Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you heard political quotes and felt unsure of what they meant in English?

Has anyone ever used this sort of reference with you in conversation?

We did an episode on political quotes in the past, and this is an excellent and helpful follow up to that.

Though political quotes may be used often in conversation, you will learn that it’s about the person you are talking to and the setting you are in.

We have a great listener question today that may help you quite a bit in your own life.

Hi girls!

I have been listening your show for so long. But I listened to an episode today that was quite complicated to be honest. I’m confused, and I’m hoping that you can give us more examples and even a role play. I just want to hear when and how native speakers really use these phrases.

Thanks a lot! I hope you stay healthy and safe!

Ivy Lu2

A Little Background

This is a great question about an episode that was informative, but may be a bit confusing at the same time.

We did an episode in July AEE 1402: How to Use Famous Political Quotes to Make Jokes in English.

We mentioned at the time that we would do a follow up on this episode, so it’s great that this question came in now.

Yes, it is a bit complicated to think about how to insert these quotes/references into your conversations.

In the episode, we gave a few templates, but today we’re going to get more specific.

Today we will give some role plays and talk about how to know when it’s good to use a famous quote–maybe political or maybe just famous in general.

We will use some quotes from the other episode, so be sure to listen to that first as it’s a great introduction to these topics.

Looking At Some Common Examples

It can help to break this down by some examples that you may see or hear in this area.

We’re going to look at these and then you will understand how each works in conversation.

1. Binders of women

Imagined scenario: You are with a hiring manager and you are close with this person, so humor is ok. This hiring manager is sorting through resumes and makes some comment.

Lindsay: “Wow, Michelle. We have a lot of impressive resumes. I’m really thrilled to see so many women have applied for this position.”

Michelle: “Yeah really, binders of women!”

Lindsay: “Haha!”

Is this ok to say?

Politics tends to be a sensitive issue, so you may want to make sure you are with someone who has a good sense of humor who you know is okay with this sort of joke.

What does using “binders of women” do here?

  • It may remind you the person of a funny time in culture
  • It makes the person you are saying this to laugh, and that may be your goal
  • It exaggerates in a way that also makes a cultural point

Understanding the context and person that you are talking to is very important here, and it will set the tone if something is appropriate or not.

2. “I can see Russia from my house.”

Imagined scenario: You are with your friend who keeps saying how much he or she knows about a certain topic. Maybe they know a lot about an area where they live, or think just because they know about X, that they know about Y. In this example Lindsay knows a lot about tech, so she thinks she is an expert in medical technology as well.

Michelle: “So this news story about the new x-ray machines is incredible.”

Lindsay: “Yeah, but I wouldn’t get too optimistic about it. If I know tech, and I certainly do, the system will crash immediately.”

Michelle: “Okay Lindsay — can you also see Russia from your house?!”

Is this ok to do here?

It is a jab, or a dig, or joke at the expense of Lindsay.

Would you be offended?

In a close relationship, it could be ok.

We also changed the format of the quote, too.

What does this do in conversation?

  • Maybe it will embarrass Lindsay or it will make her laugh, it just depends on the situation and relationship
  • It will prove a point in a very direct way that Lindsay is acting like she knows everything

It will help to bring up pop culture references

So this is another quote where the context and relationship really matters greatly if it’s an appropriate thing to say or not.

3. Read my lips

This isn’t really much of a joke.

It’s used when you want to be clear or direct about something. You might hear this in a situation where a parent is saying something to a kid as a directive or to get their attention.

You could say this to another adult, but it’s definitely going to come off in a confrontational way.

In this situation, Michelle is Lindsay’s mom and Lindsay wants to go to a party.

Lindsay: “Oh come on, mom!”

Michelle: “No!”

Lindsay: “Please….” Michelle: “Read my lips. The answer is no!”

This one is interesting as it’s a very direct thing to say.

It’s unclear if the phrase came first or if George Bush’s usage of it came first, but in any case, “read my lips” is a used expression even without the taxes part.

This isn’t as directly political as the others, but it has ties to somebody political that said it.

Breaking Down How These Work and When To Use Them

Some quotes are more embedded into the conversation, some are more obviously a quote, and some aren’t used casually at all.

They all work a bit differently, and that’s important to remember.

You may just use something like the template from our last episode, it could be along the lines of “I remember when _________ said…….”

So this brings you to the point of wondering when is it good to use a famous quote?

Let’s take a look at when you might use such a quote and how it could work easily into your conversation.

  • When it’s well known: This will help to draw attention to things and ensure that there is a sort of recognition that resonates with people.
  • When you hear it frequently: If you hear it frequently then there’s recognition attached to it. Ask yourself a few questions to decide if it’s the right time to use it. What is the setting? Formal or informal? Was it used on late night TV or the news? Think of these things to make a good decision.
  • Use it to connect with others: It should be a positive and therefore serve as a way of connecting. If there is any potential that it could be offensive then it’s not a good match for the person or the situation.
  • What are you trying to do? Will you tease, innocently use it, make the person laugh, or will it end up falling flat? Think about your relationship with this person and how it might be used and therefore taken. This can help you to decide if it’s a good fit for the situation or not.

Though this can be a tricky situation, now you have a better idea of when and how to use these quotes.


This is an art, and so you want to approach it the right way and be sure it’s a good fit.

This can be tricky trying to figure out how to put these quotes/references into your conversations.

Listen to others, try it out with a close friend, and don’t be shy!

We can do so many follow ups on this, because there’s a lot to it.

It’s complicated, but today you got some examples and the basic idea of how these can work.

This can be a tricky part of conversation, but in the right setting with the right person it can work really well.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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