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Idiom of the day - What am I like?

Idiom of the day – What am I like?

Idiom of the day – What am I like?

The English idiom ‘What am I like?’ is a rhetorical question (one we don’t need anybody to answer) that we ask ourselves out loud when we do something a little bit silly – usually in a public place. It has the same sort of meaning as when Homer says ‘Doh!’ in The Simpsons.

For example, at the supermarket you have paid and you’re walking away from the checkout, when the customer behind you calls you back and tells you that you’ve left a potato on the bagging area. You hurry back and collect your errant potato. To cover your embarrassment you say quickly, ‘Oh, thank you! Thanks. What am I like?’ The other customer smiles, but there is no need for them to reply. For example, we wouldn’t hear an exchange like this:

A – Hey! Excuse me! You’ve forgotten a potato.

B – What? Oh no! Thank you. Thanks so much. Oh, what am I like?

A – Well, it seems that you are rather forgetful, careless, and possibly living in a world of your own.

B – Er, thanks again.

We say ‘What am I like?’ in situations where we potentially look silly or odd in a public place. It puts a voice to our feeling of foolishness and awkwardness, and acknowledges publicly that we have done something ‘unusual’ and that we know about it – we are aware of it. To say nothing would be to create an unreal situation where there is an elephant in the room – an unacknowledged error or problem. This would be very uncomfortable for the typical English person, who tries to avoid awkward public situations. Making a joke about it – and making ourselves the butt of the joke – lightens the mood and takes the heat off – making it seem less awkward.

The typical English response to ‘What am I like?’ would be to smile and perhaps say ‘No problem’ or ‘Yes, I’m always doing that too!’ (showing empathy) if you are feeling more friendly. In any case, phatic (non-essential) communication – also called ‘small talk’ –  eases the awks!

Note: this is not an investigation into your true nature: ‘What am I like?’ It’s unlikely we would ever need to ask this question about ourselves, unless we had lost our memory, or we were particularly vain and wanted to hear people eulogising us! In our version, we put more stress on ‘like’ and the intonation is downward at the end, rather than up, as in a normal question.

Other times when you could say ‘What am I like?’:

  • You get to work and realise you haven’t brought your lunch box
  • The waiter gives you the bill and you realise that you’ve forgotten your wallet – oops
  • In the supermarket you try to get a bag of flour down from a high shelf but it lands on the floor, making a huge mess
  • You are rushing to prepare dinner and you drop your favourite blue dinner plate, smashing it on the floor
  • You get home and realise that you have left the TV on all day by mistake

See if you can use this idiom in your daily life today! Leave a comment to tell us how you used it!

Image: chuttersnap

Word of the Day - Startled

Word of the Day – Startled

From Next Step English on Twitter:

Learn Days, Months, and Seasons

NEW! FREE Podcast – Learn Days, Months, and Seasons – with Matt Purland

Learn Days, Months, and Seasons – with Matt Purland.

In this podcast we learn the vocabulary for days, months, and seasons, and practise the correct pronunciation.

Click here to read the lesson notes and exercises.

Listen and download the free MP3 lesson: Days, Months, and Seasons (5 MB, Google Drive)

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FREE Podcast! 16 Boring Words & What to Use Instead

Are you still using boring words like GOOD when you could be using SUPERB or AMAZING? This podcast is for you!

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Singing - Discussion Words

FREE Podcast! Episode 9 – Vocabulary Words about Singing

Let’s have a fun listening activity on the topic of singing! I’m going to read out loud forty vocabulary words – four words at a time – and you have to either say them out loud or write them down. Check if you’ve got everything right by downloading the free vocabulary handout here:

Singing – Discussion Words

This activity is probably more suitable for learners at Intermediate level and above!

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/purland-on-elt/id1204714487?mt=2

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