December 20, 2007

#01-051: Office Animals - Part II: Deadbeats and Windbags

black-and-white photo of many men in 19th-century clothing around a table in an office; one of them has the superimposed head of a man wearing a large old-fashioned wig but also wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette
Which of these gents do you think is the "bigwig"?

Note: Let's go back to the Human Zoo from Lesson #01-050 and visit ten more strange animals. They may be found in the office, or even on the loose out in the world!

Get Ready: The two words in the title describe different kinds of people. Do you know other funny words to describe people?

The following terms are given in alphabetical order, with brief explanations.

  1. bigwig: Also called a "big shot," this is a V.I.P., or Very Important Person. European kings and nobles used to wear wigs. These were expensive to purchase and maintain. And of course, the bigger the wig, the more expensive it was. So a "bigwig" today is a rich, powerful person.

  2. cheapskate: This is a person who is stingy. The "cheap" part is obvious, but no one is quite sure where the "skate" comes from.

  3. deadbeat: Someone who avoids paying debts. The origin is uncertain: "dead" may mean "absolutely," as in "dead certain." And "beat" was used in the mid-19th century to describe one who didn't pay his bills, but no one seems to know why.

  4. fall guy: This is usually a scapegoat, one who takes the blame for the actions of others. To "take the fall" for someone means to take some punishment in their place.

  5. goof-off: A person who is lazy or doesn't do his job. Without the hyphen (-), it's a phrasal verb: to "goof off" means to fool around, especially when you're supposed to be doing something.

  6. hired gun: An expert, especially one from outside, who is brought in to solve a problem. Originally applied to a mercenary or assassin, who was hired to literally shoot someone, the meaning is now metaphorical (we hope!).

  7. loose cannon: A person who speaks or behaves carelessly, creating risk. Battleships had cannons mounted on the deck. If one became loose, it could be tossed around during a storm, causing a lot of damage.

  8. sellout: One who compromises his own beliefs to gain money or other forms of success. It can also be a verb: "He sold out."

  9. tenderfoot: A rookie, a beginner. When a new cowboy bought his first boots, his feet got sore; later, his feet would toughen up, but until then he was a "tenderfoot."

  10. windbag: A person who talks a lot and says nothing.

Well, that's it! We'll be looking at more terms like this in other lessons.


Read more:

Practice: Use each of the above terms in one of the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form.

  1. We couldn't find the problem in our books, until we brought in a __________ from an accounting firm.
  2. My teammate is such a __________ that I always end up working overtime.
  3. We can't trust "Crazy Bill" to handle the negotiations; he's too much of a __________.
  4. Our sales meetings are long and useless, because the manager is such a __________.
  5. The staff has to have lunch tomorrow with an important __________ from the head office.
  6. The artist became a __________, giving up his own style to please the market.
  7. Our billing department has spent many hours trying to catch one __________.
  8. My boss won't authorize overtime because she's too much of a __________.
  9. Don't blame me for your mistake; I'm not going to be the __________.
  10. That new salesman's a __________; given his lack of experience, he might make costly mistakes.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 20, 2007

This lesson received 360 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1 f; 2 e; 3 g; 4 j; 5 a; 6 h; 7 c; 8 b; 9 d; 10 i