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

The Bad Workman Always Blames His Tools


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. What is the second man trying to say?


James sees his student, a girl named Barbara, in the computer center at school.

James: Hey, Barb, what's happening?
Barbara: Grrrr! This computer's driving me crazy!
James: What do you mean?
Barbara: I can't get it to do what I want! I hate this!
James: You mean you tell it one thing, and it does something different?
Barbara: Uhhhh…not exactly… I mean, it does exactly what I tell it, but...
James: You keep telling it the wrong thing?
Barbara: Uh-huh.
James: So, it's not the computer's fault.
Barbara: Huh-uh, I guess not.
James: Well, then, just remember, "The bad workman always blames his tools."
Barbara: Ouch! I guess you’re right.


We often find proverbs that come from romantic figures--cowboys, for instance, or pirates.

But many of our proverbs and idioms come from the working class. Today's expression relates to a tradesman's best friend: his tools. The "master craftsman" takes great care of, and practically loves, his tools.

That makes this expression even more to the point: "The bad workman always blames his tools" means (a) he won't take the blame himself, and (b) he puts it on those that are supposed to be his "friends."

More notes:
  • Grrrr!: This sound means Barbara is frustrated. It's not like the growl of a dog. It's much deeper, in the back of the throat. (It's kind of hard to show in writing, but you'll know it if you hear it!)
  • something is driving one crazy: something is making someone angry or frustrated
  • I hate this: Barbara is exaggerating. "Hate" is too strong a word for this situation, but we often use this kind of hyperbole (a figure of speech in which we exaggerate to make our point).
  • not exactly: This is a reluctant way to say "yes." It's sort of like "yes, but…" Later she uses "I guess…" twice; this serves the same purpose.
  • uh, uh-huh, and huh-uh: These three may seem like mere noises, but each has a special meaning. "Uh" means "I'm thinking" or "I don't want to say something right out." Uh-huh (pronounced uh HUH) means "yes," and "huh-uh" (HUH uh) means "no." There is a fourth, "Huh?"(with a rising intonation) that is used to indicate surprise or confusion.
  • Ouch!: This is a sound we make when something hurts. Here, Barbara uses it slightly differently, to indicate that the proverb has "struck home." She recognizes that she has been wrongly blaming the computer, instead of accepting the fact that she's causing the problem herself.


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

1. __________, excuse me. That's my seat.
2. A: Do you want to have dinner with me tonight? B: __________, I'm busy.
3. A: Are you Mrs. Brown? B: __________, I'm MS Brown.
4. I hate babysitting! These kids __________!
5. My boss fired me for no reason! __________! I'll sue him, the company--everyone!
6. __________ car; I think I'll sell it.
7. __________! You stepped on my foot!
8. A: Are you leaving now? B: __________. Want to go with me?


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

1. Have you ever blamed other people or things for a problem that's really your fault? Tell a story about that.
2. What "drives you crazy"? Why?
3. Make some simple yes/no questions, and practice answering them with "uh-huh" and "huh-uh."


1. Uh; 2. Huh-uh; 3. Not exactly; 4. are driving me crazy; 5. Grrrr; 6. I hate this; 7. Ouch; 8. Uh-huh

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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