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

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. Why do you think the second speaker says, "You should be happy with what they gave you"?


James sees his student, a girl named Elizabeth, walking toward class. She's making a face.

James: What's the matter, Liz?
Elizabeth: My car broke down last week, right? And the garage said it won't be ready 'til next Tuesday.
James: Bummer.
Elizabeth: Well, one of my friends offered to pick me up this week.
James: Cool.
Elizabeth: But he smokes! In the car!
James: Yuck!
Elizabeth: Yeah, I can smell it in my hair and my clothes all day.
James: Have you said anything about it?
Elizabeth: No, I'm afraid if I do, he won't drive me anymore.
James: Yeah, I guess beggars can't be choosers.
Elizabeth: How's that?
James: I mean, if that's the only way for you to get here, you can't really afford to tick him off, can you?
Elizabeth: Nope.
James: So just open a window and deal with it. You'll be back in your own ride soon enough.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I suppose so.


One of the most famous rock bands ever, The Rolling Stones, sang, "You can't always get what you want."

That's another way to say today's proverb, "Beggars can’t be choosers."

The word "beggar" here is not, of course, literal. It means "someone who is depending on another" or "someone receiving help or a gift." This can often put us in awkward situations.

More notes:
  • Liz: This is one of the many nicknames for "Elizabeth." Others include Lizzie, Betty, Beth, and Bess (as in Elizabeth I of England, often called "Good Queen Bess").
  • right?: Elizabeth uses this to check if James is following the story, or perhaps to check if he knew this already. It's commonly used in telling stories.
  • Bummer: somewhat old-fashioned slang for "That's too bad." Very informal.
  • pick someone up: give someone a ride.
  • Cool: slang for "That's wonderful." Also very informal.
  • Yuck!: A sound that indicates disgust.
  • How's that?: This can sometimes mean Elizabeth didn't hear (like "What did you say?") or, like here, "What does that mean?"
  • to tick (someone) off: to make someone angry. It is a nicer version of a more vulgar expression.
  • nope: a very informal way to say "no."
  • deal with (something): take care of or see to something. Sometimes, when asked for help, a person might say, "I'm busy now. Just deal with it yourself."
  • ride: Here, "ride" means "car" or "vehicle." When James says, "your own ride," he means "your own car." Someone who wants to drive might say, "Let's take my ride."


Here is some vocabulary from the story. Match it to its meaning.

1. bummer
2. cool
3. deal with
4. How's that?
5. nope
6. pick up
7. ride
8. right?
9. tick off
10. Yuck!

a. no
b. car
c. That's great.
d. That's disgusting.
e. That's too bad.
f. You know what I mean?
g. take care of
h. make angry
i. Please explain.
j. give a ride to


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

1. Have you been in a situation where you received a gift, but you had hoped for something better? Talk about it.
2. What would you do if you were Liz: accept the ride and the smoke? Talk to your friend about the smoking? Find another way to get to school? Something else?
3. Have you ever had transportation problems? Talk about a problem, and how you solved it.


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

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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