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ESL Story: The language of pessimism

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Visit Britain in the Summer and spend a few minutes by the seaside to observe the faces of the sunbathers (and remember the sun does shine here on occasion) or glance at the expressions on the faces of those engrossed in watching the local cricket match and you might get the impression that the world is shortly coming to an end. We do, as you may know, have a tendency to take our pleasures rather seriously and some of us have that unhappy knack of looking on the black side.

Some twenty-five years ago a character on the radio by the name of Mona Lot, who as you may well imagine did moan quite a lot, used a catchphrase that became very popular. After each saga of her woes and miseries she would say in her mournful voice: “It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going.

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Such people as Mona, when asked how they are, will invariably reply in this vein: “Oh, mustn’t grumble, you know.” In trade and business two such expressions proliferate. When the graphs in the manager’s office show a continuous downward curve, things are said to be going from bad to worse and when the point of bankruptcy is reached, trade is said to have hit rock bottom.

Of course, if you’re talking solely about your own despair, you could choose one of these two: to be down in the mouth — which can be a passing bad mood as when you’ve just heard that the tax on petrol has gone up — or down in the dumps — which is a longer lasting depression and the only solution to which is a holiday long enough to make your problems disappear. If you want to make a metaphor out of your gloom and impress all around that you’ve read Pilgrim’s Progress by the 17th century writer John Bunyan, you can effectively remark: “I’m passing through the — Slough of Despond.” Mind you, you won’t get much sympathy for as likely as not your listeners will be hard at work puzzling out the meaning.

Finally, an expression that half apologises for your dark looks by suggesting that such is not your usual frame of mind: “I’m not feeling myself today.” Well, I do hope I haven’t made you feel too downcast. If I have, go on and enjoy yourself and have a jolly good cry.

But before you do that, let me go over those expressions once more. If you are prone to be pessimistic about the possibility of success in any venture or situation, you are said to look on the black side. If your despondency refers to business or politics where in your view the position is deteriorating, you say: “Things are going from bad to worse.” And when the business has reached its lowest point, you declare that it has hit rock bottom.

But most of the expressions referred to personal feelings of depression. You can hint at dissatisfaction with life by answering the question: “How are you?” with a brief:” Mustn’t grumble: If your bad mood is shortlived you are down in the mouth and if it’s a continuing gloom, down in the dumps. This condition of being downcast is described in literary terms as the Slough of Despond. And finally, you can explain the reason for being generally fed up by saying: “I’m not feeling myself today.

Dear Friend,
If you have any questions or comments regarding this essay, please post your answers on the forum here: Pessimism.

Many thanks.

If you have any English grammar or vocabulary questions,
please post them on this English Grammar Forum.


Next:ESL Story: The language of optimism

Author: Alan Townend


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