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Monday, May 21, 2012

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Awry



GET READY:

1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. Do you always get what you want?

READ THIS:

In today's dialogue, James sees his friend, a woman named Susan, at the supermarket.

James: Suzie Q! How are you?
Susan: Oh, hi James. Pretty good.
James: How was your picnic Sunday?
Susan: Oh, we cancelled Saturday night, because the weather report said it was going to pour buckets. By Sunday morning, we realized the weatherman was wrong. But it was too late.
James: You know what they say: "The best-laid plans of mice and men..."
Susan: Yeah, I know. Hey, the ending I know for that saying is, "often go awry." But I heard someone say another one.
James: Yeah, the original was in a Scots poem by Robert Burns.
Susan: Scotch?
James: No! My Scottish friends say, "Scotch is a whiskey." Scots is a language related to English.
Susan: So Burns wrote in Scots?
James: Sometimes. But he also wrote in English. In this case, what he actually wrote was, "The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley," but we usually just say it in a paraphrase.
Susan: Got it. Thanks. Oh! Look at the time! I have to go. See you around, James.
James: OK, take care. And better luck with the next picnic!

NOTES:

One thing we can be sure of is that we can seldom be sure of anything.

The expression "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" comes from the poem "To A Mouse," by the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Although a poet, Burns actually made his living as a farmer. One day he was plowing the field and disturbed a mouse's nest. This, he says, is like the things that happen to us.

These lines occur in the seventh of eight stanzas; paraphrased, they read:

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

More notes:
  • Suzie Q! How are you?: "Suzie Q" is a cute nickname for Susan; here, James rhymes it with "How are you?" to make it even cuter.
  • to pour buckets: We seldom say "Raining cats and dogs"; this is a more common expression. You can imagine what it would be like if someone "poured buckets" of water on your head!
  • the weatherman: We commonly personify the weather report by saying the information came from "the weatherman," a person (male or female) who reports the weather on TV.
  • to go awry: to go wrong; to not go as planned
  • Scots: a language used in the lowlands of Scotland
  • to paraphrase: to say something in other words; to restate
  • Oh! Look at the time!: Susan uses the expression to explain why she has to leave.
  • Better luck: Often "Better luck next time," we can say this when someone tells us they have failed at something.

PRACTICE:

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

1. I don't understand what you said. Can you __________ that?
2. A: Are we going hiking tomorrow? B: That depends on __________.
3. Wow! It's __________ out there! I'm soaked!
4. I was planning to bake you a birthday cake, but then everything __________.
5. A: We lost the game! B: That's too bad; __________.
6. My grandpa's from Edinburgh, and when he speaks __________ I can't always understand him.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION OR WRITING:

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

1. Give some examples of times your plans have "gone awry."
2. Do you know anything about Scots, or other languages of the British Isles? Talk about them. (If you don't, look them up!)
3. Has "the weatherman" ever spoiled your plans? If yes, talk about it; if not, imagine some ways that could happen.

ANSWERS TO THE PRACTICE:

1. paraphrase; 2. the weatherman; 3. pouring buckets; 4. went awry; 5. Better luck next time; 6. Scots

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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