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

A Bad Penny Always Turns Up


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. Why is the first man upset?


In today's dialogue, William will tell James about a REAL "bad penny," a person that no one likes.

James sees his student, a boy named William, hanging out on the lawn at school.

James: Hiya, Billy Boy. How was your party Saturday night?
William: Pretty good. Except Ben was there.
James: Ben? What's wrong with Ben?
William: He's just so crazy sometimes. He starts acting all out-of-control and ruins every party he goes to.
James: So why did you invite him?
William: I didn't! He just showed up! No one ever wants him to come, but he always does.
James: It's like we say, "A bad penny always turns up."
William: Meaning what?
James: Meaning sometimes the person or thing you want to see the least is exactly the one that appears.
William: Ugh! Tell me about it!
James: Well, better luck next time.
William: Thanks. See ya later.
James: Yeah, 'bye.


Today's expression, "A bad penny always turns up," is sort of humorous. You might say it when you run into an old friend in an unusual place (far away from your hometown, for instance), or when someone you'd rather not see shows up in an unexpected place.

More notes:
  • hanging out: Much of the time we act with purpose. But between those times--waiting for a class to start, for example, or having a smoke outside of the office--we're just "hanging out," standing around doing nothing.
  • Hiya, Billy Boy: "Hiya" is a very familiar greeting, even more familiar than "Hi." And James calls William "Billy Boy," another sign of familiarity. The nickname may come from an old song by that name.
  • all out-of-control: The "all" is an exaggeration, of course. But everyone recognizes the meaning of "out-of-control": Rude, ill-mannered, obnoxious.
  • ruins every party he goes to: Again, perhaps an exaggeration. People often say that "one bad apple can spoil a whole barrel"; so even if 19 people behave well at a party, one out-of-control person can "ruin" it.
  • Ugh!: A sound of disgust. The "gh" is in the back of the throat, like the noise made when clearing the throat. The sound itself is disgusting!
  • Tell me about it!: Another way to say, "I know what you mean." It doesn't mean you should actually tell the person about the subject!
  • better luck next time: This is a well-known phrase of encouragement. It means, "We can't change the past, but perhaps the future will be better."


Use the above terms in the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form. Think of each two sentences as a little dialogue.

1. A: __________, Bob. What are you doing?
2. B: Not much. Just __________.

3. A: I ran a race today. __________! My time was terrible!
4. B: Well, __________.

5. A: I hate it when my kids get all __________.
6. B: __________! I wish I could send mine to their grandma's for a while!


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

1. Have you had the experience of running into someone you didn't want to see? Talk about it.
2. Do you know a person like "Ben," who "ruins" every event he attends? What can you do about such a person?
3. Do you enjoy "hanging out"? If "yes," where do you hang out? Who do you hang out with? If "no," why not? How do you spend your time?


1. Hiya; 2. hanging out; 3. Ugh; 4. better luck next time; 5. out-of-control; 6. Tell me about it

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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