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ESL Story: The language of surprise

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Apart from OH, AH, HEY, OOH-ER and other Anglo-Saxon noises that indicate surprise, English can also provide you with a variety of expressions that describe your amazement depending on whom or what you are confronted with.

Most obviously you are surprised when someone appears in front of you unexpectedly. To explain the involuntary twitch or shake of the head that follows itís useful to have a few phrases at the ready. So if on opening the front door, you should suddenly come across the milkman standing on the threshold, one of the following spoken in a jovial manner would seem appropriate: My word you frightened the living daylights out of me, Goodness me you almost made me jump out of my skin, How you startled me, or You know, you gave me quite a turn.

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Should you need a little more time for recovery and providing of course the milkman is not in too much of a hurry, you can go on in this strain: If you go round creeping about like that any more, youíll frighten someone to death. News of an astounding nature also calls for comment. If youíre not really concerned one way or the other but your messenger looks at you as if he wants you to share in the unusualness of his information, you can always rely on some of these briefer old favourites: Good heavens, Good gracious, Good grief (that oneís usually reserved for something quite shocking or serious) Golly or briefest of all but at the same time proving that youíve been listening: No or Never. But supposing youíve just been told that Albert, who incidentally hasnít got a penny to his name, has got married to the local Bank Managerís daughter, then this calls for something different rather along these lines: Well, I never. You donít mean to say that heís settled down at last. Again, you might get a letter from the local store saying that theyíve agreed to reduce your bill because of the inconvenience youíve suffered. A colourful reaction to this would be: Well Iíll go to the foot of our stairs. Frequently of course you donít believe the news youíve been given and a touch of sarcasm could creep in with: you must be joking or more biting: you will have your little joke, wonít you? Similar signs of disbelief are expressed thus: Youíre pulling my leg, arenít you? Youíre having me on or No, seriously though.

Another source of amazement is when you see someone doing something entirely out of character. The sight of a relative, who normally without fail falls asleep by the fire after a meal at your house, actually lending a hand with the washing up could call forth this comment: I must be dreaming. Pinch me somebody. Such comments are naturally best delivered in a subdued tone especially if youíre using the best china. A Prime Minister on television, admitting that he has made a mistake Ė yes, I suppose thatís just about possible Ė this should deserve: Wonders will never cease. Two less dramatic but very common expressions for unusual situations are: Well Iím darned and Well Iím blowed. Sometimes the circumstances are such that you cannot find any suitable words at the time of an event. You tend therefore to describe your surprise afterwards. When the boss of his own accord offers you a rise you accept but are in fact speechless. Later when you recollect the occasion you say: You could have knocked me down with a feather. Recalling the day you passed your driving test: I went all weak at the knees; the day you won the football pools: I didnít know whether to laugh or cry and the day your car had disappeared from the place where youíd parked it: My stomach turned right over.

Sometimes we wish to warn others of the approach of a third person whose presence is not welcome. You have got over the shock but you want to prepare the others. Least innocuous is: Guess whoís coming up the garden path right now? When the visitor has already arrived and it so happens that you have just been talking about him, you can say in his hearing in a light-hearted way: Talk of the devil. But if you resent the intrusion very much you can employ the spiteful: Look what the windís just blown in. And on that breath of fresh air Iíll conclude and hope that I havenít shocked you too much.

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Next:ESL Story: Have a nice clichť

Author: Alan Townend


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