to pull back a bloody stump  This lovely expression is used humorously to imply that someone extends a healthy hand in order to take or touch something, and instead of pulling back a healthy hand, they pull back a bleeding stump where their hand used to be. It's basically used to warn people not to touch or take your things, or you'll (jokingly!) cut off their hand: 

"If you try to take one more french fry off my plate, you're gonna pull back a bloody stump!"

yippyThe noun yip is used to describe the continuous, high-pitched barks of little dogs. The adjective yippy, describes little dogs that bark like this.
to bail on (someone)This basically means to change your mind at the last minute and not do something that you initially promised or agreed to do for or with someone — especially if you had plans to go somewhere with them and decided not to go last minute.

"Hey, Marcus was supposed to go to the movies with me tonight, but he just bailed on me. You want to go?" 

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[Items in purple are discourse markers (See footnote), which we'll focus on in this story.][Items in blue are explained in the Study Notes below.][Items in bold are explained in the margin and below in New Words and Phrases.]

Nacho and Flor


So* there's this woman on my floor, Samantha, who has two chihuahuas, Nacho and Flor (...which is cute in Spanish because it means flower, but in English, it just sounds like, well... floor.)  


At any rate, I ran into Samantha in the elevator on Friday afternoon, and she told me she was going out of town for the week. Some kind of medical conference (...she's a doctor). She asked me if I'd be willing to take care of her dogs the whole week and she'd pay me. Now don't get me wrong**... I love dogs. I've had them all my life and I have one now that I adore. But Samantha's dogs are another story — they're small, yippy and mean. I tried to pet one one day, and I'm lucky I didn't pull back a bloody stump. (I think it was Flor, but I'm not too sure. But trust me, the other one's no picnic either!) But I didn't want to be abrupt and just say No!, so I asked her what taking care of them "entailed." (← See what I did there?) 


Anyway, she told me that she had already hired a dog-walker to walk them in the morning and in the evening, but it would be great if I could "just go into the apartment before bed and check in on them, so they wouldn't feel all alone." Well, I figured it'd be no trouble peeking in and saying goodnight to Nacho and Flor, so I said ok. I figured as long as I didn't have to touch them, let alone walk them, it was no biggie.


So that night, I get a text from Samantha: "Hey, my dog-walker just bailed on me last minute. You think you can help me out?" Well I was livid. It was so obvious that she had actually fired the dog-walker because she figured I was willing to do everything for free. Well, nice is nice, but this was too much. So, I told her I was sorry, but I thought she should just go ahead and hire a new dog-walker.


Alright, so that was Friday night, and Samantha left on Saturday morning. So Saturday night, at 11:00, I went to say goodnight to Nacho and Flor. I cracked the door open and they started snarling and yipping like crazy, so I closed the door and hauled ass


So this morning, Monday, I fed my dog, Nina, and took her out for her morning walk. When we got back, I saw an older woman cleaning up a puddle of pee in front of the elevators, and standing next to her were none other than... you guessed it — Nacho and Flor!  I felt so bad for her. I asked her if I could help her. She asked me if I could go to the men's room and get her more paper towels. I was happy to oblige. She told me she ended up having to stay in Samantha's apartment because every time someone walked by, the dogs would start barking and the neighbors were going crazy. She also showed me where Nacho had already bitten her twice while she was trying to put his leash on. I felt horrible for her, but happy for me. I had definitely dodged a bullet!


*The words in this story highlighted in purple are called DISCOURSE MARKERS. These are words that we commonly use when telling spontaneous, unscripted stories. Check out Discourse Markers under the Reference tab at the top of the page to learn more.


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First Steps

New Words and Phrases

to figure

This verb is commonly used to explain your reasoning for doing something. It's simply another way of saying I just think/thought... In the past tense, it tells the listener what was going through your head when you or someone else did something, which is why it's so common in narratives.

"My roommate's mad because I ate all the leftover pizza. I figured she was dieting as usual."

I was happy to oblige

The expression to be happy to (do something) is used to express that it would be a pleasure for you to do something for someone. It can be used to offer your help, or to assure someone that you don't mind doing something for them.

"Mitch, if you need someone to water your plants while you're on vacation, I'm happy to do it."

Oblige means, in one word, to do what someone asks you to do. In the story, the woman asked me to get her more paper towels, and I was happy to do as she asked.

"If you need me to do anything for you while you're away, just leave me a list and I'll gladly oblige."

See what I did there? 

Sometimes, in conversation, we come up with clever little puns and wordplays that make us laugh. When this happens, we want to make sure the listener didn't miss the joke, so we say See what I did there? For instance, in this story, I use the word entail, which contains the word -tail-... talking about dogs... see what I did there? 😂 Sometimes the listener is two steps ahead of you and lets you know they caught your pun — even before you say anything: I saw/see what you did there!

don't get me wrong...

This expression is used to make sure the listener doesn't get the wrong impression about you based on something you just said. It basically means <don't misunderstand me> and is usually followed by an explanation meant to justify your true feelings, and then a clarification of why you said what you said in this situation:

"I've decided not to take your job offer. Don't get me wrong — I really appreciate it and it's good money, it's just that I want to travel this summer." 

no picnic

We use this phrase to refer to something that's extremely difficult or unpleasant — especially compared to something else. In this story, I wasn't sure if Flor was the one who bit me, but it may just as well have been the other dog, since he's not much better! You may hear older speakers say: ...the other one's no great shakes either in comparisons. This means not much better.

"The hardest thing about having a deaf child is having to learn sign language... and let me tell you — it's no picnic."

Let aloneWhen you mention something you consider unlikely, let alone is used to add something you consider even more unlikely, if not impossible. It takes something negative one step further. Also used in this way is the phrase much less...[Waitress]"A cappuccino? In this place, you can't even get a decent cup of coffee, let alone a cappuccino!" 

No biggie!

This is just a shorter, cuter way of saying no big deal about something that you're not bothered or concerned about — especially when someone apologizes for something. This is the same as saying Don't worry about it. Don't give it another thought. It's ok. etc.

"Oh no, I took your last piece of gum...

— No biggie. I have another pack in the car."

to haul ass

To haul means to drag something heavy. In this expression, the idea is that someone picks up their heavy ass and drags it away. This is one of many expressions that mean to leave a place as fast as your feet can take you — usually out of fear. If you prefer not to use the word ass, you can use the verb to book (it) or to bolt. For instance, in the example below, you can say ...he suddenly jumped out of his bed and booked it/bolted out of the room.

"My friend, Doug, and I were driving across the country this one time and we stopped in New Orleans for the night. The hotel was supposedly haunted, but he said he didn't believe in ghosts. When we turned out the lights to go to sleep, he suddently jumped out of his bed and hauled ass out of the room. He claims someone or something grabbed his foot."

to dodge a bullet

To dodge something means to step out of the way before it can hit you. The expression to dodge a bullet is used when someone narrowly escapes some horrible situation or outcome. In this case, for example, I avoided a potentially horrible situation by refusing to take care of Nacho and Flor.

Study Notes

Paragraph 1Note my use of this woman to introduce a new character. Normally, we introduce new people and things with the indefinite article a(n): Last night, I saw an owl in my garage. However, this is very often used in stories and conversation to refer to someone or something that you consider an element of your story. Read more heretwo chihuahuas | Numbers in front of nouns are always stressed in English. In this case, for instance, we say twó chihuáhuas, giving each word its own stress. 
well... floor | Well is sometimes used to indicate a hesitation where the speaker can’t find a “nicer” or plainer way to say something — especially something awkward or negative. In this usage, it carries a meaning of «let’s be honest» or «let's face it» or «I don't know how else to say it». Well has a lot of uses depending on how it's pronounced. See more here.flower | sounds | This is a good place to check your pronunciation of these words. I hear a lot of learners say [aw], when in fact, the more correct American pronunciation is w], i.e. the vowel in cat, followed by a [w]-sound. Paragraph 2at any rate | American /t/ is a funny sound — sometimes it sounds like a proper [t], and sometimes it sounds like the r in Spanish, Italian, Russian, i.e. a quick tap with the tip of the tongue behind the upper front teeth. In phonetic terminology, this sound is actually called the FLAP and is represented by the symbol [ɾ] in the IPA. However, I find this symbol a little too easy to confuse with regular [r], so on this site, I use the symbol [ɖ]I ran into Samantha | This basically means to encounter someone unexpectedly, but with a twist... it’s someone you know, not a stranger.  When it's a stranger, it’s more common to use meet since you’re encountering them and becoming acquainted with them for the first time.she asked me if I'd be willing | If you're thinking that whether would be grammatically more correct here, you're right. But we just don't use it as much as if in everyday life. Sometimes being too grammatical can sound stiff and robotic. Using if instead of whether sounds perfectly natural....and she'd pay me | You may be wondering why I didn't say and she said she'd pay me. The thing is that in conversation, we tend to be more succinct. This is true of all languages, and I encourage you to do the same in English. Textbooks normally teach learners to speak in complete, grammatical sentences, but in real life, people speak in dribs and drabs, and it sounds fine. I did this in the second paragraph too: Some kind of medical conference.  This is obviously not a complete sentence — it's actually a fragment. But within the context of what was said before this, it makes perfect sense. So it's not the best written English, but perfectly natural spoken English, which is what this site is all about.Entail is a fancy word that refers to what is involved in a process; what it consists of. Here, I use it to ask what would be involved in taking care of Nacho and Flor. Basically: What would I have to do? But it’s also a clever choice of words because it contains the syllable tail, and dogs have tails. We call this kind of wordplay a pun [pʰʌːn]
Paragraph 4So that night, I get a text | Here, although the story happened in the past, I use the present tense to make the story more vivid. However, in this case, I also use it to make the events of that night sound more outrageous. This use of the present can express a certain disapproval or outrage and is meant to kind of bring the listener into that moment, so they can feel the same shock.Go ahead and hire a new dog walker | We use go ahead with commands when we want someone to proceed with something, to do something without any hesitation, with full permission. Here, I'm not giving Samantha permission, obviously, but rather letting her know that as far as I was concerned, hiring a new dog walker was the only option for her because I was certainly not going to walk the dogs. In other words, if hiring another dog-walker is another option, you need to do it!Paragraph 6She told me she ended up having to stay in Samantha’s apartment | here stay is used in the sense of having to sleep there. She actually had to move into the apartment for the week. The phrase end up having to describes a situation where someone finds themself with no other option.…the dogs would start barking | As we all know, would is used to form the conditional, but it has another very common use in storytelling: to refer to an action that happens often, or repeatedly and predictably. Always. Every time. Whenever you see this form, you usually have a word like always, whenever, every time, etc. in the same sentence. Here, it would also be correct to say every time someone walked by, the dogs started barking, but that wouldn't sound as persistent and annoying as the habitual would.

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Write your own story...

Blog 001 is all about the dynamics of storytelling. Study the DISCOURSE MARKERS used in this story and then compose your own short story — even if you have to make one up. Try to use each marker at least once.  You can also try to include as many of the new words and phrases you learned as possible, and incorporate some of the nuances explained in the Study Notes.

Read your story aloud and try to feel the way the discourse markers affect your narrative and reflect your attitude and emotions towards the subject of your story. You may also want to record yourself and hear the story from the listener's perspective. I'd love to hear your stories: You can record them on Vocaroo and email me the link or post it below. 

Additionally, if you'd like to get some edits and feedback from native English speakers, post your stories on Journaly.com. This is an invaluable resource for anyone learning any language. Send me a link and I'll offer my corrections, as well.

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