Season 2 Episode 8

Hello, this is Sean! Welcome to Season 2 Episode 8 of Ethos English, the go-to podcast for advanced English learners and the people who teach them.

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” This quotation is attributed to the British writer and philosopher Alain de Botton. I’m beginning today’s episode with this quotation because it’s been a year since I started Ethos English, and I wanted to take stock of what I’ve accomplished so far. If you take stock of a situation you think carefully about the things that have happened in order to decide what to do next. When I listen to my first few episodes I find them kind of cringeworthy, that is they make me cringe. If you cringe at something you feel embarrassed by something you’ve said or done. Assuming Alain de Botton is right, my embarrassment is a good sign insofar as it shows that I have in fact learned something over the past 30 episodes.

And returning to the idea of taking stock, that is the process of reflecting on the past in order to make plans for the future, well, I also wanted to focus on what I’ve done right and episodes I think are worth returning to, even if, to be honest, my voiceover-skills have been sorely lacking. So I’m now going to briefly recommend a few of last season’s episodes and mention some key vocabulary from them.

In Episode 2 “There’s more to advent than calendars” I explore the use of the word advent. We often associate it with Christmas because of advent calendars, and this is owing to the fact that “advent” comes from the Latin word for arrival. So in the Christian context advent refers to the birth, or arrival, of Christ. Interestingly, advent is also used in formal contexts to talk about the beginning of new social phenomena or technologies. We can talk about the advent of democracy, Islam or agriculture just as we can talk about the advent of penicillin, television and the Internet. All in all it’s a very useful word for advanced English learners.

In Episode 8 I talk about Oliver Burkeman’s new book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, which is particularly helpful at this time of year when we’re busy coming up with wildly unrealistic New Year’s resolutions. Oliver Burkeman is probably the most down-to-earth personal development expert you could hope to find. Someone who’s down-to-earth is practical and reasonable. His advice boils down to this: our time is very limited and we have to stop pretending that we can do it all. Find a handful of meaningful goals and pursue them consistently and stop worrying about everything else. 

Maybe the episode I’m most proud of is Episode 14, The road to Ukraine is paved with good intentions, in which I explore the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how Western powers actually contributed to this crisis. The title of the episode is a play on words. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is a common idiom in English which means that having good intentions does not guarantee good outcomes. In this episode I discuss videos by Slavoj Zizek and Masha Gessen and talk about the dangers of us abdicating our responsibility as citizens to be well-informed about what’s happening around us. Just as a king or queen can give up their claim to the throne, so too can a person abdicate their responsibilities. We use this chunk to talk disapprovingly about someone’s refusal to accept their responsibilities, in this case, people who have the energy to talk about the war in Ukraine without bothering to make the effort to be better informed about what led to this awful situation.

Finally, in episode 22, entitled The US Supreme Court and Abortion, I discuss the controversial decision of the US Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that recognised American women’s constitutional right to abortion. If a court strikes down a law or decision it says that it is invalid and no longer applies. A landmark case, decision or ruling is an important court decision that transforms an area of law. I really enjoyed making this episode because I did a law degree – I know, nobody’s perfect – and constitutional law was by far my favourite area of the law.

Now, before I go over today’s vocabulary let me leave you with this reflection. It’s been a year since I started podcasting. It’s time-consuming and challenging but it’s also really rewarding. I was feeling stuck as a teacher, like I wasn’t really pushing myself, and this project helped me get out of a rut. If you’re in a rut, you’re living or working in a situation that never changes, so that you feel bored. 

Dale Carnegie, the author of the immensely popular book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” said the following: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Taking action every week has changed me this past year. After spending almost 8 years at the same employer I applied to a business and law school and am now teaching in a more challenging, interesting environment, and I know creating this podcast gave me the confidence to take this risk. 

I’m not saying this to show off but rather to get you thinking about what consistent action you can take this coming year to become more confident and courageous. It might be simply listening to this podcast every week and subscribing to my newsletter at to receive free monthly study materials. 

Now, here’s today’s vocabulary:

take stock of something: Take stock of something is to think carefully about a situation or event and form an opinion about it, so that you can decide what to do.

After two years spent teaching overseas, she returned home for a month to take stock of her life.

be cringeworthy: Something which makes you feel embarrassed.

His attempt at an apology was cringeworthy.

cringe at something: Feel embarrassed by something you have said or done because you think it makes you seem silly.

Many people cringe at the sound of their own voice. 

insofar as: formal, to the degree that

She had done her best to comfort him, insofar as she was able.

be sorely lacking: used to describe something that is completely lacking or missing

Courage is a quality that is sorely lacking in world leaders today.

the advent of something: The time when something first begins to be widely used.

The advent of the smartphone completely transformed society.

down-to-earth: An adjective used to describe someone who’s practical, reasonable, and friendly.

She’s a down-to-earth woman with no pretensions.

boil down to something: (informal) If a long statement, argument, etc. boils down to a single statement, that statement is the main point or cause.

A lot of education boils down to changing people’s attitudes.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.: Idiom meaning it is not enough for someone to make plans or promises, but they must also do those things.

abdicate your responsibility: (formal) Refuse to be responsible for something, when you should be or were before.

 The government has largely abdicated its responsibility in dealing with housing needs.

strike down a decision/ruling: If a court strikes down a law or decision it says that it is invalid and no longer applies.

The Supreme Court today struck down a law that prevents criminals from profiting from books or movies about their crimes.

a landmark case/decision: An important court decision that changes or even transforms an area of law. 

In a landmark case/decision, the governor pardoned a woman convicted of killing her husband, who had physically abused her.

be in a rut, be stuck in a rut: Live or work in a situation that never changes, so that you feel bored.

breed something: cause a particular feeling or condition.

Poor living conditions breed violence and despair.

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