In time, these lessons and "stubs" will be migrated to the Buzzwords site.
Until then, consider them historical.

All's Fair in Love and War


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. A famous pop song says that "Love is a battlefield." Do you agree?


Here's a typical case where we might use this expression. James sees his student, a boy named Mark, sitting under a tree and looking sad.

James: What's wrong, Mark?
Mark: Oh, nothing. It's just my girlfriend...
James: Oh? Is something wrong with her?
Mark: It's just... I think she's seeing another guy!
James: Oh, that. Well, you know, nothing lasts forever.
Mark: But she promised!
James: People make lots of promises, but there's a saying: "All's fair in love and war."
Mark: This isn't a war!
James: But it is "love." When two people are in love, it seems like when two countries are at war: the rules are different.
Mark: I guess. But I still don't like it.
James: Come on! It's not the end of the world! You'll find another girl.
Mark: OK, James, now I have a proverb for you: "There's plenty of fish in the sea."
James: Atta boy!


This is actually not an uncommon idea. It seems that some couples spend more time fighting than talking. It happens in other love relationships, too: parent-child, siblings, etc.

So is it OK to do anything to win in a fight, whether between nations or between lovers?

Of course not. There are limits to what is right in any situation. But certainly there are some things that we excuse in love and in war that we wouldn't accept in other situations. For example, you can't imagine your college roommate being upset because you came home late. But a spouse? Of course!

More notes:
  • It's just...: By repeating "It's just," Mark is trying to make his troubles seem small.
  • seeing another guy: dating another guy. To "see" someone can mean to date, depending on the context.
  • I guess: Mark admits that James is right, but he is not enthusiastic about it.
  • Come on!: James is trying to encourage Mark.
  • It's not the end of the world: You will still have a great life. When we are very sad, we might feel so bad it's like the world is ending. So James uses a common expression to say it's not that bad.
  • There's plenty of fish in the sea: This saying means that there are other girls (or boys) in the world, and one shouldn't worry about finding another.
  • Atta boy: Properly, "That a boy!" or "That's the boy!" These are words of encouragement. We might also hear, "Atta girl," but never any others, like "Atta man" or "Atta woman."


Fill in the expressions in the dialogue. Then practice.

A: Hi! How's it going?
B: Not so good.
A: What's wrong?
B: (1) __________, I have a big assignment due tomorrow, and it's not finished.
A: That's too bad. But (2) __________. You still have tonight.
B: But I'm so tired!
A: (3) __________! You can do it!
B: (4) __________. But only with lots of coffee.
A: (5) __________!


If you can, try to talk about these questions in English with a friend. If not, try writing your answers.

1. Are you (or anyone you know) "Seeing someone"? What are the customs for dating in your culture?
2. The saying, "There's plenty of fish in the sea," seems to mean the opposite of the idea that there is one, perfect person out there for each of us. Which of these do you believe? Why?
3. There are several expressions of encouragement in this dialogue (Come on, It's not the end of the world, Atta boy). Can you think of some others? Try using them in short dialogues.


1. It's just; 2. it's not the end of the world; 3. Come on; 4. I guess; 5. Atta boy

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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