Posts tagged ‘concept’

January 4, 2013

Drive Thru II

On our road trip over the winter vacation I saw something I referred to in my last post, not knowing whether it exists or not: the drive thru dry cleaner.

Walking around Bakersfield, CA after a long day in the car I came across one and here is the blurry picture to prove:

The drive thru dry cleaner.  I should have known it existed.  Pic: mine

The drive thru dry cleaner. I should have known it existed. Pic: mine

October 9, 2011

Eye Candy

This word came up this morning in conversation and so I thought it might also make a good blog entry: eye candy.

Definitely eye candy, pic:

To say it right away: an eye candy is nothing one eats, and is not made of sugar.  An eye candy is what the name implies: something that pleases the eye like a real candy might please the palate.  Sweet, unsubstantial and probably not all that good for you.   In short, an eye candy is a person considered highly attractive to look at.  The expression implies that these person may be lacking in intelligence or depth. The latter is not necessarily the case but it could well be.  However, it does not matter because you look at an eye candy – not engage them in intellectual conversation.

Both men and women can be eye candy, sometime the term is also used for objects.

Here is an usage example: “we had a great time at the beach – lot’s of eye candy there”.

May 6, 2011

Big picture

Of course everybody knows what a big picture is – literally – a humongous piece of art.  But “big picture” as a phrase or expression is also used in business (and other more figurative) settings where it has another meaning.

The really big picture, pic:

For example, if somebody says: “let me give you the big picture” he or she is about to give you a broad, high-level overview, an overall perspective of an issue or a problem – not a detailed discussion of all the nitty-gritties.  Big picture also implies a comprehensive perspective – you would expect to get the full story and not just part of it.

The expression is used to indicate that one does not want/need all the details but wants to get an overview first, for example in a meeting.

“Before we talk about specific technical requirements and how to implement, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.  What do we want to accomplish?  What is the time frame and what budget do we have at our disposal.”

Big picture has become a bit of a cliche however, it is a useful expression and conveys its meaning well.

April 27, 2011

Oxymorons, part 2

Couldn't resist this one, pic:

I found a few more oxymorons that are worth featuring in this blog.  Just as a quick reminder, oxymorons are figures of speech that combine contradictory terms, such as “pretty ugly” (which, btw, means rather ugly).

So here are a few more that I have heard used by people, who are often rather unaware of the fact that they are using an oxymoron.

Let’s start with a fairly frequently used one from high-tech:  virtual reality

From the home we have: freezer burn (which is what you get after you leave stuff for too long or not properly wrapped up in the freezer)

A very Californian one: rolling stop – California is full of STOP signs on streets.  In some parts of San Francisco there are more stop signs than houses.  If a driver, tiered of the stopping and driving almost stops at the STOP sign but not quite and then proceeds on – that is a rolling stop (and you get fined if caught!)

Another kind of funny one is “clearly confused”, as in “the driver was clearly confused when the police officer told him that he had not stopped but only had come to a rolling stop and would therefore get fined.”

Got to love language!

March 27, 2011

Third Rail

The third rail: touch it and your dead! pic:

If you have ever taken mass transit in an American city 9and few of us have outside of New York, San Francisco and a few other places) you have encountered a third rail. The third rail is an extra rail used for supplying electricity to trains.  Something that supplies electricity to trains also supplies electricity to body when touched – so, you heard it here, never ever touch the third rail.  In fact, just don’t touch rails at all and you’ll be fine.

Like litmus test the expression third rail has a metaphorical meaning in politics.  A topic is a “third rail” when it is controversial and charged that anybody how takes a position, or even “touches” the subject will suffer gravely if not terminally in politics.

There are in fact plenty of such third rail topics and here are the most well-known ones:

  • enacting gun-control laws
  • proposing tax increases
  • views on abortion
  • suggesting to cut spending on defense
  • views on immigration
  • proposing “socialist” program such a more secure state-funded social security net
  • being an atheist

The list goes on …

Other countries might have third rail topics, too, but the US seems to have a remarkable number of them and on topics where one would assume that reasonable people could disagree without getting nasty about it.

March 26, 2011

Litmus test

The good old Litmus test of the non-political kind, pic:

Scientist among you know litmus tests as simple and easy tests to indicate the pH, i.e. a test lets let you test a liquid and decide whether it is acidic or basic/alkaline.  Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions, blue under alkaline ones and purple if the solution is neutral (pH 7).

Where am I going with this, this is not a Science 101 blog.  Right, so lets turn to the figurative usage of the term litmus test in politics.  There a litmus test is a question asked of a candidate that shows his or her opinion on a certain – often controversial – topic.  Depending on the answer to such a Litmus test question the voters/those who approve the nomination of the  candidate might choose to support the candidate or to withhold that support.

Litmus tests are frequently used in American politics – be it expressedly stated or not.  Candidates for any type of higher office face them and especially judges.

Here are some examples: for many conservatives abortion is a litmus test, if a candidate for office is pro-choice he/she failed the litmus test and will not be supported by the majority.

Gun control is another such litmus test for conservatives.  If a candidate is for gun control chances are slim he’ll/she’ll be a conservative politician.

In summary, a (political) litmus test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, believe, opinion, etc.) is decisive

March 22, 2011


Trekking Antarctica - not a hard requirement for friendship in Germany, but it helps :-), pic:

In Germany when you know somebody for roughly a decade, have spend significant time together doing stuff like walking across Antarctica, studying for midterm and finals together – for the duration of your studies (that would be several years) -building a house together or hosting each others families for extended vacations, you are in each others wills and you would trust your life and that of your loved ones to the other person – then you have made a friend.

Alternatively you can grow up together sharing early memories of the sandbox, the 2nd grade math teacher and your respective first loves.

Everybody else are either colleagues (who in rare cases can become friends – given time) or acquaintances.  That woman you meet three times a week at the playground and talk to about pretty much everything – acquaintance!

In the US you meet somebody twice, exchanged a few friendly words about something other than business, you maybe have a coffee together some day, you might be willing to lend the person your pen for a few minutes  – then you have made a friend.

When I left Germany to go to business school I had maybe 10 really good friends (and lots of acquaintances).  When I started business school a few days later  I had 360 new friends – overnight, most of them I never met before.

Neither one approach to friendship is better than the other.  They are just different, very different and one needs to be aware of.   And the end effect might be just the same: after almost 14 years in the US I don’t have more than 10 really really good friends, German-type friends, the kind whom I entrust my live to.  In Germany you build them up slowly, very slowly; in the US you start big and then pare them down coming out at approximately the same number.

Just so you know.

March 19, 2011


Samantha, Sex and the City's famous cougar, Pic: http://truestarmag. /2010/07/19/cubs-vs-the-cougars/

…and I am not talking about mountain lions, pumas or in general felines that go by the Latin name Puma concolor.

Of course, those beautiful animals are called cougars but in American slang the term as of recent refers to older women who date (much) younger men.  Two conditions must be met for a woman to be called a cougar:

  • she has to be at least 35 years old (I personally find that way to young to be called a cougar but it seems to be the standard definition, if there is such a thing) and
  • the guy has to be significantly younger

So 35 year old woman dating or hooking up with  a 30 year old man – not a cougar

A 45 year old dating/hooking up with a 28 year old: most definitely one.

A cougar dating site puts the required age difference at at least 10 years for the younger cougars and at 15 for the 50 plus age range.

Another characteristic is that a cougar goes out to find a guy, she is “hunting” vs. being the one who is being “hunted” by the guy.

The term is fairly new and stems from a 2001 book by Valerie Gibson, called “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men.”  Famous cougars include:  Demi Moore, Samantha in Sex and the City, Madonna, and Elizabeth Taylor

March 16, 2011

Friends with Benefits

Just friends or friends with benefits? Pic: © Dmitry Fisher |

With this expression we are venturing into youth talk and into somewhat risque territory. Although certainly an expression used more by younger people it is good to understand what it means, even if you don’t plan to add any friends with benefits to your life any time soon.

So, anyway, friends with benefits are friends, often rather good friends, who have casual sex with each other without being emotionally involved and without being in a relationship and without serious commitment.  The latter point is the crucial one: the FWB relationships may or may not be monogamous but unlike in   “real” romantic relationship there is no commitment and no long-term prospects.

The other defining element is the friendship between the two people which differentiates FWB relationships from NSA (no strings attached) one night stands.

This is probably not an American phenomenon but this relatively young expression has shown up in American pop culture since the early 2000s.

March 12, 2011

Brownie Points

Taking the concept of brownie points quite literal, pic:

You might hear somebody say a sentence like “I went to visit my girlfriend’s parents with her over the weekend.  Got some brownie points for that.”  When I first heard a sentence like that I was very confused.  I had just gotten to the point of understanding that brownies are chocolaty cookies but the points and how it all fits together completely eluded me.

So here you go: brownie points aren’t cookies (although some speculate that the expression has its origin with the brownies girl scouts sell) but an non-monetary, social credit for an effort you made.  It is like a social currency, one can accrue by doing good deeds or doing somebody a favor.  As in the example above, the guy visits his girl-friend’s parents although he would rather watch baseball but he goes to do her a favor – he is earning brownie points.  Next time he wants a favor from her, he can cash those brownie points in.

One generally earns brownie points with family members, close friends or superiors, like bosses or teachers.

The concept of negative brownie points exists as well.  That happens when you do something bad, like promising to accompany your girl-friend to the lunch at her parents house and then bailing out the last minute with a lame excuse.

Brownie points aren’t usually accounted for in a ledger, one just sort of keeps track of them.