embellishing for the sake of storytelling. Subtlety might be highly praised in other cultures, but us Americans, we like things louder and bigger and brighter, trust me on this – I was just at Disney World. And I’d argue that Israelis are just the same, only much louder… they just don’t like to admit it. That being said, the Hebrew word for exaggerate causes a lot of confusion for English speakers. In Hebrew, we’ve got the word להגזים  which can mean so many things that all have their own expression in English. So it often comes off as funny when a Hebrew speaker uses “exaggerate” as a translation into English. So here’s a list of situations in which you would use the Hebrew word להגזים  and what you should actually say in English.

·         You have over done it.
We say this in cases where you have done too much, usually in a rather negative way; it’s a statement of concern and consternation.
You have a cold and worked all day long. You are chubby and out-of-shape and jogged 10 KM. You are really in shape and jogged 50 KM on a snowy day in your gym shorts. You have really over done it.

·         You’ve gone overboard.
This one is very similar to the previous one. We say this when someone has done too much, but it’s perhaps a bit less harsh. You can say this to someone when you’re really pleased they have gone to a lot of trouble for you, in order to express that they didn’t really have to fuss quite as much.
You make a huge meal for someone expecting a sandwich, but who really wants a sandwich anyway? You’ve purchased three books for your friend’s birthday instead of one, but who doesn’t want three books? You’ve really gone overboard.

·         You have out done yourself.
We say this when you’ve done more than was expected of you, but this time in a positive manner; the speaker is very impressed with your efforts.
You were supposed to prepare dinner but you’ve made a six course meal that includes homemade pasta and crème brulle.  You usually straighten up the house on Friday but this time you also weeded the garden and ironed the drapes. Wow, you have really out done yourself.

·         You have gone too far.
This one is negative too. We use it when someone has crossed a line or behaved too badly or done something one too many times.
You insulted her mother, her daughter and her cousin, but then you insulted her dog. You brought over some clothes, took over his closet and left a toothbrush in his bathroom, but when you put pink sheets on his bed, he said that you had gone too far.

·         Over the top.
This one can be good or bad – it depends on the context. We use it for when something was a bit too much.
We knew he was crazy about her but a four carat diamond ring from Tiffany’s? That’s over the top. The wedding was just as extravagant – 800 people and live performances by Madonna, Sting and Michael Jackson back from the grave. It was totally over the top.

·         Blowing things out of proportion.
This is pretty self-explanatory. You use it when someone is making a bigger deal than necessary about something.
You refuse to ever talk to your neighbor again because his dog accidentally peed on your roses. You quit your job because you got a room with a really lousy view. Well, once again you are blowing things totally out of proportion.

I think I can go on like this for pages – almost every time someone translates להגזים as exaggerate I can think of a more fitting expression. Let’s start with these and feel free to let me know if you have more.

·         Exaggerate.
Ahhh, you knew I would get to it eventually – the one you feel most comfortable throwing around. So there are instances when you should use exaggerate – and they all have to do with overstating something.
When you say that everything in Michigan is covered in melted processed cheese except the breakfast cereal. If you describe the fall you took after flying through the air on skis as being deadly (ok, so you got snow up your shirt from your waist to your chin and the bruises to prove it). When you describe the tickets to Disney World as costing a fortune and the roller coaster at Universal as the scariest thing in the world. Well, I wouldn’t admit it in a public forum, but yes, those things are exaggerations. Except the cheese. They really do put it on everything.
Exaggerations? probably. More entertaining? Definitely!

Sick and tired

I don’t know what this winter has been like for you, but from my vantage point it loosely resembles a tissue box. That’s right, just because it’s been nice and warm out doesn’t seem to mean I was safe from the winter cold season, the flu seems to be everywhere.

Here are some words and phrases having to do with illness that might help you explain to your English speaking co-workers why you’re so slow to respond to their e-mail:

  • Coming down with something: This means getting sick.
    I’m afraid I’m coming down with something and won’t be able to attend the meeting tonight.
  • Under the weather: This means, in a word, sick.
     Sorry for the slow response, I’m a bit under the weather this week.
  • Laid up : This means sick enough to be stuck in bed.
     I wasn’t able to answer all the e-mails piling up in my inbox since I was laid up with the flu all week.
  • Sick as a dog: This means REALLY sick.
     Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, I have been sick as a dog for days.
  •  Clean bill of health: This means you’re no longer sick.
    I thought I would miss the wedding but the doctor gave me a clean bill of health before the weekend.
  • Ship shape:  This means feeling completely well, good as new.
    You’ll be in ship shape before you know it.
  • Right as rain: Just like ship shape and good as new.
    I went to bed with a burning fever and woke up right as rain.
  • God bless you: This is what you say when someone sneezes. You can shorten it to “bless you” if you’d rather avoid religion.
    But if you want to make sure your coworkers think you are polite, make sure you say it. Every time.
  • White as a sheet: This is how you can describe a coworker who looks sickly pale. Don’t say “white as a wall.”
    I knew she was coming down with something when she showed up to the meeting looking white as a sheet.
  • Catch your death: You might get sick.
    Put a coat on before you catch your death.
  • Runny nose: I’m not going to describe this one, you can figure it out on your own, but suffice it to say that this is runny nose and not running nose.
    When she showed up at work with watery eyes, a runny nose and rosy cheeks we were afraid she had the flu.
  • Burning up: To have a fever.
    You’re burning up. You should take something to bring that fever down.


So, I’m sorry the Tip Tippa has been sporadic lately, I have a cold that I can’ t seem to kick.  So I hope you’re not coming down with something, but if you’re under the weather, well, bless you.

Put-put for the fun of it…

There are endless idioms that make strange use of the word put. So many, in fact, that this will be part one of a two part post on Put. These idioms can either help you out or even get you in trouble, so it’s pretty important to know how to use them before you really put your foot in it.

  • Put up with – to deal with or stand for something like לסבול
    The teacher said “I won’t put up with this kind of behavior in my classroom”
  • Put down – this can either mean to insult or offend, in which case it can either be a verb phrase or a noun; or, in the context of animals, it is the way to say kill for the purpose of saving them pain
    Don’t put down your sister by telling her she’s lousy at math; it’s not good for her self confidence.
    When he told me I was a lousy swimmer it was a real put down
    It was so sad when we had to put down
    our dog, but he was really suffering.
  • Putting me on – to joke or kid
    I thought he was serious when he told me he was a professional puppeteer but it turns out he was just putting me on.
    I won the prize? Don’t put me on
    , be serious with me.
  • Put something away – I know it sounds really strange, but this can mean to eat or drink.
    Boy, Ralf really can put away the burgers, that guy is a bottomless pit.
    I can put away
    a whole bottle of wine but don’t expect me to be on time for work the next morning.
    Woah, that guy can really put it away
  • Put a dent in – it comes from car speak but it can be used to refer to making progress in something big.
    She had been working for three hours and had hardly put a dent in her homework.
    How can you be done with lunch, you’ve hardly put a dent in
    that sandwich.

And put-put was just mean of me to include, because it’s pronounced to rhyme with cut-cut and has nothing at all to do with the word put, but actually is the way you say mini-golf in the Mid-West. Stay tuned for next week’s second installment of other useful Put idioms.

Put up or shut up

 Another week, another opportunity to learn more English. But language is kind of like muscles. You can read about it all you want, but you won’t really make a difference if you don’t go to the gym. Maybe that metaphor didn’t work so well but what I’m trying to say is that if you don’t practice speaking English, you won’t really be able to make use of these things. When I started learning Hebrew someone told me that there’s a rule of three – you hear a word or expression once and you become familiar with it, you hear it a second time and you remember what it means and then the third time you use it yourself and then you own it. People have been asking my advice pretty frequently “how can I improve my English” and my answer is like a broken record: Talk. Ok, that’s a pretty short broken record and who the hell remembers what records are anyway? But you get the point.

So now that I’ve lectured in my own best interest (everyone speaking English), here are the idioms I promised a few weeks ago. Let me know if you start to notice how frequently they’re used now that you recognize them…

  • Hard put – this means to be in a difficult situation or struggle with something.
    You remember everything we did on the trip and I’d be hard put to even remember the name of the city we stayed in.
    I’ll be
    hard put to finish the proposal by the end of the week, but I’ll do the best I can.
  • Put it past someone – this is particularly useful. It is something you say when you think someone is capable of something, not necessarily in a positive way.
    I wouldn’t put it past Marcy to forget our anniversary entirely.
    That Joe is such an overachiever, I wouldn’t
    put it past him to finish the proposal and make it on time to his son’s school play.
  • Put one over – this means to get away with tricking someone.
    I signed up for the service but I have a bad feeling they’re trying to put one over on me.
    You have to get up pretty early in the morning to
    put one over on Sergeant Dickens.
  • Put you out – to make you do too much or go out of your way. This is a great thing to say to Americans, it has everything to do with being polite about other people’s time and putting yourself in a position where you are asking for something, but in a way that appreciates other people’s effort. The closest translation might be רק אם  זה נוח לך
    I wouldn’t want to put you out, but if you’re making yourself a copy can you make an extra for me?
    It would be great if you could pick up Billy after baseball, but only if it wouldn’t
    put you out too much.
    If it wouldn’t
    put you out, can you swing by on your way home from work? Only if it wouldn’t put you out too much.
    One warning to the wise is that when using this you have to be careful put the word YOU between put and out – otherwise you will wind up saying put out, which is something else entirely.
  • Put out – this means annoyed
    I have been really put out with Josh ever since he insulted my singing.
    The only thing you have to be careful about here is that put out has another meaning, but that kind of language is outside the scope of this post and you’ll have to look it up yourself. Suffice it to say that you’ll never need it at work. J
  • Put a damper on – this is actually a great saying. It means to tone something down.
    Emily’s new roommate really puts a damper on all the fun at the weekly parties.
    Can I please ask you to
    put a damper on all that noise so we can get some sleep?


I don’t know about you, but that’s all the put idioms I can put up with for one night.